Friday, September 25, 2015

Sentient animals, machines... and even plants!

Oh, sure, politics is important and fun!  But science is even better.  So for our weekend posting... a rundown of cool things we never knew, till now!

== Intelligence: Smarter animals == 

Why the octopus is so smart: fascinating new research indicates that their DNA sequence is expanded in areas otherwise reserved for vertebrates: "It's the first sequenced genome from something like an alien," joked neurobiologist Clifton Ragsdale of the University of Chicago, in a report in Nature.

And now we have super-smart mice: When researchers altered a gene in mice to inhibit the activity of a particular enzyme, these mice showed enhanced cognitive abilities. They tended to learn faster, remember events longer and solve complex exercises better than ordinary mice. See this explored in Science or Science Fiction: Uplifting Animals in Yale Scientific.

Will the mice rise up? See the theme song for.... Pinky and the Brain

Meanwhile, evidence of social learning: New Caledonian crows have been observed to pass tool use from one generation to the next.

In the recently released book, Beyond Words: What Animals Think and Feel, Carl Safina reports on the intricate social interactions, family bonds and distinct personalities observed in mammals such as elephants, orcas, primates, dogs and wolves. Safina delves into the latest scientific research that reveals layers of complex thought and behavior throughout the animal kingdom

Why we're smarter than chickens: A single molecular event in a protein called PTBP1 in our cells could hold the key to how we evolved to become the smartest animal on the planet, University of Toronto researchers have discovered. 

Researchers find new insights into the impressive brain power of dolphins and whales... and how their intelligence evolved. And the variety of dialects (clicks called codes) among pods of the deep-diving sperm whales may indicate signs of cultural transmission of vocalization patterns.

It's long been believed that giraffes were silent creatures; it turns out that they hum to each other -- a low frequency drone, done only at night.

Now it's chimps against drones -- a smack down with a stick. There are increasing signs that drones are harassing wildlife and disrupting their natural patterns. Recently, the National Park Service banned the use of drones in California's Yosemite National Park.

And...sex would be simpler if we were bonobos!

In Resurrection Science: Conservation, De-extinction and the Precarious Future of Wild Things, M. R. O'Connnor takes an in-depth look at the increasing numbers of animal species threatened with extinction, and the methods scientists use to try to save them, including habitat restoration, captive breeding and genetic management. O'Connor also considers the ethics and problems we face as genetics enables us to resurrect or bring back already extinct species. Will they live in zoos... or newly recreated ecosystems? What would they eat... and what would eat them?

Will humans continue to get smarter as well? See this video discussion of the dilemma of potential human enhancement.  

== Smarter machines ==

A rodent brain chip? A fascinating article describes IBM’s new “True North” chip architecture, which propels the “neuromorphic” revolution in computing, mimicking many of the pattern-recognition capabilities that seem to work so smoothly in the cellular brains of animals… like us.  

What about sentient machines? Oh but will Artificial Intelligence stay loyal?  That’s the quandary getting discussed ever-more, outside of science fiction nowadays. But here’s an interesting offshoot from that question. Will AI entities be subject to addictions?  This interesting article features experts claiming that would be “illogical.” But what are Asimov’s so-called “three laws” if not a kind of ingrained addiction process?  My brief bit in this piece answers.  “They had better be!”

Augmented Reality rolls along. For example, in EXISTENCE I portray a future time when advertisements and meta data about your surroundings will display in banners or postits or symbols, overlain on “reality.”  Now a virtual signage company Skignz can let you place a virtual pin on objects -- pop one above your car, for instance, and it will help you find it when you're in the supermarket car park. Or you can drop a roving pin on a friend at a festival to keep track of him via GPS. Or festival operators can offer signs above the concessions and toilets… or adverts, or rock videos and close-ups of the band, onstage. (See the chapter at the futurist conference, in Existence!)

Following up: in most sci fi depictions, this era will see a tsunami of noise and unavoidable adverts booming out at you, as in Steven Spielberg’s “Minority Report.” That modality is “push” and I don’t think folks will put up with it.  In Existence… and earlier in Earth (1989) I portray this being a matter of “pull.”  You will select among a myriad realms or levels of AR space, picking one whose offerings and services and rules suit your current needs.

== Intelligent plants? ==

In Brilliant Green: the Surprising History and Science of Plant Intelligence, plant neurobiologist Stefano Mancuso and journalist, Alessandra Viola, make a case not only for plant sentience, but also plant rights. Interesting, though science fiction authors have been doing thought experiments about this for a long time, e.g. in Ursula LeGuin’s novel “The Word for World is Forest” and in my own “The Uplift War.” Jack Chalker's "Midnight at the Well of Souls" portrayed sentient plants, as did Lord of the Rings.

There is a level where I am all aboard with this.  Ecosystems are webs of health that combine fiercely interdependent predation/competition with meshlike interchanges of sight/sound/chemicals that clearly manifest types of cooperation, even communication.... as I elucidated in “EARTH.”  

On the other hand, I also step back to see the qualities of this book that transcend its actual contents, for it fits perfectly into the process of “horizon expansion” that I describe elsewhere.  A process of vigorously, righteously, even aggressively increasing the scope of inclusion, extending the circle of protection to the next level, and then the next. See also this Smithsonian talk I gave about the never-ending search for “otherness.”

None of this is to undermine the process! Only to help understand it. I fully expect our great grandchildren will all be vegetarians supplementing with tasty, dish-grown meaticultures… and their own rebels will demand that all food come from algae or Star Trek replicators, terrific!  Just pause and step back often enough to see the big picture.

== Biotech updates ==
Tree of Life

Biologists have drafted the first comprehensive tree of life covering 2.3 million species of named animals, plants, fungi and microbes, available for download and browsing.

A new study adds to evidence that viruses are living entities which share a long evolutionary history with cells, and might even be the oldest living creatures.

Might amputees regrow limbs, using their own stem cells laced through a scaffold… made either by 3D printing or using a denatured monkey-arm? It’s an idea explored in my short story “Chysalis” (before I get much, much weirder). But it is also being taken very seriously in labs across the planet. 

In fact, BioBots now offers a relatively inexpensive 3D printer that can print human tissue and skin...and potentially, replacement human organs. However, there are currently regulatory obstacles.

Pathogens travel between species
A disturbing -- and revealing -- look at how pathogens travel between species. A new paper in Scientific Data indicates that as many as three-fifths of human diseases may have been initially passed on by animals.

Everywhere you go... you emit your own unique microbial cloud -- a personalized signature of your own microbiome. Have  you had your microbiome tested? You can have it sequenced at μBiome, to gain insight into the multitude of microflora co-inhabiting your body.

MIT researchers have developed a low-cost, paper-based device that changes color, depending on whether the patient has Eboladengue, or yellow fever. The test is designed to facilitate diagnosis in remote, low-resource settings, takes minutes, and does not need electricity to read out results. “Color-changing paper devices that work like over-the-counter pregnancy tests offer a possible solution. “These are not meant to replace PCR and ELISA [lab tests], because we can’t match their accuracy,” Hamad-Schifferli says. “This is a complementary technique for places with no running water or electricity.” 

See this way-cool “spaghetti monster”creature at the borderline between coral-like colonies of cells and jellyfish and more complex styles of life.  A reflection on how more complex metazoans got started? Weird-looking, anyway.  

120 comments:

Alfred Differ said...

From a couple of threads ago...

@Duncan: Sorry. Slavery requires intent to make a tool of someone. How it is done doesn’t really matter. Whether it is the possessive husband who ‘owns’ his wife, the employer who traps an employee into ignorance, or a cotton plantation owner with a whip, it is the intent to make of someone a tool-like extension of themselves that matters. The cotton picking slave is a device. The possessed wife is a device. The employee kept in ignorance is a device. All of them are ‘made’ to do what their owner wants much as they owner might make a hammer, saw, or toaster oven.

There is no room for unintended slavery in there. If you have no intention of trapping a man to pick cotton through the many techniques available, you did not enslave him even if he picks your cotton for nothing. If someone places themselves in your power you might indeed ‘possess’ them, but it would be by their choice. I am unwilling to use the word ‘slave’ for that, but I am quite repulsed by the idea. I get why some people would, though. It is VERY easy to slide from possessing them to enslaving them. The moment you accept their ‘gift’ and use them as an extension of yourself, you’ve done the deed.

Our host has a couple of short stories that look at this boundary. I think the first one was in The River of Time collection. I read it many years ago and it stuck. Gave me the shivers for some time. The second is Temptation. Spooked me again.

I get why people are inclined to use a different definition than I use, so I’m not going to try all that hard to convince you mine is better. What I’m doing is dividing a nasty concept into more than one word to deal with nuances. We do this for ‘murder’ when we distinguish different degrees and whether self-defense is involved, so I’m not stepping out on a limb.
_____________________

Okay. Time to go read the current post. 8)

David Burns said...

I was just thinking about the theft of all that fingerprint data from the Office of Personnel Management. In the transparent society, law enforcement has everyone's fingerprints, so everyone has everyone's fingerprints? (?) If that's the case, it was only a matter of time and noisy resistance. What can someone do to me after learning about my fingerprints that they couldn't do otherwise? Plant them at a crime scene?
Sorry for the hijack, but while this may not be the right time, it is definitely the right place.

David Brin said...

Mr. Burns, do read The Transparent Society wherein i talk about the difference between a unique identifier and a verifier. The Social Security number is the former. It correlates with a unique person and say, "this conversation or transaction is about this particular John Smith and no other." It does not prove that the person using the SSN actually IS that John Smith!

A password is the opposite. It can be changed! It can be replaced with a more secure on! Fingerprints are like SSNs. They establish who is being discussed. It used to be, when only the FBI had a database of them and they were hard to copy, a fingerprint might be used also as a verifier. That is no longer true.

In future, almost any single biometric that is unique to you might be sniffed or snooped or recorded. So we will adapt. You'll visit your local bank branch monthly or weekly and there the whole suite of biometrics will confirm who you are and you and your banker will then clean up and establish that month's (or week's) passcodes. Again we will adapt! I didn't cl;claim it would be easy or problem-free.

But we must start by looking at fundamentals. And understanding the difference between an identifier and a verifier. One of dozens of things explained carefully in The Transparent Society

atomsmith said...

Here's another story for y'all:

http://www.trueactivist.com/after-being-wounded-with-poison-arrows-desperate-elephants-runs-to-humans-for-help/

The kicker: The injured elephant had never been near the Natural Reserve where the helpful humans were, but he knew another elephant who had!

Duncan Cairncross said...

Hi Alfred
Intent is all about the "Slaver"
Slavery is the same if it is recognized as such by the saver or not

Using your argument there have never been any slaves - a slave could just choose not to obey
The fact that that would lead to pain or death would be irrelevant - he/she would have had the ability to choose - so he/she was not a slave

David
When I heard the news about that data theft my first thought was that now maybe the Americans will stop trying to use their Social Security Number as some sort of secret squirrel identifier and use it as a completely open identifier like your name but without the duplication

When everybody realizes that you can't use numbers that lots of people have to know as secret passwords then identity theft will go right down

Alfred Differ said...

Is that stuff in the Road Maps section? I'm almost there. 8)

I'm looking forward to the day when I can reject financial transactions that are not anti-repudiation resistant.

Duncan Cairncross said...

Just seen Dr Brin's more complete explanation

secret squirrel identifier = verifier

Alfred Differ said...

@Duncan: I don't see where you are going. Obviously there have been slaves. All through our history, we've forced others to be our tools who would have preferred otherwise. The fact that the act of coercion is complete when the slave chooses to live is temporary. They are coerced again the next time the tool is used.

Only a loving slave can be used without coercion.

Duncan Cairncross said...

Alfred
You said
"If you have no intention of trapping a man to pick cotton through the many techniques available, you did not enslave him even if he picks your cotton for nothing. If someone places themselves in your power you might indeed ‘possess’ them, but it would be by their choice."

"you did not enslave him even if he picks your cotton for nothing"

Those are slaves - your "intention" is irrelevant - you could have inherited them for example

"If someone places themselves in your power you might indeed ‘possess’ them, but it would be by their choice"

By their choice - submit or die is a choice

You can't escape from it if you control the essentials of somebodies life by means of your property your are balancing your right to excessive property over their right not to be a slave

Like all rights these are "analog" not digital so you could have a large property right which may balance a small freedom right

But as Robert Heinlein said - as long as you are dependent on another person for your essentials of life you are not free

Paul451 said...

Maybe we can train the elephants to use cameras...

Sorry, wrong thread.

Paul451 said...

Duncan,
Re: Secret squirrel identifiers.

It would be nice if people realised that biometrics was a terrible "verifier" as well. A password that you write down on every surface you touch is not much of a secret.

(There's also a distinction between changeable and fixed identifiers. Biometrics is a relatively fixed identifier. Once it's being used as a verifier, and it is faked, you can't change or upgrade it. Your real name is a fairly fixed identifier, it's hard to really start fresh. OTOH, "Paul451" is a changeable identifier. I use it in all my online activities that aren't directly related to IRL activities. But there's very little connection between it and my fixed IRL identity. That means if it becomes contaminated (either by my own stupidity, or by another's malice) then, with a bit of effort, I can dump it and start fresh with a new identifier. I've done so twice, Paul451 is my third "primary" identity. One I had when I was 11-13yrs old, one from 14-20ish. And now this one for a couple of decades. I didn't really harm the previous identities, I simply moved on as I changed communities. But it was a nice way to "leave childish things behind". I think that's why I've already been deeply against the push for "real name" policies.)

Alfred,
"I can reject financial transactions that are not anti-repudiation resistant."

....sooo many negatives. ...brain hurts.

Repudiate: Disown. Anti-repudiate: Own? Anti-repudiation resistant: Disown again? Not anti-repudiation resistant: Own again? So to reject those that are not anti-repudiation resistant: Disown is good?

Anonymous said...

Dr Brin:

The Social Security number is the former. It correlates with a unique person and say, "this conversation or transaction is about this particular John Smith and no other." It does not prove that the person using the SSN actually IS that John Smith!


And yet, so many processes assume that the SSN is a verifier, as if anyone who knows your SSN and birthdate must be you. Its a flaw in our system which sooner or later must be addressed.

My concern about certain biometrics such as palm-prints and retinal patterns being used as verifiers is the (to me) very real possibility that the bad guys will have an incentive to chop off hands or heads.

LarryHart said...

Sorry, that last comment about chopping off heads was me.

Deuxglass said...

Alex Tolley,

From the last thread:


I don’t think we are at cross-purposes. We are both just trying to analyze the process and are exchanging ideas. In the VW case steps one, two and three functioned like clockwork. The NGO provided the evidence, the CARB tested and not only reproduced the results but also found the code passing it over to the EPA which has the power to enforce the law. I am not a programmer but I am impressed that CARB found the smoking gun that proved unlawful intent. The process could have been stopped at steps two and three from industry or political pressure or just plain incompetence but it didn’t. From that I conclude that the CARB and the EPA employ some smart, dedicated people who believe in the importance of what they are doing and that gives me comfort. Clearly the International Council on Clean Transportation’s reputation with the regulatory agencies was good enough that their tests and the results were taken seriously and fast-tracked.

However the VW case went well because the cause and effect link was very clear. CARB had the idea, the VW cars were freely available as well as the testing equipment and they put them all together and Voila! Many citizen groups can do the same thing and they do but where the problem comes up is in citizen groups investigating more murky situations such as in the financial industry or researching illegal political influence and activities. Their job is much harder because sources are well-hidden and in many cases the laws are ambiguous making enforcement difficult. Here is where Dr. Brin’s Transparent Society idea comes by rendering the discovery step much easier. What is needed as a complement to the citizen groups is that the laws that make their investigations legal because if the evidence cannot be used in court then it is almost useless. Reinforce existing laws and make new ones which will allow evidence gleaned from until now private databases and so forth be acceptable as evidence in the courts. That will help the groups a lot. The next big problem to overcome to make sure the enforcers enforce the judgement of the courts. Putting this all together I think Dr. Brin’s vision could work.

David Brin said...

Paul and anon... this is why the banks will not go all electronic and abandon their branches. Bank branches will in future do what they do now, verify your credentials and help you do transactions. Only in 2050 you will walk in... in-person... and be verified via ALL of you biometrics, including biomeNtrics (I just coined that!) via cranial sensors.

With that verification, you can then, in-person, clean up the last month's messes and prepare the next month's passwords.

Duncan Cairncross said...

Re Banks

Here we use a system called netcode

I go onto the internet and use my password to access my bank
I can transfer money or pay into other peoples bank accounts
That's all I need for small transactions,
Above $300 there is another step - the bank sends a "netcode" to my cellphone and I have to enter it into the computer
There is another maximum on netcode - about $30,000

Somebody would have to have get my password and my cell phone

Alfred Differ said...

@Duncan: You won't be shocked to learn I disagree with Heinlein. Whether our host agrees with me or not, it was one of his stories that convinced me to make the distinction. Your approach confuses evils we would prefer avoided under the same term.

Jumper said...

David, I have to tell you the phrase "vat grown meat" leaves something to be desired. I want pork chop trees. Filet Mignon trees, turkey breast trees. I just don't want them conscious.

Alfred Differ said...

@Paul451: Heh. It took me a while to parse the negatives myself. I see them at work so often they blur a bit.

Repudiate: I write a cheque on a napkin. You take it to the bank. The cash it. I argue the transaction was fraudulent because someone else scribbled on the napkin.

Anti-repudiation: I sign the napkin and the bank compares signatures with what I have on file. I can try to weasel out of the transaction, but the bank will object. They argue my signature IS me. Obviously, that's not perfect, but no anti-repudiation technique is.

Resistance: What the banks are currently doing by continuing to use mag-stripe credit cards. One-factor authentication means only one piece of information is needed for anti-repudiation techniques. Having the physical card is enough. Having the numbers on the card (front and back) is enough. Two-factor authentication requires two 'different' means for anti-repudiation. The card's numbers and a PIN NOT written on the card could be enough. The card's numbers at a limited list of locations could be enough.


Basically, I dislike how the financial industry is dragging their collective feet. I want better anti-repudiation methods because I want to make life difficult for the one power bloc that actually scares me. Organized criminals. Slavery is pretty much defeated around the world, but human trafficking is big business. I'd really, really like to know who WE should be beheading.

Alfred Differ said...

What shall we do tonight Brain?

Show them which enzymes to adjust, of course, AND TRY TO TAKE OVER THE WORLD!

___
Teach them to cook.
They'll take it from there. 8)

LarryHart said...

Alfred Differ:

Teach them to cook.
They'll take it from there. 8)


I saw a bumper sticker today, which read:

LOVE PEOPLE.
COOK THEM DELICIOUS FOOD.

I presume the driver is a chef. But my warped brain read it as if he is a malevolent alien:

LOVE PEOPLE.
COOK THEM.
DELICIOUS FOOD.

David Brin said...

Just to get it on-record. Most media are labeling the flurry of discussions about Syria -- among the US, Europe, Russia, Turkey and now Iran -- to be hopeless and futile. Indeed, if you look at the stated goals or each party, there appears to be no way forward except in the direction of more pain. What is not discussed is the logical thing... partition.
http://www.nytimes.com/2015/09/27/world/middleeast/shifting-direction-kerry-aims-to-include-iran-in-efforts-to-end-the-conflict-in-syria.html?_r=0

The Assad regime knows they will never regain control over the country and even Damascus will slip away. They have been preparing a coastal, Alawite+Christian heartland for years, as a redoubt that would be easily defensible, given that Russia is desperate to maintain its base at Lataika. Turkey, in turn, wants to minimize the length of border that it shares with Kurds. If they support a Kurdish entity in Eastern Syria, might the Kurds in the rest be willing to move there? (Expelling ISIS from that part of the country, one assumes.)

In return, might Turkey step in to craft a moderate Sunni enclave around Aleppo, while Iran agrees to replace the worst Hezbollah commanders in exchange for a Shiite-dominated Damascus? And then everyone stomping ISIS?

Certainly the whole thing should be financed jointly by the Europeans and Saudis. The first by necessity and the latter because everyone is almost fed-up. Indeed, the Saudis must surely know that the "caliphate" brand (their secret dream, for 70 years) has been irrevocably spoiled and maybe it is time for another dream -- a peaceful Middle East developed in partnership among all the sons of Abraham.

Is this a sci fi tale? Of course it is! I don't claim it'll happen. (And I have no inside info!) Only that it is consistent with the needs of the various parties.... Oh, but that almost certainly disqualifies it from happening.

TheMadLibrarian said...

I doubt this plant is intelligent, but the mimicry is WTF??
http://www.iflscience.com/plants-and-animals/climbing-plant-ultimate-master-disguise

TheMadLibrarian

David Brin said...

MadLib... cool!

Zepp Jamieson said...

I know this will sound like a shaggy doggy story, but bear with me.
We had a cat named Burnie who was scary smart. He figured out door knobs, and only a lack of opposable thumbs stopped him from opening doors at will. He also learned that if he pushed down on the lever of the can opener, the other cats would come running. This seemed to amuse him.
We also had a dog, a Samoyed named Felonious Monk, and while he was a cement head in many ways, he had a knack for playing practical jokes on the cats. A favourite was to sneak up behind an unsuspecting cat, ram his snout between the cat's rear legs, lift up, and run forward. We called this "Wheelbarrowing the cats".
Burnie seemed to like to play jokes, too. One favourite was to sneak up on a sleeping Monk, and brush his luxuriant tail across Monk's nose. Monk would awaken in a paroxysm of sneezing, and by the time the sneezing stopped, Burnie was well away.
One evening, I was watching the telly, and Monk was trying to convince me to throw a soggy, postage-stamp sized piece of paper for him to fetch. I heard a cat jump down from the food stand.
Monk heard it too. He sniffed the air, and promptly lay down, rested his head on his paws, and closed his eyes. I was staring at him with considerable puzzlement, wondering if the mutt had suddenly developed narcolepsy or something.
Burnie came in the living room from the cat food area and stopped, carefully surveying Monk. He gave me a glance to make sure I wasn't going to interfere, and sidled up to Monk. He got his tail into position to give Monk's nose a good brushing--and Monk's head snapped up, he gave a loud "Garof!" noise, and snapped at Burnie. Burnie squalled and fled. Monk looked up at me with what on a human would look very much like a look of intense self-satisfaction.
Now, you can call my assignation of humour and self-satisfaction shameless anthropomorphizing, and I won't argue with that. Surely it is.
But I do know that Monk preplanned his ambush, faking being asleep, and knowing exactly who Bernie would do. This is behaviour not normally associated with dogs. Some fairly sophisticated strategic thinking went into that, and I've never just assumed dogs (or cats) are just "creatures of the moment" the way most people do.

Paul SB said...

The animal kingdom is far more varied and interesting than our preconceptions and holy books would have us believe. The plant kingdom, too. Maybe we should worry less about anthropomorphizing and more about being needlessly scientistic.

Laurent Weppe said...

"Here we use a system called netcode"

You use that for banks?

The only time I ever have to use a netcode is when I order a meal via alloresto.
(Yep: in France there are more protection against getting pirated when you order food than when you use your bank: la bouffe est une affaire sérieuse)

locumranch said...


Life will most often find a way, one way or another, and that is what differentiates the biological system from that of the mechanistic clockwork sort. The clockwork variety fails when (1) the substrate or reactants cease to coexist in the proper proportions or (2) a little sand prevents proper functioning by gumming up finely-fitted mechanical gears, but this is not true with biological systems that most often 'find a way' through behavioral change, induction, mimicry & accessory chemical pathways, and it is this philosophical divide makes the current mechanical clockwork theory of a CO2-mediated apocalypse so immensely laughable, for it is (indeed) a ill climatological event that blows nobody good.

Addicted machines?? Sure, just like my CAR which will cease to function without a steady supply of TLC, lubricants & fossil fuels.

From an 'enlightened' vegetarian diet (with a large helping of environmental shame) to an ideal inorganic diet?? Sounds an awful lot like the plot from D Keith Mano's 'The Bridge', circa 1974.

Inevitably, mechanistic thinking leads to dystopian outcomes.


Best

David Brin said...

Well Zepp, after all, Samoyeds are largely wolves... ;-) Great story. All our pets have been kinda dumb. The California Desert Tortoise seemed smarter than the lovable dog & cat. sigh.

Deuxglass said...

Meeting an octopus are what meeting an alien would really be like. All the animals we feel kindship to are mammals. Maybe you can bond with a bird but you don’t have the same feeling of kinship as you can with a mammal. Dolphins, whales and especially the Great Apes we can see as people. With a mammal you can sense that they has emotions that are close to ours. If you see a deer that has been shot or a trapped raccoon you would understand this. Unless you are one of those who feel no empathy you can feel their pain, fear and comprehension of what is happening to them. With an octopus you don’t see this. When you look into their eyes you see nothing with which to relate. Their eyes are not empty but they are alien. When we run into an off-world intelligent species I believe that we will have the same reaction. They would not be humanoids with bizarre forehead formations but strangely enough the same limbs proportions but would be truly alien. If we want to be ready for contact we should study octopi very closely because we must understand, communicate and negotiate with a truly alien mentality whose motivations and ideas that may be completely different from ours.

Deuxglass said...

Excuse me for my atrocious English. I just typed this up without proof reading.

Jumper said...

I dunno, Deuxglass, I think if a bipedal critter with hands, as opposed to snouts or tentacles, lived in a remotely similar environment their brains would necessarily contain similar amounts of allocation to living in that body that we'd understande each other well. In other words, if they were suitable for a game of basketball, their thinking would be necessarily close - in some regards, at least - to our own.

On another matter, the mill wheels of Gaea grind slowly, and what life survives, might be fatal to humans. Or very uncomfortable with excessive suffering, and unnecessarily painful. I read this latest from locumranch as "I don't give a damn for the human being."

Deuxglass said...

Jumper,

You started off good but then you lost me with the sentences at the end. I mean really did you have to add those touchy-feely stuff at the end??

David Brin said...

Dunno. Our desert tortoise comes to us and is at least a bit friendly and my wife was deliriously happy when we found her after a week being lost.

Birds totally are relatable. I have met terrific parrots and their human partners like em better than their spouses.

Paul SB said...

The computer teacher at my school has 2 bearded dragons, and they are quite affectionate people. And yes, oxytocin is found in the blood & brains of lizards, turtles and even snakes, so we may not be anthropomorphizing as much as we think we are (I don't know about octopi, though).

On the factual front, it should be pretty obvious that CO2 is part of the carbon cycle, a biogeochemical cycle that involves living as well as non-living things.

Anonymous said...

Dr. Brin,

But how would you compare your tortoise with what you feel when you look at a chimpanzee? Wouldn't you feel a stronger degree of kinship and comprehension? If an intelligent alien species as far away as an octopus is from us were in front of you how would you devine its intentions and its thought processes. We often project our own feelings upon the much lower animals attributing them with our own characteristics but it is one way; us toward them. The tortoise came back not because he felt a yearning to see you but more probably because he was hungry. We in our arrogance often assume that the animal "likes" us when their motivations is not at all that. What I want to say is that if we want to understand Otherness then we must try to understand the octopus as a model for the time when we will be in reality in front of an alien. After all these creatures are cephalopod . They are closer related to an oyster than to us.

Alex Tolley said...

OT: Small-scale nuclear fusion may be a new energy source -- ScienceDaily

This looks interesting - possible desktop fusion using muon that decay to electrons. The claim is that this fusion process is already a net energy producer. Not sure about the journals this work has been published in - I would have thought it was worth a more high profile one.

A paper is here:
Heat generation above break-even from laser-induced fusion in ultra-dense deuterium

A reddit comment thread:
Small-scale nuclear fusion may be a new energy source

probably very speculative and hyped, but does this show promise?

Alex Tolley said...

@Jumnper, deuxglass
What Is it Like to Be a Bat?

Classic thought on the issue of whether we can understand what animals are truly like. We can probably communicate after a fashion, but beyond that...

Interestingly the late John McCarthy argued that ET intelligence would show convergent evolution and therefore that we could communicate well. I attended this talk at SETI a couple of years before he passed away. He was clearly quite ill at the talk.

Another talk by Keith Devlin at SETI argues that we cannot assume that ET intelligence will be communicable with us at all, even with math that we believe to be universal. Contact with ET using Math? Not so fast

locumranch said...




For a website that focuses on 'otherness', it's constantly amusing how narrowly most choose to define humanity, both in its physicality as 'normality', its intelligence as technophilia and its sapience as conformity, so much so that we mistake our subjective take on mathematics as universality.

Humanity, thy name is Apex Fallacy wherein (1) nothing of value can come after us & (2) Uplift means remaking lower animals in our image.


Best

Alex Tolley said...

Didn't God make Adam in his own image?

LarryHart said...

Zepp Jamieson:

Some fairly sophisticated strategic thinking went into that, and I've never just assumed dogs (or cats) are just "creatures of the moment" the way most people do.


I used to have two cats. When the younger was a kitten, she was really annoying to the older cat. So one day, the older cat was drinking from a water dish, and the kitten sidled up behind him, all happy about the fact that she was next in line for the water. When the older cat was through drinking, he purposely knocked the water dish into the sink.

As you say, that moment really changed my mind about whether I though animals were capable of thinking chess-moves ahead.

Tim H. said...

Leslie Fish has a couple of great cat stories. Not so much animals as small, feature-reduced people.

Paul SB said...

Alex, if God made Man in His own image, does that mean that somewhere on Earth there is a person who looks just like God? Charlton Heston? And if that were the case, why would He look like a man at all? After all, those male anatomical organs are kind of useless if there is no Goddess to tango with.

But then, it might just be a metaphor. Maybe the characteristics are mental rather than appearance - curiosity, intelligence, a tendency to conform unthinkingly.

Anonymous, I agree with you generally as far as expecting aliens to be truly alien. However, as far as that tortoise goes, that particular species can eat a lot of both local and invasive greenery. Maybe it came back looking for food, but I have seen plenty of animals behave in similar ways with no food motivation being immediately apparent. Without mapping out the neurocircuitry of that particular chelonian brain, nothing can be said with certainty, but the presence of oxytocin (and the snuggly behaviors of many animals) is suggestive. "Rover really loves me," though a bit saccharine, is not an unreasonable hypothesis, given our molecular kinship. Not certain, or course - hypothesis rather than theory, but a reasonable supposition that other animals that share so many other traits with us might have their own analogs of human affection.

Alex Tolley said...

The pendulum swings. Not that long ago animal brains were seen as nothing more than the grinding of cogs. Not much choice, if at all in actions and no consciousness. Now we are swinging the other way, with evidence of consciousness in a number of species and also evidence of thought and planning. Paradoxically, we still cannot be sure other humans outside of ourselves aren't zombies. Free will may be illusory. Machine intelligence can far surpass humans in certain areas.

While we seem to be imbuing animals with more cognitive abilities than before, we farm them for food in increasingly atrocious conditions, making laws that make it illegal to see even how slaughterhouses operate. As humans we cannot bear mass slaughter unless seen at a distance, and even now designing battlefield robots to do our killing for us.


Zepp Jamieson said...

"When the older cat was through drinking, he purposely knocked the water dish into the sink."

Cats are quite capable of spite, and of taking revenge. I've thought before that a human-sized cat with hands might be rather dangerous company. Unless you managed to earn said cat's affection.

Alex Tolley said...

Wasn't it recently shown that cats tolerate humans rather than show affection? If they no longer like your presence, they leave. As the saying goes, "humans are the staff".

Paul SB said...

Alex, I would be asking about the metadata on that one. How many of the people on that team were dog owners? I have known plenty of humans who merely tolerate the presence of other humans, so as generalizations go, I would be asking for a percentage rather than assuming totality.

Zepp Jamieson said...

"Wasn't it recently shown that cats tolerate humans rather than show affection?"
I would say it depends on the cat. I have one cat who will see me walking home from a couple of blocks away and come trotting up to meet me, tail waving happy and straight up. There's no reason for the cat to greet me like that, but she does.
If you mistreat a cat, the cat will leave. But that doesn't mean the cat never liked you; it just means you were a jerk to the cat. (By "you" I don't mean you personally.)
I've been playing with the idea of a story of uplifted cats (Mr. Moderator, let me know if I owe royalties on that). Getting said creatures to behave in a cat-like manner is fairly easy. Getting into the thinking of such and relating it in a plausible manner is much more difficult.

Alex Tolley said...

@PaulSB if God made Man in His own image, does that mean that somewhere on Earth there is a person who looks just like God? Charlton Heston?

But then, it might just be a metaphor. Maybe the characteristics are mental rather than appearance - curiosity, intelligence, a tendency to conform unthinkingly.


Old testament God and Heston are probably quite similar mentally, just that their choice of weapons is different. ;) But what evidence is there of God's curiosity, unless his creation was an experiment? As for intelligence, that seems rather limited given the consequences of his actions. Color me unimpressed.



Alex Tolley said...

There's no reason for the cat to greet me like that, but she does.

Waiting for fresh food? ;)

I used to have Burmese cats and they were very people centric - always staying nearby, walking around my feet, sitting on my lap, returning when called, sleeping on the bed. Mind you, I was very diligent as a staff member, catering to their every whim.

Paul451 said...

Alex Tolley,
Re: Small scale fusion.

Sadly it has the stench of woo about it. (Their deuterium fusion path is not what Fermi or Feynman would recognise. No neutrons, no tritium, only heat.)

LarryHart said...

Zepp Jaimeson:

Cats are quite capable of spite, and of taking revenge. I've thought before that a human-sized cat with hands might be rather dangerous company. Unless you managed to earn said cat's affection.


Well, if she looked like Julie Newmar...

:)

Paul451 said...

Re: Anthropomorphising pets.

It's probably worth pointing out that most pets have been bred for their anthropomorphic traits. Their ability to "read" us, and our ability to "read" them.

For example, when testing dogs and human-reared wolves at a food-puzzle designed so they can't solve it, the dogs (even the dumbest pseudo-puppy miniatures) will quickly look for a familiar human and make solid eye-contact to attract their attention. Then they'll pointedly look at the thing they are stuck on. They've been bred around our capacity for "intentionality", their behaviour assumes our "theory of mind".

Wolves, even when raised for years by humans, will not do that. Yet when tested on their innate puzzle-solving intelligence, the wolves usually test higher than the smartest dogs.

Similarly, going the other way, dogs can pick up information from the direction of human gaze. Wolves can't. Even chimps have a limited ability to understand directioned gaze. This mutual gaze-intention understanding is wonderfully self-amplifying. Anyone with a dog will have had the dog come up to you to get your attention, then walked to the thing they want help with (door? food?), looking back to see if they've maintained your attention. "I know that you know that I know...")

So I don't think it's inappropriate to anthropomorphise your pets, it's what they were selected for. But we should be careful extrapolating that to other animals. (A squid "quivering with mirth" after inking the researcher (a fear response), the happy dolphin (fixed mouth shape), etc.)

locumranch said...


The human tendency to 'anthropomorphise' (to attribute human motives, desires and behaviour to animals, aliens & other phenomena) represents irrational sentiment (at best) and overt narcissism (at worst) wherein the most execrable elements of humanity proudly announce "They hate us cuz they anus' (as in 'The Interview').

It is the Apex Fallacy (plus a massive human inferiority complex) that drives Yahoo-style humanity to assume that (1) our human experiences represent a 'universal apex' and (2) 'others' (as in the Houyhnhnm) must therefore share our all-to-human predilection for communication (simian hooting), herd conformity (simian sexuality) and the shiny pebbles of technology.

'Uplift' is the height of human vanity: To assume that 'others' (animals; aliens) ASPIRE to be 'us' & that we (humanity) are intrinsically 'above' all others (unless, of course, we conclude that those 'others' are somehow more human, angelic or godlike than we are).

All over again, this is the White Man's Burden, this impulse to 'uplift' & 'civilise' the Savage Abbos by making them more like us BECAUSE nothing says human kindness & altruism more than forcing another species to mimic our (human) behaviours, ride a human tricycle & wear a human hat.


Best

Jumper said...

Since you asked, Deuxglass, I will mention my last comment's second part was a different remark altogether from the first part, was a remark on locumranch's "life will survive global warming," and was poorly worded at that. I should have put it "the events which life in general survives, (those events) might damage humans a lot more" meaning I don't see life as in danger, but a lot of species, yes.

In another matter, Alex, I read that "what is it like to be a bat" recently and you are right to recommend it. It's a brain twister all right.

For once I agree with locumranch: the stress on technology (and I include all the more primitive examples) as central to intelligence is overdone. Or actually, I suspect a broader definition of technology might be lurking.

Alex Tolley said...

@Paul451 - re small scale fusion. The piece in Science daily is just a mess from I presume a PR piece that has it mostly wrong. The device as tested does generate neutrons, they just are not stopped by the copper cylinder (too thin) and not measured. The measurements they did make showed that the power output as measured mostly by the heated cylinder was 2x that of the input - laser. What they did measure suggested that the heat was coming from relativistic hydrogen isotopes. It was a previous experiment that suggested that the fusion was generating leptons (muons).

Unless they made incorrect measurements, I think they demonstrated that the device did generate fusion and above true breakeven. I think they claimed that if neutrons were captured the power output/input would be 2-3 orders of magnitude.

Bear in mind this device was generating around 2W and could only work for short periods before the focus lens was ruined by metal sputtering.

Bottom line is that I wouldn't dismiss it on theoretical grounds ("yes we have no neutrons" - cold fusion). The key here is the concentration of deuterium as a thin layer on an Iridium target that fuses under a focused laser beam (532 nm). This is the sort of experiment one could do at home with a laser pointer, a deuterium source and a vacuum pump.
(Of course Homeland Security would be all over you as a terrorist if you tried - unless your name is Taylor Wilson).

Alex Tolley said...

@locum - again, why do your comments not apply to God too? God display all the traits you complain on in humans, and not surprising if we are created in his image.

Biologists do not exhibit the Apex fallacy, as they do not view evolution as directed towards humans at the top. If anything, it is bronze age humans writing that man has dominion that is more in line with that sentiment, especially the US strain of fundamentalists who believe they alone will get to Heaven with the Rapture(TM).

But you are correct to imply that other animals if given the ability to uplift would select different traits, and probably not intelligence. Mind you, High School jocks probably wouldn't pick intelligence either ;)

David Brin said...

I, too, remain amazed by dogs' ability to understand gaze and hand pointing. There must have been a whole lot of repro benefit to that, 40,000 years ago.

Zepp Jamieson said...

"Waiting for fresh food? ;)"

Usually not. In the summer, at least, access to food is 24/7.

"I, too, remain amazed by dogs' ability to understand gaze and hand pointing."

Human hands exert magical power over trained dogs. Someone--Joe Haldeman, I think--wrote a story of an intelligent soldier-dog, and in the story the dog narrates how his greatest pleasure was that of his human companion simply resting his hand on his back. That rang true to me; it matched my experience that dogs value contact.
So my current dog, a terrier, has been trained to simply relax and stay still if I rest my hand on his back. The doorbell rings, and my arm shoots down onto Rygel's back (come to it, I'm pretty well trained myself!) and he immediately subsides. The hand, to him, means, "No worries, the humans have this under control. Stand down." It's a great way to calm an excited dog without having to struggle with the dog.

Zepp Jamieson said...

"'Uplift' is the height of human vanity: To assume that 'others' (animals; aliens) ASPIRE to be 'us' & that we (humanity) are intrinsically 'above' all others (unless, of course, we conclude that those 'others' are somehow more human, angelic or godlike than we are)."

One of the main points of the Uplift series this that daughter species were rarely like their sponsors, even in cases where the sponsors tried to force characteristics and mannerisms. If I recall, there were strong sanctions against trying too hard to make species to be like the parent species.

Alex Tolley said...

"No worries, the humans have this under control. Stand down."

That is anthropomorphizing. You have no knowledge that this is what your dog thinks.

Zepp Jamieson said...

"That is anthropomorphizing. You have no knowledge that this is what your dog thinks."
Good point. It's what I'm trying to say to him. I've no idea what it actually means in his doggy brain. That better?

Alex Tolley said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Alex Tolley said...

OT. Rosetta is a slow motion collision of 2 comets.
The method used to determine this should interest our host.

Alex Tolley said...

@Zepp. I don't know how you trained your dog, but it could be seen as simple reinforcement learning. In which case your dog isn't thinking at all, just following a learned response. More like cognitive years grinding. I'm not saying this is the case, just that we need to be careful about how we interpret behavior. (and that includes human behavior where we think there is thought behind behavior. Recent work suggests that behaviors are much more like learned responses, with after the fact confabulation).

David Brin said...

This is why I prefer to think in terms of -- not probabilities but "likelihoods" -- and not settle on a firm and absolute belief.

Hence, while Alex is right that we don't "know" what goes on in a dog's brain, I give Zepp's interpretation a 75% chance of being as accurate a representation as English vocabulary can manage.

I am spending a month not even glancing at L's postings here. But I get an impressing he strawmanned "uplift." Boring. Some of you please ask him the question he fears most and will never, ever answer. "

So, fellah. What is YOUR positive-assertive recommendation for how to make a better world? And 'stop doing that awful thing I accuse you of doing' is not positive-assertive, it's just more (almost always stramanning) whining."

Zepp Jamieson said...

We could just as easily discuss how much of our OWN behaviour is "simple reinforcement learning". And there's a thicket for you. We aren't automatrons, simple "reactions to bad chemicals in our brains" as Kurt Vonnegut put it, but we surely do not have free will, either. They've tested to see if individuals can generate truly random numbers or words, and we cannot; eventually, a pattern emerges. There are certain set behaviours that are specific to species; human, dog, or cat. Someone already mentioned the distinct differences in behaviour inside a group of species; wolves are quite different from dog, even though both are canids. Human and gorillas are different. If an individual within a species starts exhibiting behaviour outside the norms for that species, others notice that something is wrong almost immediately. That would be the class of preprogrammed behaviour characteristics. Personalities--and individuals of all species mentioned do have individual personalities--result from the individual learning and training, the specific environment, and other items. That's behaviour that's learned, imprinted, or at least reactive to stimuli. And that's about as close to "free will" as we get.

A.F. Rey said...

What is YOUR positive-assertive recommendation for how to make a better world? And 'stop doing that awful thing I accuse you of doing' is not positive-assertive, it's just more (almost always stramanning) whining."

I know it's breaking the conditions you set, but I would still start by cancelling Two Broke Girls. :)

LarryHart said...

Alex Tolley:

...especially the US strain of fundamentalists who believe they alone will get to Heaven with the Rapture(TM).


The ones who keep saying the Rapture is coming any day now...I wish those folks would really get taken up and let the rest of us get on with the mundane business of running a country.

David Brin said...

LarryHart I wonder has anyone done a novel where rapture folk vanish... and the rest of us are fine? And we fret about alien abduction?

David Brin said...

Huh, pondering that. If a bunch of people vanish... and there's SOME correlation with being devout Christian... but also others... who would denounce the idea that it's rapture?

The Fundies who were NOT swept away. The idea they were left behind might be anathema. They'd be among the first to demand a secular explanation.

Tim H. said...

Perhaps the rapture happened years ago, taking a few of the most tolerant believers, leaving us with the hypocrites, fundies etc.

Zepp Jamieson said...

LarryHart I wonder has anyone done a novel where rapture folk vanish... and the rest of us are fine? And we fret about alien abduction?
There was an HBO series last year called "The Leftovers" about a town coming to grips with the fact that 10% of the population suddenly vanished. Unfortunately, it wasn't very good.
All sorts of post-apocalypse fiction, of course, but the only one that springs to mind that had a religious theme was also one of the best: A Canticle for Liebowitz. But it wasn't exactly about the rapture.

Paul SB said...

Alex,

"Old testament God and Heston are probably quite similar mentally, just that their choice of weapons is different. ;) But what evidence is there of God's curiosity, unless his creation was an experiment? As for intelligence, that seems rather limited given the consequences of his actions. Color me unimpressed."

I'm afraid I will have to agree with you on this one. I even wrote a little story about the Universe turning out to be an alien science fair experiment when I was in high school. But the actions depicted in pretty much all tales of gods show them to be the products of the limited imaginations of power-hungry politicians. Creativity is such an elusive talent, though. Just a few days ago I heard a story on the radio about efforts to find creativity in the brain. The really surprising finding was not which areas lit up with activity, but which area switched off. The Frontal Lobes went dark in subjects who were improvising on a keyboard in an fMRI. I think it was an episode of Radiolab. I'll try to look it up when I have time, but no guarantees. This year is looking much busier than most. The explanation was that to be creative requires a willingness to take risks, a willingness that is suppressed by most people's Frontal Lobes. That makes a certain sense, given how people act when alcohol starts to dim the Frontal lights. I'm not too sure, though, if this isn't stereotyping creative people. Not everyone heeds Ernie Hemingway's advice to "write drunk, edit sober."

Tony Fisk said...

LarryHart I wonder has anyone done a novel where rapture folk vanish... and the rest of us are fine? And we fret about alien abduction?

What about a rapture that carries off all the fundamentalists, and gives the rest of us free reign to tidy the place up.

I think Apocamon was heading in that direction (one day, Mr. Farley may actually *finish* a project he starts. And a long, low note shall reverberate throughout the Cosmos...).

Paul451 said...

David Brin,
"LarryHart I wonder has anyone done a novel where rapture folk vanish... and the rest of us are fine?"

Reminds me of a Simpsons episode. Homer (and hence the family) join the survivalist "prepper" movement, and after Homer causes a failure of the electrical system, all the preppers run to their hide-out. When Homer rebels against the selfish preppers, he tries to bring their provisions back to help the town, but it turns out that the town has completely recovered. One of the townsfolk explains, "a spirit of neighborly cooperation broke out as if all the weird, angry people had left."

[More interestingly, the UK miniseries, The Second Coming. The returning Messiah demands a Third Testament, which turns out to be the death of the Messiah, God, the Devil, Heaven, Hell, and any promise of an afterlife. Just leaving humans alone. It's implied in the afterword that not much changes, things just seem calmer.]

LarryHart said...

Tony Fisk:

What about a rapture that carries off all the fundamentalists, and gives the rest of us free reign to tidy the place up.


That's what I was trying to get at. Imagine waking up one morning to find that only the Democratic congresspeople remained in the chamber. And Democratic nominees had a 4-0 majority on the Supreme Court.

Of course, we'd still be stuck with Trump. :)

LarryHart said...

Dr Brin:

I wonder has anyone done a novel where rapture folk vanish... and the rest of us are fine? And we fret about alien abduction?


The one I'd like to see, though, is where those of us still on earth know exactly what happened, but instead of "wailing and gnashing teeth", just go about the business of governing, unencumbered by the Religious Right.

LarryHart said...

locumranch:

'Uplift' is the height of human vanity: To assume that 'others' (animals; aliens) ASPIRE to be 'us' & that we (humanity) are intrinsically 'above' all others (unless, of course, we conclude that those 'others' are somehow more human, angelic or godlike than we are).


The same could be said of 'parenting'.

raito said...

What about a novel where the rapture comes...

and all those who were certain they'd be the ones to go to heaven don't get taken?

Some might change their ways. Other would insist that it wasn't the 'real' rapture.

Smurphs said...

"What about a rapture that carries off all the fundamentalists, and gives the rest of us free reign to tidy the place up."

Don't count on it. It may appear the Fundie Right is the problem today, but they are not. They are just trying to fix our problems in the best way they know how. IMO, their methods are wrong, but they are not evil.

There is plenty of true evil in the world today. Monomaniac dictators, genocidal pogroms, corporatists who will rape the planet as long as they profit, to name just a few.

(BTW, don't waste everybody's time pointing out that some of the Fundies would also fall into a truly evil category. So would some Liberals, or Atheists, or Buddhists, etc. As our host would say, there are outliers in every group.)

Alex Tolley said...

Enjoy Rowan Atkinson welcoming you to Hell.
http://youtu.be/91DSNL1BEeY

locumranch said...


I don't object to Uplift per se as the creation of permanent slave class of 'Underpeople' is just fine & dandy. What I object to is the false moral argument that Uplift is for the subject's 'own good' because it is NOT for the subjects 'own good' but rather for the 'own good' of the Uplifter.

Despite the snarky nature of their comments, Alex & Larry_H make valid points about 'uplift' as compared to both god & parenting, the difference being that Nature(God) doesn't give a dump if we think him/her/it a bad parent. Fortunately or unfortunately, human parents cannot invoke divine immunity, so we should all think thrice before subjecting our metaphorical children to forced uplift, just as real parents should curb their entirely selfish impulse to force their own children into unsuited careers for parental benefit, despite the overwhelming desire of Jews, Tiger Moms & Jocks everywhere to whelp another doctor, engineer or professional sports hero.

Of course, our host will never admit that the motive force behind the Uplift concept is nothing but selfishness & self-interest, but this is the expected mindset of the abusive personality who is capable of justifying anything, including daily beatings, physical mutilation, behavioral modification & the proverbial 'House of Pain', in either the name of Progress or to simply indulge in their power fantasies & base desires.

Best
____

Zepp is, of course, correct: We are just automatons, incapable of Free Will, at least according to Behavioralism & BF Skinner. What we call Innovation & Creativity is merely the name we give to aberrancy in thought & action.

Jumper said...

Either you guys are sarcastic beyond my ken, or you are so refreshingly removed from fundie/pop culture that you have never heard of the "Left Behind" series of novels.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Left_Behind

David Brin said...

LarryHart, if the Democrats ever triumphed overwhelmingly... either because of a "rapture removal of crazies" or (far better) by Blue America waking up... there'd be no monolithic single party. Dems are cats, impossible to herd. They would immediately split apart...

...and yours truly would show you just how he really feels about far-leftist bullies. They may be necessary allies against the bigger-worse insanity on the right. But I don't trust dogmatists.

Especially insipid strawmanning whiners who stare into a mirror at their own faults and ascribe them to other people.

Zepp Jamieson said...

Zepp is, of course, correct: We are just automatons, incapable of Free Will, at least according to Behavioralism & BF Skinner. What we call Innovation & Creativity is merely the name we give to aberrancy in thought & action.

Nope, that's not what Zepp said. Quite the opposite, in fact.
Are you trying to troll me?

Zepp Jamieson said...

"...and yours truly would show you just how he really feels about far-leftist bullies."

You won't find many of those in the Democratic Party. They regard Sanders as a "far leftist", and he in reality is an Eisenhower Republican. I agree that far left ideologues are every bit as bad as the far-right variety, but in the US they simply don't exist.

Jumper said...

If the opposite of free will is determinism, then free will and non-determinism might be the same thing. (There is no determinism; this Newtonian will-o'the-wisp is a story that got its death blow from quantum theory and the coup de grace from Mandelbrot.)

Alex Tolley said...

I think Dennett argues that you can have "free will" in a deterministic system in his book: "Freedom Evolves".

LarryHart said...

Dr Brin:

LarryHart, if the Democrats ever triumphed overwhelmingly... either because of a "rapture removal of crazies" or (far better) by Blue America waking up... there'd be no monolithic single party. Dems are cats, impossible to herd. They would immediately split apart...


I'd be fine with that. I'm not a leftist. I just want to remove the obstructionist bloc. And since (apparently) the voters won't do it themselves, I'd be happy if God did it.

:)

David Brin said...

Zepp, clearly you have spent very little time on university campuses or in Chicago or SanFran or Berkeley. The American left does exist, and it contains some truly raging dogmatist bullies who make their lunacy felt-- in those places. Incidentally, in several hundred college lit & English depts they wage war biliously against science fiction.

Zepp Jamieson said...

True, it's been about 25 years since the last time I stepped onto a major American campus. I've heard about some of the truly idiotic PC stuff pulled, and I'll wryly note that SF has been under attack from various parts of the political spectrum, sometimes for some pretty loony reasons. And campuses have always been a home to the rigidly doctrinaire, particularly students who are just discovering how to amalgamate personal opinions into doctrine and ideology. But I was referring to the greater society as a whole; you can find doctrinaire leftists, in environmental groups and on the edges of groups such as Occupy and BLM, but they are so small in numbers they can't even be a noisy influence there.

Alfred Differ said...

Free will in a deterministic system still works, but Popper made a good enough case to convince me that the universe is indeterministic that I no longer care much about the free will arguments. The more I tried to learn how to model the universe, the more I thought we were essentially modeling a small 'surface' of possibilities in a much higher dimensional space... and that's before one includes designed intent.

I think it is worth compiling 'intuition pumps' as Dennett describes them. In a practically infinite dimension space, heuristic solutions are going to be the best we can manage.

David Brin said...

Zepp the US left did fantastic harm by trashing the offices of neocons like Wolfowitz, driving them away from campuses where peers could argue and moderate their dalliance with Straussian fascism. Driven off campus to Heritage and AEI etc, they became intellectual whores, concocting polysyllabic rationalizations for anything the Bushites wanted to do, in order to profit Cheney family companies.

To be clear, this is all about the process of "horizon expansion" that I talk about here:

http://tinyurl.com/brindestiny

A process that the left has made their core religion, so much so that they despise and denounce anyone who disagrees even slightly about the pace of tolerance/inclusion expansion and whether old loyalties are still pertinent.

The right, in turn, despises inclusion-expansion and hates to be nagged to do it. (locum being a raging example).

LIBERALS like the general process of inclusion expansion AND like their old loyalties. They are the only ones conceiving it as a positive sum, win-win process. They are neither leftioes nor righties.

You see the same thing when it comes to the concept underlying our great competitive ARENAS... markets, democracy, science, courts and sports ...All five innovative systems achieve positive sum cornucopias of output because they nurse vigorous competition... but regulated to minimize cheating and maximize opportunities for creative rivalry.

Leftists despise the word "competition" ignoring (1) that is is the source of fecund wealth we use then to help people and (2) they they are themselves being very very competitive!

Rightists are worse! They claim to love the word "competition" but hate REGULATION... without which competitive processes are always always always and always ruined by cheaters. (In fact, enabling cheaters is now the sole and entire purpose of the Republican Party.)

Again, liberals are the only ones who see no dichotomy. Who see the combined word "regulated-competition" as the wellspring of our revolution and bold new way of doing things.

Zepp Jamieson said...

I look forward to watching "Otherness" later this evening, but I wonder if you meant to send a link to something else. Leftists can be an odd lot, but they aren't THAT alien! But I'll watch it first.
As a liberal myself, I have no quarrel with your distinction between liberals and the left. It's just that the doctrinaire sorts you mention on campus don't exist in the wider society, and America's present paroxysm of anti-intellectualism make campus attitudes a non-starter in the wider society. And leftists have no political voice. Sanders, as mentioned, is being described as "far left" (I've heard him called a Trotskyite and a Stalinist, although usually by people who think Hitler was a socialist), but you would be hard put to find any of his policies and views that Eisenhower didn't embrace as President.
I also doubt that Wolfowitz delivered himself to the paid thinking chambers of the Koch Brothers because he was yearning to breathe free. I suspect good pay and a chance to influence Reagan and subsequent Republicans played a bigger role in that than a desire for freedom.

Paul451 said...

Jumper,
Re: Left Behind

Left Behind is the fundamentalists' own wet dream of the suffering of the sinners in hell on Earth. The variant everyone is talking about is what they feel would actually happen to society if you removed the... well, the sort of people who believe in the Rapture.

Paul451 said...

Zepp,
One of the interesting things about Sanders is that he seems to have decided to take back the word "socialist". I mean, not just "liberal", but the S-word. Even though it will obviously harm his ability to get fair media treatment. (It's like African Americans co-opting the word Nigger, or gays the word Queer.)

I've heard several variants of "Even though he's a socialist, I agree with a lot of what he says about..." from rusted-on Republicans who've been curious enough to attend his speeches. It's an interesting strategy to say, "Well, if I'm a socialist, and you agree with 95% of what I believe, then maybe the majority of this country are to the left of the politicians, not to the right. Maybe even self-described conservatives are actually closer to self-described socialists than they are to the ruling class."

Zepp Jamieson said...

I've encountered the same thing in the mostly conservative rural area where I live. Sanders knows that in the primaries, he must have African-American support for Super Tuesday, which is in mostly southern states, but should he get the nomination, he will have to draw support from conservatives and moderates. He's already laying the ground work for that, with rallies in Texas and Florida, and a speech at Falwell's Liberty U. If you had told me a year ago that a Secular Jew professing to be a Socialist would even DARE go to the hub of the evangelical Christian movement, I would never have believed it.

Zepp Jamieson said...

"To be clear, this is all about the process of "horizon expansion" that I talk about here"

Ah, the original point of the thread. Good talk you gave there. Two takeaways: on diversity, I once toyed with an idea that someone realized that the key to GUT lay in the workings of Navaho concepts of time and divinity, but when they went looking for someone fluent and a believer, they found many people of Navaho descent, but none spoke the language or held the old beliefs after centuries of eliminating diversity--ironically, for the sake of science. The idea never went anywhere because I couldn't figure out where to go, short of a Vonnegut approach which I didn't want to take. The other takeway from your mention of the Drake equation was a point Edward Snowden made the other day that made me sit up and go, "Wow! That's really feasible" He noted that the big mystery of why we haven't heard any other civilizations may be that they use very sophisticated encryption, that being the only way to preserve personal privacy in a digital age, and that we are hearing them all the time, but to us, it's just random noise.

And you mentioned the fresh-water crowd's dalliance with Strauss. Did you ever see Adam Curtis' "Age of Nightmares"? It's a three part documentary from about 2003 or so that the BBC aired. Brilliant stuff. Helps make sense of a lot of what's been going on domestically and in the middle East.

David Brin said...

Many liberals reflexively assume they are "left" simply because that is the simplistic narrative they are fed.

Laurent Weppe said...

* "I'll wryly note that SF has been under attack from various parts of the political spectrum, sometimes for some pretty loony reasons"

NASA lied! There's no water on Mars! This and Matt Damon's last film are all part of Hillary's socialo-communist plot to impose her secular-feminist sharia in schools by increasing the number of hours dedicated to physics! Limbaugh said so so you know it's true :p

***

* "Left Behind is the fundamentalists' own wet dream of the suffering of the sinners in hell on Earth."

When you think of it, Left Behind is actually very similar to the Randologists own fantasy:
"When WE the self-proclaimed intellectual-übermenschen will leave for Galt Gulch, the civilization will collapse, thus punishing the rubes for their deadly sin of insufficient deference toward OUR genius!"
"When WE the self-proclaimed paragons of virtue and piety will be taken by the Rapture, the Anti-Christ will take over and destroy civilization, which is all part of God's Plan to punish the heathens for their deadly sin of insufficient deference toward OUR Hermeneutics!"

***

* "One of the interesting things about Sanders is that he seems to have decided to take back the word "socialist". I mean, not just "liberal", but the S-word"

For me, the great irony as I watch the american primaries from the other side of the Pond is that if you call yourself a Social-Democrat where I live, you'll be accused of being a right-winger... by people who advocate allying themselves with the local fascists and sing the praises of Putin's regime.

Paul451 said...

Laurent,
"NASA lied! There's no water on Mars! This and Matt Damon's last film are all part of Hillary's socialo-communist plot to impose her secular-feminist sharia in schools by increasing the number of hours dedicated to physics! Limbaugh said so so you know it's true :p"

For anyone who hasn't heard it yet, here's what Laurent is parodying: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tNGok134dOc

locumranch said...


As a raging example of 'inclusion-expansion' denialism, I thought I'd expand my earlier (first case) caricature of Uplift as an entirely selfish, self-interested & self-indulgent exercise in paternalistic power fantasy, reasonable only as a precursor to the construction of a more affectionate pet, an abuse-worthy non-human slave or a better tasting steak. There are a few other (unreasonable; unwise) alternative arguments, however, as in the case of Uplift exercised for the purposes of creating a non-human friend (associate; equal) or a superior (stronger; faster; more intelligent) being to uplift humans (and/or solve our all-to-human problems for us).

In second case, Uplift for the purposes of creating a non-human associate, friend or equal (our host David being extremely partial to this construct), the problem is that equality & a fair-balanced-equal playing field is (by definition) (1) a competitive & therefore unstable power dynamic wherein (2) the uplifted species may challenge human authority & species dominance, resulting in (3) either interspecies conflict or even a 'Planet of the Apes' style catastrophe (unless, of course, we take steps to enslave the subject species through enforced dependency & addiction).

In the third case, Uplift for the purposes of creating a non-human (problem-solving) superior being (as postulated by Artificial Intelligence or a Super Helper species), we ensure the inevitable loss of human dominance & the potential enslavement as humanity as a whole as the uplifted superior species inverts the current (irrational; human) scientific hierarchy that demands that science serves human desires rather than vice versa, meaning that our new overlords will overrule human desires & impulses to serve science, leading inevitably to death camps & the loss of human freedoms as our superiors 'solve' our all-to-human problems (excess population, unemployment, relative raw material shortages & disobedience) UNLESS, of course, we take steps to enslave the superior species through enforced dependency & addiction.

Case 2 & 3 are supported by an increasingly unstable EU Migrant/Refugee situation wherein the current EU attempt to 'uplift' these economic migrants to 'equality' status WITHOUT enforcing social equality in either legal responsibility or culture (which means that migrants are made 'superior' by unearned advantages) can only lead to dreck, destruction & chaos.

Watch the EU attempt at Uplift because where it leads, the rest of the world & the march of jackboots will follow.


Best

David Brin said...

I skimmed this dichotomous nonsense. Someone routinely ask the strawmanning playground snarler what his positive-assertive PROPOSALS are? That demand should be kept as a copy-paste whenever he does this.

Oh, most of us here are descended from immigrants who "uplifted" in the ways he denigrates. The possibility that the products of uplift might be sovereign equals, capable of critical argument, adding diversity and cogency to a wider-stance version of wisdom? Again, the failure to be ABLE to even weigh such a positive sum outcome as one listed possibility is... just sad.

Alex Tolley said...

In second case, Uplift for the purposes of creating a non-human associate, friend or equal (our host David being extremely partial to this construct), the problem is that equality & a fair-balanced-equal playing field is (by definition) (1) a competitive & therefore unstable power dynamic wherein (2) the uplifted species may challenge human authority & species dominance, resulting in (3) either interspecies conflict or even a 'Planet of the Apes' style catastrophe (unless, of course, we take steps to enslave the subject species through enforced dependency & addiction).

This is one of the solutions to the Fermi paradox. That and elder race destroys up and coming (self-Uplifting) species before they can compete. Your next para on leading to death camps is similar to teh idea of machine/Bezerker species destroying newly uplifting species.

Alex Tolley said...

@locum Despite DB's animosity, the pet argument needs to be examined more closely. Dogs being a case in point. We have bred them to be socialized to humans. House pets could well be considered an "enslavement" of the wolf, although we need to know the mind of the dog to understand whether this is good or bad. OTOH, dogs have traditionally both helped their human masters as well as benefited. This could be considered a mutual arrangement where both species can now do more than each alone. Not only has the dog been in some ways uplifted, but so has the human in terms of learning to communicate with, and care for, another species. Dogs are particularly plastic genetically (compare with cats) and it is arguable that some species have been improved in certain traits with breeding. Should we decide at some point to increase their intelligence in a human friendly way (genetically or with prosthetics), we may find out whether this uplifting has been beneficial or not.

I'm not a dog owner, but it does seem that dogs appear happy with their lot. If so, then our breeding experiments are generally good (I discount the problems with some breeds - e.g. those with shortened snouts. Not all experiments have good outcomes).

Alex Tolley said...

an increasingly unstable EU Migrant/Refugee situation wherein the current EU attempt to 'uplift' these economic migrants to 'equality' status WITHOUT enforcing social equality in either legal responsibility or culture (which means that migrants are made 'superior' by unearned advantages) can only lead to dreck, destruction & chaos.

We cause the problem and then its our problem for helping them, however poorly?
Whatever happened to "love thy neighbor". This is so similar to the conservative view of the poor in America. Create a system where there are poor, then when you get them, make them feel worthless and forever grateful for the scraps given (it used to be , and may be returning to, evangelize your [Christian] religion in return for scraps). No doubt you agree with Jeb!'s "no more free stuff for blacks".

Zepp Jamieson said...

"For anyone who hasn't heard it yet, here's what Laurent is parodying: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tNGok134dOc"

...And once again, Poe's Law stands solidly. It is now impossible to parody the American right.

locumranch said...


Rather than trying to 'strawman' David's position, I'm trying (hard) to reconcile his pro-Uplift perspective with Tuan's masterful sociological thesis on 'Dominance & Submission: The Making of Pets'.

I own cats, dogs & horses -- of which dogs are the most clearly 'affectionate' -- yet it is important to note that 'affection' seems proportional to the degree those animals are dependent on human beings (with the pack-dependent dog being entirely dependent on human support when deprived of other canines).

I am also the son of immigrants and, although I agree almost entirely his with his position that "immigrants (can be) "uplifted" in the ways (I) denigrate", I must point out that this process is uniformly difficult, contentious & conflict-prone, leading to all manner of kickback, race riots, ethnic cleansings & brutalities, ranging from signs declaring 'No Irish' to constitutional Jim Crow Laws to Brownshirts & extermination camps, and that's just 'competition' between fellow (effectively identical & equal) human beings rather than a competition between humans, squid-people & genetically-engineered catamites.

So, again I ask: Why risk human dominance for an 'uplift' pipedream, especially when 'love thy neighbour' is a mere ideal that has been proven unrealistic time & time again?

Best

A.F. Rey said...

...the problem is that equality & a fair-balanced-equal playing field is (by definition) (1) a competitive & therefore unstable power dynamic wherein (2) the uplifted species may challenge human authority & species dominance, resulting in (3) either interspecies conflict or even a 'Planet of the Apes' style catastrophe (unless, of course, we take steps to enslave the subject species through enforced dependency & addiction).

The problem with this scenario is that is it applicable to any two groups: Blacks vs Whites, Russians vs Americans, Men vs Women, Europeans vs Africans, North vs South, New Yorkers vs Chicagoians, North-Side-of-the-Tracks vs South-Side-of-the-Tracks, Blue-eyed vs Green-eyed, Husband vs Wife, The Self vs All Others.

While conflict is inherent between groups, the idea that it inevitably leads to catastrophe means that civilization can never exist. Sooner or later (probably sooner), conflicts will tear it down.

I realize that is the attitude of many on the Right, but as a counterexample I submit that civilization has existed for millenia. :)

Just because there is conflict doesn't mean we can't live together and make it work.

Alex Tolley said...

@locum - hatred of "others" isn't a fixed feature. We had miscegenation laws and even as late as the 1970's mixed race couples were an issue. That has pretty much disappeared, especially when you look at how kids engage at school. It will probably take another generation to largely overcome the hatred of LGBQTs, but again I am encouraged by what I see at schools.

Some cultures are quite welcoming of "others", while Anglos and Europeans seem particularly unwelcoming (culture, religion?). Economics plays a part too. When the economy is squeezing everyone, the need to compete and identify with dominant groups strengthens. Creating a larger underclass (making the distribution more pyramid shaped) worsens the situation.

But if we include education and institutions as part of uplift, then uplift helps in reducing this conflict, which is a "good thing", unless you want this conflict for ulterior motives.






David Brin said...

A fun thought experiment in which humans experience doglike existence adoring affectionate imperfect uber beings is "The Puppies of Terra"... http://www.ukjarry1.talktalk.net/puppies.htm see the writeup. I direct takeoff on Call of the Wild.

And I hereby paste in (and hope others will do so, relieving me of the burden: "let's ask the strawmanning playground snarler what his positive-assertive PROPOSALS are? Not snarls at scarecrow-simplistic things no-to-do but positive assertive actions that might make things better."

Watch....

locumranch said...


All good points:

(1) Civilisations have existed, collapsed, reformed & disintegrated for millennia -- which does not imply that they either 'cannot' exist or must be eternal.

(2) That 'hatred of "others" isn't a fixed feature' -- nor is 'love of others' a fixed feature (as if anyone can define the 'universal' that is 'love' is in a thousand words or less).

All examples of dichotomous thinking, also.

Some cultures are quite welcoming of "others", indeed, and the most welcoming (by far) are Anglo-European in nature because they (by & large) agree with the 'love thy neighbour' ideal. Has Saudi Arabia rolled out a welcome for Jews? Do Muslim countries welcome Christians of any colour? Does Japan welcome the non-Japanese? No, no & absolutely not. And should the West continue to welcome diversity, in small amounts, when a large-scale invasion amounts to cultural suicide. Absolutely.

Best
___
I also recommend 'The Puppies of Terra', if you (spoiler) like eight-legged dogs. Yet how many of you want a pet that can disembowel you easily?

David Brin said...

Still waiting for proposals/prescriptions/suggestions.

David Brin said...

onward


onward

Deuxglass said...

Dr. Brin,
When you said that you were still waiting for proposals/prescriptions/suggestions I assume you meant ideas for your friends in ways of lowering the costs of launching rockets in order to mine asteroids. Here is one idea that just might work.

The idea is to combine two methods to reach space. First you need a permanent high altitude base at around 100,000 feet. This base would be made out of balloons filled with helium and be tied to the ground by thin light-weight cables. Next you need to have a ribbon elevator between it and the ground. You can do this by having the ribbon reel out as the balloons gradually rise from the ground to their ultimate high-altitude station. The weight of the ribbon can be supported by balloons placed at intervals along its length. Once there you can use the ribbon elevator to bring up modular components of rockets to the base. You can keep down the strain on the ribbon by having the elevator bring up the component parts and supplies in small loads. Once all the parts of a rocket are up and assembled you push it over the edge of the base and fire it up. The rocket motor can be recovered by parachute after use, broken down into parts and then returned to the station by elevator.

The base can be gradually increased in size and new elevators added as needed. Helium is very expensive and the base would need vast amounts of it. You can keep costs down by using helium for only the most critical parts such as where the people will live and work and then use hydrogen for the other parts such as the launching areas which would be separated by safe distance from the living areas. Helium and hydrogen can be delivered to the station by a hose from the ground. You would not even need to pump it up.

Potential problems would be where to put it. An island far enough from populated areas would be the best place since it would solve the not-in-my-back-yard syndrome. A place near the equator would also help as well. One possible candidate is Johnston Atoll which belongs the US Government, is uninhabited and has an airstrip able to take the largest airplanes as well as a deep-water harbor. It is 16°45’ north of the Equator. Hawaii is only 860 miles to the northeast and can be used as the staging base for the Johnston Atoll installation. It is also officially up for lease. However there are two drawbacks. First there is some chemical contamination that would have to be cleaned up first and secondly, although rare, tropical cyclones sometimes hit it.

Another candidate could be Palmyra Island which also belongs the US Government and is uninhabited. At 5°53’ N it is even closer to the equator and out of the cyclone zone. It is an unincorporated territory which means that the President has, in theory, total control over it without oversight from Congress. Hawaii is 950 miles to the south so it can still be used as a staging base. The principle drawback is that it is smaller and would require a lot of infrastructure improvements to be the base.

I would love to see a discussion about this idea. Perhaps it is stupid and unworkable but maybe it just might be a way after all.

Duncan Cairncross said...

I really like the idea of the elevated launch platform,
One big advantage is that with the initial elevation plus the lower air pressure a single stage to orbit machine would become doable - rather than very very marginal

If a single stage system worked and was combined with the Musk controlled landing the access to orbit costs would drop a lot

100,000ft - 30Km - you would not need the extra balloons on the winch cable - the support length for Kevlar is over 200Km

At 30Km the balloons would be well above the troposphere - and would not be severely effected by a cyclone

Deuxglass said...

A variation on the theme could be to use hot air to fill the balloon instead of helium or hydrogen. Theoretically if the envelope is strong enough a hot-air balloon could reach 120,000 feet (helium and hydrogen balloons have already reached 120,000 feet in altitude. You could possibly use the sun itself to help heat the air. Another variation is that if the canopy material is very strong and lightweight and if you can put in struts and crossbeams also strong and light you could just pump out the air inside to a near vacuum thereby giving you the maximum lift capacity. An even higher theoretical altitude is possible.

Deuxglass said...

Another variation on the theme:

Once the balloon station is up you really don’t need an elevator to take people and equipment up and down. You can just use a balloon using one of the stays as a guide to bring it to the station and back. It would be cheaper and not require exotic materials. In this approach quite heavy loads could be carried up, even whole modules or rockets. In addition it would be immune to the occasional cyclone since when one comes along, you stop operations and wait for nicer weather. They stays would be the only exposure to the cyclones’ winds. I see the station not as one big balloon but more akin to a spider web linking all the separate modules together by stays. The modules can be kept light by using NASA’s idea of inflatable additions to the International Space Station. From a safety point of view if the worst happens the personnel could be able to jump off with a suit and a parachute and have an excellent chance of survival. Radiation exposure could be a problem but the advantage is that you can rotate crews quite rapidly so that no one has too much exposure. Needless to say health problems can be addressed rapidly by evacuation to the ground nearby.

It is using Archimedes Principle to give us cheap ways of going up and staying up without rockets or anti-gravity.


Any other ideas anyone?

Deuxglass said...

Tourism potential:

A hotel module can be added. You can stay up for as long as you like (if you have the bucks). The view would be great and at night you would see the heavens in all its glory devoid of atmospheric and light pollution. You could even sign up for an excursion into space itself with a Bronson-style rocket for a much cheaper price.
For skydivers this would be the ultimate base jump. How much would they pay to jump from a 100,000 feet? I bet a lot would if the price is reasonable enough and there is no shortage of skydivers in the world today. They number around 100,000 from the last estimate. That plus the hotel would be a good money-maker.