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Sunday, June 14, 2009

Chasing The Dragon

(Disclaimer: I just woke up and have not carefully prepared any of what is to follow)

I've secretly always thought the Turing Test of A.I. legend was easy to beat. All you'd have to do to discern whether the other entity was human or machine was ask it "What do you want?".

My image of the mind is an interface between "want" and "how to achieve want". All of our astounding cognitive abilities have been really come into existance merely to better serve our desires.

So millenia on the savannah taught us that being part of a tribe meant life or death. To gauge our inclusion in the tribe and act as a feedback system we evolved egos. Pride felt good and shame felt bad. One would indicate a good job being in the tribe (and therefore safe) while the other meant our place in the tribe was at risk (and therefore in danger). The way I'm using the term "ego" covers both pride and shame as flip sides of the same construct. Tribal inclusion was so critical to survival that "chasing the dragon" was worth risking the energy. Making the ego happy (fulfilling its "wants") became as genetically valuable as eating or lust in terms of viable replicating transmission.

I'm trying to reconcile some evolutionary biology with Dawkins and Hrdy. "The Selfish Gene" blew me away when I read it. It seemed to indicate that love was really just a handy tool in the overall statistics of maximizing genetic transmission. The bastard genes were tricking aunts/uncles into dying for their nieces/nephews using love; manipulating them into serving the gene's need for a new generation with as much of themselves intact as possible. (Side note- I don't know if y'all saw the Dawkin's TED link after Dennett, but he talked about the "middle world" in terms of human perception being a narrow slice of the overall spectra possible. I suppose love is only necessary in the middle world, but I'm still glad for it).

So anyhoo, then I see those Hrdy links. A mother will sacrifice her own offspring if it better sets her place in the new tribe. Doesn't this mean she's told her genetic overlords to #$%* off and that her own existance is more valuable to her than genetic transmission? Doesn't this mean that the ego that evolved has backfired against its intended purpose? No, I guess not. Pragmatically speaking, the sacrificed offspring was going to be killed anyway so best keep the mother around to have create another transmission vehicle. So her seeming self-interest was really still in the gene's best interest still. (Side note- I haven't actually read any of Hrdy's books yet so I apologize if I'm misrepresenting her research).

Hmmm. Looking back this is not exactly a "Swiss Watch" of a post in terms of organization, but everyone in the saloon is SRC so surely they'll understand ;)


Debra said...

Some questions from the other side of the Atlantic :
What is the Turing test...etc ? What is A.I. ? (Acronyms are SO ho hum, and they seem to be almost... VIRAL these days...
The Dawkins references remind me of the tussle between Freud and Fliess over the origins of psychoanalysis. Fliess had a THEORY that the nose was involved in delusional phenomena (I don't know the detail, it sounds pretty far out) and Freud after "working through" a very complicated transfer with Fliess who was a mentor, almost a God to him, self congratulated himself one day by saying "I have succeeded where the paranoiac failed". Translate into, Fliess's theories are a crock of shit, whereas MINE, they are TRUTH.
Wasn't it Hubert Reeves who said "the experiment of consciousness has failed" ? I kind of like that statement, even if it is very pessimistic.
Dawkins's stuff is trendy, you guys, but it will NOT stand the test of time (presuming we still collectively have some left). Trust me on this one, lol.

SS said...

Nietzsche has surmised that theories about competition for resources and survival of the fitness miss the point, human society is all about the use of surpluses, love beauty, grandeur, power, sophistication. I suspect he is right, those worrying about survival have to little with which to compete. SS

Thai said...

SS, can you hum a few more bars

Dink said...

"What is the Turing test...etc ? What is A.I. ?"

Artificial Intelligence. Theoretically we could come to the point where we could program a computer to perfectly mimic a human brain. Alan Turing was a Brit who advanced computers during WWII. He knew that we would know when we had achieved A.I. once we could put a person in communication with this entity and the person could not tell if it was human or not.

Some early scenes in Bladerunner alluded to it. One model got exposed when he didn't realize the questioner's statement should elicit sympathy. A more advanced model made it through questioning quite a while, but eventually missed a statement regarding food that would normally cause disgust.

Let's call a truce; you be nice to Dawkins and I'll be nice to Freud. Thank goodness we at least have food to agree on ;)

Thai said...

Deb, Dawkins popularizes other people's work. He does often bug me (and at the same time I do often admire his work). Which parts of his theories specifically do you think will not pass the test of time?

Debra said...

Mea culpa, Thai. All that I know of Dawkins is from reading things like the Independent's critiques of his books. Or the Nation's stuff, from time to time. And discussing him with my very good English friend.
I COULD TELL from the outset that Dawkins was one of those "thinkers" whose work I could access by reading (good) book critiques, without having to go through the painful process of reading him/pulling my nose hairs... (Sorry dink.)
Actually, I have recourse to good book reviews often as you guys must have realized just how much STUFF there is out there to read/see, and HOW LITTLE TIME WE HAVE (left).
But I think that I'm going to have to crack and buy The Voyage of the Beagle, or the Origin of Species, and go at it with my pencil. (I always dialogue with MY authors...)
SS : Nietzsche is looking better and better...
And Dink : Bladerunner, was that a SCI FI film or a
HORROR story ?
You can guess MY answer.

Debra said...

I suspect that my (violent) reaction to Dawkins stuff (i.e. demonizing God, lol) is a mirror reaction to his extremism, given that I, too, have some rather extreme positions...
But I also resent the fact that from where I stand, and I could be wrong, it looks like Dawkins is throwing his "scientific" weight around a lot, and I think that a little more DISCRETION on these subjects from a public figure would be appreciated.
And I have heard that he is publicly CAMPAIGNING AGAINST RELIGION.
This, in my book, is a case of the pot calling the kettle black, or the hospital denigrating public charity as we say in France, because forceful campaigning against religion is a... RELIGIOUS structure/phenomenon.

Thai said...

I will be away for a few days at a work conference.


The Most Fabulous Objects In The World

  • Hitchhiker's Guide To The Universe trilogy
  • Lord of the Rings trilogy
  • Flight of the Conchords
  • Time Bandits