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Extravolution Blog
Projection PDF Print E-mail
Thursday, 22 January 2009 13:58
So all this may be a hologram. Should this worry you? I don't think so - at least no more than the idea that everything may be composed of tiny vibrating cosmic strings or that all possibilities are actually played out, as in the many worlds interpretation.

The holographic universe idea does not equate to acceptance, tacit or otherwise, of the simulation argument. But the notion of us playing out an ancestor simulation isn't as laughable as it may appear.

To me it's an issue of resolution. How grainy is reality? Of what type of "pixels" is our universe composed? It seems logical that there must be a smallest unit of reality and that that unit may be fiercely insubstantial. But at the same time it feels counter-intuitive because we think of ourselves and our world as solid and not "projected" in the way that pixels are. If you can accept the idea of our being "projected" at any kind of resolution, albeit a mind-bogglingly high one, then you can accept that something might be running the projector.

None of this implies God. Any intelligence capable of running ancestor simulations must have itself evolved from something less intelligent. The very idea of such an intelligence wishing to run the simulations indicates that they are doing so in order to see how they themselves evolved. God never gets to evolve. How dull.

Enough of the wild speculation and back to holograms. We accept that a moving image on a 2-dimensional surface can give us the illusion of 3-dimensional reality. We will soon have to accept holographic "televisions" that sit in the centre of our rooms, so that we can walk around them and do such banal things as looking at the back of the actors heads while they recite their lines. It is a big leap from that point to accepting our universe as a holographic projection but would it make us any less "real" if it were true?

I am a thinking entity utilising synapses, neurons and glia. Beyond that functional level the units of the thinking substrate become markedly less tangible, but that doesn't affect my ability to think. I would like to know how small the units get because that is the kind of thing that brains ponder? But if I eventually come to discover that I am actually living in a kind of Flatland that won't invalidate me as a thinking entity.

Being part of an ancestor simulation wouldn't either.
72 Votes


I am a Strange Loop PDF Print E-mail
Friday, 16 January 2009 13:59
Some time ago I read 'I am a Strange Loop' by Douglas Hofstadter.

His style can appear pedantic but there is a core of succinct truth in his work. Hofstadter clearly accepts himself as a purely material being. He attempts to put his finger on what "I" means within this context.

The core of his explanation is that the Self must be generated within the atomic structure of the brain. "I" is a "loop" generated by the brain feeding its own output back into its own input. But it's no ordinary type of loop; not one that is constrained to repetitive, mundane processes. The complex and chaotic nature of the feeds creates something unique within the system: that which we call "me".

The unpredictable output of "loopy" systems is demonstrated in video feedback experiments, on which Hofstadter is keen. He gives other examples including Godelian mathematical anomalies and language experiments, which can be made to exhibit a similar type of capricious behaviour.

I picked up an older book in a charity shop some time after I had read "I am a Strange Loop" - "The Creative Loop" by Erich Harth. His theme is similar but perhaps easier to understand and I think he may have been influenced by Hofstadter's earlier work. Harth uses the analogy of a hall of mirrors to describe the Self. We're not always directly responding to the input of our senses, we're responding to our inner reflections of those inputs chaotically mixed with all the other inputs we have ever had, and all of their component reflections.

I like this explanation. All Hail the careenium. I accept my loopiness and revel in it.
72 Votes


Cryonics PDF Print E-mail
Friday, 09 January 2009 05:17
I have signed up with Alcor to be cryonically stored after my death.

Of course we don't have the technology to 'wake' a human from death. But everything is made of atoms, so one day the techniques may exist to intervene at the atomic level to fix the massive degradation that happens to a human brain after death and the subsequent storage.

This isn't something I would wish for. It's just practical. Once you reject the concept of an immortal soul you can simply accept your eventual non-existence, or you can take some faltering steps towards retaining something, anything of the unique construct that is you. I have chosen the latter option.
76 Votes


Learning things PDF Print E-mail
Thursday, 08 January 2009 12:07
I have been learning things.

The things that I have learned have changed my mind - physically. That's what happens when you learn. The process alters neuronal connections to create new ones; to strenghten some, to weaken others so that over time the physical structure of the neocortex changes.

Those of us who don't hold any fuzzy Cartesian dualist notions of a mind/body split will not find this surprising. After all, everything is made of atoms. It's difficult to shake the notion of mind being separate though. We have so much ingrained vocabulary that reinforces it. But it's a straightjacket - carrying around this ethereal element which we think of as 'me' but which we cannot explain.

Learning about neuroscience is important. Surely it's an essential grounding for any field of human intellectual endeavour. How can a philospher, for example, opine about the nature of the mind and the human condition if she has no idea where or how her opinions are being generated, stored and reinforced?

Dendrites, the antennae of neurons, are a little like trees - hence the name derived from Greek. Some types of dendrite have 'spines'. The dendrite as a whole and the quality and quantity of the spines are affected by many environmental factors. The 'trees' can grow well or poorly. Their environment may be the cortex of a Downs Syndrome child, in which case many will be stunted and withered, as we would perhaps expect. But a similar 'withering' effect can be observed in the neurons of children with a poor social environment, bereft of proper human interaction and nurturing.

Cartesion dualism is wrong. We are biological and our 'minds' are generated by biochemical processes within our brains. Isn't that liberating.
65 Votes


Time to return PDF Print E-mail
Thursday, 08 January 2009 05:35
A lot has happened since my last post. I will explain some of this in due course.
67 Votes


An end to religion PDF Print E-mail
Friday, 03 November 2006 13:59
Text of a letter I wrote to the Sunday Herald newspaper in response to an article by Muriel Gray:

I congratulate Muriel Gray for her Enlightened article on the subject of religion. I, along with many others (probably the silent majority in Scotland) agree that it's time for an end to the "religious garbage" with which we are constantly force fed.

I am exasperated that so many 21st Century humans still cling to such misguided and wholly superstitious notions. Let's take the idea of original sin as an example. This is a favourite of the Free Presbyterian miscreants who have so adeptly scarred the minds of generations of my forebears. Original sin holds that you are damned from birth. I'm actually not quite sure at what specific point the damning begins. Is it from conception or is there an implicit damning of the upstart sperm and egg involved in the foul act? Regardless, what a cruel notion this is. To damn a child from birth. Just think about it. How could a child brought up with this belief live with it? Some choose not to.

I have sat through Free Presbyterian funerals and endured the frothing tirades of the "ministers" against the sinning deceased. The deceased is not even granted a name. This particular strand of religious belief has almost died out. I name it and welcome its passing.

Bringing a child up to believe in any form of god is child abuse because it is morally wrong and mentally damaging. State sanction of this through provision of "faith schools" is abhorrent. We should condemn all political parties that shamelessly curry favour with "faith communities" by promising them more of these institutions.

I actually like the the term "Brights" because it is a label that demands a reaction. The religious believe that they are also "enlightened", whereas a "Bright" knows that religion is a cloak of darkness smothering thought and knowledge.

We don't need schools of "Brightness" or "Enlightenism" or whatever we choose to call it; children have an inbuilt brightness and curiosity which we should cherish and foster. What we need is an end to religion, and we can begin the process in Scotland by ending the breeding grounds of intolerance we call faith schools.
64 Votes


Entropy PDF Print E-mail
Friday, 06 October 2006 19:07
I recently read 'Parallel Worlds' by Michio Kaku. It's a wonderful book which put new and complex images into my head regarding M-theory and multi-dimensional space. I can't comprehend the mathematical side of these subjects but this physicist author has a way of using his words (and a few diagrams) skillfully to create strong mental images of complex scientific ideas.

The book also brought up the subject of entropy, which is a concept I've come across in other books. I find entropy fascinating. It is a measurable variable in physics equations but seems somehow intangible. This is perhaps because it's an idea that people don't really wish to face.

Entropy is a measure of chaos and disorder. Matter can change in ways which increase its entropy. For example burning an old chair turns a functional and 'ordered' piece of matter into a chaotic and disordered cloud of ash and smoke. It's straightforward to accelerate entropy by burning the chair but it's impossible (currently) to reassemble the chair from the resultant ash and smoke. I use the word 'accelerate' rather than 'create' because the chair is already subject to entropy. The current manifestation of the molecules in the chair will degrade over time through 'natural' processes such as rotting but setting fire t0 the chair speeds up the process.

Everyone and everything is subject to entropy, so there can be no absolute 'permanence'. The persistence of a particular material manifestation can only be measured relative to other material manifestations. We don't generally worry too much about our sun using up all its energy, burning Earth to a crisp then fading to a cold cinder, because relative to our short lifespan that era is such a long way off. Relative to the lifespan of the universe our sun's life is an eyeblink.

But entropy doesn't just affect matter. Physics tells us that a measure of entropy is always present. I think that it also affects ideas and relationships. Perhaps there is a kind of memetic entropy where certain memes, even though they have been around for a long time suffering 'natural' wear and tear, reach the threshold point where they can no longer hold their cohesion and seem to dissipate suddenly. Some relationships only last a short time because the individuals involved don't take steps to limit the entropic effects of arguments and discord.

Entropy is a measurable variable within the limits of 'closed' systems. But is hard to define a closed system. There is no doubting the acceleration of entropy caused by the pollution of our planet but our planet may not be a 'closed' system for much longer. That doesn't mean that we should be content to despoil systems beyond our own, just that we are evolving entities that will spread and use ever more energy, accelerating entropy as we go. We will also be increasing intelligence, and we don't know where that will lead us, because we can't conceive it yet.
70 Votes


Memetic evolution PDF Print E-mail
Monday, 04 September 2006 05:46
I'm currently reading 'The Selfish Gene' by Richard Dawkins. It's 30 years since this book was first published but it is as relevant now as it was when first published, perhaps more so. I decided to read the book not because I am particularly interested in genetics but because there are so many references to it in other books I have read.

Eric Drexler frequently refers to Dawkins' 'meme' idea in 'Engines of Creation.' A meme is, essentially, a cultural 'idea' which becomes established within the consciousness of a certain group of individuals or within society as a whole. Memes can be propagated and perpetuated by various means, including of course the media, and now the internet. Before the media they would have been propagated verbally from person to person, group to person, or whatever. Later memes were propagated through writing. They can be the seed or the basis for entire belief systems, or they can be passing fads. Resilient memes survive in the consciousness of large numbers of people. Weak memes die out. Genes can be seen as 'replicators' and so can memes.

This brings us to the idea of 'memetic evolution'. It can be argued that humans are now beginning to step beyond the bounds of genetic evolution. We can make decisions, using our brains - our genetically evolved thinking apparatus', to defy our genetic programming, by using contraception for example. Memetic evolution allows as to evolve on a different, and much faster, level. We can do this by learning, effectively absorbing knowledge memes. These memes can help to preserve us, as new knowledge in medicine has done, they are 'good' memes and therefore survive and spread. There are also 'bad' memes. For example a meme for group suicide which quickly kills off all carriers of the meme. This would be bad for both the meme and the unfortunate individuals involved. Other bad memes survive and spread because they do not kill their carriers (at least not all of them).

I regard religion as a bad meme. Religion spreads, killing some of its carriers, but keeping plenty more alive to spread the meme. Religion also affects non-carriers by battling good memes containing beneficial information.

Memetic evolution and my definition of extravolution have a lot in common. Memes containing new technological insights spread throughout our planet, bringing us new knowledge which is beneficial to our survival. This process happens within the context of genetic evolution but also beyond it. Extravolution is shaping us at an ever-accelerating rate.
66 Votes


Matter to ponder PDF Print E-mail
Monday, 04 September 2006 05:39
A lot has happened since my last post. Not in the physical world but in the way I perceive things. My current focus is on 'extravolutionary' technologies. Particulary nanotech or 'minting'. I have been engrossed in a book called 'Engines of Creation' by K. Eric Drexler, which has helped to open my eyes to the implications of the molecular nature of matter.

Matter is made up of molecules of varying complexity. So if we can manipulate those molecules directly we open up an extraordinary new form of technology which will change us and our environment in ways we are only just beginning to imagine. The molecules in a brick, along with the 'positional information' which determine its molecular stucture, make it a brick. The same is true of a human brain. For us the precise 'positional information' of the molecules in our brains makes us who we are. The patterns 'grown' in our brains throughout our lives, those that define us as individuals, are not fleeting. Does that not mean that they can be preserved, perhaps indefinitely?

The above is, of course, a vast oversimplification. But the key point is that there does not need to be a magic ingredient which makes particular types of matter, such as brains, special. Brains are special because of the unique structures formed between the molecules within them. They are the most complex cohesive structures in the world, perhaps in our universe.
64 Votes


Homeopathy PDF Print E-mail
Monday, 04 September 2006 05:36
I listened to a story on the morning news about homeopathy. Apparently labelling is being changed to make it clearer what homeopathic products are and how they should be used. Unfortunately the new labelling will not state "This does not work."

A 'medicine' diluted to the point where it is unlikely that any molecules of the original medicinal ingredient exist in the substance, cannot qualify as a medicine. Numerous scientific studies have shown that the 'effect' of homeopathic medicine to be no greater than placebo.

The feature also pointed out that sales of homeopathic medicines are on the increase. This doesn't surprise me and indeed confirms the unscientific nature of homeopathy. At a time when trust in certain experts is at a low ebb, many people will have a tendency to reject the advice of scientists and make 'individual' decisions to opt instead for quackery. This is a dangerous and illogical meme. Current scientific understanding is a result of cumulative learning and rigorous testing. To reject that understanding is to reject valuable knowledge.
72 Votes


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