A Modicum of Thought

a weekly pursuit of depth of thought

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The Challenge

The challenge was simple in nature. To combat the inevitability of slow decline, a good friend of mine and I mutually proposed a weekly sharing of just one item of depth discovered that week. In theory, a simple task – really, if life has become so comfortably numb that a single thought over the span of seven days remains elusive – well then, all the more reason we need to double down on honing the mind to explore what is essential, what is invisible to the eye.

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Get Out the Ark Again

Preface: This week I finish out the trilogy of posts pondering the nature of intelligence and evolution. You already know that I am pondering that intelligence is an aberration and not the apex of evolution. But what if we went one step further and posit that evolution is anti-intelligence, and not just vice versa? And I promise falsely that it will be the last lengthy one for a while.

I always laugh when someone asks the question “What is the meaning of life?” The answer is easy.

But first, why does everyone screw up this question? Life’s meaning is obvious, but existence’s meaning has no defenseable answer. Why do we, even in the 21st century, still insist on an anthropomorphic and geocentric framing of existence by limiting it to life? After all, the mass of all life on earth represents 0.000000000000000000000000000000000000000000001% of the known universe. “What is the MEaning of life?” is what I hear.

But lets take the question at face value and keep with the word “life” – and then the answer becomes easy, and the debate between existentialism, nihilism and absurdism is left at the doorstep with existence hiding under the doormat.

So for the meaning of life, I’ve always thought the answer is a cascading series of purposes. Specifically, life’s purpose is:

  1. Preserve one self, and [** having either ensured that it is preserved OR ensured that it is not possible to preserve **], then..
  2. Preserve one’s progeny, and [** above **], then..
  3. Preserve one’s species, and [** above **], then..
  4. Preserve one’s kingdom, and [** above **], then..
  5. Preserve life, and [** above **], then..
  6. And thus there is no other active+tangible threat for 1-5 evident, then do anything that maximizes an endorphine rush with the least amount of effort.

So there it is. Every action ever taken by any living being can be explained by one of the above successive justifications. I’ve believed this for some 25 years. My love for biology is not strong enough to find out what biological model this fits into, so I can comfortably say that it is homegrown in my own mind until someone clues me in to what theory it actually is.

To break it down, think first of non-humans. The first and second cascades are obvious. But spend a bit of time on YouTube and you’ll find acts of magnanimity across species that will floor you. The final tier is also always a shocker when seen in the animal world – I remember watching a bear repeatedly glissade down the same snow drift for fun once. Then there are dolphins and their bubble rings.

It is interesting that as organisms evolved into more advanced creatures, the more the later levels come into play. Single cell creatures never get past number one. Mammals occasionally reach #4.

Then there came the humans with their intelligence. The arrival of intelligence does seem to upset this balance. The cascading reasons are still intact, but the emphasis on #1 and #2 over that of #3 through #5 have become way out of whack. Homo sapiens’ unusually long child rearing dependency has caused an over balance of energy to focus on just the first two items at the expense of #3 through #5.

Worse, the ability of humans to overwhelm all other life forms with their pursuit of preserving their and their offspring’s lives is actively detrimental to all of life, virus like (The Matrix). Yikes, the cascading tiers are beginning to wobble.

So with that long setup, here is this week’s modicum of thought.

Evolution is anti intelligence

When writing the previous modicum, I began to wonder – is evolution naturally anti intelligence? Does evolution actively hold back the arrival of intelligence? After all, the evidence is clear – life persists without intelligence (as evidenced by 1+ billion years of evolution) and yet life is destroyed with intelligence (as evidence by the destruction of species in the last 100,000 thousand years with the Holocene Extinction).

It is as if life/evolution has stop gaps built in to prevent intelligence from evolving, and the evolution of homo sapiens was an accidental slip up.

This runs counter to everything we’ve been taught, with the anthropocentic homo sapien at the end of a chain of fish and monkies.

But hear me out.

Think of how collective intelligence and specifically emergence (an awesome link btw) evolves from very simple encoding. Soldier ants instructions are simple, but collectively transforms into complex intelligence. Presumably such form of intelligence has existed for millions of years and many species, and have been fleshed out in detail through evolution.

But I’m not going where you think I may be going with that thought. Instead, think of DNA being like the ants in emergent intelligence. Simple encoding that collectively generates an intelligence – but intelligence without consciousness.

With that perspective, all of life is a general case of emergence from simple encoding. And the evolutionary influences exuding from DNA for Darwinistic natural selection is the intelligence built into the encoding. Put simply, evolution is a form of emergent intelligence.

And so, what if the avoidance of higher intelligence is encoded directly into DNA?

Yes, could DNA be explicitly designed (in an emergent fashion) to limit intelligence, under the assumption that it is a failure in the balance of the 6 cascading meanings of life? Is it a fifth tenet to darwinism in which higher intelligence is actively suppressed as a sign of evolutionary failure?

This would explain a ton – particularly the questions raised in that previous blog post.

How would this emerge?

You can imagine baby steps to intelligence resulting in self annihilation (e.g. over consumption of resources) such that intelligence has specifically been identified in DNA as anti-evolutionary.

Sure, any individual creature with an intelligent edge will have a competitive advantage that can be selected against. But any selective advantage in the group or species will quickly get stamped out by overwhelming their environment faster than they can grow their intelligence to adapt to the destruction of their intelligence.

Here is a hypothetical to help visualize: Think of anteaters suddenly becoming one notch smarter, and they use simple tricks to lead more ants into their bellies. This smartness propagates, and soon within five generations, most of the anteaters are ant eating machines and have wiped out every anthill to be found. Malthus would sigh. The anteaters are not yet smart enough to migrate or adapt, and so they die off, having become paper clip making (er… ant eating) machines. Meanwhile, a single automaton ant catches a ride from a passing stork and repopulates. And presumably, an anteater makes it through with the reinforced stupidity gene to lower the chance this mess will happen again.

OK, so it is a little harder to imagine this last and very important point to my premise, but it just needs to be successful once – that’s the thing with evolution. The extension of crab mentality to intelligence is another palpable counter influence to runaway intelligence that is built into DNA.

And yes, I’m also ignoring for now the disheartening realization that if runaway intelligence is not rewarded and even perhaps suppressed by evolutionary forces, what does that mean looking forward for the human race – is the Flynn Effect a momentary blip?

So – there is an extinction black ball in Bostrom’s urn of technology balls that is labeled “intelligence” that floats to the surface, waiting to be picked first for most creatures. Somehow we humans avoided picking that ball up in our evolution. Quite arguably, the ball was just picked up too late, and the play out of the extinction event is just delayed but inevitable.

Like all evolutionary thought processes, just imagine very tiny mutation dead-ends occurring to allow for an ever growing DNA code base that records the key takeaways.

Back to the Cascades

Now further, going back to the cascading meaning of life at the beginning of this post, what if the emergent (note: not conscious, just emergent) intelligence built into DNA by evolution, actually left an opening for higher intelligence explicitly to solve cascades #3 through #5.

So far, life rarely gets to #’s 3 through 5 – and with humans, those cascades are explicitly downgraded to the point of detriment to all others (i.e. Holocene Extinction). But ultimately life will not succeed past the lifespan of our star unless we become interstellar, and that appears thus far to be only possible with higher intelligence (although I can be convinced otherwise).

And thus, what if humanity evolved only because of the volume of mutations collectively were hit in the numbers game, that it overwhelmed the anti-intelligence pressure and was made to explicitly to solve the interstellar issue in order to achieve true cascade #5 – despite the intermediary extinction before reaching interstellar.

This last thought step is hard to see happening without an immovable force (see next section), but still, that is a lot of generations of DNA at work.

Immovable Force

If you made it this far, bravo. That’s my modicum of the week, but I have a small addendum for fun – so keep going for a laugh.

While pursuing this thought, my mind was still playing catch up to the idea that DNA could have emergent coding to actively dethrone intelligence as a competitive edge.

While trying to come to terms with intelligence being actively thwarted in the evolutionary tree, I fell into the easier trap to explain why, over the more complicated emergence theory.

The easy trap? An immovable force – yeah, God. And it made for some funny scenarios.

One was that I found myself being convinced that there is a higher being who has the expressed interest in not creating man – of stopping higher intelligence from happening. The biblical words should perhaps really be:

For six days God created existence, including all sorts of forms of life.

On the seventh, God rested, and man evolved while God was off having crumpets and tea and otherwise not paying attention.

God is going to be pissed next week when he sees what man has done with the little playground on earth. Get out the ark.

Amended GEnesis

(“Get out the ark” was added by my eldest daughter to give credit where credit is due).

I love this image so much I had to share it – and strangely, it rings more true to me.

Also, along these lines, add in a anti-intelligence force into the simulation argument and it equally leads to upended thinking. Perhaps the simulation’s motivation is explicitly (and here is where I fall into my own anthropocentric grave) to test non-intelligence evolution, and we were anomaly #213,498,347.

Alright – you made it. Back to preserving one self and finding endrophine rushes in our comfortable world while we progress the holocene extinction event. Perhaps a game of marbles? I have a black one right… over…. here….

Missing Life’s End Game

I continue this week with part two of the questions for evidence of runaway intelligence. Last week I was focused on why runaway intelligence happened – particularly, why didn’t it happen for hundreds of millions of years. This week I ponder more on why we do not see more evidence of it elsewhere.

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Runaway Intelligence Spark

Going back to world of science this week and the next, I’ve been revisiting what are the two biggest mysteries in life to me (drawing a bit on the previous modicum on Drake’s Equation).

  1. Why did human-level intelligence take so long to evolve?
  2. Why do we not see evidence of runaway intelligence in the visible universe?

The reason why I like these two questions are they are pretty fundamental questions on life in existence. But at the same time, they are logical questions that should have some fairly defensible scientific solutions to resolve them – but are heretofore unanswered. We should and hopefully one day will know the answers – unlike so many other bold why questions just a step further from these two that will ultimately be unanswerable. As such, they are the biggest low hanging fruit out there for science to pursue – if I had nine lives, this would be two of those lives.

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The Premise of a Big Goal

We all know that tasks fill the void of time and energy based on the allotment given to them. I also have argued that many of modern society’s ills are caused by the fact that we now have too much truly discretionary time in our lives. That combination presents a powerful death spiral to frenetic mundanity, i.e. the curse of the soccer parent. There is many a day when I seem to have a front seat (admittedly driver side) view of that spiral. But painfully and thankfully, my fellow soccer moms’ insistence that “it’s for the kids, your most important creation, so don’t worry” has limited staying power in my battle against comfortable numbness.

So what are the tricks for getting off the freeway to mediocrity? That could be a long list, and is the topic of many of my posts. But for this week, I have really been thinking about the concept of having a Big Goal (think, like hiking the PCT), with the capitalization being of utmost importance to the concept.

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Mirror, Mirror

I  am not sure I even had the choice this week as to what thought would be most prevalent in my mind because throughout this week, the same word keeps hitting me over the head. The word is mirroring – specifically the tool in which one person mirrors the actions or thoughts of another.

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The lies we tell ourselves…

First please bear with a prefatory rant to help set the context.

I’ve always struggled with Halloween, and each year it gets worse. I enjoy embracing the Latin world’s Day of the Dead to remind us of deaths clutches waiting right around the corner; it’s a healthy reminder that is celebrated in a way that is not morbid and yet still respectful. But Halloween… it touches upon all the things I don’t like – dressing up to be something you are not, asking/demanding candy, commercialization. A silver lining is that you get out of your house and is the one chance to meet your neighbors – but then under the cloak of darkness and the falsehood of costume. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a fan of pageantry and tradition, just not falsehood.

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On Boredom

We have a saying in our family, “If you are bored, then clearly you suffer from a lack of imagination.” with the immediate implication that you need to get to work at improving your imagination. We use this statement to directly combat the dreaded “I’m bored” complaints from the kids, to which our kids keenly learn not to say at an early age.

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Drake Equation, Revisited

Simulation Argument aside…. you know, is it about time that we seriously consider revisiting the Drake Equation and adjust some of the numbers with new knowledge?

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