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Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Metaphysical Whopass



This news item about a book called Biocosm came across my inbox thanks to the wonderful world of KurzweilAI.net.

The premise is that the evolution of the Universe has been directed by a superior intelligence: If not by design, how could the basic constants of the Universe (gravitational constant, speed of light, delicate balance between constant expansion but not too fast, etc.) have been so carefully arranged to provide the Universe in which we find ourselves?

I've read his article as well as the comments. I'm sorry, but how is this not Creationism?

The main fallacy is in assuming that the scientific method is the best way to answer "why" questions. C'mon! The SM is the way to answer "how" questions, not "why." The very implication of a "why" question implies purpose, hence a goal.

One of my favorite, paradigm-establishing bits of writing was in the middle of Salmon of Doubt. There is a transcript of an extemporaneous (!) speech given by the late Douglas Adams at a tech/science conference. He mentions (paraphrasing here) that they came up with just 3 basic principles:
  1. Anything that happens, happens.
  2. Anything that happens, causes something else to happen
  3. Anything that, in happening, causes itself to happen, will happen again

So that's it! Why do you need anything else to explain the fact that we are here? That's the sticky wicket - you don't need to explain why we are here. We know that we are here. We know that cosmological constants have allowed for the evolution of galaxies, solar systems, planets, and intelligent life. The phallacy of asking "why" is based on the adaptive learning neurological patterns that allow us to create a model of our environment, and then predict what will happen based on our models. In large part our learning patterns are devoted to analyzing the behavior of our fellow humans, and the most successful learning patterns in this arena are those which best predict behavior based on assumed intentions. This basic structure of our brains underlies the need to attribute intention to observed actions.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Movie Reviews


CLONE WARS (Vol.2): More of the same stuff seen in Vol. 1. The action is not as intense as in the first installment, but it is still OK. Nice to see more of Yoda in action. The single truly memorable moment (though it seems to have been passed over in Revenge of the Sith) was Anakin's promotion ceremony to Jedi Knight.

GATTACA: Quite well done, as far as a drama in science fiction goes. The acting is decent, but as with many SciFi movies what is most compelling is the thought experiment. What would the sociological changes be if our status was based on genetic predisposition? Never mind the ambiguities and inconsistencies with the technology (I mean, if we can read a person's genetic code in less than half a second, and change the code before birth, why can't we correct myopia?). Basically we take a very human trait: placing everyone into what our preconceived notion of them should be, and then technologically enable our biases. How different is this from a caste society? Sadly, the movie takes on a slightly sanctimonious "nature knows best" and "the human spirit will prevail" warning tone towards the end. As a Singulitarian, I simply can't jibe with these notions.

And at the other end of the spectrum, we have our beloved military, which "doesn't discriminate on the basis of race, creed, color, or ability" - Tom Lehrer

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

TECHNOLOGY WOES

My PDA died about a week ago. I used to think that PDAs were going to be such an indispensible part of life that the whole "peripheral brain" moniker was actually justified. Now, however, I feel that they are still too bulky, the interface still needs a lot of work, and, as I've just learned, they still have unfortunate failures. I suppose that I could have backed up my important information by sync'ing to my laptop, thus preventing the total loss of some of my data. The last time I backed up was almost 2 years ago, though, mostly because since then I've upgraded my OS and the activation energy needed to perform a sync became too great. Which brings me to another technology woe - my laptop (and only computer) is now 5 years old. Though it still runs all of my working apps tolerably, I've probably installed 1 or 2 OS versions beyond what the hardware can comfortably support. There are very significant slow-downs, and I find myself jonesing for the new intel Mac laptops. First, though, I'll need to find a way to recover my lost password database and find a new way to store and easily access all my various login info.