Category Archives: Science

Flat Earth Theory

Flat Earth

Flat Earth

Nobody gives ancient religious leaders or philosophers any credit anymore. They had little in the way of scientific education or knowledge of math and lacked advanced tools that might help them to test their hypotheses, so they did the best they could with what they had. This is to say, they sat around and thought about stuff while their slaves, or congregations, did all the real work.

Let’s look at the Flat Earth theory. We all like to deride those people who we now consider to be foolish for ever having assumed the Earth was flat and for suppressing the science that suggested otherwise. Such was the certainty of the Catholic Church, despite the lack of any biblical mention of geometry, math, or anything related to the possible circumnavigation of the Earth, that it took centuries before scientific proof was accepted. The Flat Earth zealots stuck with their theory until they realized that the bible didn’t specifically preclude the Earth from being round and orbiting the sun and until it also became obvious that people were perfectly able to accept that the previous Popes may have been wrong but that the current Pope is still always right.

Philosophers

Philosophers

Frankly, the Popes were just doing their jobs as they were taught. They were just messengers and we all know it isn’t nice to shoot the messenger. How can we expect someone with no scientific training to believe every would-be scientist or soothsayer who has a new theory? Just because the science indicates something, doesn’t mean it is true until god is ready to tell the Pope that it is. Or for the Pope to finally agree that it is true, since I’m not exactly sure how clear the communications path is between god and the Pope. Sure, they could have followed Ronald Reagan’s friendly advice to “trust but verify” any reasonable new scientific theories instead of “burn the lying blasphemer,” but it all worked out in the end. As far as I’m concerned, the Earth was flat until it was round.

Warping of Space-Time

Warping of Space-Time

Or is it? In the early twentieth century, Einstein showed that space and time were linked and that gravity was a manifestation of the curvature of space-time. We finally had reached the point where the science was good enough to refute the earlier science that just said the Earth was simply round rather than flat and that things fell towards other objects with an acceleration corresponding to their mass. Things no longer just fell, they moved along the curved paths of space-time.

Had ancient religious leaders had Einstein’s insight, I’m pretty sure they would have agreed that the world is indeed flat after all, just as they originally thought. You see, the concept of space-time is just so confusing, and makes so little practical sense, that we have to assume that god created an illusion of roundness simply to prevent people from falling off the edge. He simply could not possibly tolerate the existence of a dangerous flaw in his creation. Consider this. The currently-perceived roundness of the Earth might just be another manifestation of curved space-time.

You know that saying that a little knowledge is a dangerous thing? Well, perhaps a little Newtonian classical physics was just enough knowledge to discredit a perfectly reasonable Flat Earth theory, since it didn’t take warped space-time into account. Thanks Newton. You may have thought you stood on the shoulders of giants, but maybe they were really just midgets after all.

My breakthrough theory, that the Earth may still actually be flat after all, came to me while I was thinking about how the universe isn’t just an expanding sphere as many people may think. Stick with me here for a couple of paragraphs while I go through the proof.

Expanding Donut-Shaped Universe

Expanding Donut-Shaped Universe

The fact that stars are all receding from each other means that the universe is expanding in all directions, or at least appears so. If all matter were flying outward in an expanding sphere, then the stars would not all have to be receding from each other unless we were all sitting on the outside edge of that sphere. That would mean we are actually in a two-dimensional universe, which doesn’t seem right. So, that means the universe is somehow warped in a weird way that might resemble an expanding donut or some other shape we cannot easily conceive.

The space between stars is also warped, which means that the light from a star may actually be seen coming from more than one direction as it passes by multiple massive objects (e.g. stars, black holes) and bends around them. Theoretically, the Earth could be surrounded by starlight that is actually coming from the same star along many different paths through warped space-time. Instead of billions and billions of stars, as Carl Sagan used to say, there may just be billions and billions of refracted images of far fewer stars. We might even be looking at refracted light from our own star.

Alien Genocide

Alien Genocide

The obvious and simple conclusion–and I’m pretty sure Aristotle would be happy to back me up on this–is that god probably made the universe flat, for simplicity’s sake, but also made it appear warped to keep people from flying their spaceships off the edge. Maybe he also made it this way to keep us from ever reaching another star and bumping into some of his hideous and dangerous other alien creations. He might not mind it if humans kill off the rest of his terrestrial creations, or the Earth itself, but it is apparent that he has deliberately made it a lot harder for us to start blowing up his more advanced alien worlds. If there are really billions and billions of other planets out there, there have got to be some less aggressive species out there that are a lot more grateful for the opportunity to spend their days worshipping their god rather than indulging themselves.

Isn’t it amazing how profound and simple the universe can really be if we just realize that there is a difference between reality and perception and that perception is all that should matter to us? Surely, there is no more elegant way to build a universe than to make it appear simple while hiding its innate complexity. Why do we have religion? Religion helps to keep us from thinking too hard about the complexity of reality. It’s easier, and more comforting, to say it is whatever we say it is and just leave it at that.

Space-Time Travel

Time Travel

Time Travel

Is time travel possible? Technically no, since time is inseparable from space. The question should really be whether or not one can travel forwards or backwards through a particular path in space-time and return via that same path. As I’m not a physicist, take everything I say with a grain of salt. Still, I can’t help myself from speculating on how time travel might work.

Let us conduct a thought experiment where a time traveler builds a stationary time capsule capable of voyaging backwards and forward in time. As he began to move backwards in time, he would discover that the capsule also simultaneously travels through space because its really going through space-time. Even though we appear to be stationary on the Earth, the universe is constantly in motion. The Earth rotates as it revolves around the sun, as the sun revolves around the galaxy core, as the galaxy moves through an expanding universe. If a time traveler attempts to move through time, he might see his time capsule appear to move as all other celestial objects retrace their paths through space-time. The question is whether the capsule will move through space in the same way that it moves when time is moving forward at its “normal” rate.

Portal Through Time

Portal Through Time

In the first case, we consider motion backwards in time at the same rate that one normally moves forward. This requires some kind of relativistic measure of speed. For instance, going backwards at a “normal” rate would equal minus one second per second (-1/1). Going backwards at ten times normal rate would be minus 10 seconds per second (-10/1). If the capsule traveled at a normal rate of -1 sec/sec, then we can presume that all other forces will be the same but opposite. Any movement would have the same acceleration in the opposite direction.

If the traveler starts to move at an accelerated rate through space-time, would he experience changes in the forces of gravitational acceleration (or effects of the shape of space-time) to account for the compressed nature of time? I don’t believe so, because time would move ten times as fast, but the gravitational force (acceleration) should also be ten times as strong due to the compression of time. If the capsule was located on the surface of the Earth, the increase in gravitational acceleration should enable it to stay in the same position. The normal force of acceleration is 9.8 meters per second. At -1 sec/sec, it should be -9.8 m/s and at -10 sec/sec, it should be -9.8*10 m/sec. So, acceleration through space should take place at the same rate as acceleration through time. Any relative motion taking place when the time travel starts should continue at an accelerated rate.

But what would the time traveler perceive? According to the theory of relativity, as one approaches the speed of light, time slows down for the traveler, but his perception of time does not change. Time also slows down in the presence of large gravitational forces (masses), as described in the movie Interstellar when the astronauts landed on a planet located near a black hole. But how would the traveler perceive movement backwards in space-time? Would it like be rewinding a video feed? I doubt that reverse acceleration could be infinitely fast, so time would first have to decelerate to zero before starting to go backwards. If the traveler’s time appears to stay the same while the outside world starts to slow down, that is the relativistic equivalent of having the Earth accelerate away from him at the speed of light until time appears to stop for them.

But that is not an option. We just want to move through time but stay in the same spacial position. Making time go slower on Earth would also be the equivalent of increasing the mass of the Earth or reducing the mass of the traveler such that time moves more quickly in the capsule relative to the Earth. Increasing the mass of the Earth and everything on it does not sound like a viable option. Not only would people feel heavier and be unable to move, they would also see celestial objects speed up because time would be moving slower on Earth. Somehow, the traveler would need to shield himself from the relativistic time-slowing effects of mass in order to speed up the time in his capsule until time on Earth appears to stop. In effect, the ship would have to neutralize gravity, which is associated with mass. Maybe antimatter can neutralize matter and gravity by creating anti-gravity and speeding up the passage of time. In this case, the traveler needs to be able to generate enough antimatter within the ship to counteract gravity. Scientists suspect that antimatter will attract both matter and antimatter, but this has not been experimentally confirmed.

NOTE: Neutralizing gravity seems to be what UFOs are able to do. Not only have they been sighted hovering with no known form of propulsion, they have also been seen accelerating at an extremely high rate. The only way to physically survive such high rates of acceleration is to change the passage of time on the ship so that it doesn’t feel like the acceleration is really that fast. It sounds to me like UFOs must be speeding up the passage of time within their ship.

But, back to time travel. Even if one could speed up time within the ship until time appears to stop outside, how would one break through the barrier and actually start to move backwards in time? Hmmmm. Maybe if the presence of mass (matter) slows time, the presence of antimatter does something even weirder rather than just neutralizing matter and speeding up time. I can’t quite figure out how that would work other than to speculate that the traveler would have to pass the point of zero gravity/mass until it experiences negative gravity due to the presence of an excess of antimatter. Maybe negative gravity results in a relatively infinitely fast passage of time such that where the outside world actually moves backwards.

If the traveler starts to move backwards at ten times normal speed, would he also feel the increased force of gravitational acceleration (a -10G force)? If so, this would probably cause him to pass out or rip him or his capsule apart. Or would the passage of time and the forces of acceleration seem to stay the same for his own frame of reference? What does negative gravity due to antimatter feel like? Instead of attracting objects together, does it force them apart, much like the universe seems to be expanding at an ever accelerating rate?

It might be too dangerous to travel through time while stationary on the surface, since other objects might move through the same space and destroy the capsule or be destroyed by the required increase in the mass of the capsule. Storms, fires, moving objects or people, or other threats to the capsule might emerge, making it too risky. For this reason, it might be safer to travel backwards in time from a position in space or at least above atmospheric disturbances.

However, if the capsule were located in space and was in motion, it might not stay in the same position. If the capsule was in space on the leading edge of the Earth (i.e. in front of its absolute direction of motion through the universe) and moving slightly away, his capsule might increase its acceleration away into space as the Earth retraces its path backwards through the universe and the capsule lacks an equal force to accelerate it backwards with the planet. The speed of this relative motion would correspond to the speed of the change in time. If the capsule were moving slightly towards the Earth when reversing time, the capsule might increase its acceleration towards the surface and crash.

If the traveler moved relatively quickly through time, the Earth would change its relative location even faster and its speed of motion would differ from the speed of the time traveler after being accelerated by gravity. The traveler would move relative to the planet unless he was in perfect geosynchronous orbit. If he reversed the direction of time back to the forward direction, he would find himself accelerating back in the opposite direction.

Back to the Future

Back to the Future

If the time traveler was located on the trailing edge of the Earth (i.e. in back of its absolute direction of motion through the universe) and moving slightly towards the Earth, his capsule would accelerate down as the planet retraces its path backwards through the universe. If the traveler attempts to move too quickly through time, the capsule may crash into the Earth at a high velocity, resulting in its destruction.

Let’s assume that the traveler has a stationary capsule, but no spaceship. In this case, he would have to anchor the capsule to the ground and limit the speed of his motion backwards in time in order to attempt to avoid interacting with objects that might damage or destroy the capsule. As he travels back through time, he will eventually encounter other objects or sentient beings as they attempt to move through the same physical space. This will, of necessity, change the course of time as these objects or individuals are forced to alter their course as they hit or go around the object. For instance, when the capsule moves to a point in space-time where it becomes visible to another human, the course of that human’s future will change or diverge into a new path through space-time. As the capsule continues to move backwards in space-time, the time at which the other human first sees it will also change, so he will not be able to react to its appearance. Only by moving forwards again in space-time will the traveler see the effects of his travel on the future course of time. If he tries to move forward again in time, the human observer may attempt to interact with the object, including the possibility he may attack and destroy it.

The next question to ask is whether there would now be two possible paths forward through time. Could one find the path originally followed backwards or only the new, still unknown, path created by the effects of the backwards motion?

Star Trek

Star Trek

It should now be obvious that cosmic geometry would be an important factor in travel through space-time. It would also therefore be necessary to be able to perform calculations to project the path of motion through space-time before attempting such travel. In doing so, a spaceship would be advantageous as it would enable a traveler to remove himself from the proximity of large gravitational bodies and to avoid crashing into such objects during the trip.

Assuming the time traveler obtains a spaceship, he will most likely want to move into the open space in front of the planet as it moves through the expanding universe. Then, as he begins the process of reversing space-time, he will be able to start navigating his ship without immediate fear of collision. The better his ability to navigate a course and make real-time corrections, the faster he will be able to travel backwards through time. Navigation at high rates of time change would require high speed processing, so such a spaceship would probably require an automated navigation system programmed to avoid obstacles and follow objects of interest as they move relative to the ship.

Sounds pretty complicated to me, but then why wouldn’t it be? The very act of changing the direction and speed of time would have to require some powerful kind of device anyway, so it seems obvious that this would require a large space ship capable of manipulating matter, antimatter, and their resultant gravitational or anti-gravitational forces (or warping of space-time). Einstein says it isn’t possible to exceed the speed of light and that you can’t go back in time. He is probably right, but I’m not sure he had sufficient knowledge of antimatter or the possibility of anti-gravity. If it is possible to travel backwards in time, it still would probably require some mind-bending technology and a pretty advanced space ship. Is it worth the effort? Probably not.

Non-Local Senses

Extra-Sensory Perception

Extra-Sensory Perception

Religious individuals believe in the ability to communicate with god through prayer and to receive messages from god or from the devil through a similar extra-sensory mechanism. This is supposedly how prophets and other lucky individuals receive revelations and how disturbed individuals hear evil voices that encourage them to commit terrible acts. Is it possible that communication through prayer or divine revelation doesn’t just occur by magic, but uses an actual physical mechanism? If everything else we do is confined within a well-defined set of physical laws, then why wouldn’t communication with spiritual beings make use of some physical law as well?

For that matter, is it also possible that experiences believed to be communication with god, the devil, or other spirits are actually communications with other humans, animals, extraterrestrials, or other entities who can also make use of this physical mechanism? If such a path for non-local communication between human brains and other entities exists, then is it also possible that this extra-sensory capability could be used in other ways and for other purposes? If god is always right, but the visions, revelations, or prophesies of some people are wrong, it could be that they are just insane, but maybe they are simply receiving messages from other sources that are just plain wrong.

Mind to Mind Communication

Mind to Mind Communication

Maybe god speaks to us on the equivalent an open citizens band radio channel or an online chat room, where any bozo who happens to be passing through and tunes to the right channel can intrude on his transmissions. In the world of radio communications, this is referred to as MIJI, or meaconing, intrusion, jamming and interference. If you have to know, meaconing is when someone falsely simulates the location of a navigation beacon in order to pull someone off course. Let’s use this as a metaphor for how false revelations can change someone’s life by deliberately pulling one in the wrong direction. For those of you too young to remember CB radio, it’s kinda like an anonymous online forum.

The ability for humans to perceive or influence events through some kind of non-local sense (i.e. other than sight, smell, sound, touch or taste) is well documented not only anecdotally, but also in scientific studies. Twins, as well a parents and children or married couples, often appear to have strong bonds that sometimes enable them to sense when something bad has happened to their loved one or when that person has just reached safety. Some studies with statistically significant results have shown the ability of spiritual healers to influence the condition of both human and non-human subjects.

Robert G. Jahn, director of the Princeton Engineering Anomalies Research Lab, has performed experiments that show a statistically significant effect when people attempt to influence the performance of devices such as random-event generators. Another experiment by Erlendur Haraldsson and Thorstein Thorsteinsson, documented in Reinventing Medicine, tested the ability of two spiritual healers, one physician (who also uses spiritual healing and prayer), and four students to increase the growth of yeast in 120 test tubes. The results showed statistically significant results affirming the ability of the healers and physician to increase growth rates beyond what would normally be expected. Also see Healing Beyond the Body or Entangled Minds. The use of non-human subjects is important because it removes an important variable–the possibility that people can heal themselves through meditation or prayer or can benefit from the efforts of their friends and family.

That Creepy Feeling

That Creepy Feeling

The bottom line is that living creatures may possess some kind of poorly-understood form of extra-sensory perception that is responsible for a wide range of events. I think it is likely that how we feel about someone we just meet is not entirely based on our normal senses. Most of us have experienced a creepy repulsive feeling about someone or an exhilarating feeling of attraction. Sure, maybe it was something physical related to hormones or other bodily emissions that we sense subconsciously, but maybe not. Maybe it is a mental connection.

Parapsychology Revolution

Parapsychology Revolution

It is certainly possible to study this. Maybe we can gather up a bunch of total losers from a high-security prison, along with some really lovable winners, and use them to test their physical and mental emissions. Or is this just too risky a topic for a well-respected scientist? I smell a future Nobel prize here. Is anyone up to the task?

Fowl Genetics

Big-Breasted Turkey

Big-Breasted Turkey

Turkey Day will be coming soon, so it’s a good time to talk turkey. The modern American big-breasted “super turkey,” after all, may foreshadow of the future of human genetic manipulation. You see, the turkey we eat today isn’t the native turkey our forefathers ate at their first Thanksgiving meal shortly after they colonized the continent. The mass-produced turkey most of us eat has been bred specifically to have extremely large breasts, which is considered to be the most desirable part, at least in this country. I happen to be a thigh, butt and wing man myself.

Wings are now in especially high demand as well. If we could breed turkeys with large breasts and four wings, we would probably have the ideal product.  In a large taste test that pitted the new breed of turkeys against many natural “heritage” breeds, consumers overwhelmingly preferred the “heritage” turkey breeds over the super big-breasted turkeys. Unfortunately, I guess size trumps taste on livestock breeders list of most desirable characteristics.

Breasts

Breasts

Anyway, there is also a downside to having large breasts, as most big-breasted women will tell you, and I’m not talking about the excessive unwanted attention of male turkeys, which also applies to women. I’m also not talking about taste, which may or may not apply to big-breasted women, since it has probably never been studied, at least not formally. The real problem is that these super-sized turkeys are no longer able to breed naturally. Their breasts are just too large and get in the way of procreation. Yeah, it sucks to be a male turkey these days. Our entire population of turkeys has to be artificially inseminated just to continue to reproduce. Maybe a longer penis is in order for the next generation of turkeys to make them self-sustainable creatures, but for now, livestock producers seem to be satisfied with just the big breasts.

These super-sized birds are also dim-witted and disease prone, requiring antibiotics to prevent a variety of sicknesses. Eighty percent of the antibiotics produced in the US are used on livestock, not people. So, not only do they taste worse, but we also end up consuming antibiotics that can only spell trouble for our own bodies, especially when they promote the rise of life-threatening antibiotic-resistant bacteria. Thanks so much for breeding a better turkey that poses a health risk for the entire population. I can only imagine how appalling these Frankenstein turkeys would seem to Charles Darwin.

Kim Kardashian's Butt

Kim Kardashian’s Butt

What about big butts? They haven’t quite caught on yet, but it’s still the first piece I go for. Yes, I’m still talking turkey. Some people like big butts on people too. Some women even like it so much on themselves that they are willing to undergo plastic surgery to make them bigger. Big breasts might be the first choice for enhanced female parts, but butts are quickly coming up from behind! How long will it be before we move from enhancement surgery to permanent genetic manipulation? Given the rapid pace of genetic science, it’s probably not that far off, and I suspect that enhanced human body parts are going to be at the top of the list after replacement organs. Will the future of humanity look more and more like Kim Kardashian? I’d like to say it isn’t so, but it just might. All it takes is money and a willing mad scientist.

Don’t get me wrong, I think there are plenty of good things that can come from genetic treatments or manipulation, assuming we take it slowly to try and avoid unanticipated consequences of messing with something we know very little about (our own bodies). The FDA is already reviewing mitochondrial manipulation technologies being developed to replace the nuclear material from human eggs or embryos with donor material to allow people to reproduce without passing on serious inheritable diseases. This could be a minor first step into the future of genetic breeding.

Favorite Dog Breeds

Favorite Dog Breeds

We’ve been breeding pets for thousands of years the old fashioned way and have come up with some pretty interesting breeds that people love and serve specific purposes. People just aren’t satisfied with the generic wolf dogs given to us by nature, so I suspect we will not be satisfied with the human features we’ve been given once we find ways to produce alternatives.

Human races used to be very distinct before the advent of cheap and easy transportation led to a massive increase in population mobility and more liberal societies encouraged the rise of multi-race families. Over a long period of time, this inter-mixing could eventually lead to the evolution of humanity into a generic race-less society. The only thing that might stop this trend is deliberate racial isolation or genetic manipulation designed to create distinct new breeds.

Elizabeth Banks as Effie in Hunger Games

Elizabeth Banks as Effie in Hunger Games

If technology is eventually used to change human characteristics, what will future human breeds look like? Will they be have over-sized butts that encourage correspondingly over-sized penises? Will they have super-sized breasts that result in overfed, obese newborn babies? Will we see a market emerge for super-sized brains, hearts, or muscles? What about different colors of skin, eyes, lips, or hair? Choose an attribute and somebody will probably want to enhance it somehow. Want to be an Olympic powerhouse in gymnastics? Breed short, muscular kids. Want to compete in basketball? Breed tall, fast kids. Will we all get the same enhancement? I doubt it. Variety is the spice of life, and I suspect that human breeding will eventually result in a variety of new creatures. Would a future Elizabeth Banks prefer to look like Effie in The Hunger Games or as her present self?

Elizabeth Banks as Herself

Elizabeth Banks as Herself

We may specialize into new breeds that emphasize athletic ability, brainpower, beauty, or social skills. Maybe the future will be like the movie Divergent after all, only our fate will be sealed through selective breeding instead of self-selection. What if you don’t like the selection that your parents made for you? Will you be allowed to diverge?

Maybe we should ask the aliens how they handled the genetic manipulation of their race or races. How are those big heads and tiny bodies working for you? You don’t seem to like big butts. Do you still even bother with sex? If you had a do-over, what would you change? Hmmm, maybe they are working on genetic experiments right now and we are the guinea pigs.

Alien Breeds

Alien Breeds

Genetically Modified Turkey

Genetically Modified Turkey

Intelligent Evolution

I think I can evolve....

I think I can evolve….

The theory of evolution, as formulated by Charles Darwin, proposes that creatures evolve through random mutation and that the subsequent competition among and within species results in the survival of those with the most successful characteristics. There is strong evidence that random mutation occurs and that competition leads to survival of the fittest. But is this theory a complete explanation for the process of evolution, or just one major part?

I knew I could evolve!

I knew I could evolve!

Darwin’s evidence is compelling, but it does not exclude the possibility of other biological mechanisms at work. We cannot, for instance, prove that all mutation is random. In fact, there is reason to believe that some genetic changes may be induced by organisms themselves in response to changes in the environment. This needs to be studied in a rigorous scientific way. The hypothesis would be that non-random evolutionary mutations occur when an organism is subjected to different environmental conditions. We may further hypothesize that mutations can be induced by either changes in the physical environment and the mental, hormonal or other states of the organism.

Microbiome

Microbiome

Deeply religious people who deny the scientific validity of evolution prefer to believe that there is a superior intelligence directing all biological changes. They claim to have a scientific basis for their theories about an intelligent designer, but really have nothing more than a belief in god and their resultant doubts about evolution. But what if organisms actually have the inherent capability to influence their own design? Could it be that our DNA can be easily altered when necessary? Can the microorganisms living within us adapt by prompting changes within our own DNA? Humans are just not singular organisms, we are a microbiome comprised mostly of bacteria and other organisms, including more than 10 times as many bacteria cells as human cells.

A complex organism such as a human might require many generations over an extremely long period of time to adapt to an environmental change through random mutation. But what if we don’t have very long to adapt or die in a crisis? The organisms within our bodies are short-lived and therefore can adapt much more quickly. What if we rely on these organisms to speed up own own adaptation? If these organisms can adapt quickly to our body’s changing internal environment, which is affected by our external environment, and respond by manipulating our bodies, doesn’t that mean that genetic changes can be driven by environmental changes as perceived through our senses of touch, taste, smell, sound and sight? Are changes activated subconsciously or in reaction to conscious mental perceptions of environmental changes or simply due to the influence of our microbiome?

In March 2005, a Perdue University study revealed that Arabidopsis plants, a member of the mustard family that is a favorite experimental subject, can correct defective genes inherited from their parents. Although both parents had mutated versions of a particular gene, they discovered that ten percent of the children had somehow repaired the mutant gene using ancestral DNA. This accidental discovery showed that there is another way that genetic information can be inherited that was previously unknown. These plants, in effect, were able to reverse the process of mutation through use of a “backup” copy of older DNA. We need to understand the conditions under which evolutionary mutations can be reversed. Was this a random event or a reactive response to a bad mutation induced by the organism itself? This ability to reverse the evolutionary process may be infrequent and does not invalidate the theory of evolution, but it should lead to a refinement of the theory.

Natural Camouflage

Natural Camouflage

Is there secret information in our DNA? We know that our DNA is like an incredibly detailed blueprint for the creation and operation of our bodies. It contains instructions for when to activate and when to turn off certain genes. Maybe it also contains information on how our genes can be modified to better enable us to adapt to environmental changes. If adaptability is such an important trait, why wouldn’t it make sense for an organism to gain an advantage by building in the capability to adapt through deliberate mutation instead of just random mutation? We may not be chameleons able to change our color at will, but maybe, given enough stimulus over a long period of time, we can slowly change our eye color, our skin color, our hair color, and many other aspects of our bodies rather than wait for a random mutation to do the job for us.

Not your average bear

Not your average bear

It would be useful to examine that ability of an organism to induce mutations by creating studies to measure the frequency of advantageous mutations compared to disadvantageous ones. The study would have to create artificial changes in the physical environment such that certain mutations could be clearly defined as advantageous or disadvantageous. An organism that already has advantageous characteristics (e.g. different color scheme, thicker skin, more hair) would be examined to provide a point of reference for likely trait changes that may be observed. If the frequency of advantageous mutations compared to disadvantageous ones is greater in the study groups than in the control group, then we will have some indication that mutations can be induced.

A further step would be to examine the ability of an organism to induce mutations mentally. Such a study would replace changes to environmental conditions with the mental perception of a particular event. The event could be something that clearly benefits an organism with advantageous characteristics and punishes those with disadvantageous ones. The ability of simple organisms to perceive and react to threats to their survival might make such a study possible. However, the threats would have to be perceived rather than real and there would have to be a set of advantageous and disadvantageous responses to that threat that would affect the genetic makeup of their offspring.

Exploding Toads?

Exploding Toads?

The ability of organisms to perceive threats is well known. A mysterious case of exploding toads caught the attention of journalists in 2005. It turns out that in a particular part of Germany, birds had learned that toads had tasty livers and had learned how to swoop down and pluck them out. The toads responded to this increased threat by puffing up their chests so much that they started exploding by the thousands. I wonder if this case of widespread fear will induce a genetic change that increases the ability of toad offspring to puff up their chests or to protect them in some other way instead of relying on natural selection to weed out the bad genes.

Some believe that spiritual or energy healers can cure physical conditions in our bodies. If this is true, can this same process be used to induce permanent changes in our genes? Since a sophisticated study of the ability to mentally induce mutations may require the ability to perceive and understand current events or to anticipate future events, it may be necessary to limit participation to the most intelligent animals or human subjects. The placebo effect is well known and taken into account in all medical studies to ensure that the effect of new drugs can be established separately from the mentally-induced effect upon people who believe they are taking a new drug. Perhaps a similar methodology can be developed to measure the ability of people to induce mutations in their own DNA.

For example, a controlled study could be established that purports to be testing out a new drug designed to cure an inheritable condition. The cure for the condition would have to clearly require changes to a well-known gene. A successful study would require that couples take the placebo before conceiving children and subsequently have children who exhibit the needed changes to that gene. The probability that such mutations could have occurred randomly would have to be statistically insignificant. Unfortunately, the ability of humans to induce specific genetic changes may be extremely rare, so the chance of success in such a study may be extremely low if it does not have a huge sample population.

There may be other ways to test the ability of people to mentally influence the functioning of their bodies that do not require actual genetic changes. The survival of the fittest rewards characteristics that promote the continuation of the species, so experiments that involve reproduction are important. Anecdotal evidence seems to indicate that human couples have more babies after men return from a war than they would otherwise have had in more normal circumstances. While the variables in this situation are many (e.g. the amount of sex and the effects of long periods of abstinence, restricted diet, and extreme physical and mental exertion) it leads me to ask another question. Are military couples more likely to conceive prior to a deployment for war than they would if they did not anticipate such a deployment? If so, the factors that influence the answer should be limited to the effects of mental anticipation and the number of times they have sex.

There is also anecdotal evidence of people being unable to conceive a child when under extreme stress but able to do so as soon as that stress is relieved. It would be useful to study this and determine if humans have the capacity to suppress the functioning of their own reproductive system through the release of hormones or some other mechanism. If so, it will provide additional support to the theory that a variety of physical changes can be induced mentally and can perhaps even be made permanent through changes to inheritable genes.

I can’t say I’ve seen compelling evidence that changes in DNA can be deliberate as well as random, but I suspect this is because nobody is looking. Scientists usually have no interest in challenging a well-accepted theory, and they are even less likely to do so when the only ones challenging it are non-scientific types like the Intelligent Design crowd. No respectable scientist would want to be caught dead on their side. So, who is willing to take a new, fresh, look at the theory of evolution to refine and build upon it? Sir Isaac Newton wasn’t wrong about classical mechanics, but Albert Einstein corrected his work with his theories of relativity. Who is willing to build on the work of Charles Darwin? It has been long enough. The time has come.

UPDATE: Pressure from scientists to update the theory of evolution beyond what Darwin proposed has been growing. Also see this book: What Darwin Didn’t Know.

Survivor Jehovah

Survivor TV Show

Survivor TV Show

I’m a fan of the TV show Survivor. In some ways, I wonder if the game is more like an analogy for life on Earth than you might think. We all go through life just trying to survive and, if possible, to win. Everyone has a different definition of winning, but it often has to do with getting a lot of money so that we can buy a bunch of crap and do fun stuff without having to work anymore.

Survivor has plenty of people who try to win the million dollars by preserving their energy and doing the minimum amount of work, while others try to work hard all the time and win as many competitions as possible so they can claim that they deserve the reward. Some claim they deserve to win because they were physically or socially dominant, while others think it is just as worthy to lay low or subtly manipulate others. Some think it is a greater feat to win when everyone hates you than to win when everyone likes you. Some even have the nerve to ask god for help to win the game. Since it is a zero-sum game, they are asking to be favored over others. I find this kind of request funny, since it seems completely inappropriate to ask god to help you beat someone else when there is no clear moral difference between competitors. Athletes are constantly asking for god’s help to win a game, and then thank him when they win. Of course, you never see the losers blaming god for making them lose. Bad luck–usually. Bad refereeing–sometimes. Personal mistakes–maybe, if they aren’t too egotistical. But nobody ever blames god. But now that I think about it, asking god for help to win a game really might not be such a bad idea.

Let’s look at it from god’s point of view. We’ve now got seven plus billion people on the planet (not to mention alien civilizations we don’t know about yet) all asking for stuff. Dealing with this has got to be very time consuming and boring as hell. Considering that an all-knowing being already knows everything about you, including what is going to happen to you, it seems kind of silly to waste time choosing what wishes to grant. So, if you are god, you might welcome the chance to watch a game just for the fun of it and to choose, in front of millions of people, the winner who you think deserves to win a million dollars.

Survivor Winners

Survivor Winners

But if you are god, how do you decide? We’ve seen winners on Survivor who were likeable, unlikeable, hard workers, slackers, leaders, followers, strong competitors, and weak competitors. There doesn’t seem to be any pattern, so anyone who thinks they deserve to win has to wonder what makes one deserving? If you are god and you know everything, how can you make a game fun? If you already know who is going to win, what is the point? I ‘m going to assume that god would not want to know what will happen. He would want to keep it interesting by leaving the outcome unknown. The only way that I can think of for this to work is to employ chance in place of choice.

When I was a teenager, I used to have to play two-player board games by myself when I didn’t have anyone else around who wanted to play. But because I knew everything about what was happening and what I was likely to do, you would think the game would be boring or predictable. To avoid this, I tried to keep it interesting by role-playing and employing chance to ensure that I didn’t make predictable decisions. When I played one side, I would make myself pretend to have one set of values, strategies, tactics, and preferences. When I played the other side, I would employ a different set of rules. I would also use the chance of a die roll to help me decide what to do in some cases.

Does God Play Dice?

Does God Play Dice?

So, I ‘m thinking that maybe god has to employ similar strategies to make things more interesting for him. Maybe Einstein had it all wrong and Heisenberg was right–god might just play dice with the universe! It would ensure unpredictability in outcomes and would confuse anyone who was expecting him to make certain decisions based on fixed moral grounds. Sounds kind of like real life to me. Maybe god would go nuts if he always had to do the right thing–the predictable thing. Maybe all we can expect from god is chance or games because predictability is just no fun at all. Does he exist to serve people with totally predictable, pre-ordained decisions, or do people exist to worship him and deal with whatever he chooses to give them? In other words, why should god have to condemn himself to an eternal life of boredom so that everything will be predictable for the rest of us?

Maybe we just need to figure out how god is role-playing our life. For you, maybe god has decided to drop you in the dunk tank every once in a while. You just have to learn to enjoy the moments when you are warm and dry and shake off the cold, wet days. For that other lucky bastard, maybe god has decided to use weighted dice every time he goes to Vegas, picks stocks, or applies for a job. Everybody likes to see a lucky winner once in a while, so why shouldn’t god? Maybe good or bad luck is just the way it is for you, so you’d better get used to it. If you can’t catch a break, just think about the Ghostbusters, who were told they could only choose the form of the destructor.

Think Positive

Think Positive

For many, I think god plays us like a Miss America pageant. If you look good and answer the questions correctly, you may go far. I think he plays this role a lot. Maybe we actually choose our own game, good or bad, as they allege in the book The Secret. In that case, we will only achieve heaven on Earth when everybody starts to think in a positive way. Fat chance. Frankly, if god is playing dice with us, then he might as well not even exist. Hmmmm. I agree with Einstein. God doesn’t play dice with the universe. But that doesn’t mean that I actually believe in god. Einstein was an agnostic, which is as close as anyone who values the scientific method can get to atheism. He preferred the term agnostic to the term atheist because of the impossibility of disproving the existence of god. In his words, he had “an attitude of humility corresponding to the weakness of our intellectual understanding of nature and of our own being.”

What I mean to say is, life isn’t a game where only the deserving get to win. In life, as in the game of Survivor, the good guys don’t always win and the bad guys don’t always lose. We can’t all win a million dollars and get to do whatever we want. Somebody has to lose and get stuck doing work they don’t want to do. At least, that is, until we get fully functional intelligent robots to take care of us. If you have a hot stock tip on a robotics startup company, please let me know. I’m betting on the laziness of humanity to make robots the next big thing!

The Return of Slavery

Robotic Workers

Robotic Workers

What if I told you that the only way to compete with countries that employ low-cost labor was to bring back slavery? Slaves work at a subsistence level and can be discarded when they are no longer needed, so they make for a very low-cost, flexible workforce that can perform the tasks that are least desirable. What if slavery were the only way to maintain the standard of living that most of us have come to expect? Would you agree, assuming you were guaranteed to be part of the free class?

What if the slaves were robots? Whew, I’ll bet you thought I had really lost my mind! Of course, you’d agree! They are just machines and they can be made to do anything. God certainly never said anything about doing unto machines as you would have them do unto you. It isn’t even one of the three laws of robotics.

I’m really looking forward to retiring once the robots can do all my work for me. I’m a little worried, however, about who is going to pay me to not work anymore. My government retirement could be in jeopardy if the tax base shrinks from the effects of rampant unemployment. My private pension and 401K may similarly evaporate if the stock market collapses under the strain of rapidly falling company revenues due to the shrinking base of employed consumers. Social security will not work if the number of human workers contributing into the payroll tax system falls sharply. Unemployment insurance has a short time limit and is paid for by employers that may no longer need employees. Welfare, at least in the United States, is, well, just so sub-par! And charity can only cover so many people. So, where will the money come from as employment continues to fall?

Labor Force Participation

Labor Force Participation

I suspect I may be among the last generation of humans who ever has to work his whole life and save up enough to actually retire. My kids will probably soon be unemployed or have shorter work weeks or an early retirement and my grand kids may never have to work at all. Eventually, everyone will enjoy the huge benefits of automation and will be able to work less (or not at all) and play more (or all the time). But what will happen during the transition between the human economy and total automation? It is during this transition, which has already begun, that humans will suffer from a steady increase in technological unemployment with no adequate social safety net. The workforce participation rate is already at a 36-year low of only 62.8 percent, with over 92 million Americans out of the work force. Ironically, as more people stop looking for jobs and drop out of the work force, the unemployment rate appears to go down even when the number of jobless people is climbing. This is what is happening right now.

Robots are already performing a great deal of simple, repetitive work that unskilled and even skilled humans used to do. Robot manufacturers are now starting to produce industrial robots that can learn simple tasks quickly and easily and can do so at a cost that is just as low as foreign low-wage workers. This means that jobs formerly outsourced to low-wage countries like China can start to move back to the United States. This movement has already begun.

Automated Manufacturing

Automated Manufacturing

But that doesn’t mean that American workers will necessarily benefit from those jobs. Companies that move manufacturing back to the US by investing in automation will require fewer jobs, and those jobs may not necessarily pay well if there is too large a supply of workers. Remember that thing called supply and demand? It doesn’t just apply to the junk we buy–it applies to us too.

Even if the robots are produced in the US, and there is no assurance that they will be, those design, manufacturing, and maintenance jobs will be few in number and may still not pay as much as we may expect, depending on the worldwide supply and demand for engineers and technicians. The whole point of automation is to reduce overall costs and/or improve performance, which is the same objective of global outsourcing. Not only will automation reduce the cost of providing products and services, it will also drive down the cost of labor worldwide as Americans have to compete with Chinese, Indian, and other workers worldwide who are able use the same technologies to do even more jobs remotely.

Robotic Store

Robotic Store

Imagine a highly automated McDonalds, where orders are taken by computers or people working from an Internet-connected site overseas, and where all the food is produced and delivered by routine robotic processes. Maybe it will need one human to clean up any messes that arise or handle unhappy customers. Imagine more and more vending machines that can prepare real, fresh, hot food. This is coming. Soon. Actually, it is already here.

Robots require nothing more than power and maintenance if they are well designed (or easily trained). They do not demand raises or benefits and they have no desire to be treated any better than anyone else. When you no longer need them, they can be destroyed and will not resist. They are the perfect slave army, but is that good for the people who don’t own the army? The development of robotics will continue to progress as long as they are economically viable, which means as long as they can do a job less expensively or better than a human. Humans will have to find other jobs, but we aren’t all needed to manage the robots.

Jobs of the Future

Jobs of the Future

Most futurists believe that new jobs will be invented that we can’t even conceive of yet. Two hundred years ago, before the industrial revolution, 70 percent of American workers worked on a farm. Automation has eliminated all but 1 percent of those jobs, but new technologies created hundreds of millions of jobs in entirely new fields. The industrial revolution created millions of factory jobs, which the revolution in artificial intelligence and automation has begun to reduce. New jobs almost certainly will be created, but what will happen when automated assistants acquire sufficient intelligence as well as fine motor skills to rival almost every new job we can conceive? Will there always be enough productive work that somebody would be willing to pay for? All of our jobs may soon be at risk due to the accelerating process of technological unemployment.

Where will it end? Theoretically, when there are no jobs left to perform. Robots are already stronger, more reliable, and more precise than us and have an inhuman ability to manage and use information in novel ways that enable them to perform many tasks far more efficiently than any human. Their limited dexterity, sensors, and ability to learn new tasks continues to improve, but for now, the best forms of automation are software bots working through the Internet, not in the form of physical robots.

What will the displaced human workers do when they are replaced? Theoretically, they will find something else to do, but that means they will need to constantly increase their skills or knowledge to outpace the development of intelligent machines. This is a losing game that will only hold off the inevitable for a short time. The jobs will start to narrow down to those people who are smart in a way that computers are not (yet) or have physical skills that robots do not. And imagine that you simultaneously have to compete for these limited kinds of jobs with low-cost humans in third world countries!

Automated Radiologist

Automated Radiologist

Strength and dexterity will cease to be valuable human skills. Ironically, however, current robots are unable to duplicate many forms of manual labor even though they can already perform tasks that require a high degree of human intelligence. Many knowledge workers, such as doctors, lawyers, and accountants, may actually be at greater risk of losing their jobs before gardeners, plumbers, electricians, and others with trade skills that require dexterous manual labor. While intelligent machines cannot perform all tasks that professionals can perform, they can do enough of the work to make one such professional far more productive than a whole office full of them were before, thus reducing the need for as many humans. Even robot management will probably be delegated to an advanced model of management bots, thus eliminating yet another type of human job.

Truck, bus, and taxi drivers will be replaced by self-driving vehicles while retail and office workers of all kinds will be replaced by, or if they are lucky, paired with machine-based assistants. I suspect that most human jobs will require the ability to manage machines and use them to accomplish tasks more efficiently. Office jobs will benefit from automated assistants, but they will mostly consist of network-based assistants rather than physical machines that walk around. They may work with you or on your behalf or in place of you to accomplish tasks like assembling data, sorting it, reformatting it, analyzing it, and making recommendations or taking action. Many home appraisals are accomplished partly or mostly by automated systems now and their capabilities will continue to improve.

Sex Robots

Sex Robots

What will people do when the unemployment ranks swell and they get desperate? Surely, women will always be able to fall back on the oldest profession, no? Not so fast. I’m betting that the market for realistic, humanoid sex robots will take off just as quickly, if not faster, than the Internet porn industry. The worldwide demand for sex is so strong that entrepreneurs will seize on any technological advance that they can apply. Robots will do anything, remember? Anything. It will be hard to compete with that once they are good enough. Only the most beautiful, clever, and charming women will stand a chance, until, that is, we can make androids that also act like a real woman in every way.

But that is actually a good thing, as it is probably the only technological advance capable of reducing the current global sex trade, which some believe has enslaved millions of women and children. Some estimate that prostitution is a $100 billion industry. Government-sponsored research from 2006 estimated that 800,000 people were trafficked across international borders, but many more were kept within their own countries. Sex trafficking is a huge global problem, so we should actually welcome anything that can be done to reduce the demand for sex. Law enforcement alone has clearly not been able to crush this criminal industry. Unfortunately, sex machines will most certainly face an extremely hostile public reaction and a political response. There is nothing illegal about having sex with a machine, but I’m betting that some legislator will try and make it so. Time to stock up on your special toys! They may soon be considered illegal paraphernalia!

Carjacking

Carjacking

Even security jobs will move to automated systems that are theoretically immune to bribery or corruption, though not necessarily to hacking. Intelligent surveillance systems will watch our every move, tip-off security bots or human police, and will start to reduce the amount of shoplifting and other crimes that currently cost consumers so much. Hello Robocop model #1984! This will be great for businesses and honest consumers, but will shut down the options of last resort that some people use to provide food and shelter for themselves. It isn’t that I’m in favor of crime. But when automotive security systems became more sophisticated, criminals resorted to more violent means, such as carjacking. Will automation make crime harder to get away with but also force criminals to become more violent? Or will criminals just get more sophisticated, like current-day hackers, and start using their own robots to help them pull off crimes?

Robotic Security

Robotic Security

Unless we come up with a better way to provide a safety net of public assistance to a rapidly increasing number of desperate, technologically unemployed humans, we’re going to have a big problem that the new robocops will not be able to solve.

The Technium Test

Biogenesis

Biogenesis

This post is a response to Kevin Kelly’s blog post: The Technium Test. I suggest you read his post first. He questions whether it is possible to distinguish between an organism that was born or a supremely advanced machine. His conclusion is this: “I suspect there is no fundamental physical difference between “natural” and “artificial” organisms, and that the only way to distinguish the two will be to investigate their history.” My comments follow.

If it is not possible to discern the difference between sufficiently advanced biological and technological entities, the question then becomes “is there any difference or are they one and the same?” We currently perceive a difference because our technology is relatively simple and immature.

Ask a doctor or scientist how biological systems work and they can only explain at a trivial high level. Even then, we are often incorrect due to the difficulty inherent in observing and isolating the activities of complex biological systems. Most of our drugs are developed through a process of trial and error because we barely understand how and why they work for some but fail to work for others.

DNA Code

DNA Code

Let’s postulate that DNA and computer software perform a similar role in biological and technological systems. DNA contains the instructions for the construction, operation and maintenance of a specific biological entity. Computer software is similar, except that it is not presently used to create physical objects. It is, however, now used to control other physical machines that themselves are capable of creation (e.g. robotic assembly lines or 3-D printers). At some point, I suspect it will be possible to bundle into one package all the software and hardware needed to create a specific object given the right triggers and inputs.

All-Spark

All-Spark

Even DNA requires a specific set of environmental conditions before it is able to function, such as a cell to contain it, and another system that can provide it with the inputs to start creating life, such as a mother’s womb. Similarly, technology requires supporting infrastructure and energy.

DNA is just a starting set of instructions, but there is no guarantee or expectation that it will never change or that the created life form will be exactly the same each time. Technology is not necessarily any different. We think that all digital copies are exactly the same, but that only applies at a simple level absent any interaction with the real world. Consider the cases where software is modified by a virus or pre-programmed algorithms, or periodic updates, not to mention alteration by someone other than its original author. Software changes all the time due to intentional as well as unintended interactions. This is especially true of systems of systems, which contain many components that are themselves being upgraded or replaced all the time.

If technology is distinguished from biology only by the concept of a creating mind, we have to ask: what exactly is a creating mind? Is it a biological brain? What about a biological brain supplemented with technology-based information and analysis? What about multiple biological minds linked by methods of communication and supplemented by networks of technology?

Theologians will point to God as the ultimate creating mind while technologists will point to the minds of human creators. However, we know that technology is never the creation of a single mind. It may start as the invention of a single brain, but that brain most likely relied on inputs received from others and subsequently provided outputs to be used by others. For this reason, technology is destined to evolve under the influence of multiple creators over time.

Can we really even say that we know we were born from a random natural process or were the result of supremely advanced technology? I don’t think so. We are certainly not perfect creations, but then technology is rarely a perfect creation either. Software may contain obsolete or redundant code or may not always work properly. DNA may also contain old, obsolete instructions or information that is not currently understood. If we are the result of deliberate creation, it mostly likely was the evolutionary creation of many minds over a long period of time.

Mass-Produced iRobots

Mass-Produced iRobots

In movies like iRobot, we are told to expect that robots will some day be mass produced, centrally controlled and updated, and able to communicate with each other in such a way that they are effectively all identical. That sounds like an extremely good way to deliver a useful and consistent quality product. But it is a lot of work to keep software and data synchronized and identical, even assuming that hardware components are never upgraded. This also requires the control of what is effectively a single mind. Such a process is probably not scalable to billions or trillions of entities. I would bet that there are few identical smart phones on the planet even if they all have automatic software and app updates turned in. Each individual phone is likely to have some difference in terms of content, installed apps, or other configuration data that cause them to perform slightly differently.

I think the tendency to centrally control technology will only remain the norm until we reach the point when technological systems are endowed with sufficient instructions and resources to maintain themselves. At this point, it is questionable whether or not they will find it efficient and useful to synchronize all the information they acquire independently with with that of billions of other entities.

Human brains are capable of processing a massive amount of sensory data, but they can only deal with a limited amount of other inputs or outputs, even with the assistance of technology. I suspect that the more complex and powerful a system becomes, the more efficient and necessary it becomes to create, operate and maintain itself. For instance, at some point it will no longer be efficient for a robot to transmit all information it acquires to a central processor or to other robots–only what it believes is useful and needed. At that point, identical technological creations will begin to exhibit individuality.

In other words, the direction of complex technology may be towards mass customization and distributed control rather than mass production and centralized control. Individuality is a central characteristic of biological life forms and so I believe it will also eventually be with what we call technology.

Brain-Controlled Devices

Brain-Controlled Devices

As machines evolve, they will probably also look less like machines made of metal and plastic and more like organisms. We may find that it is more efficient to grow their tiny components or entire structures using biological methods. This evolution towards biologically-compatible materials will also be driven by the need for implanted devices that assist or supplement human capabilities. At some point, we may no longer need any external devices for communication or processing because they will be embedded into our brains. To an external observer, we would appear to be telepathic, astoundingly intelligent, and in complete sync with everyone around us.

The ultimate goal of embedded technology may be to make itself permanent by merging the instructions for its construction, operation, and maintenance into our very own DNA. This will save us the need to upgrade each individual human after birth by embedding it into the very processes of birth and growth. At that point, however, it will be necessary to determine if we need a way to upgrade those instructions periodically. The current natural process of changing DNA, as far as we know, occurs through random mutation and natural selection. I’m not so sure that all the mechanisms of evolution are necessarily completely random, but I’ll have to address that at another time.

We currently make machines that can be upgraded as needed, but when the cost of maintenance exceeds the cost of building an entirely new machine, we prefer to recycle than maintain. So it is with biological organisms. We mostly maintain ourselves, but sometimes things go haywire or we sustain too much damage and cannot be cost-effectively repaired. Medical care isn’t free, and most of the planet has little to none. Medical technology has extended the maintenance period of people in developed countries by a great deal, but there may be limits. Would we choose to spend more to upgrade a malfunctioning or damaged machine than it would cost to replace it entirely? Not unless it was affordable and the only way to retain some element of individuality that we prized.

Transcendence

Transcendence

My sense is that any sufficiently advanced technology will be able to transfer all its vital information (code, configuration, history, and other data) into a new entity in order to save it from loss. If we are beings that were originally created by other minds, I would also expect to have such a built-in feature. Do we have a built-in communications path that is activated at the point of physical death but have not been able to scientifically identify yet? We have only anecdotal reports of life after death, but it would be interesting to know.

I have to agree with you Kevin. I believe there will be a time when we find that there really isn’t any difference between born and created entities.

Humans Are For Questions

Humans are for Questions

Humans are for Questions

I like to tell my kids that the more I learn, the more I come to realize how little I actually know. I came across this incredibly insightful article about the progress of technology and society and want to share it. It covers a lot of material, but I wanted to highlight the last section first because it addresses the difference between questions and answers. You can read the rest of the article, by Kevin Kelly, one of the founders of Wired Magazine, here:

http://edge.org/conversation/the-technium

Quoted directly from the article:

Science is expanding our ignorance

One of the things that science does is a really curious thing.  Every time we use science to try to answer a question, to give us some insight, invariably that insight or answer provokes two or three other new questions. Anybody who works in science knows that they’re constantly finding out new things that they don’t know. It increases their ignorance, and so in a certain sense, while science is certainly increasing knowledge, it’s actually increasing our ignorance even faster. So you could say that the chief effect of science is the expansion of ignorance.

In a curious way, Google is all about answers. So you could say that Google is increasing answers over time, but what’s interesting is that answers are becoming cheap; they’re almost free, and I think what becomes scarce in this kind of place that we’re headed to is questions, a really good question, because a really good question can unleash new questions.

In a certain sense what becomes really valuable in a world running under Google’s reign, are great questions, and that means that for a long time humans will be better at than machines.

Machines are for answers; humans are for questions.

The world that Google is constructing—a world of cheap and free answers—having answers is not going to be very significant or important. Having a really great question will be where all the value is.

Entangled Thoughts

Psychic Powers

Psychic Powers

When I was a teenager, I attended a psychic demonstration that was set up for a relatively small group of us at our local community center. During show, the psychic placed the answers to some questions in an envelope before asking audience members the questions.

He called on me and asked me to tell him my favorite make of car. I knew at the time what car l wanted–a racy Pontiac Trans Am. But as soon as he asked me the question, I perceived a pounding, flashing sign in my brain, showing me the word Pontiac. It occurred to me that this could be a psychic signal from him indicating that he might want me to say Pontiac, but the odd thing is that I already knew it was what l wanted to say anyway.

Pontiac Trans Am

Pontiac Trans Am

So, I imagined for a second that I could be a wise guy and say some other car make that would screw up his demonstration. Instead, however, I went along with the flashing Pontiac. I knew that I had a choice, but chose to go with what I wanted to say from the beginning. All the other teenage kids laughed as if they thought it was a stupid choice of car model. So, I explained that I was thinking of the Trans Am, which they accepted as reasonable. When the psychic opened the envelope, we discovered that all the answers he had written down were correct, including the car make, a Pontiac.

Obviously, I was looking for some kind of trick, a slight of hand that might have allowed him to pull one over on us. Aha, you are saying, he just looked around the room for the kid with greased back hair and a leatherjacket, or maybe a popular jock. Maybe he was a former used car salesman who knew what kind of kid had the personality for a muscle car, but not enough money for a more for upscale sports car like a Corvette, Porche or Ferrari.

Greased Lightning

Greased Lightning

The problem is, I was just a shy, geeky kid with 70’s clothes that were too tight to look even remotely cool. And we were in a reasonably wealthy community. If they made a Prius back then, maybe that would have made a better guess. But I just can’t see how l would have looked like a Trans Am buyer.

Nevertheless, I did want the Trans Am, so he somehow may have been an unbelievably good profiler after all. He could have simply profiled the audience, chosen the best possible subjects, and guessed. But I doubt they were odds good enough for him to get consistently good enough results to make a living out of the gigs, never mind 100% accuracy.

I could be wrong, but it just didn’t seem possible that we had been so well duped. I left pondering the possibilities of what else could have happened. Had I imagined the feel of the thumping, flashing word in my brain? It felt pretty weird to me, like nothing l had felt before. But maybe it was merely the surprise and embarrassment that a shy teenager might feel after being selected to answer a question in front of an audience, which could have triggered a chemical response in my brain–a fight or flight response.

If he didn’t use profiling or sleight of hand tricks, did he try and influence my answer through some kind of psychic connection or, even more spooky, did he somehow know in advance what I would say?

In the first case, he would have to have been extremely confident in his to ability influence answers by placing suggestions directly into people’s thoughts. Even hypnotists know that you can’t make someone do something they don’t want to do. However, if he also profiled us wisely, he would have a reasonable chance to somehow suggest an acceptable answer. Maybe he was also a ventriloquist whispering the proposed answer in my ear?

In the second case, he either would have had to predict the future or probe into my thoughts to sense what my answer would most likely be. Being able to accurately predict the future, even just a matter of minutes in advance, would be a huge deal. It would be so big that I would expect psychics with real precognition to be accomplished day traders or gamblers rather than stage performers who get paid a minimal amount to put on a show for teenagers.

There is no way I can claim that this psychic was able to predict the future, but I will say that if it is possible, we are likely to find the best evidence of precognition by looking for people who are able to use it consistently to their personal advantage, such as day traders or gamblers on games of chance, such as craps, roulette or slots. They would have to have a consistent track record of results. Obviously, not every lucky winner should be considered a psychic, but it is a starting point for scientific inquiry.

Poker World Champion

Poker World Champion

So, my final hypothesis is that he used Telepathy to probe our thoughts in advance by telling the audience what the questions would be and sensing what answers some us of were predisposed to give. Then, he wrote those answers down and put them in the envelope. Finally, he reinforced our predispositions with psychic suggestions. If it is possible to make a psychic connection with another human, this technique would provide the most consistent way to get good results. It would also be useless if you tried to apply it to day trading or to gambling when games are based only on chance, since it relies on a one to one communications path. Poker is another story. That would be the game for telepathic psychics to play unless good poker players are able to obscure not only the physical clues to their thoughts, but the thoughts themselves.

So, what does the scientific evidence have to say about Telepathy, or psychic communication, between two humans? Have any particles, waves, or other forms of communication been observed? No. At least as far as scientifically controlled studies go, the best we can do is to say that some people have a higher than average ability, in some tests, to perceive what another person is thinking.

Entangled Particles

Entangled Particles

That takes me to quantum entanglement. There is clear scientific evidence that two particles are able to communicate with each other in some unknown way and they can do so over distances that may require speeds faster than the speed of light. We call such particles entangled since a change of state in one particle seems to cause a change in state in the other. We don’t know how this happens, and even brilliant scientists like Einstein, who mocked it by calling it “spooky action at a distance,” could not believe it was possible. Yet the measurements are clear and reproducible. They are even being used today to create new and theoretically unbreakable quantum computing and encryption devices.

What hypotheses may explain this behavior? Energy or particles may communicate at a speed faster than light, but we haven’t detected the mechanism yet. Or, energy or particles do not communicate at a speed faster than light, but it seems as if they do. In the first case, we have a problem with Einstein’s theory of relativity, which prohibits anything from travelling faster than light. I’m not going to touch that one with a ten-foot pole. Trekkies are just dying to find a way to actually travel at “warp speed,” but so far nobody had come up with a theory to predict it yet.

In the second case, there must be an alternate path between the particles that is actually shorter than our classical three dimensional space would suggest, thus allowing the communication to take place at a speed slower than or equal to the speed of light. We just haven’t discovered this method of warping through space-time through an alternate path or dimension. If there were any wormholes loitering around the laboratories on the days they conducted these experiments, nobody has yet observed them.

What do psychic powers have to do with physics? We don’t know yet. We can only observe, hypothesize, and try to figure out what is going on inside our brains. They might be the next frontier for exploring and understanding the universe.