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Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Does Conscience Tell You Right From Wrong?

A few years ago, I was introduced to the idea of transhumanism, as presented by Ray Kurzweil. The idea is that soon, technology will enable us to "upload" ourselves into a computer or robot consisting of enough artificial intelligence that we will no longer have to worry about dying.

When I pointed out that this was nothing more than an ancient religious impulse, I enraged a few "transhumanists" who said there certainly was no religious intent! Far from it!

I pointed out that, while it might not have been a conscious intent, it is still merely a continuation of the religious impulse. After, all what is religion, but an attempt to create a concept of men, give it a physical body, and "upload" ourselves into it so we can escape death?

By the same token, what is government, if not the same thing? Kurzweil talks of physical "substrates" into which human intelligence can be uploaded, even if not strictly into the mechanical processes we envision today.

It all boils down tho the same thing. We create a decision process, we become part of the decision process, and our lives become less than the decision process itself.

But why the mechanical extension? Why did we select this process of organization? Philip Slater, in a book called "EarthWalk", which I highly recommend, says this:

"A machinelike response in the face of danger had no real value until men began to make war on each other--it was of no use either in hunting or in surviving other predators. The most mechanical peoples won over those less so, so that a profound cultural selection took place....When man invented the machine, for which there is no external model in nature, he invented it in his own image. The human is the only animal programmed to ignore the very feedback that it is simultaneously programmed to utilize, which is why only a human can make an animal, or another human, neurotic or crazy."

If humans can create systems large enough, sufficient to enable others to sacrifice themselves to a common cause greater than themselves, then they have achieved a form of "immortality" by "uploading" themselves into the greater system, or as Hoffer wrote, becoming "estranged from self".

The "internal circuitry" by which the group operates assumes greater importance than the "internal circuitry" of the individual. This extension of individual "circuitry" into a greater collective "circuitry" is also known as narcissism, a process by which a person extends himself eternally, in a linear fashion, into his environment. It is also known as the proselytizing zeal.

"God" becomes an extension of ourselves, which is, by definition, idolatry.

But is there something greater than ourselves? A professor at MIT many years ago named Ed Fredkin, decided that the atoms, electrons, protons, etc, were not actually physical sub-atomic structures, but were actually bits of information. Fredkin developed an idea of the universe as "digital physics", with the universe itself as a kind of cosmic computer in which we can't know the outcome of anything until the program actually runs.

Is it possible we are part of an intelligence greater than our own individual thought processes? Well, there is an emergent branch of study called "swarm theory". I first didn't care for this study because it implied, to me, collectivism and majority rule, which my conservative mind rejected. But I found it quite interesting, because it does suggest a power to "compute" solutions that are actually greater than individual calculations.

For example, one professor took a large jar of jelly beans and asked the class to each submit an estimate of how many jelly beans were in the jar. While some of the calculations were fairly close, the professor discovered that by taking the average of the class estimates, the estimated value was surprisingly close to the actual number.

Another example of the "swarm" intelligence was shown when researchers placed a dish of sugar water outside a beehive. The swarm of bees soon found it. Next day, a dish was placed twice as far away. The swarm soon found it. After several days of this, the researchers found that when they set the dishes out at these exact measured distances, they soon found the bees waiting for them. The swarm had somehow computed the next step in a mathematical series.

The point is, this computation process was not subject to the control of one bee, but a process of collaboration among the bees to determine a process that was precisely regulated mathematically.

David Bloom, in an imaginative book called "Global Brain", points out that even ancient bacteria exhibited an ability to adapt and compute necessary changes to their environment!

Quoting from the studies of Eshel Ben-Jacob, Bloom points out that Darwin's theory of evolution regarding random mutations, may soon give way to a far more complex concept.

"Since 1974...a growing body of evidence had accumulated indicating that useful bacterial mutations are not completely random. By 1999, over 880 studies suggested that some mutations might, in fact, be genetic alterations 'custom tailored' to overcome emergencies.
"Ben-Jacob's studies suggested that far more than the self organization of inanimate matter was at work within the petri dish...Ben-Jacob contended that the package of genes carried by each individual bacterium is more than a mere carrier of construction plans(see James' embedded video, "Bruce Lipton and 'Biology of Perception'"). he wrote that genome can 'recognize difficulties and formulate problems'....what's more, the genetic bundle seemed to accomplish something even computers cannot achieve. Said Ben-Jacob, 'The genome makes calculations and changes itself according to the outcome'....Concluded Ben-Jacob, in the bacteria's case 'evolutionary progress is not a result of successful accumulation of mistakes, but is rather the outcome of designed creative processes'."

Assuming such an intelligence, its integrative powers would NOT be dependent on individual choice, but would actually involve a level of complexity of which we could not even be aware. In fact, the effort to control such intelligence and reduce it to our pitiful human concepts, whether we represent it as "God" or "natural selection" would be woefully inadequate.

Such an intelligence, based on the complex integration of life forms, would operate on a much higher level than basic human awareness and organization.

For example, I've often referred to Matthew 10:34-38. Jesus said that the effort to obey him would result in a "sword", a cutting or slicing apart of ideas until a man's enemies would be those of his own household.

Does this process have a biological advantage? Bloom makes an interesting comparison in regard to biology:

"Among the Yanomamo, the biggest clashes are between family members--and between the groups they head. How could evolution favor feuds which current theory says should never be? Creative bickering has been honed by natural selection because, in pitting father against son and brother against brother, it opens up new avenues to genes, clans, cliques and species. It slices through genetic bonds to generate diversity".

Another biblical passage similar to this is found in 1 Corinthians 1:27-29. If "God chose the foolish things to confound the wise, the weak to confound the mighty, and base things which are rejected by the "builders" that "no flesh should glory in his presence", we are not talking about anything subject to human concepts and organization. In fact, we are talking about things which would, to all intents and purposes, appear as random processes, or "natural selection".

It simply would not be subject to human conceptual control.

Does that mean there is a God? No. But it does indicate that we are part of a process of intelligence that operates across species barriers and constantly re-organizes our life processes by both separation and integration.

If truth itself transcends theoremhood, then it is quite possible that there is a process of "truth" that is directing our lives in a way not subject to human thought control.

"For my ways are not your ways, neither are my thoughts your thoughts...."


Byker Bob said...

The Jews have been telling us for centuries that God is so marvelous and mysterious in His complexity that it is impossible for humans to fully grasp.

I personally have come to the conclusion that God created everything we see, hear, taste, touch, smell and experience from elements of Himself. Much of what you just shared could be interpreted as further corroboration of my theory.


Ralph said...

You may be right, BB. I certainly wouldn't say it is impossible.

The thing that most impresses me about Jewish history is that they seem to serve a God they themselves do not understand, who gave them laws they could not keep.

Most of all, I think that the Jews were created to generate exactly the diversity they have generated, which may be my next essay as a continuation of this one.

Corky said...

Welcome to the "borg" or the "matrix", whichever you prefer.

How do you keep from being "absorbed", as in the old Star Trek episode about a cult controlled planet?

Is this a cult controlled planet? From my own observation, it is.

You must obey Landru.
You will conform.
You will obey.
You will be absorbed.

Very few escape "the system", or, i.e., the "borg". Most will follow the easy path of conformity to the world's religions and governments.

Once humans are incorporated into machines, by up-loading who they are into computers, it's over for the human race.

Do you look forward to having your memory as part of the hard-drive on a world computer? Me either.

Ralph said...

Corky, I agree with you, even if I take a different perspective.

I think the bible is about "coming out and being separate", not joining in. Jesus did say in Matthew 7:14 that there would be "few that find" the truth.

Assuming the masses will ultimately upload us into a computer memory(many speculate this universe itself is ALREADY part of yet another computer simulation) the only correct choice would be to seek processes that keep us from being absorbed in the "matrix".

Byker Bob said...

The danger of non-conformity is in that failing to conform, often one ends up conforming to a specific subset of non-conformity.

Over the years, I've ridden my bike to various functions, and while walking from the parking lot into the event have heard people behind me who think I cannot hear them ask their friends, "Why do they all dress the same?"


The Painful Truth said...

I bet you that you are a long haired? Heh?

Ralph said...

Yews, BB, there's nothing worse than a bunch of non-conformists slavishly conforming to non-conformity.

Byker Bob said...


No, I don't have long hair because I'm a natural oiler, even though I wash it every day. Longest it's ever been was covering my ears, and that was years ago.

But, I do enjoy having a beard!


Ralph said...

BB, I was reading an article the other day that said we have oily hair because we do wash it too much. I tried going washless for about a month, (my hair. I usually take a shower once a month or when I need it. Just kidding).

I really couldn't tell any difference. My hair was oily anyway.