On aliveness, pt 3: Ecological axes

by Suspended Reason


How else do environments—ecosystems; arenas of gameplay from the perspective of a player—differ?

They differ in the quality of a player’s sensory exposure to other players. This exposure may more or less direct, more or less mediated, more or less proximate and prolonged. There are those we know and interact with only through their public speeches, their press releases and fourth-hand rumors. There are those we live and deal with directly, day in day out. And our ability to falsify appearances—the ability of others to falsify their appearances—is much greater in the mediated, indirect and clipped” relation than the unmediated, direct and prolonged one.

These other players will vary in their alignment to us, and vary across contexts. The family burrow, the the clonal superorganism’s nest, are highly aligned social environments. Out in the open, we are more exposed. Alignment entails cooperation; cooperation entails upholding and assisting another’s accomplishment of intentions. Conflict, by converse, is marked by the subversion of another’s projects.

Thus the environments we inhabit also take on cooperative or adversarial shapes; even the non-living, inert” aspects of an environment can be arranged so as to subvert or uphold our intentions. The termite mound minimizes both the thermodynamic and informational entropy of its occupants. A highway is built to be as predictable as possible: the road infrastructure all around the world is markedly similar in form and pattern, so as to assure safe navigability. Cooperative built environments are inductive, while adversarial built environments are anti-inductive.

Environments vary too in the number and diversity of players. An ecosystem may be more scarce or abundant in resources; and the more resources, the more energy, the more players. Areas nearer to the equator receive more sun; this increase of energy means more life, more diversity. But abundance is also a relational descriptor, the capacity of a player to harvest and use its environment. In carbon-rich environs, thick with life, abundance is another way of saying that that a player or set of players is temporarily advantaged or disadvantaged respective to other players—in other words, power and abundance may be different descriptions of the same ecological position.

An ecosystem may be more or less institutionalized, more or less formalized and ritualized. They may differ in their degree of virtualization and mediation (and hence, in how distant or proximate an average evaluation will be). And they may be more or less stable, may have higher or lower frequencies of disruption, and their players faster or slower rates of adaptation.