Saturday, May 29, 2021

Toward sapience: A science of Uplift? But first... classic "uplifting" novels!

Before we get to the science of uplift.... Announcing the re-release this week of all of my Uplift novels from Open Road publications - all of them recently re-edited, with fresh cover artwork and newly written introductions! 

It all starts with my first uplift novel - my first published work of any kind - Sundiver, a murder mystery largely set right at (on?) the sun! And yes, the whodunnit part works... as do the characters and the physics!

That's followed by my second novel, Hugo Award winner Startide Rising, and Hugo-winner The Uplift War.  

Then my second uplift trilogy - (two Hugo nominees) - Brightness Reef, Infinity's Shore and Heaven's Reach. Wherein the epic adventure of the dolphin-crewed Streaker resumes on a planet settled by illegal immigrants and refugees (a metaphor for our times?), then continues pellmell through white dwarf habitats, a dozen layers of spacetime and ructions tearing at five galaxies!

Read: the inspiration behind the Uplift novels. And sure, dolphins & neo-chimps rule! But so do Alvin and Huck and a band of alien kid-adventurers!

Oh, those of you lucky enough to be on my newsletter mailing list will find out about a lot more of my recent projects, too!

== Does Uplift have a scientific basis? ==

Researchers have recently identified a key molecular switch that can make ape brain organoids grow more like human organoids, and vice versa, and may help explain why  human brains grow much larger, with three times as many neurons, compared with chimpanzee and gorilla brains. (And you don't think secret labs are already doing this? Transparency!)

A study, published in the Journal of Comparative Psychology, looked at 134 male and female bottlenose dolphins from eight facilities across the world, with each dolphin’s personality being assessed by staff at the facilities. The results of the study found a convergence of certain personality traits, especially curiosity and sociability....  The most widely accepted model of human personality is defined by five traits -- openness, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness and neuroticism.” 

It sounds to me like there’s a lot of overlap there, but comparison to apes and dolphins remains interesting. And yes, Startide Rising, remains a favorite among dolphin researchers!


As for humans… I find it odd that bad forms of addiction are seldom correlated with positive behavior-reinforcement mechanisms - e.g. “addicted to love” of family, children, and skill - that use identical neural and chemical pathways! That is doubtless the reason why addictive pathways exist in the first place! 

   Arguably, these “dark sides of addiction” are hijackings of those wholesome reinforcement processes. 
   Perhaps the worst - certainly the most harmful to this civilization, crippling our ability to negotiate like adults - is addiction to pleasurable-but-negative mental states, like self-righteous indignation.
   I spoke on this at the Centers for Drugs and Addiction. See: “The addictive plague of getting mad as hell.  (And the scientific background is on my website. )


== Is sapience a galactic imperative, driven by evolution? ==

 

In “Terrestrial biological evolution and its implication for SETI,” Jean-Pierre Rospars theorizes that human and super-human intelligence are natural and expected outcomes under Darwinian evolution. 


A frequent opinion among biologists upholds that biological evolution is contingent and, consequently, that man's apparition is a random event of very small probability. We present various arguments against this view, based on chemistry, molecular biology, evolutionary convergences, the existence of physical constraints on the structure of living beings, and the evidence of acceleration in the evolution of many features, e.g. brain size, over geological times. 


"Taken together they suggest that “laws” of evolution exist and may have a universal validity. We extend this view to the evolution of “intelligence”. We show that it is an essential aspect of biological evolution and that human cultural evolution is just another aspect of it. Finally, we argue that brains more complex than the human brain are conceivable, endowed not merely with quantitatively better functions but with qualitatively higher cognitive abilities, of the kind found in the transition from, say, dog to man. 


"This thesis predicts that the usual concept of advanced civilizations merely separated by huge distances is too restrictive. It favours a different concept, in which the separation results predominantly from cognitive, i.e. temporal factors. This idea, far from being discouraging, offers a stimulating solution to Fermi's paradox and opens new ways to SETI.”

 

I have four reasons to doubt this.

 

1- Ernst Mayr's observation that it took Earth 4 billion years to make one - just one - sapient race out of billions of actual species, and that one almost vanished several times.

 

2- A certain baseline level of intelligence - simple semantic skill and basic manipulative tool use - appears to erupt quite often in nature... dolphins, 

apes some monkeys, sea lions, elephants, corvids/crows, parrots, even octopi, all seem to crowd under pretty much the same glass ceiling, implying that such levels truly are common emergent properties, as proposed in the paper. Perhaps velociraptors did reach that same level. 


Alas, that didn't ultimately help them. The significant lesson from this commonality of threshold sentience is that Nature and Darwin are generous up to that point and extremely stingy about going beyond.

 

3- Yes, we humans shattered that glass ceiling by orders of magnitude, especially in the Great Reprogramming Revolution that I speak of, in EXISTENCE. And yet, despite that incredible leap -- I deem that rarity of ceiling-smashing at the top of my list of "fermi" explanations for the Great Silence across the galaxy!


Oh, sure. We still crest at a level that averages just below what it may take to solve our obstinate cultural stupidities - like feudalism, the dour, lobotomizing system that dominated 99% of our ancestors.  Worse, evidence suggests that it is very hard to get smarter than our current smartest. Elite intellectual families like the Huxleys show what happens when brilliant people marry brilliant people. All too often, mental and neurological instabilities are rife as offspring dance along a razor's edge.


4. 
A good case is made that the most-rare event or fluke in Earth’s life story was the one-time joining of two separate genetic trees. “It’s the scientific consensus that a primordial eukaryote emerged 1.5 billion years ago when a less complex cell tried to ingest an anaerobic bacterium but was unable to digest it. The stalemate turned into a symbiotic relationship in which the bacterium became the power supply to the host cell, which provided a safe environment for it to thrive in return. Today we refer to the powerhouse of the cell as the Mitochondria.” 

       The resulting eukaryotes proliferated and experimented with multicellulatity for 800 million years before suddenly getting the hang of it and bursting forth with the Cambrian explosion of complex forms, including us.  Moreover, if that combination fluke truly was both necessary and hugely rare, well, when we descendants of that marriage forge across the galaxy, we may just find… soup.


5. Of all possible theories for the Fermi Paradox, just five satisfy my requirement for plausibility. As I said just above, number one (in my book) would be the notion that human levels of ambitious, constantly-reprogramming intelligence is likely extremely rare, which implies we may be this galaxy’s one chance for an “elder race” to go rescue everyone else. (Also alluded-to in both my serious future-projection novel Existence and in my sci fi comedy The Ancient Ones.)

Another of those Five Plausibles? Well, I alluded to this one, as well. The sick, lobotomizing trap of feudalism sucked in 99% of human post agricultural societies, rewarding those males who took such power, ruining their civilizations while winning 
Darwinian reproductive advantages for themselves.  The evolutionary imperative is so clear -- you see it throughout nature, from stallions to elephant seals -- that the amazing thing is that ANY sapient race found an alternative path, as we have done. A narrow, rarely tried path of Periclean-egalitarian enlightenment. 


If this periclean experiment fails... if dullard-stoopid oligarchy succeeds at re-establishing its tedious/boring/lobotomizing pyramid of privilege again, then we may have our Fermi Paradox answer. And the galaxy may have to wait for someone else to break through that trap.


== Going to the dogs! ==


Interesting advances in the origin story of dogs, perhaps domesticated by isolated Siberian human communities around 25,000 years ago, before migrating together to the Americas.


And they may not be anywhere near at full potential, being our best friends! Much is made – of late – about how dogs are being used to sniff out early signs of disease in people. See, for example, Doctor Dogs: How Our Best Friends Are Becoming our Best Medicine, by Maria Goodavage. Today, dogs have been trained and proven useful in detecting breast cancer, ovarian cancer, prostate cancer, lung cancer, melanoma, diabetes, Parkinson’s disease, malaria, Covid-19, and the onset of epileptic seizures, narcolepsy, and migraines. They can do this by sniffing breath, blood, urine, sweat, or even tissue swabs or socks / clothing from the subject. 


As explained by Strategic News Service’s Mark Anderson: “It would appear that the canine nose, with its 200-300 million stereoscopic sensors (vs. 5 million in humans), aerated at up to 300 pants per minute and processed by 35% of the brain (vs. 5% in humans), is exquisitely sensitive, and eminently trainable, to detect whatever the dog, or you, are interested in.” Alas, dogs tire easily and there is an inability to apply metrics to their performance. So the search is on for artificial nose technology. (Which would have many other uses.)


== To uplift... cats? Or not? ==


Why did I "uplift" dolphins and chimps in the main uplift novels... and parrots elsewhere and allude to dogs... but not cats?


Well, not to neglect the felines...  here's an image that's cute! prrrr. David Larks's lovely cat-uplift painting takes this idea in directions that are simultaneously way-cute and just a little worrisome! I am prompted to ponder Cordwainer Smith's "The Ballad of Lost C'Mell"!  See the artist's gallery page.


Still, the trait of neoteny is one that dogs share with dolphins and humans... but cats not so much. Just saying. And anyway, you think I'm suicidal? No. Just no.


And finally....Neanderthal footprints exposed on a beach in Spain were fascinating enough. Only now it seems we can trace signs of young children at play!


See the range of great renewed Uplift Books to enjoy! ... and so much more!


 








59 comments:

Larry Hart said...

Dr Brin in the main post:

It all starts with my first uplift novel - my first published work of any kind - Sundiver, a murder mystery largely set right at (on?) the sun!


The setting--both the sun itself and the ship--were absolutely fascinating.

But "murder mystery"? Geez, I've read it at least three times, and while I remember a big reveal of the means to do violence, I'm not remembering who was murdered.

scidata said...

"The Island of Doctor Moreau" scared the bejesus out of me. 'Uplift' is a terrifying concept. "Frankenstein" and "Flowers for Algernon" are two others that creeped me out. Haven't started on the Brin stuff, but the dolphins do sound lovely, so maybe. It's probably why I got into computers instead of biology. I enjoy the company of machines because they're deaf to siren song. Solder burns and small electric shocks are the hazards, not nightmares of id. Despite their wondrous modernity, they mirror our primeval selves. As Asimov observed, they make us more human, not less.

David Brin said...

Okay, does anyone else out there remember who was murdered in Sundiver?

scidata my essay on the Uplift Universe, linked in the blog, explains why I diverted from the standard Moreau/Frankenstein motif for uplift.

Tho how refreshing to honestly tell an huthor on his site "I never cared to try any of your stuff..."

Robert said...

It would be nice to be able to read the new introductions without having to repurchase all the novels. Just saying'…. :-)

Oh, and which Clan do huthors belong to?

scidata said...

Refreshing is my middle name. Just watched a documentary on ACC, where he fawned over silicon chips and the Mandelbrot Set similarly to how Asimov went fractal-crazy at one point. Quite juvenile. I'm a tough audience I guess. You got AI figured right (competing agents), so you're jake in my book for that at least.

Larry Hart said...

Dr Brin:

Tho how refreshing to honestly tell an huthor on his site "I never cared to try any of your stuff..."


I read "Haven't started on the Brin stuff..." as more "Haven't gotten to it yet."

Larry Hart said...

It's probably a fault of my own in the way I encode memories of stories.

Now that I'm thinking about it, I don't remember who was murdered in The Caves of Steel or The Naked Sun either, despite retaining many other details of both books.

David Brin said...

The startide intro is at: https://theportalist.com/david-brin-startide-rising-introduction-uplift?fbclid=IwAR3kJYV3huoOsKBQVIjnttgKLvjxP1qWfCBcprLViv0EuxBGKyJcUlVqO0s

Caves of steel it was the researcher who made Daneel. Naked sun it was also a robotics researcher!

In Sundiver is was a chimp solar scientist whose new sunship was booby trapped.

Larry Hart said...

Dr Brin:

In Sundiver is was a chimp solar scientist whose new sunship was booby trapped.


Ah, yes, I remember the scene now, with the dutiful chimp determined to carry on to the last. I guess it's not what I typically think of as a "murder mystery", in which the death of the individual is what's important to the killer. This is more industrial sabotage with collateral damage.

locumranch said...


Evolution is trial & error process wherein minute genetic errors are either selected_for if they confer inheritable reproductive advantage upon a living organism or selected_against if they confer inheritable reproductive disadvantages.

Therein lies the problem with intelligence as an inheritable genetic trait, confirmed by multiple scientific studies, as a little bit of intelligence aids in facilitating the organism's reproductive act, but too much intelligence discourages the reproductive act with the foreknowledge of reproductive consequence, leading to a Marching Moron (Idiocracy) situation of unintelligent organism over-breeding & intelligent organism under-breeding.

Evolution is driven by Error:

It bears repeating over & over, mostly because there are those among us who mistakenly insist that evolution is NOT about the introduction of error, but rather about the progressive elimination of error -- and, by logical extension -- the imminent Perfectibility of Man.

Interestingly enough, the same evolutionary principle appears to drive language development, wherein minute language errors often lead to significant linguistic improvements, as evidenced by a small typographical error (malapropism?) committed by our fine host at the end of the last thread which I intend to adopt immediately:

Faminism, noun. A political movement typified by giving preferential authority and leadership to the non-productive members of society, leading to social dysfunction, demographic collapse and eventual famine.

In exchange for this linguistic treasure, I offer up the following neologism for our fine host's delectation:

Futilism, noun, variant of the English term 'feudalism'. A political system, hierarchical, typified by leadership from arrears, wherein the ruling caste insists that the way forward is the way back and institutes previously failed policies while predicting different outcomes.


Best

________

I seem to remember that the murderer in Sundiver was the murder victim -- a nice twist, btw -- and that the murderer in the Naked Sun was the wife of the victim who actively clubbed her husband to death with a robot's arm but wasn't prosecuted because 'women lack agency' and cannot be held to account. Of course, I read them both 40 years ago. Like intelligence, I also suspect that too good a memory, useful in the avoidance of future error, is also an anti-survival characteristic in terms of evolutionary success, and I can only pray that my rather gifted children are dumb enough to reproduce for the sake of posterity.

Tony Fisk said...

With his K'zin, I think Larry Niven comprehensively addressed why uplifted felines are not a good idea! (Ditto sharks, which are not well studied, but which aren't the 'mindless eating machines' portrayed by Benchley)

The significant lesson from this commonality of threshold sentience is that Nature and Darwin are generous up to that point and extremely stingy about going beyond.

Well, OK. That is what we observe in the sample. I'd be more convinced if a limiting mechanism could be identified.

(very idle) speculation on that topic:
- It may be that this level of 'threshold' sapience is actually less of a hurdle than it looks. After all, birds show far more wit than their brain mass suggests (I'd love to know when Weineke's structure is thought to have developed. Did velociraptors have it?). Even honeybees have been found to be capable of learning abstract tasks from others (and not just where the nectar is). Culture does seem to be a part of 'sentience'.*
- On the other hand, based on one example, it looks as if 'sentience' proceeds in leaps and bounds once this threshold has been exceeded. Rather akin to the Cambrian (Cambrain!?) Explosion, that does suggest there's something holding species up.
- Parasitism is a strong evolutionary driver. If oligarchy is a form of parasitism, does the same rule hold? (awful thought: is the path to the stars through 'wack-a-mole'?)
- Final thought: is that 'oligarch alpha' filter already in play in pre-sentient species?

Oh, here's an interesting snippet for a Sunday morning read; not entirely irrelevant to the discussion: Monash researchers find indigenous Australian memorisation techniques beat traditional 'memory palace' methods. 'Songlines' aren't unique to Australia: Homer apparently used a version of them, but aborigines do seem to have refined them the most.

* Arthur C Clarke noted that various definitions of intelligence tended to boil down to 'Thinking is whatever it is *I* do.'

Tony Fisk said...

@scidata: Clarke's fascination with fractals, and the Mandelbrot Set, is understandable: it coincided with the advent of the personal computer, where the intricacies of such things could be explored and appreciated in detail. As for 'juvenile' well, in 3001, he did refer to a weaponised viral meme that was particularly pernicious as 'the Mandelbrot Maze'.

David Brin said...

"This is more industrial sabotage with collateral damage." Seriously? Did you ever watch Columbo? ;-)

Tony you evade the point. At least a dozen very different species show clear (if rudimentary) semantic/linguistic ability to pall names, identify objects symbolically and actions and solve basic mechanical puzzle situations. Despite their small/efficient brains, crows and parrots do this at a level very similar to top monkeys and just befow dolphins and chimps. This clustering begs for explanation and there is no sign of anyone but our ancestors ever breaking through.

locum is more articulate than ever. Alas, having read it all, all I could envision is a horny frustrated chimp screaming while masturbating. There are sounds of reason, but no sign of the real thing. Just the usual roard of resentment.

Danny said...

There is lots here. I'm tempted by the notion that feudalism is not only a bad thing, but quite obviously to blame for most all other bad things in the history of human life. Maybe so.


'Elite intellectual families like the Huxleys show what happens when brilliant people marry brilliant people. All too often, mental and neurological instabilities are rife as offspring dance along a razor's edge.'


Biographers have sometimes noted the occurrence of mental illness in the Huxley family. Given that several of its members have excelled in science, medicine, arts and literature, I think there might be simply nothing to your speculation here that one thing is correlated with the other.

Tony Fisk said...

... not so much 'evade' as 'miss'. I did pick up on your evidence for there being a barrier halfway through my woolgathering, wondering what might cause it.
(A sort of presentient paraphrasing? ;-)

Daniel Duffy said...

"The significant lesson from this commonality of threshold sentience is that Nature and Darwin are generous up to that point and extremely stingy about going beyond."

That might have something to do with the energy requirements of a sentient, self-conscious brain - equivalent to an order of magnitude increase compared to the brain energy requirements of a merely clever predator.

The brain consumes approximately 20% of our daily calorie intake.

Grand Master chess players can loose 20 lbs during a tournament due to brain calorie consumption, burning 6,000 calories per day.

Daniel Duffy said...

"we may be this galaxy’s one chance for an “elder race” to go rescue everyone else."

From "Appendix II: The Religion of Dune" (Frank Herbert's Dune series was completely devoid of intelligent alien species with mankind alone - and offshoots like Guild Navigators and the Bene Tlielaxu - colonizing the galaxy):

During this period, it was said that Genesis was reinterpreted, permitting God to say: "Increase and multiply, and fill the universe , and subdue it, and rule over all manner of strange beasts and living creatures in the infinite airs, on the infinite earths and beneath them."

IOW, if (like the Engineers of "Prometheus" or the Monoliths of "2001") we become "gods" spreading life and intelligence throughout the galaxy ....

.... who or what do we worship?

Daniel Duffy said...

Uplifting chimps might be more dangerous than uplifting tigers.

https://www.ranker.com/list/pet-chimpanzee-incidents/lee-emjay

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gombe_Chimpanzee_War

Better to stick with gentle bonobos.

Larry Hart said...

Dr Brin:

"This is more industrial sabotage with collateral damage." Seriously? Did you ever watch Columbo? ;-)


First of all, I wasn't being critical. Nothing wrong with mixing things up a little different from the typical formula.

I was indeed a fan of Columbo in its time, and appreciated the fact that the suspense was not created by having to figure out whodunnit, but by having to figure out how Columbo would put the pieces together. But I didn't say that your novel was atypical because it wasn't a whodunnit (which in the mystery part actually was). I said that the point of the crime was not to kill a particular individual, but to sabotage a scientific advancement.

In Columbo as much as in any Agatha Christie story, the point of the murder was to kill a particular individual for a particular reason. In Sundiver, the death was incidental to the sabotage.

Larry Hart said...

locumranch:

Interestingly enough, the same evolutionary principle appears to drive language development, wherein minute language errors often lead to significant linguistic improvements, as evidenced by a small typographical error (malapropism?) committed by our fine host at the end of the last thread which I intend to adopt immediately:

Faminism, noun. A political movement typified by giving preferential authority and leadership to the non-productive members of society, leading to social dysfunction, demographic collapse and eventual famine.


I can't believe that you are unfamiliar with Dave Sim. His anti-feminism, his wordplay, and his Canadian spelling all remind me of you. You (I mean you personally) would particularly find resonance with this essay:

http://www.cerebusfangirl.com/artists/tangentindex.php

Dr Brin:

There are sounds of reason, but no sign of the real thing. Just the usual roard of resentment.


I dunno, I usually consider loc my mortal enemy, but found nothing to complain about in this particular rant*. If you're going to ding him no matter what he says, he might not see the point of trying.

* Well except for the mystery spoilers*. :)

** My fault for asking who was murdered? Not at all the same thing as revealing the final minutes of the story.


Larry Hart said...

Couldn't have said this better myself. Emphasis mine...

https://www.electoral-vote.com/evp2021/Pres/Maps/May30.html#item-1

...
S.D.R. in Garner, NC, writes: In "Ticket Splitting Is on Life Support," you wrote that the days of saying one voted for the best candidate regardless of party are "dead and gone" and that voters should "look in the mirror" to determine why ticket splitting is on life support. I think you are missing a major point, which is that the change in voter habits is the result of a change in the parties—of one party in particular.

I say this as one of those voters who went from routinely splitting their ticket to routinely voting a straight ticket. While I've been left-leaning for as long as I've been voting, for decades there would always be at least one Republican I voted for. But in the past decade or so the Republican Party has simply changed so radically (moving to the right, embracing "alternative facts," and in recent months going so far as to reject democracy itself if they don't like the outcome) that there simply aren't any Republican candidates left I can support. Those I could have either left office and been replaced by people I can't support or have changed in ways that mean I can no longer support them. If one doubts the way that the Republican Party in general and individual Republican officeholders have changed, one merely needs to read...this very website, which has repeatedly pointed out the way in which that party and its office holders have changed.

In short, I have not stopped voting for the best candidate regardless of party. It's just that these days, the best candidate regardless of party consistently comes from the same party.

Jonathan Armstrong said...

I too believe that addictive drugs hijack biochemical feedback loops intended* to reinforce pro-social behaviour. My late wife did not like this idea because it suggests "love" is merely a chemical process. I suspect many share this attitude; it will be a tough slog to get our fellow humans to recognise this and make the appropriate paradigm shift in our understanding of ourselves.

*No, I don't think evolution has "intent". But it does work in mysterious ways.

Intelligence has the side effect of enabling very rapid adaptation to a changing environment. I consider it very plausible that the climate swings in the African Rift valley where our ancestors evolved - swings with a period of one to a few hundred thousand years, uncomfortably fast for physical evolution - favoured the survival and reproduction of humans who were not physically adapted to either dry or wet conditions, but could learn to cope with either by the transmission of culture (survival techniques and knowledge) from one generation to another. This required not just observational learning, but also language. And an inherent plasticity in behaviour.

We are at the threshold of taking control of our own evolution through genetic engineering. This can be intelligently designed (by us), and lead to progress far faster than anything that Nature has achieved. At the same time we are probably about to create Artificial General Intelligence. AGI has the potential to evolve itself at rates many orders of magnitude faster than anything that has existed before.

The singularity looms.

David Brin said...


Danny it’s not just the Huxleys. Anecdotally, it seems dangerous for brilliant to breed with brilliant.

DD yes I agree humans needed a trick to become top calorie consumers while making the intellect leap. I like the stone hurling theory and hunting in the noonday sun. But especially neoteny. A confluence of several factors.

Dune assumes a nasty-feudal ethos in the expansion, when I am talking about going forth and helping others get past their Fermi Paradox traps. Any way it’s a silly universe in dozens of ways. The machines and dissidents had only to just fly far away to survive and do their own thing.

LH as I recall several colombos had the victim being collateral damage to an attempted industrial sabotage.

Knowing who is murdered in Sundiver is not much of a spoiler! Who DID it is another matter….

Jon S. said...

"My late wife did not like this idea because it suggests "love" is merely a chemical process."

"Merely"? Our brains are electrochemical in nature - everything they do, from running the autonomic systems to processing sensory input to painting the Mona Lisa and designing spacecraft, is "merely a chemical process." The process isn't really the important part, it's the outcome of the process that matters.

Larry Hart said...

Dr Brin:

Dune assumes a nasty-feudal ethos in the expansion, when I am talking about going forth and helping others get past their Fermi Paradox traps.


I've only read the first four books, and only repeatedly read the first book, so caveat emptor and all, but I don't remember anything about humans harming other species so much as the book simply not mentioning non-human aliens at all. Humanity had expanded into the galaxy at large, analogous to how humanity expanded over the earth at large, which at first did not involve genocide of other intelligent species who were there first. When expansion of individual cultures did become displacement of others, it was displacement of other humans, not of alien life forms. That's all I took the backstory of Dune to be.


Any way it’s a silly universe in dozens of ways. The machines and dissidents had only to just fly far away to survive and do their own thing.


The ones who had the means and the will did so. It was an option for Leto Atriedes as well, though one he did not take. Presumably the working class wouldn't have the means to do so on their own. Not sure what you think is silly about this.


LH as I recall several colombos had the victim being collateral damage to an attempted industrial sabotage.


Ok, maybe so. As I said, I wasn't complaining. Just pointing out what I thought was different from a formulaic "murder mystery".


Knowing who is murdered in Sundiver is not much of a spoiler! Who DID it is another matter….


Which is exactly why I asked for a reminder of one but not the other. However, knowing how the murder was committed in The Naked Sun is most definitely a spoiler.

Larry Hart said...

Johnathan Armstrong:

My late wife did not like this idea because it suggests "love" is merely a chemical process. I suspect many share this attitude;


Personally, I square that circle by recognizing emotions themselves as being real, no matter what generates them. Chemistry might induce you to love someone, but that love that it makes you feel is a real thing, and the value that you attribute to it is unchanged by its physical origins.

If that sounds too new-age, well, think of this. There is something in your brain which recognizes "Two plus two is four" as truth and "Two plus two is whatever the Party says it is" as false (or at least flawed). I assume that one can imagine chemical processes or behavior modification techniques which would cause one to believe differently. That doesn't alter the objective fact that two plus two really does equal four. Your late wife's argument amounts to an assertion that if your beliefs are determined by brain chemistry, then two plus two might as well be false as true, and that the assertion that it is true is meaningless. Which is simply not the case. Brain chemistry might be what leads a sapient human to understanding of true things, but the true things are true regardless of how that understanding comes about.

scidata said...

Speaking of 'optimistic uplift' (I read the essay), Cape Canaveral has 5 launches set for June (4 Falcon9 & 1 Atlas5). And the first orbital launch tower at Boca Chica is a thing of beauty.

Lean times for trogs & nihilists.

locumranch said...


Columbo was a most peculiar murder mystery in many ways, mostly because the viewer actually witnessed (knew all the specifics of) both the murder & identity of the murderer from the get-go, even before the absent-minded detective ever made an appearance.

The same important distinction holds between Evolution and Intelligent Design, as the former (Evolution) recognizes that it is the a posteriori accumulation of random genetic errors which inadvertently convey advantage, while the latter (Intelligent Design) claims a priori knowledge of what specific genetic alterations should, ought to and are supposed to constitute goal-oriented perfection.

In other words, Evolution is driven by randomness -- a Drunkard's Walk, if you will -- and Intelligent Design (aka Uplift) is driven by the assumption of non-existent foreknowledge and predestined outcome.

As Larry suggested, I clicked on the Cerebus (Simms) links provided and, in truth, there appear to be many superficial similarities between his argument style & mine, the most important being (a) a rejection of logical fallacy and (b) an insistence that words actually have specific meaning, the difference being one of morality.

First & foremost, Simms is a Moralist, most concerned with all the things that should, ought to and are supposed to be in accordance with his biblical code, whereas I am an increasingly amoral Empiricist, most concerned with observable reality, without 2 sheets to give about the futurological fantasy of what should, ought to and is supposed to be in terms of either human behavior or manifest destiny.

This is the whole problem with the Fermi Paradox, nest pas?

Why do we assume that the purpose of the Universe is the development of High Order Intelligence or the establishment of a freaking Federation of Planets, especially when everything we see, experience and hold dear may be the equivalent of bacterial overgrowth upon the surface of some third rate septic tank ?

If it is our fate to emulate the protagonist at the conclusion of "The Practice Effect", then let us glory in our role as MAGNIFICENT BACTERIA !! And let our possession of a mildly pleasant odor be our epitaph down through the Ages.


Best

Der Oger said...

@ Dr. Brin
Just watched the "Indignation, addiction & hope" video. I like it.

Addictions might be rooted in neurochemical processes, but cannot (currently) be solved on this level. The most successful route to therapy starts with a person who believes the addict can overcome his affliction, so that the person in question can start to believe in it, too.
(In that regard, well played, Dr. Brin.)

I also agree with most of your linked essay, though I still think that the Anger/Rage/Fury part of our emotions can play a vital and important parts in both our personal lives and our civilization. Many who have suffered from addictions actually have repressed their aggressions, in order to be able to fit into jobs, families, communities ... even if these tended to be abusive, and anger and frustration would be justified. The method of addiction becomes the medication to be able to survive in an otherwise toxic environment.
I sometimes quote the Terminator if I encounter such a situation.

And yes, finding out what can help people fill that gap left by the addiction is an important task in counseling & therapy ... as well as finding out what purpose the addiction has, which itch is scratched, which burden eased, which suffering alleviated. There seems to be some connection to the method of addiction chosen (e.g. heroin abusers have a disproportional high number of PTSD)

So, thinking in that terms, what would be the root cause why outrage-addicts choose this venue?

David Brin said...

Whatever vitamins locum is taking, hurrah. Well and cogently said. And only 1/3 or so falat out wrong for the usual reason. Utter zero-sum thinking.

"Why do we assume that the purpose of the Universe is the development of High Order Intelligence or the establishment of a freaking Federation of Planets..."

SHOW me who assumes that? No one I know. What you ignore is the existence of attractor states: islands of fitness that attract random walking mutations to cluster in beneficial or fitness-imporving ways that seem... SEEM... to be teleological or by design.

How weird that he is a member of a cult that raves teleological mythologies like "cyclical history" and "Fourth Turning" generation theory and justifying inheritance-cheating power accumulation instead of fair cometitive arenas.

Larry Hart said...

locumranch:

As Larry suggested, I clicked on the Cerebus (Simms) links provided and, in truth, there appear to be many superficial similarities between his argument style & mine, the most important being (a) a rejection of logical fallacy and (b) an insistence that words actually have specific meaning, the difference being one of morality.


That last bit is inadvertently funny as you don't even get his name (Sim) correct. Although truth to tell, you're not alone. For some reason I've never been able to determine, people all over the internet incorrectly call him "Dave Sims". Or at least they did when he was a thing.

Tony Fisk said...

Quoting Daniel:
"The brain consumes approximately 20% of our daily calorie intake.

Grand Master chess players can loose 20 lbs during a tournament due to brain calorie consumption, burning 6,000 calories per day."


Now *this* is a much more plausible* explanation for the Matrix scenario than the lame 'human battery' excuse given in the movie.

Only, instead of analysing Chess or Go moves, the machines are using humanity to mine bitcoin.

* It still doesn't make it very plausible, but I do like the role switch.

Pappenheimer said...

I tell you what, if we do uplift dogs, we are going to spend the first century or two apologizing (looking at Pekingese, Bedlington Terriers and other, weirder breeds).

Many SF stories also reflect on what happens when/if we start deliberately creating subspecies like "Homo Aquatis" or Bujold's zero-G Quaddies. My wife (biology specialty) has pretty well convinced me that almost all "Earthlike" planets we find in other solar systems are going to be only barely habitable without some DNA tweaks or permanent survival gear when stepping outside.

Alfred Differ said...

I used to think the brilliant-n-brilliant mixes were dangerous, but now I'm much less convinced. I get there is anecdotal evidence, but I'm not sure we can tease out the different possible causes. If a lot of brilliant people all wait until they are about 30 to get started on a family, maternal age could be playing a bigger role. If a lot of brilliant people suck at being loving parents, culture and nurture could be playing a bigger role.

Yah. I get it. We ARE riding a ragged edge of sorts, but neuron density peaks around age 12 to 13. We cull them after that to get speed and efficiency. The lamps on our brows aren't fully wired in until age 25 or so, so there is no single 'edge' we ride.

I don't know the Huxley story well enough, but after reading Sapolsky… I'm much more skeptical that we know these things. We are SO damn good at telling just-so stories.


I'm also skeptical of the 6,000 calorie/day story for top chess players. VERY skeptical. I know what deep thought is like when carried on for hours. It is extremely exhausting, but not so much in terms of blood sugar. It's the neuro-transmitters as the limiting factor.

6,000 calories/day is huge. It's 3x what you need to get by on average. And… much of what the brain 'consumes' is about keeping it warm. Neanderthal supposedly needed close to 5,000/day, so there is a range for hominids, but our variety manages most everything we do on MUCH less as long as we remain clothed and avoid living in the Arctic.

Alfred Differ said...

Pappenheimer,

Much of our own Terra was barely habitable for hominids too. Without our tech, this last hominid variant would be highly confined.

She's probably right about other worlds, but I'd extend that to say she's right about this world too. Dark skins are important in equatorial regions, but killers at temperate latitudes. We've made MANY changes to ourselves already. 8)

Alfred Differ said...

scidata,

I recommend you at least try Sundiver. It's kinda fun. Got me hooked enough to recognize a style before I remembered the author's name. Bought the next book and thought "Gee... this feels familiar."

And it was a bit more than 'mere' industrial sabotage. 8)

Tony Fisk said...

re. dog apologies: I seem to recall Startide Rising featured a few uncomfortable references to the habitual culling of dolphins by humans.

Larry Hart said...

locumranch:

Evolution is driven by randomness -- a Drunkard's Walk, if you will


Well kind of, but with a twist. For a more accurate analogue, you would need many drunkards, some of whose random stumbles down sewers or into traffic remove them from the pack, while the ones who happen to avoid such pitfalls continue on, which leads to a species of uber-drunkard who tend to stumble in self-perpetuating manners.

Or take the present Republican Party (please!). While they've won some and lost some throughout the last century, they've managed to win specific victories which lead inexorably to more victories--control of state legislatures allowing biasing of federal elections allowing capture of the supreme court, for example. Thus, apartheid gains an evolutionary advantage, eventually killing off and supplanting its rival, democracy.

I see how that works.

Larry Hart said...

Seen on Stonekettle's Twitter feed...

@SenTedCruz (on vaccine passports) :

Your health decisions are yours to make.

It shouldn't be your boss, the government, or anyone else forcing you to make those decisions.


@Stonekettle

Irony jumps the tracks, careens down the embankment, crashes through a circus, hurdles over a mink farm, and plows into the river where it catches fire, rolls over, and explodes raining down burning weasels and flaming clown shrapnel across the countryside.

David Brin said...

Tony, Tursiops amicus is a branched species of fallow Tursiops Truncatus, the main population protected fallow and natural across Earth. The sub-species can be viewed as 'volunteers' and yes, breeding rights are controlled in uplift. I deal with the uncomforting moral quandaries of this and you may not like them, your privilege. But there was no "culling" by any definition I am familiar with.


But yeah, I've been getting that shit lately. Showing a future Earth society in which diversity in our councils and sages has been broadened across multiple species, deriving a wider range of wisdom and insight, is apparently not good enough anymore.

Larry Hart said...

Pappenheimer:

I tell you what, if we do uplift dogs, we are going to spend the first century or two apologizing (looking at Pekingese, Bedlington Terriers and other, weirder breeds).


When my daughter was a baby, it was the George W Bush era, and I kept apologizing to her for bringing her into this world. Now she and her contemporaries might just be the ones to save it.

scidata said...

@ Alfred Differ

Thanks for the SUNDIVER recommendation. I'm certainly a Brin reader, just not a very good one. It has taken me well over a year to read EARTH, almost done. Of course, FOUNDATION'S TRIUMPH is my favourite, partly due to the bang-on AI content, but mostly because it felt like reading the original trilogy again. Skeptical optimism played out using flawed yet heroic actors. Better literature than Asimov, but that's not saying much -- old Isaac poked fun at his own writing style.

SUNDIVER looks sort of like the Stargate Universe ship 'Destiny', which scooped stellar coronas for fuel. Stargate, ST Discovery, The Expanse, etc were filmed in Vancouver and Toronto, and I had/have a few tangential studio connections.

Old-timey Uplift stories always creeped me out, that's all I was saying.

Pappenheimer said...

David,

I think Tony might have been referring to the destruction caused by human fishing fleets. As an aside, dolphin treatment differed even in the Ancient world - I've seen Minoan wall paintings (in Knossos) of dolphins with human eyes, while the nobility of Phoenician Tyre apparently hunted dolphins for sport.

Re: Dave Sim - I read Cerebus for years, but the guy lost me when he started delving into conspiracy theory about AIDS and showed other signs of vanishing up his own tailpipe. This is a real problem with creative people as they age and (I suspect) stop carving new brain pathways. Luckily, I'm immune...not having much creativity to lose.

David Brin said...

" This is a real problem with creative people as they age..."

HOW DARE YOU!!?!?!?!?!?!?!!!!! Why, I can concoct a wildly plausible conspiracy theory in five seconds that'd curl your...

... oh... whit. That's your point, isn't it? Sigh. Never mind!

;-)

Larry Hart said...

scidata:

I'm certainly a Brin reader, just not a very good one. It has taken me well over a year to read EARTH, almost done.


I'm like that too. It took me over a month to read The Postman the first time, because I prefer to savor books of that type, and to get used to living inside their world.

My wife (who wasn't my wife yet) read it in its entirety on a five hour plane ride. So we're like Jack and Mrs. Spratt that way.


Better literature than Asimov, but that's not saying much -- old Isaac poked fun at his own writing style.


Uh, yeah...er...*choke*...ahem!

I like Asimov's early writing style.


SUNDIVER looks sort of like the Stargate Universe ship 'Destiny', which scooped stellar coronas for fuel.


I've wondered whether the opening sequence of the fifth season of ST:TNG--Kern's Klingon vessel skirting a star and luring the pursuing vessel into a solar flare--took any inspiration from Sundiver. I know that the online comic strip "Quantum Vibe" had some explicit references to our host's novel.

* * *

Pappenheimer:

Re: Dave Sim - I read Cerebus for years, but the guy lost me when he started delving into conspiracy theory about AIDS and showed other signs of vanishing up his own tailpipe. This is a real problem with creative people as they age and (I suspect) stop carving new brain pathways. Luckily, I'm immune...not having much creativity to lose.


I had many political arguments with Dave Sim--some of them awfully personal--but I always tried to argue with him within his own framing. Where I couldn't do that any longer was when he insisted that feminism was responsible for the state of affairs that a six-year-old (Elian Gonzoles) could be said to seek political asylum and not be laughed out of court. Back before feminists took over everything, a six-year-old would have been whatever his father said he was.

When I reminded him that it was conservative Republicans who were arguing for the child to remain in the USA--against the Cuban father's wishes--and his mortal enemies, Bill and Hillary Clinton, who insisted that the child be returned to his father, Dave insisted that that was not possible, because feminists can't abide father's rights. Which I suppose prefigured the current Republican mindset, which says that if the facts don't fit your ideology, then the facts must be wrong. That day, to me anyway, Dave went from "tireless defender of truth, no matter how unpleasant" to simply "conservative ideologue." The former was at least interesting--the latter is a dime a dozen here in the States.

duncan cairncross said...

Alfred Differ

That is harking back to the old belief that the brain is an organ to cool the blood!

I would like to see the data behind the 20% of the calories - but I can easily see where it is plausible

"It's the neuro-transmitters as the limiting factor" -
and unless I am very mistaken those are very energy intensive chemicals that are created using the calories that we eat

Alfred Differ said...

Duncan,

Heh. I can easily believe our brains chew up a large fraction of the calories we consume daily. I can see the evidence by sitting in front of a thermal IR camera. Large muscles don't get hot until they are used and then they radiate like mad. Our skulls are always at it, though. Hot. 8)

Resupplying neuro-transmitters isn't anything like doing actual physical work against gravity and friction. Real work expends a huge number of calories. Sitting there thinking harder for long periods? Nah. I'm very skeptical. Why? I'd be a damn site skinnier.

There is an old rule correlating muscle mass to calorie consumption that works moderately well on average. More muscle, more calories needed daily to basic activities. To first order, one fits the demand 'curve' with a straight line whose intercept can't be zero... because we have big brains. Lots of things matter (act as dimensions) for daily calorie consumption, but those two help set a floor for the space of possibilities.

The ONLY times I've had calorie demands that high were...

1. Growing up and trying to add inches to my height in one year. (Hormone requirement)
2. Living in a VERY cold climate. North Dakota winters require more than coats and heavy boots. (Heating requirement)
3. Heavy exercise. (Muscle demands)


If I sit and think deep for long periods, I tend to gain weight on a daily intake of anything higher than about 2000 calories/day.


I suspect the 'high calorie demand' story involving big brains comes from the fact that our guts have high demands too... if we eat a more vegetarian diet. Guts and Brains competing in an evolutionary sense could plausibly be true.

Tim H. said...

Something interesting, and a name I used to see in these comments:

https://www.centauri-dreams.org/2021/05/28/are-planets-with-continuous-surface-habitability-rare/

Perhaps, in the time it's got to take to build a warp drive without blowing ourselves up, we'll work out how to tweak our immune systems to deal with extra solar life.

Tony Fisk said...

Just to clarify, I was referring to historical hunting of wild dolphins, not any subsequent 'culling' of uplifted T. Amicus. I recall it was briefly covered in SR as a potentially uncomfortable history lesson. The 'fins' shrugged it off. Whether they really would is a moot point, of course, but the reference added depth without being an essential part of the story.

"This is a real problem with creative people as they age..."

... and so Niven created the Pak Protector.* ;-)

* I shall now retire to my little piece of Melbourne lockdown with a bag of Thallium salted kumara crisps.

duncan cairncross said...

Hi Alfred
These two are contradictory!

Heh. I can easily believe our brains chew up a large fraction of the calories we consume daily. I can see the evidence by sitting in front of a thermal IR camera. Large muscles don't get hot until they are used and then they radiate like mad. Our skulls are always at it, though. Hot. 8)

Resupplying neuro-transmitters isn't anything like doing actual physical work against gravity and friction. Real work expends a huge number of calories. Sitting there thinking harder for long periods? Nah. I'm very skeptical. Why? I'd be a damn site skinnier.

I suspect the difference is that the brain uses a lot of calories just "idling" - related to the housekeeping loads and when we do "heavy thinking" we are not actually using additional food

The brain running hot that you mention is a sign that its eating calories - and those calories are coming from the gut - as neurotransmitters or as sugar its still calories that we have to eat

I think its the throwing requirement - which requires the "answers" much faster than simply chasing something
The way we can get the faster answers was by doubling up on the amount of brains - paralleling the problem - do that a couple of times and we have human brain sizes

Sitting thinking and planning may require that big brain but I'm not sure it is actually making it "work" harder
Your thought experiment about an infra red camera
It would be very interesting to have somebody sit in front of one of those cameras while we gave him/her different problems to solve

locumranch said...


Quite inadvertently, Larry's conditional acceptance of the Drunkard's Walk of randomness that we call Evolution provides an excellent example of survivorship bias, the logical error that we make when we concentrate on the things that made it past an (often) arbitrary selection process while overlooking those that didn’t, the assumption being that the survivor is somehow chosen to survive by god, providence or the universe, simply because they survived.

This leads many to falsely conclude that their survival was preordained -- specifically because of their (1) empathy, (2) intelligence, (3) morals, (4) athletic prowess, (5) opposable thumbs or (6) birth identity, mostly because these are the qualities that they value -- even though there are millions of similarly empathetic, intelligent, moral & near identical thumb possessors mouldering in shallow graves everywhere.

"We are pinnacles of evolution, we are special, we are the best of the best," we tell ourselves, mostly because we cannot bear to credit our successes to mere randomness, and so we try to share our successes with other people & other species, by demanding that they conform to the characteristics that we value, in order to prove to ourselves that we were chosen to survive by a beneficent universe rather than uncaring randomness.

Here, I was going to construct an extended organ grinder's monkey analogy, one that emphasized the absurdity of forcing tricycles on bears and thumbs on dolphins but, as I become a senior citizen this weekend, I do not have the heart. Instead, I plan to withdrawal from public discourse, embrace universal randomness and dwell on how amazing unlikely was our birth, because once we dispense with the belief that intelligence is life's raison d'etre or ultimate purpose, then there's little purpose up in space and bugger all down here on Earth.

I'll check back in a few months though.


Best

David Brin said...

locum is still on vitamins and saying things that are true in their own right.... and yet stuill utterly zero sum. As if anyone here believes the nonsense that he claims "everyone" believes.

"We are pinnacles of evolution, we are special, we are the best of the best," we tell ourselves, mostly because we cannot bear to credit our successes to mere randomness..."

Um, speak for yourself guy. No one here thinks anything like that and I am a fierce critic of teleology, which is your cult's thing,. It's not ours.

Slim Moldie said...

I'm also skeptical about the chess-players burning 6000 calories during a day. On first read, given that our bodies are about 55-65% water, my assumption was that the chess players lost 2 or 3 pounds of water weight (getting dehydrated on coffee and tea and not replenishing.) BTW I've never been to a chess tournament. But I've got a super sniffer, and I notice my teenage son and his friends can turn the air quality of a large room into Mordor in about 30 min from stress hormones if they're sitting statically playing video games. Does anyone here know? My imagination is telling me real chess tournaments must have a sweet and sour odor with a little hint of cigarette smoke, periodontitis, Folgers, steamy pickled sauerkraut with just a spritz of hot dog water.

Sorry, back to 6000 calories. I read that the physiologist who conducted the study of topic, noted that the found a "tripling of breathing rates." This is key. But they should have measured in carbon. Both the amount of carbon in their food and the amount of C02 they were expelling in their breath to figure out much non-water weight they were losing. It seems like they extrapolated that if the chess players lose x amount of carbon a day via 2000 calories and on a match day their respiration triples 3x would = 6000 calories. But that seems like a very 8th grade algebra over simplification. I don't think they'd be breathing at the tripled rate the entire math. Also, if a marathon runner expends less than 3000 calories during a race. Err...again, we should be measuring in carbon.

BTW am I off base to observe that Locum might have a bit of a "Ballardian" outlook on things? Which makes me wonder what kind of dynamic we'd have if JG were alive and participating in this blog. Or did he have a sunny outlook outside his writing?


Larry Hart said...

locumranch:

Instead, I plan to withdrawal from public discourse,


Woo hoo!


I'll check back in a few months though.


D'oh!


...embrace universal randomness and dwell on how amazing unlikely was our birth,


I've often related to my daughter how unlikely my existence--and therefore hers--is. My dad's mother was a refugee in WWI, interned in a Siberian camp when she was four years old. My mom's high school class was too big, so some including her were graduated early, so she started college in the spring semester instead of the following fall, therefore overlapping with my dad's one year at the same college, and thus meeting him. My wife and I overlapped at the job where we met by only eight months.

Dr Manhattan in Watchmen referred to any individual's existence as a thermodynamic miracle. I don't disagree.


because once we dispense with the belief that intelligence is life's raison d'etre or ultimate purpose, then there's little purpose up in space and bugger all down here on Earth.


You continually accuse us secular atheists of deriving purpose from on high. Purpose is what we make it and where we find it. I work with what they gave me.

David Brin said...

Same with us fiercely theological secular agnostics.

Larry Hart said...

@Dr Brin,

Yes, "secular agnostic" is probably a better description for me as well. I prefer "skeptic". It's not that I know there is no God (though I don't know there is God either). What I don't believe in is scripture.

When arguing with people who would label us all "atheists", though, I prefer to eat the label rather divert the argument to semantics.

scidata said...



Re: embrace universal randomness

Good luck with the lilies of the field thing; didn't work for me. I was fine with rendering unto Caesar until I prodded the beach rubble and saw no Caesar there. Not 'mere' randomness, not divinity, but a view of life with, well, grandeur. CB is one of a very few blogs where this is basic knowledge, and the debate has moved on to bigger things.

The reason that old-timey uplift stories disturbed me was not the horror of humanity suddenly arising in the non-human, but rather the door swinging the other way: what dreams may come ... from them.

Way behind in my reading, but I suspect that OGH explored this many years ago. Pinnacle of evolution mindsets don't consider such questions.


Re: our amazingly unlikely existence

From a subjective view, yes. From an objective view, much less so. Something had originate and evolve, it's kind of what nature does. This anthropic solipsism is a strong argument against the empty universe explanation of the Great Silence.

Unknown said...

I noticed about the FB thread on this post is that a fair number of folks would much rather not accept our messing around with non-humans, yet it happens. It happened with the dog, it is happening with the bonobo. Over a century ago we were convinced that the mountain gorilla couldn't exist, but then we found the thigh bone of one. Changed our attitude, changed our acceptance. In short we became comfortable with their existence and they in turn learned to accept us. Now we find gorilla fathers drafting us into watching their kids.

The same with the greater panda, the platypus, and the koala. Locally we're finding California sea lions reaching out to humans, much as sea leopards from Antarctica are reaching out to people in the great southern sea.

Which leads us to the Sasquatch, an animal that apparently frightens us and whom we frighten. But I expect that when we have learned to accept them and they us, we going to see North America's other great ape becoming a big part of our lives. Just remember that panicking limits us all too much.

David Brin said...

onward

onward