Friday, March 30, 2007

The nature of intelligence and the intelligence of nature

First, a test. I'll show you two strings of text and see if you can determine which one is from a college-educated human being, and which one is from a rhesus monkey.

1) The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog and a partridge in a pear tree.

2) NKLSDK;CMkasdk;FJL;A;Ll;advmkl;sdvjl;sdgl asdf[qEFML; DVL;M,zv<>MYULF

If you chose sentence 1), youre right. Sentence 1) was written by a person and sentence 2) was, well not by a rhesus monkey, but my me mindlessly banging on the keyboard. Sentence 1) used a language and it meant something. It contained information. That's how you were able to tell it wasnt random keyboard banging.

How about the following sentence?

3) Leme volpu marau ripanto sazla sorpo ilme asua pigrtza i'un pirunia i'un punalbero d'pe.

I dont know what it says. But it looks like it means something. It looks like a foreign language. That is, even if I can't understand it, I recognize a rhythm of some sort; a pattern. Enough of a pattern to conclude that some foreign guy typed it and not some foreign rhesus monkey banging away on the keyboard.

And that's just one sentence. What if you come upon an entire book, like a manual that teaches you how to make something--something complicated. Like for instance, a New York cheesecake? Wouldnt you conclude that someone wrote it? That is couldnt possibly be written by some monkey banging away at the keyboard? And yet that's what some of our best scientists don't conclude.

In his book River out of Eden, evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins writes,

The genetic code is... a quaternary code, with four symbols. The machine code of the genes is uncannily computerlike. Apart from differences in jargon, the pages of a molecular-biology journal might be interchanged with those of a computer-engineering journal.

And how about this one from someone who might know a thing or two about computers and computer code?

DNA is like a computer program but far, far more advanced than any software we’ve ever created.
That was Bill Gates in his book The Road Ahead.

If this code, this complicated quaternary digital code, can contain meaningful information on how to create everything from single celled bacteria to me and you, and code it in such a way that we can understand it, why can't it have come from some sort of intelligence?

According to evolutionary theory, life on earth emerged from natural causes through random mutation and natural selection. This isnt a haphazard process. Natural selection is nature's engine for change; the mechanism by which living things create themselves. In The Blind Watchmaker, Professor Dawkins believes in design in nature, but not of the intelligent sort. Somehow, evolutionary biologists stop short of ascribing some sort of intelligence to nature. They just couldnt bring themselves to do it despite the digital code that's staring at them in the face, despite the evidence that the earth is behaving like a self-regulating organism.

When eminent environmental scientist James Lovelock proposed that the earth functions as a kind of superorganism and wrote, probably poetically that "the quest for Gaia is an attempt to find the largest living creature on earth," Darwinists came down hard on him, forcing him to tone down his poetic rhetoric to more 'acceptable' language. Darwinists see the Gaia theory as teleological and therefore invalid. But the reason for the objection to an inherent teleology in the theory is primarily philosophical. In fact objections to the theory smack of an argument from incredulity and not from scientific data refuting the theory. I suppose hard-core Darwinists simply refuse to believe in the existence of an intelligence other than the human sort. Pretty arrogant if you ask me.

Truth be told, proving that nature possesses some sort of intelligence is extremely difficult if one does not accept the information in DNA as a proof. How, for instance, can an alien intelligence communicate? Our measure of intelligence is human. We probably won't recognize an alien intelligence if we see one. We can't assume anything about an alien intelligence since it probably won't be using the same patterns of thought as we do. We can't assume anything about its purposes or motivations or what makes them think. An encounter with a planet-sized alien intelligence was explored in that classic science fiction novel Solaris by Stanislaw Lem. The only people who claim to be able to communicate with 'earth spirits' are shamans who, last I checked, still arent being given PhD's in science.


Note: This blog entry came about because Ive been hanging out these past couple of days at Resty Odon's entertaining and informative ExpectoRants. Particularly this entry and this. (I really have to make that clickable list of sites I frequent on this blog. Soon.)

Oh, and sentence 3)? It doesnt really mean anything. I made it up.

Links to references in the main post above later. Got to go. Friday, man.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Poverty is innocent

Friday night conversation with the officemates turned to that oft-repeated dictum that poverty causes crime. The theory goes that poor people, when their backs are against the wall, would turn to a life of crime, their instincts for survival taking precedence over their adherence to the laws of the land. Who would not steal bread to feed a hungry child?, the theory goes. It's a reasonable assumption to make: Poverty and crime go hand in hand. But I took up the cudgels for poverty. It has been maligned for so long that I felt its innocence needs to be defended and that old canard that poverty causes crime be laid to rest once and for all, at least in our beer-lubricated Friday night conversations.

I didnt have data to back me up. (We were in a bar, what're you gonna do?) But a logical examination of this theory alone is sufficient to blow it to smithereens. IF poverty causes crime, I said, then wouldnt it logically follow that there wouldnt be rich criminals? And yet we see crimes being committed by rich people all the time. If not by rich people, then by people who we can describe as far from being poverty stricken: big-time kidnappers, drug lords, corrupt politicians, corporate criminals, and the list goes on. It might be true that more crimes are committed by poor people, but that is because there are more of them. And compared to the crimes committed by not-poor people, crimes committed by poor people tend to be 'petty' in comparison. A poor man can murder an entire family, but it takes a rich man to murder a population; a poor man can steal several thousand pesos, but it takes a rich man to bankrupt an entire country. Corruption in high places is a major cause of poverty in most countries. In fact, I said, I daresay that since there are more poor people than not-poor people, and given the number of crimes attributed to each strata, we could easily conclude that a higher percentage of not-poor people commit crime within each strata. Although there certainly are poor criminals, not all poor people are. A poor man will not necessarily steal to feed his hungry children. He could take another meaningless and demeaning job, or beg even.

Crime is not an economic problem, but a moral one. And to fight crime, a country has to rediscover the moral basis of its existence, and its leaders have to be moral leaders who lead by example.

Poverty doesnt cause crime. Criminals cause crime. Far from being the cause of crime, I submit that crime is the cause of poverty.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Where did the Creator come from?

Who knows? Who cares? The author of the Vedas didnt seem to think it was an important question.

At first was neither Being nor Nonbeing.
There was not air nor yet sky beyond.
What was its wrapping? Where?
In whose protection?
Was Water there, unfathomable and deep?
There was no death then,
nor yet deathlessness; of night or day
there was not any sign.
The One breathed without breath,
by its own impulse. Other than that was nothing else at all.
Darkness was there, all wrapped
around by darkness, and all was Water
indiscriminate. Then that which was hidden by the Void,
that One, emerging, stirring, through power of Ardor, came to be.

In the beginning Love arose, which was the primal germ
cell of the mind. The Seers, searching in their hearts with wisdom,
discovered the connection of Being in Nonbeing.

A crosswise line cut Being from Nonbeing.
What was described above it, what below?
Bearers of seed there were and mighty
forces, thrust from below and forward move above.

Who really knows? Who can presume to tell it?
Whence was it born? Whence issued this creation?
Even the gods came after its emergence.

Then who can tell from whence it came to be
That out of which creation has arisen, whether it held
it firm or it did not,

He who surveys it in the highest heaven,
He surely knows or maybe He does not!

RIG VEDA 10.129 translated by Raimon Pannikar.

The nature of God is something for philosophers. It's an occupation that is almost futile in that whatever characteristic or attribute they give to God would invariably be wrong. What is 'omniscient'? What is 'omnipotent'? These are just concepts we made up. God is most certainly beyond anything we can attach an attribute to. One? Trinity? These are all meaningless. Does God exist? What is 'exist'? Existing is something for us. We have no reason to conclude that the word even applies to God.

I said the occupation is almost futile. Wanting to know God certainly has its benefits especially if one seeks communion. But to examine this as a purely intellectual exercise is counterproductive as the nature of God is not apprehended intellectually.

We also must not discount the entertainment value of speculating about the nature of God with friends over beer. At the very least it prevents you from talking about Kris Aquino.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Stinky says hi

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Time sure flies. And Im happy to report that his ears did even out. Although you won't see it from this picture. The little tyke just can't seem to stand still.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

The Persistence of Memory

I was taking a shower this morning when I found myself singing the Eleven song from Sesame Street for no reason at all, and with no stimulus to do so. It just popped in my head and I began singing it from beginning to end in falsetto (except for the cows' part, which I rapped in New York city cow, as in the original):
It's a lovely eleven morning
I heard eleven worms yawning
I saw eleven cows sleeping 'midst the buttercups
I said, "How's the cottage cheese?"
And they said, "Oh, dry up!"

Eleven little birdies in the trees
Bright yellow beaks and pinky knees
Eleven chicks hatching
Eleven cats scratching
Eleven's the number for me

Eleven ducklings quacking
Eleven pigs, lips smacking
One two three four five six
Seven eight nine ten eleven
Eleven's the number for me
Don't you see?
Eleven's the number for me!

This got me thinking of what else I remembered, and to my surprise, I remember the Funky Phantom theme song--the chorus at least, but I dont remember the Scooby Doo theme song. There is no reason to remember the Funky Phantom song and not remember the Scooby Doo song, but I had no part in the decision to render the Scooby Doo song locked and inaccessible in my subconscious. All I can come up with was 'Scooby Dooby Doo where are you?' (Apparently Scooby has a middle name: Dooby.) I think Ive seen more Scooby Doo episodes than Funky Phantom episodes, so perhaps Scooby's utter familiarity caused his theme song to be buried deeper than Funky's theme song. Familiarity sometimes renders things invisible, or at least withdrawn from consideration. Live next to an open sewer long enough and you won't be able to notice the shit smell anymore. It's our senses' way of resigning itself to our will. At first, it will tell you to stay away from the sewer by saying, "This place smells like shit. That means germs. Get away!" But if you dont stay away, it will shut the olfactory nerves down as if to say, "Fine. Youre the boss. Stay as long as you please."

I also remember the Hulk theme song, and now that I think about it, it's so whimsical given the Hulk's character that I can't help thinking Stan Lee (or whoever wrote it) was somehow high on pot or bored out of his gourd when he wrote it. The Hulk? Lovable?
Doc Bruce Banner,
Belted by gamma rays,
Changed into the Hulk.
Ain't he unglamorous!
Wreckin' the town
With the power of a bull,
Ain't no monster clown
Who is that lovable.
It's ever lovin' Hulk! Hulk! Hulk!"

I also remember snatches of the Iron Man theme song, the Submariner theme song, and the entire Thor and Captain America theme songs. Captain America's theme is wonderful with its rhymes. The composer was truly inspired. It's almost a tongue twister.

When Captain America throws his mighty shield,
All those who chose to oppose his shield must yield.
If he's led to a fight and a duel is due,
Then the red and white and the blue will come through.
When Captain America throws his mighty shield.
I havent heard these songs in ages, and Im pleasantly surprised that I remember them. There is no possible benefit for me in remembering them, and no survival advantage it could give me. If I try to pick up a chick with, "I can sing the Incredible Hulk theme song," I would most likely not end up procreating, therefore that memory could even possibly be detrimental to the survival of the species. And yet...

In elementary school I have worked hard at memorizing poems and speeches (Henley's Invictus, JFK's inaugural address, etc.), none of which I could recite verbatim now if my life depended on it. And theyre more 'important' in human history and culture than the Spiderman theme song, and yet I have no trouble singing Spiderman, Spiderman does whatever a spider can. How the memory chooses which ones to retain in the 'ready' folder, I have no idea.

If we are the sum total of our memories, then I wonder if I'd still be the same person today if the memory of the Marvel theme songs or the Eleven song were expunged from my subconscious. I'd probably be a lot more dour as those gaps in memory caused by the expunging would be filled by thoughts of dread and despair, because dread and despair are the natural defaults of a living conscious animal. Only higher animals have humor and song and whimsy. They create humor and song and whimsy to fight the dread that threaten to take over. Bertrand Russell wrote "Only within the scaffolding of these truths, only on the firm foundation of unyielding despair, can the soul's habitation henceforth be safely built." It's a safe bet that Bert was no fun at parties. He'd have been a lot more fun if he had heard the Hulk theme song in his youth.

We live in troubling times. It's a tough time to raise kids whose memories will be filled with wars and famines and disasters and Britney Spears. But there's always hope. Several years from now, the despair that threatens to eat at their very core will be thwarted by the unbidden memory of...
Who lives in a pineapple under the sea? (Spongebob Squarepants!)
Absorbent and yellow and porous is he! (Spongebob Squarepants!)
If nautical nonsense be something you wish (Spongebob Squarepants!)
Then drop on the deck and flop like a fish! (Spongebob Squarepants!)
Spongebob Squarepants, Spongebob Squarepants
Spongebob Squarepaa-a-aants!