August 30, 2005

Coffee vs. Oil: the cult of the Blob has now a rival!

You Are Coffee's Pawn

Posted by at August 30, 2005 01:11 AM | TrackBack




it's very quiet here.

anyway - here are some thoughts about coffee:

Beyond the tantalising evocations of poetry – hats off to Salathustra on that score - to what extent can two fuels be said to predate upon the human nervous system?

Just how neutral are chemicals? How much input do they have in the process of their distillation into refined products?

Coffee is cultivated to be consumed by the highly refined machinery of the human body and fuel the whopping computational capacities of the human brain. As an addictive food product selected by cultivation, coffee has entered into a gene alliance with the human genome, the brain of which might well have an inbuilt propensity to seek stimulants and depressants from plants.

Plants came out of the water in the Silurian (439 -408 million years ago) when the genes which now inhabit homo sapiens were legless, seabound amniotes. That is to say, plants had nearly 200 million years of practice at evolving in (and communicating with) their environment before the builders of homo sapiens began to build land conquering cynodonts in the late Permian.

Plants are fiercely competitive and cunningly cooperative in equal measure. They hone their weapons and strategy in perpetual warfare: currently they are standing their ground in arms races with the complex adaptations of warm-blooded herbivores. Plants are also veterans of chemical trade, adept at forming alliances with diverse life forms: bacteria, fungi, insects and birds. Their genes have reached beyond their own vehicles and have tied other genes into cooperating with them (for example, in their replication).

Caffeine is a naturally selected bio-weapon: it paralyzes and kills insects. It also happens to block adenosine receptors in the human brain and thereby stops nerve cell activity from slowing down (sleep). Humans have selected the coffee plants arabica and robusta for their high yields of caffeine.

To claim that humans are coffee’s pawns, the story would have to go something like this: the coffee plant survives in a war with insects by accidentally developing a bio-weapon which kills insects and spreads through the coffee plant gene pool. Arabica and robusta happened upon further phenotypic expression for their toxin: one which enabled them to predate upon humans and tie them into cooperation. The stimulating effects of the toxin encourages humans to cultivate (engineer) stronger plants, guaranteeing the plants’ replication and simultaneously fuelling the cultures which grow and import coffee. The trade: economic and intellectual development for humans, replication and healthcare for the plants.

So is this the story?

Posted by: sd at August 31, 2005 12:05 AM



that's only part of the story — what about oil? (how did coffee beans "learn" about human beans?)

Posted by: northanger at August 31, 2005 01:09 AM



the oil story dependent on whether the bait of the coffee story is taken.

"how did coffee beans "learn" about human beans?"

How do plants, not having eyes, use color so effectively?

"Plants provide the habitat and food for many animals and therefore it is logical to assume that the visual perception of animals co-evolved with plants... Intuitively, the common optimal camouflage for herbivorous insects should be green, and indeed, many of these, e.g. aphids, caterpillars, grasshoppers, have evolved green coloraion. The effectiveness of this common camouflage is compromised, however, by the patterns of diverse non-green or even a variety of green shades of plant backgrounds...we suggest that green or otherwise colored herbivores that move, feed or rest during the day on plant parts that have different colorations, immediately become more conspicuous to their predators."

The questions are: What kind information do plants have about their environments? How do they 'process' this information and 'act' upon it? Is blind mutation sufficient to explain adaptation, or is there information feedback somewhere along the line?

Got no answers, of course.

Posted by: sd at August 31, 2005 02:46 AM



killing zones? interesting: "Plants are simply too colorful to enable a universal camouflage of herbivorous insects and other invertebrates to operate successfully, and they force small herbivores to cross areas ('‘killing zones'’) with colors that do not match their camouflage." paper also mentions hawkmoths. since Darwin predicted its long proboscis i can buy the coffee story. besides, i want to hear the oil story.

here's an article on plant capitalism -

Posted by: northanger at August 31, 2005 04:37 AM



well, you did ask for it northanger:

Dominant beliefs would say that, in contrast to coffee, oil is not produced through either genes tampering or tampering with genes.

When thinking about oil, the human brain runs up against ignorance: the origins of oil are not known for certain, so belief pours into the void.

The dominant belief, the biogenic theory, describes petroleum as the product of dead organic life and heat: it is the biological junkyard of gene vehicles (prehistoric marine life and terrestrial vegetation) cooked up below the surface of the earth. As such, oil is a finite resource which homo sapiens is over-exploiting. This belief also limits oil’s theoretical capacity to have any of its own terms and conditions: oil does not trade with humans, it is merely exploited by them.

“The general belief in scarcity that drives up gas prices and causes fears of inflation, Gold argues, is a mirage that has served vested interests among oil producers for decades.”

The beliefs bundled with the biogenic theory have been critiqued by heretical abiogenic theories which claim (and are providing evidence) that oil consists of inorganic hydrocarbon molecules produced through the effects of heat and pressure on hydrogen and carbon. As such, oil, while not infinite, is anything but scarce: it is a constantly produced and replenished resource.§ion=0&article=44011&d=29&m=4&y=2004

This abiotic heresy also opens up theoretical space for the genes of ancient extremophile prokaryotes to engineer the production of petroleum as hydrocarbons wend their way to the Earth’s surface:

“A variation of the abiogenic theory includes alteration by microbes similar to those which form the basis of the ecology around deep hydrothermal vents.”

“Life as we know it is mainly based on carbon. First living organisms (archaeobacteria) of course needed food and this food at least was primordial methane or petroleum (hydrocarbons) in depths. They live at deep levels in crust and they formed oil contaminants which also became parts of biomarkers found in natural petroleum.
Microbial life has been discovered 4.2 kilometers deep in Alaska and 5.2 kilometers deep in Sweden. Methanophile organisms have been known for some time, and recently it was found that microbial life in Yellowstone National Park is based on hydrogen metabolism. Other deep and hot extremophile organisms continue to be discovered. Proponents of abiogenic petroleum origin contend that deep microbial life is responsible for the biomarkers that are generally cited as evidence of biogenic origin.”

The action of these deep microbes on hydrocarbons is variously described as ‘contamination’, ‘alteration’ and ‘consumption’ (oil as bacteria shit?), but what it is that they actually ‘do’ to oil remains unclear. It seems that hydrocarbons are the primordial food on planet earth. The inhabitants of The Deep Hot Biosphere have never fed on the light of day.

If the action of these prokaryotes on hydrocarbons is proven to be in any way crucial to the appearance of oil near the Earth’s surface, or to its appearance in a form which lends itself to consumption by terrestrial technology, then would this mean that there is trade taking place? Strata upon strata of traders and chemicals traded?

the players and pawns:

• the Earth (hydrocarbons)
• deep microbes
• oil
• the successors of the deep microbes which conquered the Earth’s surface by finding a new food sources (light, oxygen)
• capitalism
• warring and trading memeplexes

If humans are described as oil's pawns, and recourse to the supernatural is to be avoided, then the story has to be the story of this trade, IMHO.

Of course there has already been lots of digging on this site:

Posted by: sd at August 31, 2005 08:47 PM



apparently diamonds are quite plentiful but heavily controlled by the diamond hegemony creating another mirage of scarcity. made up of a single element: carbon (virtually all carbon atoms come from the stars). production of both, AFAIK, oil & diamonds takes a tremendously long time to produce — two commodities cooked up & dug up from the earth.
"With recognition that the laws of thermodynamics prohibit spontaneous evolution of liquid hydrocarbons in the regime of temperature and pressure characteristic of the crust of the Earth, one should not expect there to exist legitimate scientific evidence that might suggest that such could occur. Indeed, and correctly, there exists no such evidence. Nonetheless, and surprisingly, there continue to be often promulgated diverse claims purporting to constitute “evidence” that natural petroleum somehow evolves (miraculously) from biological matter ... the observations of optical activity in natural petroleum have been trumpeted loudly for years as a “proof” of some “biological origin” of petroleum. Those claims have been thoroughly discredited decades ago by observation of optical activity in the petroleum material extracted from the interiors of carbonaceous meteorites. More significantly, recent analysis, which has resolved the previously-outstanding problem of the genesis of optical activity in abiotic fluids, has established that the phenomenon of optical activity is an inevitable thermodynamic consequence of the phase stability of multicomponent fluids at high pressures. Thereby, the observation of optical activity in natural petroleum is entirely consistent with the results of the thermodynamic analysis of the stability of the hydrogen-carbon [H-C] system, which establish that hydrocarbon molecules heavier than methane, and particularly liquid hydrocarbons, evolve spontaneously only at high pressures, comparable to those necessary for diamond formation."

>>If humans are described as oil's pawns, and recourse to the supernatural is to be avoided, then the story has to be the story of this trade, IMHO.

can you expand on this a little more? seems like the classic IF,THEN,ELSE programming statement.

Posted by: northanger at August 31, 2005 10:56 PM
Photosynthetic Link May Have Made Humankind Possible :: Scientists from Imperial College, London, have found an important evolutionary link between the two powerhouse protein complexes that drive photosynthesis. This shared evolutionary adaptation may have been crucial for the establishment of environmental conditions required for the emergence of humankind. For decades, scientists have debated whether there is a common evolutionary origin for the different photosynthetic organisms present today. Reporting in today’s Nature, scientists from the Wolfson Laboratories, Department of Biological Sciences, Imperial College, now provide evidence for a link. They have discovered a new protein supercomplex in the photosynthetic pathway that links two major proteins that were previously thought to work autonomously. The key proteins Photosystem I (PSI) and Photosystem II (PSII), work together in the photosynthetic pathway to produce oxygen and energy for plants to grow. The Imperial researchers investigated the possibility of this link using cyanobacteria, a major photosynthetic producer in the world’s oceans. Tom Bibby and colleagues were investigating the role of a PSII-like protein that is produced by cyanobacteria in conditions of low-iron availability. They expected this protein to interact with PSII, due to its DNA sequence similarity with one of its proteins.

By recreating "iron-stress response" conditions in cyanobacteria, the team found that this PSII-like protein interacts, surprisingly, with PSI, by forming a light harvesting antenna of 18 chlorophyll molecules around the protein complex. The presence of the antenna increases the light harvesting ability by approximately 72 per cent compared with that of the normal PSI alone. This means that cyanobacteria can produce oxygen even in low iron conditions. This adaptation would have global environmental significance -- both for creating the levels of oxygen in the atmosphere that allowed the evolution of humans and maintaining them to this day.

Posted by: northanger at September 1, 2005 01:06 AM
The carbon fixation reaction is the first step of the light-independent reactions. Carbon from carbon dioxide is "fixed" into a larger carbohydrate. Three pathways (processes) exist for this reaction to occur: C3 carbon fixation (the most common), C4 carbon fixation, and CAM. C3 fixation occurs as the first step of the Calvin cycle in all plants. C4 plants first fix carbon dioxide into malate, which is then used to supply carbon dioxide to the Calvin cycle. CAM plants perform a similar process.
C4 carbon fixation is a metabolic pathway found in some land plants (C4 plants). They have a competitive advantage over plants possessing the more common C3 carbon fixation pathway under conditions of drought, high temperatures and nitrogen limitation. The C4 plants possess a characteristic leaf anatomy. Their vascular bundles are surrounded by two rings of cells. The inner ring, called Bundle Sheath Cells, contain starch-rich chloroplasts lacking grana which differ from those in mesophyll cells present as the outer ring. Hence, the chloroplasts are called dimorphic.This peculiar anatomy is called Kranz Anatomy (Kranz-Crown/Halo). The C4 cycle allows for a spacial separation of carbon fixation from respiration, thus allowing C4 plants to increase concentration of CO2 within their leaves.

Posted by: northanger at September 1, 2005 01:08 AM

Posted by: northanger at September 1, 2005 01:20 AM



aww. now you got me reading about nucleosynthesis, triple-alpha process, proton-proton chain reactions, Hertzsprung-Russell diagram & photosynthetic pathways. i didn't ask for this. what's next? the grand theory of everything?

Posted by: northanger at September 1, 2005 01:38 AM



Is the world ready for the Coffee/Blob Hollywood showdown? It leaves Alien/Predator in the dregs.

Glad to see Deep Hot Biosphere resurfacing.

Posted by: Nick at September 1, 2005 03:18 AM



that's nothing, in Iran they can convert oil into love (no relation to HS's Reza, I presume)

Posted by: Robin at September 1, 2005 02:21 PM



"Reza Love Fund"?

Posted by: northanger at September 1, 2005 03:10 PM



">>If humans are described as oil's pawns, and recourse to the supernatural is to be avoided, then the story has to be the story of this trade, IMHO.
can you expand on this a little more? seems like the classic IF,THEN,ELSE programming statement."

ahem, well...

The coffee and oil story outlines above are just attempts to hypothesize the extent to which plants, microbes and raw chemicals can be described as having a degree of control over human beings. Petrol as puppeteer and people as pawns are metaphors which have appeared on this site. What degree of reality, plausibility or certainty can these metaphors have? Do they cash out in any real terms, or do they remain in the imaginative space of fantasy.

One way to look at it: some periods of history are named after the substances which defined their modes of production – the Stone, Bronze and Iron Ages; and other periods and centuries are characterized by the ubiquity of chemical compounds and fuels – gunpowder, steam, oil. This ubiquity could be seen as obsession or possession, depending on how anthropomorphic the lens is. Insofar these chemical combinations shape and limit modes of production, they can be said to determine the range of economy and culture and provide content for thought.

[Two examples of how metal can ‘trigger’ economic/psychological disturbances: a] the Spanish importation of silver from South America after 1500 led to rampant inflation, economic depression and the loss of Spanish hegemony; b) gold rushes lead to frenzied occupation of new territories.]

As long as the chemicals are abiotic (free from any biological admixture or manipulation), they remain the passive objects of exploitation: the mania is generated by capitalism and human inbuilt psychology (e.g. obsession with status).

So in what sense can hyperstition claim: Oil is the hyperstitional subject rather than the secular object of manifest geopolitics?

IMHO, hyperstition can back this claim up there is evidence of biological interference in the process of oil production: if oil is proven to be manipulated by microbial DNA then microbes can be seen as having entered an alliance with genes and systems which exploit oil. [techno-poetic description of an existing trade alliance.]

Modern evolutionary theory describes the genes of plants and insects as manipulating the genes of other species through phenotypic expressions:

“Several species of ant have no workers of their own. The queens invade nests of other species, dispose of the host queen, and use the host workers to bring up their own reproductive young. The method of disposing of the queen varies… Monomorium santschii achieves [this] result by subtle means. The host workers have weapons wielded by strong muscles, and nerves attached to the muscles; why should the parasite queen exert her own jaws if she can subvert the nervous systems controlling the numerous jaws of the host workers? It does not seem to be known how she achieves it, but she does: the host workers kill their own mother and adopt the usurper. A chemical secreted by the parasite queen seems the likely weapon, in which case it might be labeled a pheromone, but it is probably more illuminating to think of it as a formidably powerful drug… For a worker to ant to kill her own mother is an act of genetic madness. Why do the workers do it?” (Dawkins, The Extended Phenotype 1982)

In the production and consumption of oil, what is being manipulated by what?

Coffee’s trade is reasonably clear, as are the effects - this black liquid gets into the human brain via the digestive system and blood. The action of microbes and oil is much murkier (if indeed there is any action). The trade gains are not obvious – What does the Earth get in return for its supply of food and fuel? Pressure release? Cleansing of bacteria excrement – better out than in? – and the effects on the system oil is digested by are less easy to trace than are those of coffee: WoT, global warming…

Posted by: sd at September 1, 2005 04:28 PM



why should anything be said to exert "control" over anything else? ; We Azathothians prefer to say that it all happens in an utterly contingent manner with no supervening agency whatsoever. All the rest is repulsive shoggoth-interpretation.

Posted by: robin at September 2, 2005 10:21 AM



what is the criteria for judgements as to whether or not something is repulsive? Aesthetic?

Is Lovecraft being used to dismiss any 'scientific' explanation, or just my hypothetical noodling? I'm not sure "We Azathothians prefer to say..." is going to get very far in debates with the scientific community. (I'm trying to write a reply to Lee Harris).

Has Burroughs and his focus on control gone out the window?

Posted by: sd at September 2, 2005 11:43 AM



no, I was just fuc|<ing about. sorry.

Posted by: robin at September 2, 2005 05:28 PM



Maybe you could possibly consider making your fucl<ing about a tad more obvious for the clodheads of this world :)

Posted by: sd at September 2, 2005 06:17 PM
+Biogenic: remnants of buried plant and animal life.
+Abiogenic: deep carbon deposits from when the planet formed or subducted material.
Subduction zones are also notorious for producing devastating earthquakes because of the intense geological activity. The introduction of cold oceanic crust into the mantle depresses the local geothermal gradient and causes a larger portion of the earth to deform in a brittle fashion than it would in a normal geothermal gradient setting. Because earthquakes can only occur when a rock is deforming in a brittle fashion, subduction zones have the potential to create very large earthquakes. If this earthquake occurs under the ocean it has the potential to create tsunamis, such as the earthquake caused by subduction of the Indo-Australian Plate under the Eurasian Plate on December 26, 2004, that devastated the areas around the Indian Ocean. Small tremors that create tiny, unnoticeable tsunamis happen all the time because of the dynamics of the earth.

subduction + abiogenic angle interesting since discussion brewing on FEMA's pre-911 assessment of the three most likely disasters: {1} terrorist attack on NYC, {2} category-5 hurricane at NOLA, & {3} major earthquake in SFO.

Posted by: northanger at September 3, 2005 04:41 AM



considering {1}{2}{3} i'm not fully discounting robin's control reservations — 'no supervening agency whatsoever". robin, are you seriously taking this off the table? when you say there is no supervening agency are you agreeing oil is "abiotic (free from any biological admixture or manipulation)" & therefore a "passive object" of exploitation"?

then there is no connection between {1} human engineered event, {2} natural event & {3} hyperstitional natural event.

to make all three connect, IMHO, oil would not be passive or neutral — and sd, think this addresses " What degree of reality, plausibility or certainty can these metaphors have? Do they cash out in any real terms, or do they remain in the imaginative space of fantasy." AND "What does the Earth get in return for its supply of food and fuel? Pressure release? Cleansing of bacteria excrement – better out than in? – and the effects on the system oil is digested by are less easy to trace than are those of coffee: WoT, global warming…"

Posted by: northanger at September 3, 2005 04:59 AM



>>{2} category-5 hurricane at NOLA

note: while katrina landfall at cat-4, she was still cat-5 out in the ocean near the oil-rigs.

Posted by: northanger at September 3, 2005 06:56 AM



"repulsive shoggoth-interpretation" sounds interesting

Posted by: Nick at September 3, 2005 03:08 PM



"while katrina landfall at cat-4, she was still cat-5 ..." is this numogrammatic qabbababble or 'just coincidence'?

Posted by: Nick at September 3, 2005 03:09 PM



>>is this numogrammatic qabbababble or 'just coincidence'

i think it's reality-based reporting. which is, coincidentally, numogrammatic qabbababble. do you think this convergence proof we're experiencing The Singularity?
Royal Dutch Shell's Houston-based U.S. operations reported late Monday that two drilling rigs under contract to Shell had drifted off location during the storm. Katrina was a Category 5 storm - the strongest possible - as it passed over many oil rigs and platforms on the Gulf of Mexico. The oil giant didn't expect damage estimates before today.

Posted by: northanger at September 4, 2005 03:31 AM



N2 - what is "The Singularity"? - is this anything to do with the second coming of Guru Nanak?

N1 - "numogrammatic qabbababble": what is the criteria for distinguishing this from non-nq?

Posted by: Cynoid at September 4, 2005 08:49 AM



different singularity flavors: {1} mathematical singularity; {2} gravitational singularity & {3} technological singularity. TS "is a predicted future event when technological progress and societal change accelerate due to the advent of superhuman intelligence, changing our environment beyond the ability of pre-Singularity humans to comprehend or reliably predict". several TS flavors: (a) think Hyperstition explores Vingean Singularity with cybernetically enhanced humans. (b) Leslie White's take describes culture as superorganic entity with technological progress evolving society/culture with three layers: technological, organizational, ideological. technology the detreminant in this scheme ("leading character of our play"). White thought the primary function of cultural evolution involved controlling energy; the level of energy controlled = the level of evolution. five stages: human muscle, domesticated animals, agriculture, natural resources & nuclear energy. (c) Gerhard Lenski's similar to LW but instead focuses on information. more info = more advanced; with four stages: info pased by genes, by experience (learning), by signs (logic) & by symbols (language & writing). &etc,etc.

because of technolgy, Mark Pesce notes, man has "extended and superseded his organism ... In an instant the velocity of human communication and the ability to coordinate human activity reached its uppermost physical limit, the speed of light".

imho, this problem points to (a) the singularity & (b) possibly, Guru Nanak. technology extends the human organism — however, we treat these extensions as independent machines, but we are "perpetually modified" by the interaction. Pesce built a telepresence system & observed participants exhibiting four types of phenomena; the first two involved motion sickness (the barfogenic zone); the third involved depth perception (hippopotamus-eyes' view); & the fourth involved the psychological where participants failed to recognize themselves.

both questions: maybe the hyperstitional call of the old ones calls forth to identify features discarded by human adaptation during the rush toward evolution that could now provide clues to the man-machine connection. what ancient adaptive qualities does Guru Nanak have, if any? anamnesis?

maybe recent events point to a singularity paradox.

Posted by: northanger at September 4, 2005 11:06 AM



RAY KURZWEIL: The Singularity Is Near : When Humans Transcend Biology

interview (September 02, 2005) here:

Posted by: sd at September 4, 2005 09:45 PM



"The" Singularity? This would surely amount to a novel plane of organization from what we have now. Yet it is one thing for humanity to have begun transcending biology and becoming transformed by technology, but quite another for a new entity to emerge through humanity. This talk of The Singularity, where humans have improved knowledge etc, misses the main point: whilst many focus on humanity as a pluralised individual organism the real changes are taking place elsewhere, where intelligence is attributable to what is at once a mode of, and an entity in, becoming. Intelligence slides off humanity and into something else. What quite this is is difficult to pinpoint, which is why it is too premature to talk about The, or even, a, singularity.

Posted by: Tachi at September 5, 2005 07:46 AM



well, guess it depends on how you define singularity.

Posted by: northanger at September 5, 2005 01:14 PM



'The Singularity' would be an event along the lines of the appearance of eukaryotes and the invention of agriculture. These events arose through multifarious processes, convergences and alliances, yet they still mark singular, critical thresholds.

The grammatical distinction between 'The' and 'a' only exists to enable English-speaking humans to make clear what they are referring to - 'the' refering to the sphere of shared knowledge, 'a' referring (amongst other things) to new information - so the 'The/a' distinction only really has meaning in some human information processing. Some languages (e.g Slavic) get along fine without the distinction. If/when the/a singularity which Kurzweill is prophesizing finally deigns to arrive, it will no doubt occupy the terrain of common knowledge, so it is probable that English-speaking human will choose to label the event with 'the'.

"Intelligence slides off humanity and into something else" - not sure how helpful this is. Humanity might be creating pathways, establishing connections and confrirming associations by click-feeding beasts such as Google - inadvertently teaching the machinery about humanities priorities and obsessions - but any organized intelligence/awareness emerging in the networks would not derive from humanity: it would merely rely on humanity's extremely limited information as start-up data.

Posted by: sd at September 5, 2005 01:51 PM



Tachi - agree with other commentators that this:
"What quite this is is difficult to pinpoint, which is why it is too premature to talk about The, or even, a, singularity." - requires some further elaboration

Posted by: Nick at September 8, 2005 05:50 PM



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