DNA on my sleeve

DNA on my sleeve

This tattoo is famous. Well not really, but it is in a book. Carl Zimmer is an author who started a blog for science tattoos a while ago, and this past year he published a book of all the science tattoos! Long story short, my tattoo is in there. It’s called “Science Ink: Tattoos of the Science Obsessed”.

Göbekli Tepe. word.

IF YOU’RE DEBATING WHETHER OR NOT TO ACTUALLY READ THIS POST,

Read it.

Taking a break from my summary of Kurzweil’s book, I’d like to discuss  this INCREDIBLY interesting article, with myself (or anyone who feels compelled to comment), about Göbekli Tepe. My uncle mentioned this article to me while he was visiting, and sent it to me earlier this month (Thanks Uncle Jim!). The article was published in The New Yorker issue December 19 & 26, 2011, titled The Sanctuary written by Elif Batuman. To read it online, you may need to subscribe to The New Yorker. But I’d say it’s worth it, at least just for this article.

Göbekli Tepe is comprised of “more than sixty multi-ton T-shaped limestone pillars, most of them engraved with basreliefs of dangerous animals”. This site was discovered back in the sixties by someone who could not have predicted what they *may* have stumbled upon. Now, archaeologists who have dedicated their lives to these monuments are starting to understand new, brilliant ancient possibilities.

This article discusses the belief/evidence that agriculture changed the human species most extraordinarily and forever.

The perspectives in this article imply that the invention of agriculture might have been the most destructive evolutionary advance that homo sapiens ever made. It’s hard to see it that way, standing in the shoes of 2012, but take your head (or feet) out of this era to fully appreciate the arguments presented. You might start to wonder.

The big question, what kind of (human) world was Göbekli Tepe created in?

…because the archaeologists interviewed in this article suggest Göbekli Tepe could have been created within the Garden of Eden.

“WHOA WHOA WHOA. WAIT. WHAT? THE GARDEN OF EDEN? I THOUGHT THAT PLACE WAS MADE UP! RABBLE RABBLE RELIGIOUS FANATICS RABBLE RABBLE RABBLE RABBLE GOD DOES NOT—“

Hold your horses people. This article does not imply the existence of *a Judeo-Christian God*, or any god, in any way.

Here is an opinion of the Old Testament that you should like to be acquainted with: the stories of the Old Testamant (or the “first half” of the Christian bible) are metaphors. Allegorical tales to express lessons learned, or to be learned, concerning the human condition. Does this article suggest Adam and Eve were real people? No. It does not. Is this clear? Great.

Göbekli Tepe was built during the time of hunter-gatherers, approximately 11,000 years old, or about “six and a half thousand years older than the Great Pyramid”.

So what made that switch happen? How and why did we evolve past being hunter-gatherers? What made agriculture so important?

You might begin to say, agriculture permitted surplus and supported the growth of technology, all because people were no longer roaming around like a bunch of…gypsies. Goddamn gypsies. YOU HEARD ME!

If this has been your former consensus on the nature of agriculture, don’t stop reading!

As it has stood for decades among archaeologists and anthropologists, the chain of events goes hunter-gatherers -> agriculture -> religious practice. Now some believe we have understood it all wrong, and Göbekli Tepe is the key to proving it.

“The idea of a religious monument built by hunter-gatherers contradicts most of what we thought we knew about religious monuments and about hunter-gatherers. Hunter-gatherers are traditionally believed to have lacked complex symbolic systems, social hierarchies, and the division of labor, three things you probably need before you can build a twenty-two-acre megalithic temple. Formal religion, meanwhile, is supposed to have appeared only after agriculture produced such hierarchical social relations as required a cosmic backstory to keep them going…The findings at Göbekli Tepe suggest that we have the story backward — that it was actually the need to build a sacred site that first obliged hunter-gatherers to organize themselves as a workforce, to spend long periods of time in once place, to secure a stable food supply, and eventually to invent agriculture.

Boom. Smack. Crack. Dazzle. Isn’t that a fascinating concept!??!!

Alright, some people may feel that proposing that the described “need to build a sacred site” implies that the proposer believes in a powerful godlike force that had to have prompted the “need”. Do yourself a favor and don’t jump to conclusions. Remember, you are taking yourselves out of the shoes of 2012, and diving into a world of unbiased human curiosity where you can use your *IMAGINATION*, just as a kind yellow sponge once suggested.

A “need to build a sacred site” can, and I believe should be considered an evolved psychology, practically coded into us. Why else do you think religion started? And by religion I mean my definition of religion, which is a structural organization of beliefs and rituals. Broader term than a lot of people think.

“Mysteriously, the pillars appear to have been buried, deliberately and all at once, around 8200 B.C., some thirteen hundred years after their construction.”

So after congregating at these same pillars for 1300 YEARS, there was a mass effort to quickly bury them and leave those 1300 years in the past behind forever. It don’t take no genius to figure out there was a large-scale, rapid shift in lifestyle and belief that occurred during the time of the burial. Wouldn’t you agree?

So what happened?

Agriculture happened.

WHY AGRICULTURE MAY HAVE BEEN “THE BIGGEST MISTAKE”

Many assume that agriculture was NOT a mistake because of all of the incredible benefits and advances it prompted… but here’s the sad news. Life did not necessarily improve after the dawn of agriculture, at all. Across the board “compared with hunter-gatherers, early farmers had more anemia and vitamin deficiencies, died younger, had worse teeth, were more prone to spinal deformity, and caught more infectious diseases, as a result of living close to other humans and to livestock.” Bummmmmmmer. Hunter-gatherers even worked less than us, “typically spending less than twenty hours a week obtaining food”. Ask any farmer, that ain’t happening to a farmer and ain’t never happened to no farmer.

The farming model is also incredibly risky considering the different environments and climates around the globe. When ancient people settled down to start farming, each person became dependent on the crop turnout. Brutal storms and pests are the deciders of a community’s fate.

Before farming, the earth was (more or less) in balance with all earthlings (teeheehee). Farmers were the first people to “take power” of the world. Man said “screw you God, or whatever you are!” and manipulated the earth to reap benefits for man and man alone. But once man met Abundance and Increase, there was no turning back.

“By then they were locked in – they had to farm more and more land just to keep everyone alive. Deriving strength from their large, poorly nourished numbers, the farmers gradually killed off most of the hunter-gatherers and drove the rest from their land.”

Agriculture is described as “the origin of the ‘gross social and sexual inequality, the disease and despotism, that curse our existence.’ “

Before, I mentioned that archaeologists believe this may be what was considered the Garden of Eden. This is why:

  • It is right near the city of Urfa, which is acknowledged as the prophet Abraham’s birthplace
  • An abundance of snake imagery…to say the least…
  • This area between the Tigris and the Euphrates has been rightfully characterized as  “a paradise for hunter-gatherers”
And then there is the actually story itself, the allegory for the history. To sum it up without rambling…
“In Eden, man and woman lived as companions, unashamed of their nakedness, surrounded by friendly animals…The fruit of the Tree of Knowledge, like the first fruits of cultivation, brought on an immediate, irrevocable curse. Many now had to work the earth, to eat of it all the days of his life…God’s terrible words to Eve – ‘I will greatly increase your pains in childbearing; in pain you will give birth to children. Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you’ – may refer to a decline in women’s health and status produced, in early agricultural societies, by the economic need to have children who would till and inherit the land…The institution of private property, meanwhile, made paternal certainty a vital concern, and monogamy, particularly for women, was strictly enforced.”
I love the idea that farming was the end of legitimate sexual freedom. What an interesting concept! The article goes on to explain data supporting this concept. They argue that “promiscuity had once fostered cooperation and reduced violence among our tribal ancestors”. Polygamy is certainly a crazy idea today, but that is only because of how our species has culturally, and now biologically evolved.
Overall I’ve concluded that the story of the Garden of Eden does not conflict with the metaphor of the Neolithic revolution. They run smoothly in sync with each other. The story of Cain and Abel continues in the same fashion. The Old Testament is a poetic recording of human cultural development and revolution.
At this point in my life, I don’t disagree with any of this article. That is, I believe in the integrity of the research and studies presented in this article.
*phewf*
Whaddapost.

Chapter Two: A Theory of Technology Evolution

This book is so jam packed with valuable information, I am taking notes. Genuine education.

Kurzweil opens this chapter explaining The Law of Accelerating Returns, “which describes the acceleration of the pace of and the exponential growth of the products of an evolutionary process”.

[[[[[ As I start to hone in on what I want to write about tonight, I easily notice how reading Kurzweil opens up new channels of scientific curiosity and understanding. He thinks, and writes very logically, yet comes up with these incredible notions. I marvel at history’s revolutionary scientists who conjured up virgin ideas, had no one to depend on but themselves, but nevertheless relentlessly explored exactly what they didn’t know. But there’s a logic to Kurzweil, he’s not thinking up the unknown. He’s predicting things based off of facts**. He’s preaching what man has always accepted, but that which often goes unthought of: we humans will always (try to) improve ourselves, and we will use technology to do it. From fire to computer chips, technology is our endless ladder. ]]]]]

The Law of Accelerating Returns is a simple idea, though with over two pages dedicated to summarizing its principles.

I’ll just summarize my notes. This book is so dense, damn.

Evolution applies positive feedback

If anyone doubts this concept, please read at least the first two chapters of this book, or maybe just my last chapter post. Evolution snowballs, it accumulates. Add technology on top of that, and the snowball just rolls faster, goes further. This law essentially defines Moore’s Law which I spoke about in my last chapter post. Exponential growth is everywhere. Especially in evolution, and especially in technology. Evolution. Technology. Just a year ago, I never imagined how these words fit together.

Every so often, I just GOTTA quote this guy. I literally (figuratively) feel like I’m getting slapped in the face with truth. Literally (figuratively).

By the time of the Singularity; there won’t be a distinction between humans and technology. This is not because humans will have become what we think of as machines today, but rather machines will have progressed to be like humans and beyond. Technology will be the metaphorical opposable thumb that enables our next step in evolution. Progress (further increases in order) will then be based on thinking processes that occur at the speed of light rather than in very slow electrochemical reactions… Over time, the “order” of the information embedded in the evolutionary process (the measure of how well the information fits a purpose, which in evolution is survival) increases.

Evolution works through indirection

What created technology? Humans. What created humans? Evolution. What created evolution? I couldn’t begin to explain (future post topic?). What I mean to point out is that there is a chain of events. One could not have happened without the event prior. Remember those six epochs?

An evolutionary process is NOT a closed system

I don’t think I can summarize this one half as nicely as Kurzweil:

“Evolution draws upon the chaos in the larger system in which it takes place for its options for diversity. Because evolution also builds on its own increasing order, in an evolutionary process order increases exponentially.”

The “returns” of an evolutionary process increase exponentially

The rate of exponential growth is exponential

Yes. Exponential this, exponential that.

The process of evolution, such as allowed rate of mutation, has itself evolved over time

Endless positive-feedback loops. I actually started laughing reading through these principles, it was almost jokish. Exponential is. Exponential is exponential. Exponentially. GAHHHH!

The principle described above applies to biological & technological evolutionary processes.

A specific paradigm generates exponential growth until its potential is exhausted

This then causes a paradigm shift, enabling exponential growth to continue

Technological paradigms represent the creation, explosion, and demise of outdatING inventions (outdatED would imply our current technology will escape the inevitable fate brought on by new technology). Remember when computers that filled up whole buildings were incredible? Remember how cool a camera phone was? We all recognize technology falls in and out of the spotlight, but we never think about the curve on a graph that it makes. I knew this concept, but I did not think about it. I SHOULD TELL DOOGS.

.Image

You don’t need to understand what the text says, but look at the single s-curve at the top left. The life of a technological paradigm exists on an s curve. First the invention is invented. Then it takes some time to get the ball rolling (lowering production costs, increasing access, more investors, yadayada), which is represented by the left plateau of an s curve. THEN EXPONENTIAL GROWTH duh. They’re called fads for a reason you know 😉 And then there is a plateauing effect as the technology reaches it’s maximum usefulness, or coolness. This describes The Life Cycle of a Paradigm.

FUN FACT: The time to adopt new paradigms is going down by half each decade. Think about it.

NOW I WOULD LIKE TO BRIEFLY MENTION FRACTALS.

It is at this point I wonder whether anyone is going to continue reading through this. My vote, YOU SHOULD. Now I know the word fractals is scary, trust me I’ve been there, until I read this chapter actually. My first memory of this word: I remember being on vacation with my family somewhere, and we were stopped outside, somewhere, and we were looking at some sort of awesome tree. At least my dad pointed out that it was awesome. Anyway, the tree’s pattern of growth and structure was beautiful, and the pattern was visually systematic, I could see that much. But my dad kept saying “…fractals!….incredible!”, and thus I was unknowingly introduced to fractals.

Fractals answer questions like “how is it possible for the genome, which contains comparatively little information, to produce a system such as a human, which is vastly more complex than the genetic information that describes it?”

Kurzweil describes two types of fractal designs, Deterministic and Probabilistic.

Deterministic fractals describe when a single design element, an initiator, produces new elements called generators, which then in turn become initiators what are also replaced with elements of a generator. “Each new generation of fractal expansion adds apparent complexity but requires no additional design information.” Deterministic fractals will always look the same as they initiate and generate.

This is unlike Probabilistic fractals, which are not as cut and dry as the previously mentioned. These represent the natural effects of random chance and uncertainty. Probablistic fractal designs generally have a more organic experience. For example, they may be used in programming to design a natural landscape, etc. This is because the probability of the application of each generator (created by the initiators) is less than 1. Just think about biological evolution. Why bacteria? Why DNA? Why nerves, why bones, why why why? Sometimes, things are chosen from a larger possible pool for no good reason. “A key aspect of a probabilistic fractal is that it enables the generation of a great deal of apparent complexity, including extensive varying detail, from a relatively small amount of design information.”

SO IF YOU READ THIS you now may understand fractals a little better! From reading a blog! It wasn’t so hard, eh? Thanks for reading! I’ll be posting up again real soon.

** Riddle me this: How is fact? Who is fact?

The Singularity is Near: Chapter One

Recently, I have discovered the world of Ray Kurzweil. For those of you who know who I’m talking about, you may understand my amazement in his ideas. For those of you who don’t know much about him, I’d suggest looking into his research, companies, and predictions into the future. I’ve definitely heard varying opinions of this guy, but I don’t think anyone can doubt he is incredibly genius. His most famous and most recent book is titled The Singularity is Near.

I have just finished the first two chapters of this chunky book, and my jaw continues to hit the ground harder than the time before. Sometimes when you study a particular piece of literature, or when you read about an exceptionally intelligent human being, you find yourself dumbstruck when you can’t produce a word of opposition. A huge part of science is having doubt, educated doubt. But sometimes it’s hard to find the doubt, like with Kurzweil.

What I mean to say, is that this guy is tremendously credible.

SO WHAT IS THE SINGULARITY?

In a word or two,  it is when humans transcend biology. Not to be dramatic or anything…

NOT TO SAY KURZWEIL DOESN’T HAVE HIS QUIRKS. Part of the reason I’m reading The Singularity is Near is to develop a personal, informed opinion of this futurist. I can’t say I always dedicate enough time to fully understanding an author’s background, but this time it’s really worth it. Because if what this guy is saying is all true, in my lifetime we are going to see some unthinkably amazing events change the course of human history permanently. This is the stuff of sci-fi dreams. Jaws, on the ground.

So I’m going to do you all a favor, those of you who would consider it a favor. I am going to dedicate a post to every chapter of this book. It’s astounding information, and I cannot shut up about it. I just warned my roommates I will be continuing to blab about this book, probably at ever exponentiating rates of excitement. Our reality is exponential. Don’t you wanna know why?? EH??

CHAPTER ONE

THE SIX EPOCHS

Kurzweil opens by explaining the significance of exponential growth. Right now many growth predictions have been made using linear models, so people following those models have a harder time understanding how we will adapt over time. An exponential curve starts out with relatively linear growth, so growth data (of most any kind) look like a linear model. Kurzweil proposes we are reaching the “knee of the curve”, where exponential growth becomes subjectively visible. I buy it, I remember less than 10 years ago getting my first cell phone. It was a flip phone, those were reeeeal cool at one time. Here’s an idea, brainstorm what kind of technological advances your parents have witnessed in their lifespan. Now compare it to this current generation. That is one way to observe exponential advancements in your every day life. Also the transcription of the human genome. Some scientists thought it would take at least a century. Took 15 years.

So lemme talk about these epochs. They essentially describe the process of evolution, and the stages of increasing order. Each epoch leads to the one that follows. It’s the history of biological AND technological evolution.

1. Physics and Chemistry: information in atomic structures

2. Biology: information in DNA

3. Brains: information in neural patterns

4. Technology: information in hardware and software designs

5. Merger of Technology and Human Intelligence: the methods of biology (including human intelligence) are integrated into the (exponentially expanding) human technology base

6. The Universe Wakes Up: Patterns of matter and energy in the universe become saturated with intelligent process and knowledge

THIS IS A RIDICULOUSLY ASTOUNDING THEORY.

I could spend a long time writing about each of these epochs, but instead I will try to briefly discuss 5 and 6. The Singularity (which Kurzweil actually does capitalize in his book) will happen in the fifth epoch.

“It will result from the merger of the vast knowledge embedded in our own brains with the vastly greater capacity, speed, and knowledge-sharing ability of our technology. The fifth epoch will enable our human-machine civilization to transcend the human brain’s limitations of a mere hundred trillion extremely slow connections.”

You just go ahead and argue with that shit, psh. Where would you start? It appears infallible. Our access to, portable storage and retrieval of information from around the globe is already pretty incredible if you think about it. What, do you think things are just gonna stop becoming more easily accessible, at faster speeds, faster rates? EXPONENTIAL GROWTH MAN. Technological growth is not going to stop with the coolest iPhone ever, you know that.

At this point, you may be questioning the validity of all this exponential growth found in every single aspect of technological evolution. Don’t worry, if you read the book, WHICH YOU JUST SHOULD, Kurzweil provides COUNTLESS tangible examples of specific growth. He also refers to Moore’s law, which itself is defined as an empirical law meaning that it always ends up being true. Moore’s law, in terms of computer technology, states that “the number of units that can be packed into an integrated circuit of a given size doubles every eighteen months/ two years or so.There is an increase in computation speed, memory size, and per unit cost.

Very important law.

So that’s epoch five, here’s epoch six.

I’m just going to quote Kurzweil directly for the full effect of his words.

“I will discuss this topic in chapter 6, under the heading ‘…on the Intelligent Destiny of the Cosmos.’ In the aftermath of the Singularity, intelligence, derived from its biological origins in human brains and its technological origins in human ingenuity, will begin to saturate the matter and energy in its midst. It will achieve this by reorganizing matter and energy to provide an optimal level of computation…to spread out from its origin on earth.

We currently understand the speed of light as a bounding factor on the transfer of information. Circumventing this limit has to be regarded as highly speculative, but there are hints that this constraint may be able to be superseded. If there are even subtle deviations, we will ultimately harness this superluminal ability. Whether our civilization infuses the rest of the universe with its creativity and intelligence quickly or slowly depends on its immutability. In any even the “dumb” matter and mechanisms of the universe will be transformed into exquisitely sublime forms of intelligence, which will constitute the sixth epoch in the evolution of patterns of information.

This is the ultimate destiny of the Singularity and of the universe.”

This is the stuff of sci-fi dreams.

First post

I’ve been meaning to start one of these for a while. Then tonight I wrote something that I absolutely wanted to share with, well anyone. But that will come after a brief introduction to my “bit”. I was inspired to write as I recalled my first philosophy lecture today and a tremendous professor I’m so happy to be studying with. I can tell already there are things I *currently* disagree with him on, but I am looking forwards to excellent debates and being exposed to new schools of thought that could possibly turn my ideas upside down. I also can’t argue with his method of interrogation. And I do mean interrogation. When students ask questions (which is the entire structure of the course), he breaks down students’ sentences to demonstrate how words often fall short of explaining “truth”, or simply are used incorrectly. So tonight before bed I was thinking about if/when I can engage in conversation with this professor, what would I say? I don’t want to waste time arguing semantics, and I already know how damn good he is at that.

I should mention, the class is called “Contemporary Moral Issues”. Though today we barely touched the idea of morality, we did stumble upon a very focal idea. **I’m going to call this professor “Doogs”, because this is my blog and I can write whatever I want** Doogs wrote on the board first thing “Ethics is personal”, which is a concept I’m well acquainted with. It means each person’s definition of ethics (or anything at all) is detached from any kind of universal reality which would link each person’s definition to one another. Yeah, I get it. BUT as of this point in my life, I do believe in a universal moral reality. Hey! Maybe Doogs will prove me wrong by the end of the semester, or this month. But right now, I think science can do a lot more to provide evidence for the concept of moral truths.

So this bit is my first stab at what I would say to Doogs. I’d say it’s much more poetic than my actual speech, but it allows me to step outside the rigidity that typical language sometimes encourages. I’m sure that is why poetry came to be in the first place.

Human Connectivity

Then what about society? Why society? If we are all separated (even if only by tissue, by atoms…by our definition of separate), then why do we come together? And I DO mean “we”; the collective, abstract idea of “we” that has defined the human spirit, which I feel to define as wholly good. There are universal truths, as well as universal exceptions. If I’ve learned anything from quantum physics, true and false are not the only two categories. Possibilities are endless, and one possible outcome was society. What does the word Harmony mean for you?

It feels great to write!