chemically open though, meteorites can fall for example.
John: That’s a hundred thousand tons a year. It’s a minimal amount on a sextillion ton planet.
David: But it could have been one of those meteorites that brought the first life to earth.
John: That is possible. But you’re talking about two things here. One is the initial causal stuff which we don’t really know about right now, and the second is how it operates once it starts. The biosphere was here before life. The definition of the Vernadskian point of view which I’ve extended is a thermo-dynamic definition. As long as you have a closed system with energy going through increasing free energy – that’s a biosphere.
So the biosphere, in other words – the total system, cuts deep as a self-organizing system. It cuts just as deep as the idea of the human mind as a self-organizing system, versus the idea of the necessity of building the mind – from first grade to second grade and so on. The biosphere can begin self-organizing even before the carbon molecules reach the state of what we now call life. That’s not accepted in the West, but the Russians think that and I think there is a lot of evidence for it.
David: Do you have a teleological view of the universe? Do you see life as being an accident or part of a conscious order?
John: Basically, when you look at the history of the universe, first there was energy, then there was matter, then there was life, then there was mind and technics. As soon as you have life, you have purpose or a goal, and when you have purpose you have a distinction that something is better than something else – it’s called tropism in biology. So as soon as you react in a way of something being better than something else, you have a value or a teleology.
David: You’re saying that this could occur at the point when life begins, but could there be a teleology before life?
John: When you look at it, you could even say that it must have been before because there’s certainly more potentiality now than in the past. There are cosmic directions, and directions also imply a teleology. That direction is towards negentropy, more free energy and using self-organizing techniques at an ever-increasing amount as simplified in chaotic mathematics. I also think that the values of beauty, that is wholeness, harmony and radiance, are becoming ever-increasing components of the value system at evolution’s edge.
Rebecca Did you consciously develop an aesthetic for Biosphere 2 or was the selection of organisms based soley on their function and usefulness?
John: When we go to Mars, plants and animals will be selected on the basis of whether they’re beautiful or not as well as whether they’re useful and we did the same in Biosphere 2. Biosphere 2 was what I call the beginning of artistic selection as well as Darwinian selection. There are many plants or animals that could have done the same function, but when given a choice you pick the one that is more beautiful.
David: What have been some of the technological spin-offs that have come out of Biosphere 2?
John: One is the Airtron TM which is an air purifier and another is the Wastron which purifies human or animal waste.
David: What do you think the Biosphere 2 project has done to help improve environmental awareness on the planet?
John: The main thing it’s done is to create the technics of closed systems. Take biotechnology and the question of whether a new genetic mutation useful or dangerous? Under normal circumstances it could take billions of dollars and a number of generations to find out the answer. But the material circulation of Biosphere 2 goes 2,000 times faster than it does outside, so you can get answers back a lot quicker and a lot more accurately than from other kinds of tests.
You could also create a polluted biosphere which is an idea that we’re working on right now with the Russians. You could take the water and air of Los Angeles on a smoggy day and see how much time and biomass it takes to clean it up. The President of Toyota came by and said, why don’t you put a Toyota car in there? And I thought, well, that would be interesting. How much biomass would it take to support a Toyota car?
Rebecca So the potential of using biospheres for increasing environmental understanding is vast. Has the FDA shown any interest in this work?
John: There’s been practically a total blockade by the entire American establishment, but it has created interest in Russia, Europe and Japan. Bill Riley and thirty-five administrators of the Environmental Protection Agency came by, said how great it all was, and we never heard from them again. Tom Lovejoy of the Smithsonian, Gerald Soffen with NASA and the bankers now in charge, Bannon and Bowen, have tried to limit the use of Biosphere 2 to reductionist science. These people would like to have a Disneyfied project there which naturally we oppose.
Lovejoy and Soffen, for example, demanded that we use a reductionist approach to it and conducted a ruthless media war against us for using a total systems approach. Biosphere 2 is useful, they say, if we study some specific mechanism in the ocean in there, or what happens, let’s say, to the passion vine species in the savannah. By doing this they will generate hundreds of doctorate degrees and violate what its big teaching is – that it’s all a total system.
I was just in Japan and the Japanese are terrified because there’s going to be a cloud of brown smoke coming from industrialized China using highly leaded coal. Japan has already agreed to give two hundred million dollars to China to help try and put the lid on it. It doesn’t matter what Japan’s policy is – the smoke from China is going to blow across anyway. After Japan is Alaska, it doesn’t stop.
The EPA doesn’t recognize that. Tom Lovejoy who is the ecosystem advisor to Bruce Babitt represents the present American policy, an improvement over Bush, which was to save the spotted owl. The Lovejoy approach, which is not flying with the environmental community, was let’s save the Oregon woods. It’s not the Oregon woods that need saving, it’s the whole fucking thing!
The biggest thrust of the Lovejoy bankers’ approach is that we should make Biosphere 2 into a reductionist science apparatus and study small detail, but total systems are more data oriented than reductionist science. For example, a reductionist scientist will make a study related to methane in a rice field, but you have to look at the methane together with the nitrous oxide – all of it, and their relations.
Reductionist science is very powerful if you want to send a projectile somewhere or if you want to knock out a specific arms system. However, the side effects, the law of unintended consequences, is never taken into consideration except in total systems. But total systems or holism got a bad name in science, partially because it’s not in the interests of the ruling class…
Rebecca To say that we’re all connected.(laughter)
John: …because they’ve disconnected themselves from that. Also, some people who call themselves holistic aren’t scientists and are peddling cheap psychological cures. Total systems science, which has created cybernetics and biospheres and certain physiological approaches, is much more difficult than linear cause and effect science, which is hard enough, and necessary. But it wasn’t Biosphere 2’s mission.
David: I’d like to know if psychedelics have influenced your work?
John: (pause) The Biosphere 2 couldn’t have been built without the help of a number of shamen who are probably the primary ethnobotanists in the world. It’s impossible to fully appreciate the Amazon, or anything as complex as a tropical rainforest, without special states of consciousness.
What’s used in the Amazon by the shaman are substances such as Banisteriopsis caapi and beta harmaline. These substances put people in a state where they can see eidetically, instead of just sensationally. The forests and this eidetic ability is what makes the shaman an essential partner of all ethno-botanists. The people who painted the Lasceaux caves were eidetic – that is, they must have seen the animal so clearly that they could copy the eidetic image and nobody could paint like that until the Renaissance.
Without this eidetics of sensation and memory, which are successionally linked, you can’t, in my opinion, comprehend a complex totality. Eidetics are so unknown to people in the modern world, and without that kind of vision I doubt that total systems will spread very far because people just won’t see it.
Our senses are reductionist. If you go by memory then we’re remembering only our successive sensations or we’re combining them by an active imagination which produces an element of fantasy. But if we’ve had an eidetic image, then we can have a memory which when we train it, can then reproduce that image, but it’s possible to have an eidetic experience without being able to remember it.
Coca chewing is quite legal in South America and is used for endurance. If you’re doing major studies in the mountains or in the forest with the Indians, then you need to use it to keep up with them.
I’ve also participated in shamanic ceremonies because I think that it’s important to see the total system in a very literal sense.
David: How do you see biospheres leading to or helping us with extra-planetary migration?
John: Well, of course it won’t just be helping, biospheres are essential to planetary migration. If you take up a picnic lunch, when the picnic lunch is eaten, that’s