This is material from a book that has been working on me for years; it is the origin of my pseudonym. I view my relationship to the book and its subject as that of an archaeologist uncovering ruins
The post below was originally written on my WordPress site, back on March 5 of 2020.
Someone back then had asked me about the origin of my online handle, “CognitiveCarbon”. I have been using CognitiveCarbon as a pseudonym as far back as about 2007 on a variety of platforms; on most social media platforms today, that handle is mine, although I’m not active on more than two or three of them on a day-to-day basis.
You’ll find me primarily on Truth Social and here on Substack, now and again on Twitter, and also Telegram. But I’m also on Parler, Gab, Gettr, blogger, QuodVerum a few more.
This post explains the origin of “CognitiveCarbon”.
I was asked months ago by my muse @hgraceQ (whom I dearly love!) what the book that I was writing was about; it’s mentioned in the post below about the origin of “CognitiveCarbon”.
The book covers a complicated but unfinished set of ideas that I’ve been wrestling with for many years, but with @hgraceQ‘s help, maybe I’m edging closer to being able to complete it.
I recently came to the realization that it isn’t so much the case that “I’m writing a book.”
It’s more the case that, like an archaeologist, I’m using a brush to sweep away grains of sand that have been covering up something else that is already there. That’s what it feels like to me. I’m not an author, so much as an excavator.
I’m still looking for all of the outlines of whatever it is that needs to be swept clear, in order to properly expose the foundations.
One of the reasons that progress with my writing slowed down is that the company I had founded back in 2017 failed abruptly in March of 2020 just as COVID-iocy began raging around the world, and I was forced—as many of us were—into a different career after the COVID lockdowns upended everything.
The new job I found myself doing in order to survive isn’t as conducive to letting me find the time and get into the mental zone of writing about complex subjects, especially ones that take a lot of time to research or think deeply about.
I sincerely hope to be able to get back to creating, running startups, and writing full time again someday (becoming a paying subscriber to my substack is a way you can help make that dream happen!)
My father was also helping me as an editor for my book, but in September of 2021 he suffered a brain hemorrhage (a consequence, we believe, of the Johnson and Johnson COVID-19 shot) and he can no longer use a computer or read or write well enough to be my editor.
Anyhow…this is a short explanation of where the name CognitiveCarbon originated, and why I use it online as my pseudonym.
The Origin of Cognitive Carbon
Inside you is a universe of atoms. The atom—the most indivisible building block of matter, or so we thought from the time of the ancient Greeks two thousand years ago until the 1930’s—is incomprehensibly small; there are more of them in everything you touch than you can possibly imagine. Today we know that there are pieces of “stuff” that are smaller still that make up the atoms themselves.
In fact, there exists inside of you more individual atoms than there are actual stars in the entire Universe. You yourself are a smaller universe—of atoms; and the stuff of which you are made is in fact stardust.
Sir Martin Rees, Britain’s Astronomer Royal once said: “You are literally made from the ashes of long-dead stars.” In the 13.8 billion years since the Universe has recently been expanding from a denser state of matter (we’ll debate in this book whether it was a Big Bang, or some other starting point) up to the present time, countless generations of stars of all sizes and colors have been born, lived, died in massive explosions, and been reborn.
Each cycle of star birth and death—as subsequent generations of stars fuse ever heavier and more complex nuclei from the ashes of the prior generations—results in new quantities of matter with ever higher atomic weights. The periodic table of elements—all of the known atoms, in increasing order of the number of nuclear particles they contain— is “constructed”, proton by proton, within the interior of stars: in the crucible of nuclear fusion.
White, yellow, blue and red stars are among the various types of stars; our own Sun is a common type of star known as a yellow dwarf. The color of a star gives us clues about the abundance of atomic substances that we can expect to find in its core.
Our yellow sun is the source of the light and heat that makes Earth habitable, but unlike other larger and older stars, ours is mostly just hydrogen and helium. The Sun, itself, is not the source of much of the atomic “stuff” that makes up the Earth—iron, carbon, silicon, oxygen, and so forth—or even the life that inhabits it. That material came from other far distant stars that exploded and died long ago.
It is the red giant stars that are the most interesting from the point of view of the origin of life. Our own sun, 5 billion years into the future, will eventually become one of these red giants.
In the heart of each star—of which there are more than a trillion-trillion in the Universe—is a blazing stellar furnace; a massive, hot star-forge, inside of which all the atomic elements are formed in the crucible of fusion. When stars die, some of them explode, and in such so-called supernovae explosions (one of which happened recently on October 9th), the star’s contents become scattered across galaxies.
Some of that ancient material from long dead stars found its way to what is now Earth, billions of years in the past. That “star stuff” is in you now; the atoms in you came from an uncountable multitude of these ancient, red giant stars.
An interesting fact: 99% of “you” consists of just four atomic elements: hydrogen (H), carbon (C), nitrogen (N), and oxygen (O). Of the 92 naturally occurring chemical elements found on Earth, you have 60 or so of these elements inside you, in some amount; but every type of atom except the basic four of H, C, N and O makes up less than 1% of you.
Hydrogen is both the most abundant element in the Universe (and in you!) but also the simplest. It has one proton— the most common “building block” that makes up atomic matter— in its core. Carbon has 6; nitrogen has 7; and oxygen, 8. The latter three of the primary atomic elements that make up “you”— carbon, nitrogen, and oxygen—are all ultimately formed from the fusion of hydrogen and helium in the core of red giant stars.
One of these red giants, the star Aldebaran, is a relative neighbor of ours located in the constellation Taurus. “Neighbor” is an interesting term when we talk about the vast size of the Universe: a ray of light originating at Aldebaran will still take 65 years to reach us, and that light ray is moving at 650 million miles per hour. Some neighbor!
More precisely put: you—that is, the 99% of you that is made of H, C, N and O— are mostly made of red giant stardust. Just like that which is produced by the red giant Aldebaran.
Fusion is the nuclear process by which the enormous heat and density that exists at the core of a star forces hydrogen (and its bigger brother, helium) to come so close together that the protons and neutrons bind together and form larger atomic nuclei.
Lithium, for instance, is the third element in the periodic table, next after helium, and it is formed in stellar fusion of hydrogen and helium—the welding together of these constituents taking place at immense temperature and pressure.
In this crucible of heat and pressure, carbon, nitrogen, oxygen, and all the other more complex elements are likewise formed from the basic building block of hydrogen. Trillions of stars like Aldebaran have existed and expired in the time since the Universe was young, and you are here now because of it.
The key to all of this is hydrogen, as it is the primordial stuff from which all else is ultimately comprised. But a mind-bending thing to contemplate is this: all living things on Earth depend on carbon, so the fact that you exist at all, and can even think about carbon … is because you are made of carbon.
Cognitive carbon. I am; therefore, I think¹.
Carbon, therefore, has come to understand itself: where carbon came from, and how it comes to exist in us. A better way to express this is to say that DNA, the complex strand of chemicals (of which carbon is a vital component) of which you and all living things on Earth owe their existence, has evolved (or has been designed!) to create a form of life that has come to understand… itself.
Carbon understands carbon; DNA understands DNA. Earlier in my career, by building a supercomputer that contained a chip known as “GeneMatcher-1”, I helped the team that first sequenced a whole human genome in 1999. That team determined the “genetic code” of DNA that lies within our cells and directs our bodies to create our brains, eyes, hearts, skin. Determining that genetic code—three billion letters long—was a monumental achievement on many, many levels.
Life has evolved through the course of the Universe, and in the process the stuff of which it is ultimately comprised has evolved self-awareness. There is no more profound idea than this one: consciousness, ultimately, is DNA understanding just exactly what DNA is, and where it came from, in a beautiful self-referential loop. “Self”—understanding the very meaning and essence of self.
It is the true origin of consciousness—and its ultimate purpose—that is the major idea that I want to strive to uncover in this book.
Through the miraculous process that caused red giant stars to create carbon (and nitrogen and oxygen), there is now a form of life that is aware of and can contemplate its own existence. But there is something even more amazing about this development of life evolving to understand life: life has now evolved (or been created for the purpose of) to actually alter the long-term evolution of the Universe itself.
What the Universe—as vast as it is—will become as time pushes forward is actually dependent on this thing we call “life”. The Universe depends on us.
God has created life for the purpose of evolving the Universe itself. We, as living things, will be responsible for helping to bring about the conditions of its rebirth.
And that is the subject of this forthcoming book.
1 / With all due apologies to Rene Descartes.