Tuesday, December 8, 2009

The Creator Myth

Humans are evolved to lead a social life in which hierarchies are established which help out to minimize frequent quarrels & waste of energy. We respect and revere our elders and those above us. These behavioral patterns gave been deciphered by observing closely related species. We often extrapolate these instincts when we conceptualize the head of to universe, the creator. People have been confounded by the extreme complexity & orderliness of our universe and ascribe it to the work of an intelligent mind. But the mind that contemplated these should be even more intricate. The original problem is intact simply transferred to higher order. If you say the creator was eternally present why can't the universe have been so? The replies are that you can't ponder about the creator's mind or his origin. The instinct to answer this mystical way is there for some reason. Those too adventurous, who ventured out too far out alone, & in the night didn't survive and we inherited the genes of those who told their kids the stories of the monster out there in the dark- origin of mysticism.

Universe is not that smooth and orderly as we think. In medieval times planets were thought of as made of gold and diamonds, and that they were perfectly smooth heavenly bodies and even that they produced music as they moved. It turned out that they are all over dented by asteroids. The only smooth streamlined objects you see are the works of natural evolution. (including the ones produced by man). All the magnificent beauties of living world are evolved from humble self-replicating molecules. The universe at large is governed by few simple rules and made up of a few fundamental particles.
The question about relation creator to universe is interesting. Suppose he is within our universe, and a part of it. Then so are we. He is only more powerful and bigger, not the greatest- universe itself is bigger than he is and he couldn't have created it. May be he is out side our universe and controls everything inside. (there is a logical snag- anything that influence the objects within our universe is within it, but let us think otherwise for argument's sake). He produces order, the simple laws, fundamental particles, the sins, the virtues etc. Then he could well be a kid in another universe of an highly advanced civilization who is playing a complicated video game with us- not that respectable. Or he may be within the universe, all pervading, every matter emanating from him. So are superstrings, which make up all of the universe. Then they are synonymous with god. Then it's a matter of terminology.

We often ascribe the universe the qualities of our own creation (man made objects)- the purpose. We hope it was created for us- the sun is there to provide us warmth, the flowers- to make the world pretty & to help bees make honey for us, Savage beast to provide training for war (bishop James Pilkington), the sheep- to keep the meat fresh till we eat it (Henry More) and HIV Virus to punish the sinners. Infact the world is unconcerned to our existence. Calamities occur, innocents die, grief and sorrow never depart us. We derive pleasure from what ever is there around us. A purposeful creator would never allow natural evolution where animals compete, few succeed, and the rest perish. Living things are designoid objects, which simulate the ones designed for a purpose. Evolution works it out- those less suited for the purpose die & leave fewer descendants. Our ancestors two hundred thousand years ago never had purpose of producing Homo Sapiens. There is no end in mind, and no mind to keep an end in mind. (Richard Dawkins). Orderliness is produced which is negative entropy (the measure of disorder) using the energy from sun, thus total entropy always increases. Universe proceeds from order disorder, which a well-meaning god would not allow.

The very idea of virtue, sin, good, evils are relative. Polygamy is considered sin because a long lasting monogamous relationship helps to build up a family environment needed for the development of the young of our species especially their highly developed neocortex. Many a living being mate temporarily and then separate. The mark of our species is neocortex- giving us ability to think logically. We should refrain from reaching any conclusion using only our instincts- working in the oldest part of our brain. Some turn skeptics without understanding the logical concepts and later say- when I was young I also used to say so, now I have become wiser. The cause of the phenomenon lies in our evolution. Evolution works faster when a population is split into different groups & evolves independently with occasional mixing of genes. Within us there is an impulse to defy the elders, the social hierarchy, to run away from existing group, to join another one- which gets activated in the mating age. This instinct evolved because it helps us to evolve faster- a metaevolution. Later people fall back on older lines- hierarchy, beliefs, rules etc.

People get horrified at thought of the universe without a protector. It is the new knowledge about a little of the universe that makes man arrogant enough to defy the god- they think. Infact the alternate worldview is much more beautiful. To know the true extent of universe- consisting of billions of galaxies, containing billions of stars, whose age is 200 million times a human life span, which is made of billions of particles which are one in 10^25th the size of human body makes us feel humble. It makes living in the universe more wonderful and more adventurous. "We are fleeting transitional creatures, snowflakes fallen on hearth fire. That we understand even a little of our origin is one of the greatest triumph of human insight and courage" (Carl Sagan). Let's not be falsely reassured and feel protected and take all precautions and necessary measures for the survival of our species. When we know the cause of our instincts, hopes and fear it makes our experiences more wonderful. In the spirit of Richard Feynman who used to sleep as well as observe his own process of sleep, we can live and watch ourselves live. Our newly acquired knowledge makes our life worth living and provides us with more than anything gained by fear, hope and prayer.

Science and Pseudoscience

The very apparent progress or our civilization from ancient times has been brought about by science. It means a systematic study of anything that concerns us. Science has grown in popularity science the time when scientists were even stoned to death or prosecuted for misleading people against or society.

The people who were really misleading and cheating the gullible people those days still exist. They are either still opposing science or have turned scientific and are misinterpreting science so as to substantiate their theories. This is called borderline science or pseudo science.

The struggle against the persistant and overshelming majority of fools and of those who exploits them as tools is indeed a tough one and with little prospects. But the fight is necessary for without it, the mankind will be in a worse plight. -Albert Einstein

The first group of people argue that science os full of contradictory theories, that many times scientific theories have been proved wrong and that modern science had been discovered by ancient people and has been described in religious and other books (as the books like "The Tao of Physics" or "the Chariots of Gods" say) etc. To make things clear science never considers itself 100 present correct. Each theory discovered is a step further towards the ultimate truth. Many modern inventions have been thought of or fancied about in the past, like the atomic theory or the idea of flying. Science has confirmed these speculations or made these fantasies come true, but it has also disproved many others like the five element theory or the notion of the philosopher's stone. It is childish to argue that because it has been written that Ganapati was fitted with an elephant's head, the ancients could perform microsurgery. As the German born, Oxford educated, Sanskrit scholar Max. Muller says- the historical importance of vedas can hardly be exaggerated, but discover in it the modern science and philosophy, you deprive it of its true characters.

The second group of people take advantage of the incomprehensibleness of modern science to mislead the people. Gone are the days when new developments in science were studied by the public keenly. Science has become increasingly complicated and has been distanced from the common man. For example very few people know that modern physics deals with ten dimensions, or are aware of the unmanned spaceships that landed on mars or of the recent and sensational discovery of top quark. This situation is exploited by some. Today claims are made of scientific proof of astrology, bioienergy, pyramidology etc. But these 'scientific' works do not contain anything scientific but for some exotic scientific terms. All the (real) scientific researches conducted in these fields have yielded negative results (for example in one of these Godfrey Dean in 1986, the individual horoscopes were altered to make them as opposite in meaning to the authentic ones as possible and it was found that the reversed interpretations were accepted as readily as the authentic ones, by the people)

At the heart of science is an essential tension between two seemingly contradicting attitudes, an openness to new ideas, no matter how bizarre or counterintuitive they may be and the most ruthless skeptical scrutiny of all ideas, old and new. The collective enterprise of exactive thinking and skeptical thinking together keeps the field on track
-Carl Sagan

Why is it that inspite of living in 'modern' world people go after such irrationality? One reason is that they promise short cuts in life. They foretell the problems of the future and the means to overcome them. They may also promise good health without having to do regular exercises of cutting down on meat. They even promise to keep milk from getting spoilt without the help of refrigerators. People often confuse between science & technology. They are tired of a mechanized life style and turn away from science. But science is just pursuit of truth. Many scientists live simple lives and some eve have hatred for mechanized gadgets. All the pioneers of quantum mechanics could play some musical instrument or other including Einstein who derived solace from his violin. Science can turn man a philosophical than anything else can. people also follow these 'sciences' because they have been followed by their revered forefathers. It's interesting to note that the same ancestors also observed Sati, Caste system, slavery, polygamy etc.

Why should we keep away from these? First of all because they are all false. They are also dangerous- like consulting astrologers before taking important decisions in life and when you rely upon them you lose your free will and courage. Swami Vivekananda has said- "Astrology and all these mystical things are generally signs of weak mind. Therefore as soon as they gain prominence in our minds, we should see a physician, take good food and rest". Also, the government funding for scientific projects depend upon the public interest in them. Politicians won't co-operate with scientists if spending on military brings them more votes. (As is the case with the money starved NASA space progammes). The last reason is an underlying fear that our civilization may go back to the dark ages of irrationality when for about 2000 years, science was hampered but for which we would have had colonies in nearby planets now and would be communicating with life in some other star systems. Isaac Asimov wrote "when Greek secular and rational thought bowed to the Christianity what followed was a dark age." We can't afford another.

What we need is not the will to believe, but the wish to find out
-Burtrand Russel

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Brave New World

The computer revolution in late twentieth century has raised the possibility of (so far) unthinkable proposition. "Can the artificial intelligence simulating human brain be built?" Though computers can outsmart humans in brute computing power, humans still beat computers in finding solutions in a complex situation, like in a game of chess. Can we build computers with lesser computing power which have 'humane' intelligence?

The field of artificial intelligence has advanced so much in recent years that we are led to think that 'humane' intelligence may indeed be possible. The traditional computers work in hard wired way. They just do what is told to them in a step by step manner (remember those algorithm flow charts?) . If the programmer misses out even a minute detail, they get lost. But intelligent computers (or programs) are built in such a way that once a mistake is made it's remembered and alternate paths are sought. Every time the goal is reached the path is reinforced. It's like throwing a stone at a mango. The traditional computer have an equation built in by the programmer to calculate the force and direction based on the weight of the stone, and the height of the mango. But AI learns the trick by initially making wild guess. At successive throws, if the stone gets near to mango, the action gets reinforced. So it learns by trial and error just like a human child. If a wind blows from any direction , the traditional computer keeps on making bad throws, but AI quickly learns to adjust the throws. Computers already exist, which can learn this way. It's only matter of time when they 'learn' more complicated tasks. They will also have to be provided with better means of input of data, to serve as sensory organs.

It'll be interesting to watch these AI's grow and see what characteristics they develop. They will have their sense organs, different from ours and other tools such as lasers, ultrasound probes etc. Will they develop into an individual? In other words what characteristics are of an individual? Will they have a sense of 'Me' or of an integrated continuous being? I think they will develop such a notion sooner or later. They develop a notion that the collection of processors, sensors and other mechanical parts that make them is a collection they have unique and immediate access to and will (with the help of others referring to them as yours ) call them 'his'. Can AI have a mind? This is more difficult to answer because mind, by some scientist is considered more than the manifestation of neural network, and it involves the property of material itself, and is influenced by quantum mechanics. But certain characteristics of mind have to be noted That it doesn't reside in any single part as a single entity. It's also a collection of thoughts in different parts of brain. I may 'change' my mind when a different part of brain comes up with a more calculated solution. So I think when the AI acquires a sense of individualism itself, it'll have a primitive mind which will gradually develop.

How will AI' s thought be? Our own thoughts are unlike the lines in a book, fragmentary. If we are recollecting a tour, we think randomly and incompletely about the boat, the smell of the food, the noise etc. Can we make the computer think randomly like this? Traditional computers think in well formed complete sentences. But the formula to make an AI is its ability to think 'parallel and with 'fuzzy logic'.

Can they take over from Us?

Obviously. Thinking intelligent AI's will also be able to capable of building another AI. So they will build a community of AI's. They will be a better and more powerful species than us. Unlike us, each generation can design a superior AI for the next. So their evolution will be faster. And they are going to replace humans on earth. It sounds like a terrible thought. But we can consider AI's as our own children though not biologically. They are our intellectual creation. In the evolution of life, this will be another revolution, since the invention of sex ( 1 billion years ago). AI's in a broad sense can be considered living. Living beings need not necessarily have the proteins, & all those stuff, the only prerequisite is that they should make copies of themselves. AI's will make other AI's though not exact copies. 'Mutation' will be frequent event & giant leaps forward in evolution will be an occasional event. For first time the direction of evolution will be designed by purpose.

What purpose will AI have in mind in living and making new AI's ? Or what will be their purpose in life? Let's examine what is our purpose of life. All religions will come forward and say- to go to heaven. We live this life as an intermediate step or a qualifier round. Though it's a fancy stuff, all is not well in heaven too. We go to heaven, enjoy all comfort there, live there, for what? So the eternal question remains unanswered. Science neither answers the question. Every process in the universe goes on without a purpose, design or direction. Purpose is an invention of mind which came much later than the universe. Evolution engraved it in the mind of living things because only those with a purpose and will to live survived and passed on the genes for same qualities. We have to instill a sense of purpose in AI too so they will struggle hard to survive.

Should we be alarmed at these species.

Definitely not. Our ethnocentricity prompts us to view all other powerful species with suspect. I actually regard AI as our own children. not biological but intellectual. It's like human species taking a sudden mass mutation & changing its form. If we name AI's Roboman, the alien feel is considerably reduced.

So is it going to be true?

Probably. but thinking about such a probability itself changes our perspective about life, purpose, and future. I hope this dream come true, AI's build a bright new future, design successive generation with increased intelligence, good qualities and devoid of any evil tendencies. They 'll make a heaven on earth- a long unfulfilled dream of all men.