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Jun
1st
Sat
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“Only the understanding of evolution offers a chance to get a real understanding of the human species. We are determined by the interplay between individual and group selection where individual selection is responsible for much of what we call sin, while group selection is responsible for the greater part of virtue. We’re all in constant conflict between self-sacrifice for the group on the one hand and egoism and selfishness on the other. I go so far as to say that all the subjects of humanities, from law to the creative arts are based upon this play of individual versus group selection. (…) And it is very creative and probably the source of our striving, our inventiveness and imagination. It’s that eternal conflict that makes us unique. (…)

Q: (…) [W]ill we reach a higher state of humanity?

Do we really want to improve ourselves? Humans are a very young species, in geologic terms, and that’s probably why we’re such a mess. We’re still living with all this aggression and ability to go to war. But do we really want to change ourselves? We’re right on the edge of an era of being able to actually alter the human genome. But do we want that? Do we want to create a race that’s more rational and free of many of these emotions? My response is no, because the only thing that distinguishes us from super-intelligent robots are our imperfect, sloppy, maybe even dangerous emotions. They are what makes us human.” “

Edward O. Wilson, American biologist, researcher (sociobiologybiodiversity), theorist (consiliencebiophilia), naturalist (conservationist) and author, Interview with Edward O. Wilson: The Origin of Morals, originally in P. Bethge, J. Grolle, Wir sind ein Schlamassel, Der Spiegel, 8/2013. (Photo: Edward O. Wilson in Puerto Rico, NYT)

See also: ☞ E. O. Wilson on human evolution, altruism and a ‘new Enlightenment’, Lapidarium notes

Dec
27th
Thu
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David Deutsch on Artificial Intelligence

“What is needed is nothing less than a breakthrough in philosophy, a theory that explains how brains create explanations. (…)

What distinguishes human brains from all other physical systems is qualitatively different from all other functionalities, and cannot be specified in the way that all other attributes of computer programs can be. It cannot be programmed by any of the techniques that suffice for writing any other type of program. Nor can it be achieved merely by improving their performance at tasks that they currently do perform, no matter by how much. Why? I call the core functionality in question creativity: the ability to produce new explanations. (…)

What is needed is nothing less than a breakthrough in philosophy, a new epistemological theory that explains how brains create explanatory knowledge and hence defines, in principle, without ever running them as programs, which algorithms possess that functionality and which do not. (…)

The truth is that knowledge consists of conjectured explanations — guesses about what really is (or really should be, or might be) out there in all those worlds. Even in the hard sciences, these guesses have no foundations and don’t need justification. Why? Because genuine knowledge, though by definition it does contain truth, almost always contains error as well. So it is not ‘true’ in the sense studied in mathematics and logic. Thinking consists of criticising and correcting partially true guesses with the intention of locating and eliminating the errors and misconceptions in them, not generating or justifying extrapolations from sense data. And therefore, attempts to work towards creating an AGI that would do the latter are just as doomed as an attempt to bring life to Mars by praying for a Creation event to happen there. (…)

Present-day software developers could straightforwardly program a computer to have ‘self-awareness’ if they wanted to. But it is a fairly useless ability.” “
David Deutsch, British physicist at the University of Oxford, Creative blocks, aeon, Oct 3, 2012.
See also: ☞ David Deutsch: A new way to explain explanation, Lapidarium notes
Dec
7th
Fri
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“Through this demonstration we learn that neither light, nor eye, nor brain, alone or in association, can see. But rather, we see only through the total coordination of human experiences; and even then, it is our own conceived image, and not really the actual object which we perceive. We learn, therefore, that we see by creative ability and not by mechanical reproduction.” “
Frederick Kiesler, Austrian-American sculptor, theater designer, artist, theoretician and architect (1890-1965), Vision Machine,  ”…seeing the act of looking “ (tnx the-rx)
Mar
4th
Sun
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When I muse about memes, I often find myself picturing an ephemeral flickering pattern of sparks leaping from brain to brain, screaming "Me, me!".
Douglas Hofstadter, American academic whose research focuses on consciousness, analogy-making, artistic creation, literary translation, and discovery in mathematics and physics, Pulitzer Prize laureate, Metamagical themas: questing for the essence of mind and pattern, Basic Book, 1985, p. 52.
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He was also mistaken in supposing that he was dealing with the laws of thought: the question how people actually think was quite irrelevant to him, and if his book had really contained the laws of thought, it was curious that no one should ever have thought in such a way before.
Bertrand Russell paid George Boole an extraordinary compliment: "Pure mathematics was discovered by Boole, in a work which he called the Laws of Thought.”, Mysticism and logic, and other essays, Rowman & Littlefield, 1981, p.59. cited in James Gleick, The Information: A History, a Theory, a Flood, Pantheon Books, New York, 2011, p. 167.
Dec
27th
Tue
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Coral reefs are sometimes called “the cities of the sea”, and part of the argument is that we need to take the metaphor seriously: the reef ecosystem is so innovative because it shares some defining characteristics with actual cities. These patterns of innovation and creativity are fractal: they reappear in recognizable form as you zoom in and out, from molecule to neuron to pixel to sidewalk. Whether you’re looking at original innovations of carbon-based life, or the explosion of news tools on the web, the same shapes keep turning up. (…)

When life gets creative, it has a tendency to gravitate toward certain recurring patterns, whether those patterns are self-organizing, or whether they are deliberately crafted by human agents.
— Steven Johnson, author of Where Good Ideas Come From, cited in ‘To understand is to perceive patterns’ - B. Fuller, Powell, Johnson, West, Kurzweil & video narration by J. Silva
Dec
25th
Sun
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Social evolution may have sculpted us not to be innovators and creators as much as to be copiers


“If we think that humans have evolved as social learners, we might be surprised to find out that being social learners has made us less intelligent than we might like to think we are. And here’s the reason why. (…) I can choose among the best of those ideas, without having to go through the process of innovation myself. So, for example, if I’m trying to make a better spear, I really have no idea how to make that better spear. But if I notice that somebody else in my society has made a very good spear, I can simply copy him without having to understand why. (…) We like to think we’re a highly inventive, innovative species. But social learning means that most of us can make use of what other people do, and not have to invest the time and energy in innovation ourselves. (…)

As our societies get larger and larger, there’s no need, in fact, there’s even less of a need for any one of us to be an innovator, whereas there is a great advantage for most of us to be copiers, or followers. (…) If we imagine that there’s some small probability that someone is a creator or an innovator, and the rest of us are followers, we can see that one or two people in a band is enough for the rest of us to copy, and so we can get on fine. And, because social learning is so efficient and so rapid, we don’t need all to be innovators. We can copy the best innovations, and all of us benefit from those. (…)

I want to go further, and suggest that our mechanism for generating ideas maybe couldn’t even be much better than random itself. And this really gives us a different view of ourselves as intelligent organisms. Rather than thinking that we know the answers to everything, could it be the case that the mechanism that our brain uses for coming up with new ideas is a little bit like the mechanism that our genes use for coming up with new genetic variance, which is to randomly mutate ideas that we have, or to randomly mutate genes that we have. (…)

We think of ourselves as so intelligent. But when we really ask ourselves about the nature of any evolutionary process, we have to ask ourselves whether it could be any better than random, because in fact, random might be the best strategy. (…)

We know they’re random in the genetic case. We think they’re random in the case of neurons exploring connections in our brain. And I want to suggest that our own creative process might be pretty close to random itself. And that our brains might be whirring around at a subconscious level, creating ideas over and over and over again, and part of our subconscious mind is testing those ideas. And the ones that leak into our consciousness might feel like they’re well-formed, but they might have sorted through literally a random array of ideas before they got to our consciousness. (…)

Maybe curiosity means trying out all sorts of ideas in your mind. Maybe curiosity is a passion for trying out ideas. Maybe Einstein’s ideas were just as random as everybody else’s, but he kept persisting at them. (…) We might even wonder if the people in our history and in our lives that we say are the great innovators really are more innovative, or are just lucky.” “
Mark Pagel, Professor of Evolutionary Biology, Reading University, England and The Santa Fe Institute, ☞ Infinite Stupidity. Social evolution may have sculpted us not to be innovators and creators as much as to be copiers, Edge, Dec 16, 2011
Nov
19th
Sat
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No pen, no ink, no table, no room, no time, no quiet, no inclination.
James Joyce, Irish novelist and poet, considered to be one of the most influential writers in the modernist avant-garde of the early 20th century (1882-1941) in a letter to his brother, cited in Peter Hartshorn, James Joyce and Trieste, Greenwood Press, 1997, p.43.
Nov
11th
Fri
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The adjacent possible is a kind of shadow future, hovering on the edges of the present state of things, a map of all the ways in which the present can reinvent itself.
Nov
8th
Tue
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A concept is a brick. It can be used to build the courthouse of reason. Or it can be thrown through the window.
Brian Massumi, Canadian political philosopher and social theorist, in Gilles Deleuze, Félix Guattari Introduction to A Thousand Plateaus, Continuum International Publishing Group, 2004, p. xiii cited in Wildcat, Knowmads, of Texture and sensuality in hyperconnectivity
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We are interested in encounters between languages and the consequences of these encounters. (…)

George Bernard Shaw famously said, “If you have an apple and I have an apple and we exchange apples then you and I will still each have one apple. But if you have an idea and I have an idea and we exchange those ideas, then each of us will have two ideas.”

Similarly, incorporeal works of art (poems, short stories etc.) have the potential to affect millions since unlike apples, they are unencumbered by the problem of scarcity (Lewis Hyde). The value of translation is that it unleashes from latency ideas and emotions to a vast sea of others who do not have access to the language in which these ideas and emotions reside.
Oct
4th
Tue
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What I give form to in daylight is only one per cent of what I have seen in darkness.
M. C. Escher, Dutch graphic artist. He is known for his often mathematically inspired woodcuts, lithographs, and mezzotints (1898-1972)
Sep
20th
Tue
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Jeff Hammerbacher: ‘The best minds of my generation are thinking about how to make people click ads… That sucks.’

“After a couple years at Facebook, Jeff Hammerbacher grew restless. He figured that much of the groundbreaking computer science had been done. Something else gnawed at him. Hammerbacher looked around Silicon Valley at companies like his own, Google (GOOG), and Twitter, and saw his peers wasting their talents. “The best minds of my generation are thinking about how to make people click ads,” he says. “That sucks.” (…)

"Any generation of smart people will be drawn to where the money is, and right now it’s the ad generation," says Steve Perlman, a Silicon Valley entrepreneur who once sold WebTV to Microsoft for $425 million and is now running OnLive, an online video game service. ” (…)

Hammerbacher: “If instead of pointing their incredible infrastructure at making people click on ads,” he likes to ask, “they pointed it at great unsolved problems in science, how would the world be different today?” “
Jeff Hammerbacher, founder and the Chief Scientist of Cloudera, one of Facebook’s first 100 employees, cited in Ashlee VanceThis Tech Bubble Is Different, Bloomberg BusinessWeek, April 14, 2011
Sep
18th
Sun
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Yo-Yo Ma: “Perhaps neuroscience can create bridges because the brain is the crucible within which art, science and culture are forged.

This is the seat of the creativity that we channel into discovery and expression: looking out and looking in. For Ma, the work of neuroscientist Antonio Damasio, a professor at the University of Southern California, reveals something of where these creative impulses come from. Damasio is interested in homeostasis – the tendency of all living things to maintain the internal conditions necessary for their continuation. He considers all non-conscious aspects of this self-preservation to be forms of emotion, whether they are basic reflexes, immune responses or feelings such as joy. “Life forms are always looking for homeostasis, equilibrium,” says Ma.

Ma’s experiences among the Kalahari bushmen of southern Africa, who he visited for a documentary 15 years after he had studied them in his anthropology courses, convinced him that music can perform that stabilising function. “They do these trance dances that are for spiritual and religious purposes, it’s for medicine, it’s their art form, it’s everything. That matches all I’ve learnt about what music should be or could do.”

But how does that magic work? I suggest that music is exploiting our instincts to make sense of our environment, to look for patterns, to develop hypotheses about our environment. It’s setting us puzzles. (…)

I mention Damasio’s insistence, in Descartes’ Error (1994), that the self cannot be meaningfully imagined without being embedded in a body. This must be resonant for a musician? He concurs and suggests that the role of tactility in our mental wellbeing is under-appreciated: “That’s our largest organ.” Ma sees this separation of intellect and mechanism, of the self and the body, as pernicious. “We’ve based our educational system on it. At the music conservatory there’s a focus on the plumbing, not [on the] psychology. It’s about the engineering of sound, how to play accurately. But then, going to university, the music professor would say ‘you can play very well, but why do you want to do it?’ Music is powered by ideas. If you don’t have clarity of ideas, you’re just communicating sheer sound.” (…)

How can music be made central to education, rather than an option at the periphery? His response makes the vision he has hinted at already a little more concrete: it is about finding ways to communicate ideas in a manner that yields the greatest harvest of creativity. “There is nothing more important today than to find a way to be knowledge-based creative societies. My job as a performer is to make sure that whatever happens in a performance lives in somebody else, that it’s memorable… If you forget tomorrow what you heard yesterday, there’s really not much point in you having been there – or me, for that matter. Now, isn’t that the purpose of education too? That’s when I realised that education and culture are the same. Once something is memorable, it’s living and you’re using it. That to me is the foundation of a creative society.”

Yo-Yo Ma, French-born American cellist, virtuoso, orchestral composer of Chinese descent, and winner of multiple Grammy Awards, interviewed by Philip Ball, In pursuit of neuroscience: Yo-Yo Ma, The Financial Times, Sept 16, 2011
Sep
8th
Thu
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The task is, not so much to see what no one has yet seen; but to think what nobody has yet thought, about that which everybody sees.
Erwin Schrödinger, Austrian physicist and theoretical biologist who was one of the fathers of quantum mechanics, Nobel Prize laureate (1887-1961)