Interesting Times

Lately that elusive substance that is Free Time has seemingly evaporated, as a multitude of pursuits collide. In particular, my quest for a Private Pilots Licence and my preparations for half a year in Australia have me rushed off my feet. But I made a resolution that my entries won’t turn into lamenting for lack of free time, so enough about that.

I recently compiled an actual paper checklist for something that has existed for a long time only in my head: the Checklist for the Future. On it are a number of key innovations and milestones, such as Antigravity and Civilian (Orbital) Spaceflight. The idea being that once all the boxes are ticked, we will be in the future. Obviously. Exciting stuff!

Yesterday I came across a fascinating documentary about chaos, spontaneous pattern formation and the Mandelbrot Set. I recommend checking it out, particularly if the ideas of order emerging from nothing and predictable systems having unpredictable outcomes interests you at all. I find it encouraging that it still doesn’t invalidate the physics behind my Chonoportology writings, too (that does, in essence, try to answer the question of what actually determines the A or B path of any given event).

In other news, THIS:

Teleportation and the Human Soul

When Teleportation was first developed in early 3.2.C, there was vehement opposition to its adoption for human transportation. Disassembling the atoms of a person at location A, transferring their quantum-precise state as information and using it to reassemble them from different atoms at location B; was heatedly argued to be quite different from moving a person from A to B. One of the spheres of human thought to feel most threatened was spiritualism, or more precisely, Religion.

Finally trial runs were carried out with a pioneering group of human volunteers, garnering intense public attention despite best attempts at privacy. When the participating individuals proved to be fine and without side affects (as many artificial rodents had been previously), the debate only heightened. “We do not transmit souls across, yet these people are no different than they were before. How can you claim there to be a soul when it affects nothing?” argued project observer, Dr Zan Taku Blinar. Spiritual counter-arguments held that, as the soul’s mechanism was unknown, it couldn’t be ruled out as somehow following the intended person to their new form.

There was also much agitation about the subjective experience. If you step into a booth that destroys all your atoms, you are actually killed; despite the fact it doesn’t feel like it. To the traveller, you merely become unconscious and wake up in a new location. It is compared by most to the sensation of falling asleep. It seemed incontrovertible now, that human consciousness was anything more than immense patterns fired by the brain’s neurons.

As ever, it was the economy of convenience that won out and humankind soon embraced the benefits of travelling as information; with the vast new avenues it opened for interplanetary flight (an endeavour that had stagnated for hundreds of years as humans sought to break the light barrier) to name just one. Those adverse to teleportation became a common but private assortment; like those with apprehensions about flying.

In the years that followed, many religions attempted to reconcile with the implications of teleportation. Some even claimed that teleporting successfully proved the strength of the ‘tether’ to one’s soul, with some cults even going so far as using teleportation in rituals to prove faith. Nevertheless, religion by 3.2.C was more of a personal pursuit than the political force it had once been.

Rally to Restore Sanity

The Rally to Restore Sanity took place in Washington D.C, a week ago last saturday, and was basically a rally to poke fun at rallies; or more specifically the kneejerk, ill-informed, hypochondriac Tea Party type of rally that America seems to be plagued by in recent years.

Follow the link for a full gallery with some more great examples:

Rally to Restore Sanity

Please note: I don't own these images, they are reproduced here for the purpose of exposure and I highly recommend checking out the rest on Flickr. Thank you!

The Importance of Point of View – Objectivity

When I was a kid I was at my next-door-neighbour’s house one day, where my best friend lived. I speculated that maybe I saw his house as the same way he saw mine, and vice versa. I mean, who knew for sure? From his viewpoint, the familiarity and comfort I envisioned at mine might be just the strange smells and sights I saw at his. Now, obviously this doesn’t quite work exactly because the layout and details are obviously different and we can tell that we are not actually looking at mirror images of each other’s homes. But, little did I know that I had struck on the tip of the philosophical Empathy Iceberg and all the fascinating questions it posed. It also confused the shingles out of my best mate, but we were only ten at the time I guess.

A much simpler, commonly cited example is colour. We have no real way of knowing whether red looks the same to you as it does to me, because we would still both call it ‘Red’. We attribute names to smells, but again, can’t really tell if the smell of fish is something that is the same for everyone. The subjectivity of our points of view is all-pervasive. As Obi Wan Kenobi once told a young, headstrong Luke Skywalker: “…many of the truths we cling to depend greatly on our own point of view”.

In the strictest terms, there is really nothing that is objective, because we cannot certify our own reliability. In essence, everything you think irrefutable could be false; such as the existence of mountains or the very images on your retina. But, to take this into account gets us nowhere; the definition is useless because there is no penalty for ignoring it, as were it correct there would be nothing we could do to know one way or the other. As all speculation of this nature is useless to our lives, we have every rational justification to proceed assuming that the basics hold true: I am really here, and my senses report the existence of things I experience, and that fundamental axioms of physics and mathematics are true.

And so we have Objectivity. That category of things that we can say are objectively true are called Facts. Facts are not things which we commonly agree on or percieve to hold true, though this may often be stated colloqially (eg. “its a fact that murder is wrong”). It is important to recognise the difference between things that are facts and things that are commonly accepted.

The universe is impartial. As such, thinking impartially is the only approach that can be useful in the aquisition of truth. Wishful thinking will get you nowhere. We are all tempted by it; the theory that almost fits, the romantic notion of human importance, an apparent need for some purpose. But wishful thinking is probably the most damaging influence that has ever acted on human understanding. It may be welcome in the realm of fantasy fiction, or the words of comfort to others, but it has no place in science.

Understanding one’s own point of view (and accepting its scope) is the first step towards an impartial outlook. As the old adage goes: “the first thing you must understand is how little you know”. And thinking without bias (or, to put it realistically, as little bias as is humanly possible) is the first step toward a greater understanding of the workings of the universe.

The Abortion Debate

Not content with the controversy of claiming relgion to be a transient social tool, I return once more to that tricky subject of Abortion. These are both very interesting subjects, and not entirely unrelated either: both are deeply intertwined with some of life’s most fundamental philosophical questions.

The ‘camps’ in the abortion debate are generally defined by when. That is, when is it acceptable to terminate a pregnancy: never, before X number of weeks, or at any point of pregnancy. Most people fall somewhere in the middle ground, with liberals / students / scientists leaning toward later and religious / conservative headcases favouring earlier. Roughly segregated, these are termed Pro-Choice and Pro-Life respectively. Continue reading

Does A.I have a future role in Philosophy?

One of the biggest problems in advancing our ideas about the universe is thinking ‘outside the box’, to use a hideous management term. Imagination is just as important to a great thinker as mathematical and scientific proficiency; as was the case with Einstein, it is often the crucial difference between brilliance and genius. I believe the reason is, that so often our greatest collective asset the “Human Experience” is also what sometimes holds us back: clouding our judgment and throwing us off with earthly, animal thinking.

Take, for example, the early explanations of the night sky. Invariably the world was the center of the universe, the stars were generally hung up around us and span around the earth, along with the sun, moon and other stellar bodies. We laugh now, but if you look at it from our point of view, it’s clear why this was believed for millenia. It took a lot of objective analysis for us to even begin figuring out what it really was. Likewise, I think there’s a lot of problems being mulled over today that would be of great amusement to even laymen of the distant future.

So where does Artificial Intelligence come into this? At very least, as a supplement. When AI becomes sufficiently sophisticated, I see no reason why it wouldn’t ponder on things or indeed be designed to. Would it be possible to apply a brute force algorithm to the great fundamental questions, like what causes consciousness or does free will actually exist?

If nothing else, AI would be free of one major constraint; when humans, deep down, know the path to the answer but are afraid of it.

Fuel & Paranoia

You know what’s ridiculous (apart from the interval since I last updated)?
Fuel prices!
Am I right? Actually, I am not going to talk about fuel prices at all; partly because, without trying to be smug about it, I remain mostly unaffected. But mainly because it’s all I hear about at the moment.

So instead I’m going to talk about paranoia. People seem to love paranoia these days; I suppose its a reflex action from each successively more twisted crime we hear about. But there seems to be this idea floating about that with enough preparation anything is preventable. I like that notion in a way, it sounds like the kind of theorem that would work. Nevertheless I don’t believe it’s completely true. There are some things that you just can’t predict or prevent, and it’s typically these that people get so paranoid about.

I came across a list of safety precautions recently that proclaimed, amidst a vast bore of mostly speculative measures, that “you’re better off paranoid than dead.” I have to disagree here. I would rather risk dying from some ludicrously unlikely death than spend every waking hour worrying about what might happen. This goes beyond the way you unlock your car in a dark car park; I’m talking about life attitude here.

Take sensible precautions, but understand that if Lady Luck and her dice hate you, there’s not a damn thing you’re going to be able to do about it.