Category: science


C’s the day

April 28th, 2010 — 11:44am

The C programming language is like Latin: no one actually uses it, but it forms the foundation for more popular languages that evolved out of it. Knowing Latin roots is helpful when confronted with new English words. Similarly, C is a great foundation for learning Objective C, which is the offshoot that allows Object Oriented Programming.

Object Oriented programming takes all the functions and variables from old-fashioned procedural-type programming and wraps them into semi-autonomous objects, which are pretty much just little entities that run around serving the needs of the larger program. The code is compartmentalized so there’s less alteration of existing text when making changes or additions. This is a big deal because any time you rewrite something you might introduce an error. Object Oriented Programming limits those errors.

Which is the same solution life came up with billions of years ago. If your genetic code addressed you in a procedural manner, as a single, multifunctional, inter-related blob, then tiny errors in coding (which in the physical world are called mutations and which lead to evolution) might easily make some fundamental, creepy and unpleasant changes in the functioning of the program (which is you).

If every organ in your body were dependent on the viability of every line of code in your DNA, you would essentially be screwed. Actually, considering that mating fitness is a prerequisite to attraction, the chances are that you would not be screwed at all. Or reproduce; or probably be alive. The answer to this problem of complexity is Object Oriented Programming.

The genes for the organs of the body are, generally speaking, units that are somewhat self contained. That way the stomach can evolve into a better stomach without having to worry about the code integrity of your white blood cell body wall instructions, or the code relating to the permeability of the blood brain barrier. You are an example of Object Oriented Programming at its most successful.

So my body does it without thinking. Somehow I still have to learn it.

Comment » | C, science

Voices

December 20th, 2009 — 6:12pm

A barrier of consciousness wears away as sleep begins to dismantle the mind. Suddenly there are multiple, simultaneous monologs …and occasionally, hovering on the boundary of sleep, bits and pieces of that narrative are rescued and I find myself hearing my dead father’s voice.

If I were superstitious I’d believe in ghosts, but it’s more likely just a model of my father in my head. In the same sense, my wife can walk into a room while I’m reading, say something funny, then predict what I would say in response, to mock me. She knows exactly what words are rising unspoken in the back of my mind and says them before I do.

I imagine there are hundreds of these in constant operation within everyone. These agents would certainly predate the evolution of consciousness. An entity would need to evolve the ability to create such models as a means of efficiently predicting its environment.

Perhaps the brain of early man was an ever larger complex of small-scale agents, which became more complex as simple vocalizations grew into a language. But at some point there had to come a moment at which the model of that entity which was the self became the self that we think of when we say we are self-conscious.

And then the light of that illumination drowned out the other voices, pushing them back behind the wall of sleep, to creep out in dreams, or to filter their cacophony up through the levels of the brain in the form of intuition and prediction, or to reach through to conscious thought in a rare moment, when the self is preparing to rest, and our dead fathers reprimand us for some long forgotten, long forgiven fault.

This is what goes through my head as I lay awake with these splitting headaches. I think I’ve been staring too hard at the computer screen, as my right eye constantly aches. I am writing this from my computer in the living room, unable to sleep but not wanting to wake my wife.

On the brighter side of things, the Austrian doctor called this afternoon. Apparently her project is going well and they’re going to need more work. I must have been groggy because it actually took a while to remember who she was, and the woman has a very distinctive voice.

Comment » | consciousness, science

Strange Attractor

August 29th, 2008 — 1:40pm

My wife has a habit of dwelling on things that make her angry, replaying them in her mind, each iteration like the increasing inertia of a flywheel building her anger to an ever higher pitch.

It’s a trait I remember from my father, which I believe is at least partially genetic, a predisposition toward this sort of behavior that exists in her genes.

Of course half my father’s genes are mine. What I began to wonder is if there were some unknown attractor that encouraged me to pick someone with those traits. The psychologist would say that growing up I associated that sort of a temper with normalcy. This makes sense, but what  if there were also a genetic predisposition toward choosing a mate that would have many of the same genes as those from whom you (or I) take half of our genetic makeup?

What if there are subsets of genes which are better able to propagate as a collective because they encourage behavior that leads someone to mate with an individual that carries those genes that are missing from the subset the individual received at birth?

In still different words, you have a parent ‘A’ and a parent ‘B’ and the child is born with a Mendelian subset of those genes, call them .5A1/.5B1.  What if there is an aspect of having .5A1 genetic subset that encourages that individual to seek out another individual as a mate that has .5A2 in their genes? What if that genetic subset is seeking to regain its continuity in a subsequent generation, exerting CONTROL over your destiny?

Comment » | science

The evolution of packing slips

August 13th, 2008 — 12:07pm

In the office today, trying to focus, which is an extreemly difficult process when the topic of discussion is packing slips for autoshipments of anti-aging beauty products.

They are discussing whether the packing slips will change substantially when the product is sent ‘ostensibly’ from the online beauty retailer account, rather than the actual product manufacturer –both of which are in actuality the same company.

This is something that has to be discussed, and it can have an impact on the bottom line, but it is so fantastically irrelevant to anything that has value to me, that to concentrate on this line of discussion is like trying to meditate on absolute silence while sitting crosslegged on a freeway median.

I am wondering why I have made the decisions which have led me to this point in life and how much I would rather be discussing some aspect of evolution rather than packing slips. This leads into a thought about how the nature of evolutionary thought itself has evolved, from thinking of the individual animal to a concentration on the gene. This has led in the opposite direction to a consideration of the evolution of animals as a group, which is a hotly contested concept, since some scientists think that only a consideration of evolution from the most granular, or gene, level makes sense.

And this leads me to think that the focus on the level at which you consider evolution should be arbitary. Certainly a consideration of evolution at the genetic level makes the most sense, but that is the same as saying that an understanding of a computer’s operations makes the most sense by studying machine language…

Certainly evolutionary pressure happens in any arena in which groupings of genes, or individuals, or concepts, which are self-reproducing, compete. The decision to focus on the procreative success of the individual is an arbitrary one, just as to focus on the success of the society or the gene.

What matters is the speed of the reproductive cycle and the nature of the competition –all are happening simultaneously. To ignore the forces of societal evolutionary pressure on the evolutionary success of the individual is short-sighted. But oh, yeah, they’re talking about packing slips. MUST CONCENTRATE ON PACKING SLIPS.  If only I could control my thoughts.

Comment » | science, Whining

must go back to work now…

June 24th, 2008 — 4:26pm

The human brain is a bi-lobed control system, either side of which, in an emergency, can operate the entire body. Those few people who have had one half of their brain removed are usually able to regain control of their bodies with the exception of the arm opposite the excised lobe, often with no discernable loss to the personality. The American political system is a bi-lobed system of control, and one of the two parties seems to always have control of congress at any given time. After a switch such as the one recently, the opposing party innevitably begins investigations into the excesses of the previous administration. So this leads me to wonder if there is an analogous operation at work between the two lobes of the brain. An iterative program rewrites itself constantly, but the easiest way to rewrite a program is to do so from outside the program. Perhaps the bi-lobed brain allows for a better means of checking the ongoing development of the overall human running system by switching between its two control lobes, each one in turn corroborating and addressing change issues in the other. This might be testable by measuring the extent to which neural firing from one side of the brain addressed activity in the other side…

Comment » | consciousness, science

Von Neuman is Unintuitive

June 17th, 2008 — 12:20pm

A Von Neumann machine is linear processing. First one thing happens, then another. It is the way of rigid logic or geometry proofs, and seems more or less to form the foundation for western thought.

A parallel processing machine is one that uses simultaneous and independently operating algorithms. The brain is a parallel processing machine. But consciousness feels as if it is a Von Neumann machine: Consciousness appears as a stream, always possessing a direction. But beneath conscious thought there are simultaneous streams of semi-consciousness  knitted together, sometimes long after the fact, to provide what seems to be linear narrative. The self is a Von Neumann machine simulated on a parallel processing machine.

But there are benefits and limitations to each form, and often I see brilliant people who have come to rely so much on Von Neumann logic that they can talk themselves into blatantly absurd positions. The smallest inaccuracies in initial conditions, after multiple operations, can lead to absurd results.

A logical chain of reasoning can lead to amazing and yet counter-intuitive results, like General Relativity, but it can also lead you down rabbit-holes of craziness, like the reviewer for The New York Times who managed to convince himself that “Don’t Mess With The Zohan” was funny because its politics and humanism were admirable.

Intuition seems to me the ability to allow the brain’s parallel processing aspects to operate below the level of consciousness to avoid the limitations of a simulated Von Neumann architecture. The Myers Briggs psychological test divides human personalities into four sets of polarities: Introvert/Extrovert, Sensing/Intuiting, Thinking/Feeling, and Perceiving/Judging. They seem to have done pretty well for themselves with the success of that test, so I assume that they are at least partially accurate. Here are their ideas on intuition:

Extraverted Intuition: Sees possibilities in the external
world. Trusts flashes from the unconscious, which can then be shared
with others.

Introverted Intuition: Looks at consistency of ideas and
thoughts with an internal framework. Trusts flashes from the unconscious,
which may be hard for others to understand.

Comment » | consciousness, science

abstractions reinforce existence

June 5th, 2008 — 1:10pm
What’s interesting about this praying mantis is the fact that it’s not just disguised as generic plant matter, it has evolved to look like a very specific flower. By appearing to an unsuspecting bug as a benign object within its visual realm, the mantis can simply stand in place and wait for the bug to walk up to it and be eaten. But because the evolutionary pressure in terms of body design comes from the bug’s reference system [e.g., “this object is just a lotus blossom so I am allowed to ignore it.”], what you have over time is the modeling of one entity’s body by another entity’s brain’s system of representation. In other words, the mantis has NOT evolved to look like a lotus blossom; the mantis has evolved to look the way a bug SEES a lotus blossom. So I imagine that if you were to perform a detailed study of the ergonomics of this particular bug and look for where there were areas of seeming inefficiency (such as the pink flanges on the legs that obviously appear to be petals of a blossom) –and then look for the differences between these elements and an ACTUAL lotus blossom, you could learn something interesting about the visual and cognitive systems of the bugs on which it preys.
http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/evolution/library/01/1/l_011_03.html
There are many evolutionary pressures, increasing with the increase in technology throughout a culture, that come from modes of representation. The conventions of anime, over time, will come to shape the bodies of mankind, as certain stylized expressions will be viewed as more natural or inviting. Behavior, and therefore consciousness, is subject to much faster-developing evolutionary pressure as certain aspects of our demeanor prove more successful than others and are therefore encouraged to propagate. So over time, if you aren’t careful, you might find yourself turning into a representation of the sort of person other people find most useful to have around—which might not always be the most useful person for YOU to have around…
I’m tired of being molded by the cognitive systems of others. An office environment is one big petri dish, churning through endless generations of minute evolutionary progress toward the human robot.

Comment » | design, science

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