Future Fossils with Michael Garfield
109 - Bruce Damer on The Origins and Future of Life

109 - Bruce Damer on The Origins and Future of Life

Bruce Damer is a living legend and international man of mystery – specifically, the mystery of our cosmos, to which he’s devoted his life to exploring: the origins of life, simulating artificial life in computers, deriving amazing new plans for asteroid mining, and cultivating his ability to receive scientific inspiration from “endotripping” (in which he stimulates his brain’s own release of psychoactive compounds known to increase functional connectivity between brain regions). He’s about to work with Google to adapt his origins of life research to simulated models of the increasingly exciting hot springs origin hypothesis he’s been working on with Dave Deamer of UC Santa Cruz for the last several years. And he’s been traveling around the world experimenting with thermal pools, getting extremely close to actually creating new living systems in situ as evidence of their model. Not to mention his talks with numerous national and private space agencies to take the S.H.E.P.H.E.R.D. asteroid mining scheme into space to kickstart the division and reproduction of our biosphere among/between the stars…

I find it amazing that anyone as potently psychedelic as Bruce gets the focused listening attention of audiences at NASA, Scientific American, Google, and numerous esteemed academic communities around the world. A late-career PhD who spent his early years designing software that changed the world and going on adventures with his dear friend Terence McKenna, talking to Bruce is an inspiration and reminder that the big questions really DO take the dedication of a lifetime – and that dedication DOES bear fruit.

(Appropriately to the McKenna link, there were some connectivity issues during our call that stretched out Bruce’s voice in a way very reminiscent of the Shpongle grain delay remixes of Terence’s talks. I left these in because I think they’re funny and in keeping with the good doctor’s trippy ideas, but apologies regardless.)

Bruce was the second guest of this show way back in Episode 4, but that was three years ago and his work (and my ability to discuss it with him) has developed considerably since then. Enjoy this high-level update about one of the deepest questions we have on the table, right now…the profound implications of this new model of life’s origins for everything from business and politics to the strategies for thriving through an age of worldwide turbulence and transition…

Bruce’s Website:


We Discuss:

• Updates on Bruce’s efforts to recreate the conditions of the original “progenote,” a living system before the invention of cells;

• How modern life prevents a second “Genesis” from happening on the Earth;

• Why life must have started in a wet-dry cycling pond, and not in the sea or on land;

• The three properties of life: crowding/containment; networks; and information storage – or P,I,M: Probability, Interaction, Memory;

• The origin of life as a niche-construction process;

• The origin of life vs. the origin of individuality and competition – likelihood that started as integrated consortia, not free-living cells in resource conflict;

• Scaling up the progenote origin of life hypothesis to human systems and the origins of human civilization with “social protocells”;

• Does life require organic molecules, or is it primarily an informational process?

• Are memes even a real thing? (Compared to genes, we can’t point to one…)

• Working with Google to simulate the origins of life with a chemistry-modeling deep learning system;

• The increasing evolvability of (some) genomes in ever-more complex environments leading to a transition from genetic to cultural inheritance;

• How evolutionary networks can bump themselves off local fitness peaks and into novelty to prevent becoming over-adapted to tiny niches;

• Cycles of federalism and fragmentation in both nature and society;

• The possibility of a global plan to build sea walls – to make it an issue of national defense, and a better use of our time than border walls;

• What can we learn from the origins of life about the future of planetary culture and the ongoing evolution of our “progenote planet?”


Bruce on Future Fossils Podcast Episode 4:


Michael’s Version 1.0 Mind Map & Bibliography of research on major evolutionary transitions in self-organizing systems:


Evolution Evolving Conference:


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Future Fossils with Michael Garfield
Join paleontologist-futurist Michael Garfield and an avalanche of amazing guests for deep but irreverent discussions at the edge of the known and knowable: on prehistory and post-humanity and deep time, non-human agency and non-duality, science fiction and self-fulfilling prophecies, complex systems and sustainability (or lack thereof), psychedelics as a form of training for proliferating futures, art and creativity as service and as inquiry. New episodes on a roughly biweekly basis. Get bonus material and support the show at patreon.com/michaelgarfield or michaelgarfield.substack.com