Archive for the ‘The Model’ Category

On Evolution

21 March 2020

Sitting at home a lot during these days of self-quarantine, I resort to the computer for something to do. I use Mozilla Firefox as my browser. And Firefox uses an app called Pocket. This is a feed of “popular” articles that a user can mark for “saving” or later review. Of course, cloud apps don’t actually save anything to the client device (the computer you own and work with) but keep everything on the server (a network of computers that you don’t own, but store all data available on a network – in this case the Internet). Although I believe Pocket provides some sort of local save feature.

At every logon, the featured articles in my Pocket feed change a bit. They include quite a wide range of writing, but mostly those offered by traditional publications that once had hard copy versions, such as the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Guardian, New Yorker magazine, The Atlantic magazine, Harvard Business Review, and so on.

Newer content sources also appear. Quartz is a business-oriented news service. Wired is a technology-oriented magazine that has a hard copy version. Vice is a younger-adult-oriented media provider. Vox is a left-leaning provider of “exploratory journalism.” Mental Floss is another example of many newer media companies that are now online-only. The Conversation is an academically-oriented site. I may also see posts form NPR, Citylab, Aeon (an Australian educational charity) and many others.

Though there is a lot of variety provided by all these organizations and all the people who write for them, there is a tendency – certainly in the topics I follow – to not challenge too heavily the Status Quo.

Though I challenge the Status Quo for ostensibly rational reasons (that it isn’t working that well and has become exclusionary) I admit that I may harbor a more irrational bent for challenging our desire for a stable belief system.

Be that as it may, certainly one concept that has moved solidly into the position of a stable belief system, at least in the realm of academia, is Evolution. Some would argue that Evolution is one approach to the larger problems of “Origin Science.” Yet this concept has not yet received broad academic support, although there is some movement in that direction, such as the Institute for the Science of Origins at Case Western Reserve University (Cleveland, OH).

Which came first?

Without getting into all the sociopolitical ooze that accompanied science as it drove itself into the twentieth century, “modern” science seems to formally reject any idea that ideas, or a desire to create, could have actually preceded form, or the results of creation.

This was a significant divergence from the concept of Prime Mover expounded by Aristotle, and the willingness of many earlier scientists to believe in something like God. Further, the new concept contained a sort of logical riddle: How could creation ever happen, if what was created (the physical universe, for example) also created the desire to create (life, for example)? It makes more sense that the desire to create would come first, and then the creation would follow.

Eastern religious ideas began to enter the West with the colonization of India and other such areas starting in the mid-1700s. It is theorized that certain power groups in the West were concerned about the “soft” ideas of the East and sought to counter them. However that may be, we find in Darwin a desire to explain biology in terms of physical causes only, and in his half-cousin Galton, a desire to breed mankind into “better” forms (Eugenics).

What the West had on its side was that the physical was obvious, measurable, and thus knowable, while spiritual things were seen as intuitive, impossible to measure, and thus impossible to gain any certainty about. To this day many scientists, both in the East and the West, believe this basic premise either explicitly or implicitly and are only comfortable with concepts of physical causation. That does not, however, mean that “spiritual causation,” as one might call it, has not been investigated, demonstrated, and in fact found – in many ways – to be as measurable and as knowable as other forms of causation.

Ramifications of the doctrine of the Prime Mover

For Aristotle (according to what I have read about him so far), the main thing that the idea of a Prime Mover allowed into the picture was God. But in more general terms, what the concept allows into the picture is Spirit.

The simplest concept of spirit is indeed the concept of a Prime Mover. More colloquially, we could see this as a being who got something started, then sat back to watch what would happen. This being might then wander off to put its attention on something else, yet the system it had put in motion could continue to operate.

As we can measure the “age” of the entire physical universe by various methods and theories, another ramification of this concept is that Prime Mover, God, or Spirit, has existed for a LONG time, and might, for all we know, still exist. This gives some people what I might call the “Santa Claus problem.”

He sees you when you’re sleeping;

He knows when you’re awake.

He knows when you’ve been bad or good,

So be good for goodness sake!

Santa Claus is Coming to Town

There are plenty of people in the world (and it seems in the West in particular) who don’t want anybody to know when they’ve been bad or good!

And this is one theory why concepts of Spirit, immortality, past life memory and similar things have been discouraged or invalidated in the West.

Secular attempts to re-establish the concept

There have been a significant number of individuals and groups who have sought to preserve spiritual concepts as religious beliefs. Far fewer have made attempts to secularize these concepts.

Hubbard’s own efforts along this line began with a secular intention. It was not until 1954 that the church was established, years after his initial breakthroughs had been communicated and applied.

However, broadly speaking, academic interest in “spiritual” phenomena has existed for a long time, and has resulted in a significant – if not broadly accepted – amount of work in the field. I always like to point out the Division of Perceptual Studies at the University of Virginia School of Medicine as an example of this. They have documented thousands of cases of past life recall.

Another development has been the attempt to make Intelligent Design an academically acceptable research discipline. So far, per Wikipedia, this has failed. The concept attracted, and was started by, so many religious people that secularists think of it as just another attempt to re-inject religious doctrine into the classroom. For these people, it seems, Intelligent Design means Prime Mover means God. This concatenation of essentially unrelated ideas has spoiled the movement.

Evolution as an information problem

I have seen arguments that run something like this:

At every instance of procreation (or cell division in simpler organisms), there is a chance for the genetic information in the cells (or the sex cells in higher organisms) to vary from that contained in the parent cell or cells. This can result in an offspring (or daughter cell) containing different genetic material than the parent. If this offspring lives to reproduce, that genetic variation survives. If it does not live to reproduce, that genetic variation does not survive. This limits the information passed forward in time to: Yes or No, did that variation allow that organism to survive to reproduce? Thus, any other information that the organism might acquire over the course of its lifetime is meaningless from the point of view of genetic information.

This means, for example, that a person who procreates from the age of 20 to 30 can forward no useful genetic information gained after the age of 30. And that if that person had died before the age of 20, he would have forwarded no genetic information at all.

Of course, most scientists in the field believe that experiential information does not encode and so cannot be forwarded. Yet at the same time they believe that genes broadly determine not only physical appearance, but general behaviors and abilities as well. How does all that data ever get into the genes, if the only datum available is survival to procreation?

Cell differentiation is another problem, but this one has been researched into the ground. They’ve got it all figured out how, in advanced organisms, a single cell pair relying on just one copy of its genetic code eventually turns into an organism with eyes, legs, a liver, etc.

How did all this information get into the genome? Researchers don’t seem too worried about that question.

A solution to the information problem

What is the difference between a living cell or organism and a dead one? All most scientists can tell us is that something made the cell or organism unable to function, and that was that.

Well, causes of death are usually so diverse and so obvious that this explanation is difficult to argue against. We have a few “freak” cases (an accelerating phenomenon in modern hospitals) where people die and then mysteriously revive. Their own stories of what happened are discounted. But they almost universally validate the concept of the Prime Mover.

Whether people report that they were “called back” or simply decided that they really didn’t want to die just then, we see the whole concept of Spirit assert itself as a reality of (at least) human existence. And this gives us a solution to the problem of too little information to ever really successfully evolve.

To fill this role, Spirit must have some sort of mental capability, or “somatic memory” of its own, distinct from mere genetic codes. And the research finds that it does. Spirit, in fact, seems to have a lot of really interesting capabilities. It fits the requirements for a Prime Mover. It can bring physicality into existence without itself ever being physical. And so it can add something to a living organism that makes it alive, that gives it a purpose, and motion. In theory Spirit exists above the level of genetics, and probably created genetics. In sober reality Spirit helps us to do things that could never be encoded into our genes, but can easily be remembered or recreated. It can also make profoundly stupid mistakes, act crazy, and pretend to be dead. Without Spirit, real evolution would have never been possible, and the future would be a total dead end. With Spirit, we possibly have another chance.

The Lands

8 February 2018

dead trees along american river
…Some background on a new writing project and WordPress site…here…

Inspirations from odd places

I had recently been exposed to a film story called “Blade Runner 4049.” Though I found the story overly complex, its vision of our future is not that unusual in contemporary fiction. I particularly recall from the movie an area called “San Diego” that had become a huge dump and salvage yard for the Los Angeles metropolis. The piles of junk went on for miles and miles in all directions. It was also pointed out that there were no living trees in the environment. It was noted that at a “rebel” outpost, a dead tree had been kept standing using steel cables.

The Blade Runner story is a “loose adaptation” of a story by writer Philip K. Dick. Philip is considered an important science fiction writer. Born in 1928, he was influenced by the somewhat older sci-fi writers of the pulp days, such as Hubbard and Heinlein, but also the “beat” writers like Jack Kerouac. He died at only 53 under circumstances that remain poorly understood. He was a drug user, that is for sure.

In Dick’s book, the dystopia evident on the West Coast was brought about by war. In the movie this is not mentioned, except for a reference to a “high radiation” area near Las Vegas. In both stories, androids apparently designed for robotic tasks (I don’t believe it) acquire their own sense of humanity and wish to have equal rights with humans and an end to the control programming. Science fiction writers who have gone down this road seem to be of a mind that something like this could happen. They don’t try to understand why. The difference for me is that I now know why. The design and manufacture of human-like androids would be seen as a dangerous and stupid activity by anyone who understood the likely spiritual outcome of it. The androids in the film, called “replicants,” would be even more susceptible to this problem, as they are almost totally biological.

Bicycling downtown through the riverside park, I noticed a large stand of dead trees that has always been there, but seemed unusually gloomy with no spring foliage to offset the grayness. And I thought, “this is the Land of the Dead Trees.” And so I began to formulate the starting point of a story.

I am incapable – even if I wanted to – of writing an ordinary fiction story. I have been exposed to too much actuality that is much stranger than most “fiction” written these days. The trick would be to start with how things are now and somehow show how the situation could be improved.

That leads to Edward Bellamy’s “Looking Backward” which employed a similar technique. But I have no use for his time traveler. I can simply assume a viewpoint of some future time and “look back” to now.

phto with added effects

The photo above with two effects added to it: “oil” and “sepia.”

The Model: Latest Developments

21 May 2012

My earlier article, for reference.

While the political scene continues to percolate, and for the most part is not being covered by any reliable information source, I have been advocating for a more workable model for understanding human life.

A danger sign disguised as futurism – Russia 2045

The 2045 website was just recently launched. Here’s a link.

Though it purports to be a “brand new” approach to the future of humanity, spearheaded by innovative Russian academics, what do you know?: It’s a dot com website!

It looks pretty Russian. Except for the Ray Kurzweil and Dalai Lama endorsements. Who’s really behind it? Perhaps time will tell.

Their major project is to “reverse engineer the human brain.”

So close! Yet, so far.

I sent a little missive to the email address for this project. I warned them that this whole line of reasoning could turn out to be very unwise. They responded the next day with one sentence: “Please never write to us again.”

Hm.

I hope my readers will understand the problem I’m looking at, assuming The Model is basically valid:

  1. If the brain is not actually what produces human consciousness, then reverse engineering it will just get you a much better robot.
  2. If human consciousness is immortal, then why don’t we just remember how to make better robots? It’s got to be in someone’s memory somewhere.

The people putting up the money for this project should be aware of these two points. So what is their honest reason for supporting this project? I invite your comments on the matter. (Comments are, however, reviewed by me before posting.)

 

Life as a Process

11 May 2012

Most recently my head has been buried in matters related to computer programming.

So why this waxing philosophic?

  1. It is time – past time really – to take a new look at the world around us.
  2. Programming languages are based on certain philosophic principles.
  3. When you write programs for the purpose of understanding how to do it, you run into these principles.
  4. If you have prior philosophic training, you may find these principles interesting, rather than just annoying or dogmatic.

Objects

In programming we have this term “object.” It means “an instance of a class.” If that doesn’t clarify things for you, I don’t blame you. But I’m going to keep this light; I’m not going to resort to my Webster’s. A “class” is a pattern for an object. Like a gene is a pattern for a protein. An “instance” is an actual example of something created from a class. A person is an “instance” of his genetics, in this sense. And the browser window you are reading this in is an instance of the various classes that were specifically designed to make browser windows. The “browser program” defines the process, as a series of steps, for creating and working with a browser window.

Processes

We usually think of an object as a thing that doesn’t “change” unless a process acts upon it. This is a convenient and workable way of thinking, but at its core it is flawed. If the objects all around us – including us – were not in a constant state of change, they would all disappear. In macro terms, we are constantly changing position in every frame of reference except our own. And in micro terms, we now know that atoms and subatomic particles are, in fact, in constant motion.

Thus from the point of view of a human in material existence, it even requires a process of some kind for objects to appear to remain the same. Without some sort of continuing process, an object would vanish as soon as the process creating it finished. This actually happens in programming.

For example, for my systems analysis class I wrote a little program that simulates how a grocery checkout system works. When the clerk holds an item over the scanner, the scanner detects the bar code of the item and sends it to a database. The database responds with data about the item, which the system temporarily stores in an ITEM object. This data is then inspected and processed, if necessary (does the item need to be weighed? etc.), and when that is done, the item data is copied over to the INVOICE object, and the ITEM object is destroyed. The ITEM object does not appear again until a new item is scanned, and the process is repeated.

Physically, a shopping basket is being emptied of items, which are being handled, one-by-one by the cashier, and are then put into a shopping bag. So, the physical items simply get handled and moved to a new location, while the logical ITEMS get created, inspected, and destroyed over and over.

In both cases, we are talking about process. But for me, the life cycle of an ITEM in a checkout program really brought it home for me. The continued existence of ANY OBJECT depends on a continuing process. You could even call an object a process.

 

Spirit

An example of this problem is the attitude of science to the concept of spirit.

Academically trained writers have trouble with spirit. They reason that, since the spirit has no physical properties, it could not rightly be said to “exist.”

I stood in my kitchen one day not long ago, just after reading such a discussion, and watched the wind blowing around the bushes and trees outside. And I thought, “spirit is like the wind.” After all, I realized later, the word comes from a word for “breath.”

And certainly, no one would argue that “wind” doesn’t exist! But “wind” is a name for a process. The process involves the movement of air from an area of higher pressure to an area of lower pressure. We don’t study wind and rain as “things” (I hope). We study them as processes. And that is really the only way to study spirit.

Everything is a process

But according to my earlier discussion, what, in fact, is NOT a process?

Hm.

The postulate of an “unchanging object” is in fact a matter of mere intellectual convenience. Within certain frames of reference, or rules of play if you want to use a game analogy, certain objects can be thought of as non-changing unless acted upon by a process that changes them. But this is simply intellectually convenient. It is not, ultimately, the truth of what is going on.

The truth is that everything is a process. Some processes are relatively insignificant in most games, and can be ignored. Others are more significant. But to overlook this truth is to make a major error.

Particle physics has had two major approaches.

One approach involves creating a very small space in which a lot of energy is added in. This tends to “expose” processes that are normally very private. In this way they have discovered “particles” with very short lifetimes that normally are created and destroyed inside of other particles.

The other approach has been to create a very small space in which a lot of energy is drained out (usually by cooling). The matter inside this space tends to simplify, or act more like it would under “ideal” conditions. You get superconductivity, superfluidity and other phenomena that indicate that the various processes in matter start to cease to interfere with each other, or in fact can be “turned off.”

However, this is nothing, in my mind, compared to the various experiments in what we currently call the “paranormal” during which “solid objects” have been observed to appear and disappear (materialize and dematerialize) according to the will of someone with “psychic powers.”

Scientific study of spiritual phenomena

If science is willing to entertain the possibility – as they have had to do in particle physics – that the subject they are studying is basically a process and not an “object,” then we may have an entrance point to the problem of how to study the spirit.

Particle physicists are now well aware that what they are basically studying is a process, and that what they are perceiving are the effects of this process. When asked to give a name to this process, they usually come up with “nature.” They could have just as easily come up with “god” or “spirit.” Conceptually, there is really very little difference. The main difference is that “nature” is conceived to be a totally unbiased agent of change, whereas “god” is considered to have attitudes about things. I think, though, if we really looked into it, we would find that “nature” also has attitudes about things.

If spirit is best thought of as a process, then the only real question is to what extent “spirit” and “nature” are equivalent concepts. To the extent that they are (surprise!) science has really been studying spirit all along! And spiritualists have also really been studying nature all along.

While the spiritualists are ready to concede this point, the scientists, for the most part, are not. The path to such a concession could be – and I hope it is – shorter than previously thought.

The Model

25 April 2012

Systems

In engineering and science, objects of study or design are called systems. This is a very general word that you have probably seen used in expressions such as: “computer systems,” “the solar system,” “star systems,” “power systems,” “weather systems,” etc.

As the social sciences have moved towards engineering paradigms, they have also used this concept in their work. So, not only can you have a “nervous system,” you could also have a “habit system,” an “economic system,” or a “political system.”

Engineering and the sciences rely on a feature of physical and biological systems that they have noticed: predictability. Prediction is a big part of human life and survival in general, so there is little wonder that the sciences would be concentrating on technologies of prediction. One such technology is computer simulation. But for computer simulation to work, the system being simulated must first be turned into a mathematical model. Thus, this term – used with this meaning – has also entered the modern vocabulary.

Models

In this discussion, we don’t need to take up the technical details of how models are constructed. I just want to go over how they are used, and how we tend to use them without even thinking about it.

Ordinary people use models all the time, but don’t always call them that. The rules for polite conversation could be considered a model. The rules for impolite conversation could be another model. A word could be considered a model for what it represents, though it would be more correct to call the definition of the word the model, and the word just the name for the model.

Broadly, a model is our concept of something. Take evil. One person’s model for evil could be “the work of the Devil.” Another person could see evil as the result of operating on disastrously incorrect data. A third person could see evil as the result of accidents or mistakes.

When you ask these three people “what should be done about evil in the world?” you will get three very different answers. What you should really ask them first is: “What do you think causes evil in the world? Then, they’d give you their models. Their answers to the other question would probably make sense relative to the model each was using.

Thus, the decision-making process can be greatly influenced by the model being used for the system that is being discussed. For good communication and better understanding, we want these models openly stated. Secret models will cause trouble.

The Human Problem; the Human Model

Is the human a problem? Many people think so. Many people can’t even understand themselves, much less their spouse, their children, their boss, or politicians. They make bad predictions based on their imperfect understandings (like: Obama will end the war in Afghanistan if he becomes president) and then regret the decisions they made based on those predictions. Most people would love to have a better understanding of “human,” and this relies, to some extent, on having a better model for “human being.”

body-brain model

Body-Brain Model

Body

We can think of a person as just an animal body. This has worked, to some degree, in medicine. If all medicine wants to do is fix bodies, then it can do a lot based on the body model. The details of this model are incredibly complex, but the upper-level definition of this model is simple: The human is a biological machine (organism).

Mind-Body

The body model only takes us so far. Philosophers have always spoken of the mind, so we are used to talking about it, even though no one has exactly “seen” one. Medicine assumes that the mind totally resides in the brain. But this model is insufficient to account for a large variety of non-medical phenomena. Thus the work of Freud, etc., “fills out” the brain model of the mind into something more conceptual but more useful.

Though neurology, strictly speaking, continues to reject the Freudian and other concept-based mind models, the Freudian model is the basis, I have been lead to understand, for the whole field of modern marketing and PR. We have a nephew of Freud’s, one Edward Bernays, to “thank” for this “revolution” in the business world. You can tell, no doubt, that I doubt the wholesomeness of this development. I cannot, however, deny the fact that it has worked. And that workability gives the Freudian model some validity.

According to Freud and his followers, the mind has parts. The neurologists have tried to map these parts to locations in the brain. But the psychologists and others don’t care about that. They just want a model that will predict human behavior better.

Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Robotics

robot and controller

NASA remote-controlled work robot.

Computer scientists, spurred on by science fiction writers and god knows what else, have always been interested in the possibility that a computer could be programmed to “act more human.” This is artificial intelligence. In its more limited application, all AI is trying to do is to get machines to figure out how to learn. Now, strictly speaking, all animals can learn, not just humans. But, this has been one of the AI goals.

Another direction for AI has been the subject of human replacement. In some situations, it has been argued, a robot could do a better job than a human. This might be because a machine could be built to withstand environmental factors that would be fatal to humans. Or it might be because the machine would not “get scared” like a human might, or might not “get tired” or “get bored.” Though much of this work has led to machines with human-like body capabilities, there has been another branch of this work that has gone in the direction of care-giving and education. In these applications, emotional awareness, even emotional expression, is desirable. But how do you get a machine to learn human emotions? Believe me, folks; they are attempting this!

robot human

Human look-alike robot.

Remote-controlled Robots

So far, the biggest advances have been made in the field of remote-controlled robotics. A recent example, as ominous as it is, is the drone bomber. But there have been many such devices designed, built and used. So we know their model is workable.

The high-level parts of this model are diagrammed below.

remote control diagram

Basic remote control model.

They consist of:

1. The robot as a machine only. This would correspond to the human body, alive but unanimated.

2. The local machine control system. This would correspond to the brain. It is essentially an electronic computer. It runs on “firmware” (semi-permanent software).

3. A communication link. We have no name for this in any human model, except maybe for some mystical models which speak of a “silver thread.”

4. A remote control console. This would correspond to the mind. Note that the mind runs on a combination of software and input from a control person. Also note that the mind contains a copy of the brain’s “firmware.” Ideally, every single perception, command, action, and result is recorded for possible later analysis and software improvement. Thus, the mind also needs a memory system.

5. The control console operator. Not pictured in the diagram, this is in some ways the most important part of this model. This guy is supposed to be in control of the entire system, determining its every waking move.

The following diagram gives a more fanciful depiction of this model.

robot ape

Remote-controlled fighting monster from Japanese magazine.

Practical Considerations

There is still something missing in this model. What if something happens to the console operator? What if he has to go to the bathroom? What if somebody sneaks up behind him and bops him on the head? What if he gets so emotionally involved in the activity that he passes out? What if the hardware is damaged?

For a “mission critical” application, the console operator needs some sort of backup system. By empirical observation it has been found that such a backup system exists. It is more or less attached to the body. Its exact nature is not totally known. Conceptually, it can be thought of as another console and console operator, but one designed to never go offline. This console operator is not responsible for any high-level decision-making. It is designed only to protect the hardware in the event of loss of higher-level control. In exchange for not being “brainy” this operator must stay alert 24-7. It monitors all vital body functions. It sends warnings when the bladder or gut are full, or when the stomach is empty. It has certain override powers in the event that the higher level does not respond to repeated warnings.

In general, this operator has capabilities similar to the high-level operator. But it plays (usually) a subordinate role in the system. Its console also has recording capabilities, but they do not necessarily include all data from the higher level operator. The higher-level operator has access to all the data in the lower-level console, but it is protected. Access is only granted under certain special conditions.

So there is a certain amount of autonomy between the senior and junior control systems. This is a significant advance over a one-controller system, but is gained at some cost.

A Proposed Model

proposed model

In my studies I have learned of a more workable model for a human being, which is illustrated above.

My illustration uses terms for the main parts of this model, that I learned from my studies, as well as some more traditional terms. I cannot guarantee that all these terms are correctly matched. If you read this and see obvious mistakes, let me know!

Here is the list in text form, expanded to include the engineering terms mentioned above:

  • Thetan; spirit; senior console operator; higher self.
  • Analytical mind; senior control console; higher mind.
  • Control beams; communication link.
  • Genetic entity; junior console operator; lower self.
  • Reactive mind; junior control console; subconscious mind.
  • Brain; embedded controller.
  • Body; machine.

I will not take up the ramifications of this model in this article. But needless to say, at the expense of some increased complexity, it predicts a far broader range of observed human behavior and capability than does a previous over-simplified models.