Have Faith In Replicators

Steven Cleghorn
11 min readFeb 9, 2024

When I read an article, I think of all kinds of interconnections. This morning, I read an article about China’s current economic predicament and immediately thought of a Star Trek Replicator.

Galaxy Class Replicator

China’s domestic economic troubles shined through as businesses across parts of Asia began shutting down on Friday for the week-long Lunar New Year holiday. Typically, during one of the quietest periods in the region, Chinese government officials announced they would take steps to ensure factories continued “maintaining stable production” amid the celebrations. Consumers are also spending less on pork and expensive foods associated with the Lunar New Year, while barbers are charging less than usual for the haircuts people get during the run-up. (Many people in China believe it’s bad luck to get a haircut during the first month of the lunar calendar.)

The Universe is a mess of interacting matter that occupies space and has mass. Matter comprises elements that can’t be broken down chemically into other substances. Atoms, the smallest component of an element, consisting of subatomic particles, protons, photons, quarks, neutrinos, gluons, and such, are attracted by forces and energy into various molecules (two or more atoms held together by chemical bonds.)

But look here, I’m not a chemist or a physicist, so let me continue my spiel by quoting a short piece describing how the Sun works.

Meet the Sun

The Sun is a yellow dwarf star at the center of our solar system. Earth and all other objects in our solar system orbit around the Sun due to gravity — the Sun contains over 98% of all mass in the solar system, and so exerts a strong gravitational pull. Like other stars, the Sun is a dense ball of gas that creates energy through nuclear fusion reactions in the core, producing helium atoms from hydrogen atoms. The Sun radiates different forms of energy, including ultraviolet, infrared, and light energy, out into space. Light and heat energy from the Sun warm our planet and make life possible.

God’s most extraordinary creature is the Sun.

It is responsible for photosynthesis in plants, vision in animals, and many other natural processes, such as the movements of air and water that create weather. Most plants need at least some sunlight to grow, so without light, there would be no plants, and without plants, there would not be oxygen for us to breathe.

Egyptian, Indo-European, and Meso-American cultures had religions that worshipped the Sun. Almost all mythologies have Sun motifs.

The Sun and how it works, folks, is vital whether or not you know the scientific reasons why.

If I may be so bold, life emerged from the energy of the Sun. Like Carl Sagan said, “We are all made of star stuff.”

3.7 to 4.0 billion years ago, the Earth was in a hypothetical condition known as the primordial soup consisting primarily of an oxygen-free gaseous mixture containing chiefly water, hydrogen, methane, ammonia, and carbon dioxide.

From this primordial goo emerged Organic Compounds:

The organic compound consists of any of a large class of chemical compounds in which one or more atoms of carbon are covalently linked to atoms of other elements, most commonly hydrogen, oxygen, or nitrogen. The few carbon-containing compounds not classified as organic include carbides, carbonates, and cyanides.

In general, organic compounds are substances that contain carbon ©, and carbon atoms provide the key structural framework that generates the vast diversity of organic compounds. All things on Earth (and most likely elsewhere in the Universe) that can be described as living have a crucial dependence on organic compounds. Foodstuffs — namely, fats, proteins, and carboh drates — are organic compounds, as are such vital substances as hemoglobin, chlorophyll, enzymes, hormones, and vitamins. Other materials that add to the comfort, health, or convenience of humans are composed of organic compounds, including clothing made of cotton, wool, silk, and synthetic fibres; common fuels, such as wood, coal, petroleum, and natural gas; components of protective coatings, such as varnishes, paints, lacquers, and enamels; antibiotics and synthetic drugs; natural and synthetic rubber; dyes; plastics; and pesticides.

From these organic compounds, life emerged.

Oh, the mystery of life. We could avoid all of this science stuff, all these things our God-given brains have figured out through various contemplative, intellectual, and technical tools we’ve discovered and invented over the centuries, and quote an ancient text and be done with our labored inquiries.

Let there be hops


Or we could continue learning about our scientific theories and how we arrived at them and wade into the still controversial (in some circles) theory of evolution as a way to explain all the many forms of life that have graced our Earth over hundreds of millions of years. Multiple lines of evidence suggest that shrew-like mammals first appeared about 225 million years ago and were only a few centimeters long.

It’s hard to believe that in 2024, science illiteracy is still so prevalent or that some people think science is just another religion. I believe one can talk to God and still be a rigorous scientist uncovering the secrets of the Universe. I can hold a conversation with Jesus, Simone de Beauvoir, and Albert Einstein at the same time while fussing about in my garden. Albert gets bored with my discourse but is still humorous and friendly. I often talk with Thomas Edward Lawrence, Lieutenant Colonel Sir Francis Edward Younghusband, and Miyamoto Musashi — I love adventurers. I talk with Miyamoto mainly in English because my Japanese is limited, and for some reason, Miyamoto-san speaks fluent English these days. I have a good imagination that feels very real to me. Can one really imagine things? I think, therefore, cheeseburger.

(Oh no, I was tempted to say something about the brain’s workings, and I don’t know much about that domain. What gives me the right?)


Define God as you will within the confines of your inherited culture. God must be familiar. I don’t anthropomorphize God. I can’t imagine a God as a Marvel Comic version of a homo sapien. Am I more pious because I can’t make a craven image of the creative force or ultimate origins? Or am I a blasphemer because I imagine, however clumsily, a creative force not grounded in ancient literature? Anyway, I’ll admit it: I lean towards Spinoza’s God. Try as I will to educate myself in domains of science; I’m still a mystic. And I don’t crave power enough to make people believe what I believe. “I command you to imagine thusly!”

Regardless of your belief systems, there are ways to explain creative forces that use the broader language and processes the practice of science has revealed.

The Theory of Evolution

One of our greatest scientific theories is the theory of evolution.

Biology, the study of life, is a fascinating domain.

A Side Note:

We all have to eat, and we all eat organic matter, even if it’s a genetically modified organism. (Organism: an individual animal, plant, or single-celled life form.) Proteins, amino acids, peptides, fats, carbohydrates, cellulose, starch, hemoglobin, weak organic acids, etc., are all considered “organic.” We modify organic compounds every time we cook.

At any rate, for curiosity’s sake, allow me to quote an article at length on how we view the theory of evolution today:

Paul Lucas, Ph.D. in Biochemistry and Research Scientist from 1974 through the present, Studied at the University of Minnesota.

Technically, the current theory of evolution is the Modern Synthesis or Neo-Darwinism. It was formulated in the 1930s and 1940s. The Modern Synthesis reconciled Mendelian genetics and Darwin’s evolution. Natural selection did not work under the theory of genetics — blended characteristics — known in Darwin’s time. Mendelian genetics will explain natural selection.

Modern Synthesis; Theodosius Dobzhansky; The Modern Synthesis of Genetics and Evolution

However, the Modern Synthesis kept the five fundamental theories that constitute evolution as outlined by Darwin:

1. The nonconstancy of species (the basic theory of evolution)

2. The descent of all organisms from a common ancestor (branching evolution).

3. The gradualness of evolution (no saltations or discontinuities)

4. The multiplication of species (the origin of diversity)

5. Natural selection.” Ernst Mayr, What Evolution Is. pg 86

Since the 1940s, there have been periodic calls to modify the Modern Synthesis for one reason or another. Many of those calls have been based on a very narrow interpretation of the Modern Synthesis. One attempt to modify the Modern Synthesis is based on the discovery of developmental genes and that small changes in developmental genes can have large changes in morphology and physiology. The field is known as “evolutionary development biology” or “evo-devo” for short. An example of this call for a new “synthesis” is here: A New Evolutionary Synthesis.

However, there has yet to be any scientific consensus that the Modern Synthesis needs to be replaced or even seriously modified. Stay tuned — it may happen, or maybe not.

Now, evolution is an extensive theory. It has dozens (hundreds) of subsidiary (auxiliary) theories and hypotheses. These can be changed without altering the five major theories stated above or the basics of the Modern Synthesis. An example is how new species subsidiary to #1, 2, and 4 arise. The primary mode of speciation was thought to be phyletic gradualism: a large population of a species transforms over generations into another species. However, evolutionists have noticed that speciation could occur by allopatric speciation: a small geographically isolated population of a species transformed over generations into a new species.

Eldredge and Gould proposed that most speciation in the history of life was by allopatric speciation and not phyletic gradualism. This theory was called “Punctuated Equilibrium. “ Today, this is accepted: allopatric speciation is by far the most common mode for forming new species.

But notice that PE is not a “latest theory of evolution.” Instead, it is a theory within evolution. And that is what most theories about evolution are: new theories within evolution.

The possible role of epigenetics in evolution is the latest theory within evolution.

Recently, an “integrated synthesis” has been proposed. It is being considered (and advocated by a few ), but so far has not gained much traction:

What this diagram does is show the relationship of the theories involving evolution. “Darwinism,” or Darwin’s original five theories, is always kept. The core of the Modern Synthesis is also kept. The three areas on the far left can be viewed as extreme interpretations of the Modern Synthesis. The Integrated Synthesis mostly wants to add new modes of variation, particularly epigenetics. They also want to add genomic evolution (selection within the genome) and “multilevel selection,” or selection of groups instead of individuals. This multilevel selection has met the most opposition. “Replicator theory” is more within abiogenesis than evolution, so it has opposition.

Science (as in the collective thought of scientists) sometimes takes quite a long time. It took 250 years for heliocentrism to become the dominant theory in astronomy. This discussion on the Integrated Synthesis has been going on for 20+ years. Only some of the components have been there that long. For instance, epigenetic inheritance has only been discussed within the last 5–10 years.

So be patient. However, you can be sure that whatever new “synthesis” results, the original theories of Darwin and those five areas of Modern Synthesis will always be there.

China is a Replicater — it replicates Western economics, science, and technological production with Chinese characteristics, of course.

Beijing Skyline

China doesn’t necessarily need Western-style economic growth. Well, it does if it wants to be competitive with the West, secure, and immune to the humiliations the West visited upon it throughout its relatively recent history. (China has been a thing for a long time.) We are all too human, and humans are violently competitive and passionately covet power and control over resources. An emperor maintains his power first and foremost and, if the ruler is wise and adept, the security of his subjects.

Xi Jinping stays in power as long as China does well, but if China does too well, it risks war with the ideologues in power in the West, which could upset the geopolitical balance of power and prosperity for billions of people for generations.

Thucydides’s Trap refers to the natural, inevitable discombobulation that occurs when a rising power threatens to displace a ruling power… [and] when a rising power threatens to displace a ruling power, the resulting structural stress makes a violent clash the rule, not the exception.

Modern Economics

The modern “religion” of economics could be responsible for the death of all life on Earth. Nations have much greater destructive power than ever before. Fossil Capitalism is destroying habitats, polluting ecosystems, heating the Earth’s land, oceans, and atmosphere, and disrupting the climate in ways that could end civilization. We are facing a poly crisis resulting from our success as inventive, creative, competitive animals with super-brains.

We use cheap petrochemical energy to extract minerals from the Earth and build amazing machines. We edit genes. We use electronic media to manufacture mighty memes that influence the way people think and what they believe.

We want fusion energy and the power to mine other worlds so we can have the materials to make more and more machines. Greater, better, more powerful machines that may help us compete with different forms of intelligent life in the Universe. And so we have stories like Star Wars and Star Trek that imagine a future where our particular genius and violence can spread around the Universe.

Nature is both creative and destructive. People are profoundly beautiful and violent. Our species will not be eternal, although we’d like to think so.

All hail the material world!

The Star Trek Replicator

Biowaste and other recycled materials are broken down into essential parts: water, carbon, and other molecules fed into a replicator that uses lasers to reassemble the atomic bits into something we could consume. Superfast lasers convert incoming matter into energy and back into matter, which requires a lot of energy.

OMG, do we have to talk about thermo dynamics now?

Of course, there are simpler ways to get a meal and build what we need for a flourishing life. But not if everyone wants to signal their status by possessing material memes.

A decent culture, essential for a flourishing life, requires matter and imagination. A great culture is magical. We have replicators for that already; we know them as memes and stories — brain-based communications technology, A.K.A. ideas, thoughts, and feelings expressed through language and emotion.

How much energy do we need to produce how many things before we feel like we are living the good life?

We need spirit, imagination, consideration, understanding, shared values, and enough material things to nurture and support benevolent communities that can create the conditions for competitive, productive societies able to live sustainably and peacefully on our small Earth, the home in which all life as we know it evolved.

Modern economics is an extreme expression of the seven deadly sins energized by fossil capital and ideologies turbocharged by science and technology.

We could have a culture where science, engineering, and technology can harness energy less damaging to life systems, where wisdom, humility, and reverence could lead to everlasting peace and hundreds of thousands of years of spiritual and intellectual growth and exploration.

We could invent a cultural replicator that would allow us to maintain values in line with life. All we need is time.

I imagine it’s possible but not probable. Time and imagination are indeed mysterious.

Shall we muse about time? Just kidding. That’s all for now.

Originally published at www.cospolon.eu



Steven Cleghorn

I'm an autodidact, skeptic, raconteur, and a former producer at The Muse Films Ltd. in Hong Kong. I founded Globe Hackers Multimedia Ltd.