Follow by Email

Sunday, 3 July 2016

No, but seriously: What is “Life”?

Attempts to define life in terms of humans thinking about defining life in terms of egotistical individuals, genes, species or whatnot have failed for what should be obvious reasons.
Life is a natural phenomenon no different to any other.

It can be regarded as an abstract concept referring to an energy exchange process rather than any given chemical, object, individual or concrete material arrangement.

The temptation to define life as such has been merely a bias of the definer, of our individual consciousness taking place in an individual body. While bodies may exhibit life, as they are alive, they are not as such life itself, as life itself does not operate in any significant way on a given object: not individuals, nor species, nor size scales, chemicals nor arrangements of matter. The failure of life at any of these levels (think individual death, species extinction or even mass extinctions) does not overall hinder the process of life through time, for as long as any single thread of life is unbroken e.g. a monophyletic tree.

Illusions of object dependency or the specifics of life expression are the result of a specific form of life i.e. humans, trying to define life which inevitably does pass through them. A life form looking upon itself and others unlike it, trying to define it all. Many biases emerge.

No object as such satisfies the shockingly simple prerequisites of the life process in abstraction, that is, survival at one level (genetic, individual, ecosystem or other) for reproduction at another (most often thought of at the individual level; reproduction at one level is merely survival at another, so the two concepts are subtly the same thing, for example reproduction of the individual is survival of the population, or reproduction of the cell is survival of the individual).

Evolution transcends these discrete objects. It has transcended even DNA, where any combination of RNA and intermediate molecules have shaped up the processes of heredity and the production of biologicals based on amino acids. The process of life simply does not adhere to a strict form that we have tried to impose on it, be it a set of base chemicals, protein products, anatomical setups or behavioural assumptions.

Regarding the simple prerequisites of the life process, energy transfer via persistence at one level for reproduction (whether for maintenance of the life process, or for expansion purposes which are dependent on the environment and hence not purely inherent to the life process in isolation) at another level:

These conditions may be ascribed to non-life processes in the current sense, for example products of humans, artificial intelligence, inorganic type items. In this case the definition ca be freely adapted. Either these are equally part of the life process, especially if they are energetic descendants of initial life forms like humans; or just treated based on the conclusion of the definer’s (humans’) inherent bias regarding what is to be acceptably taken under the simple and generic umbrella definition of the life process.

Essentially, “What is life?” passes through the human lens. The bulk of the answer separating life from non-life is therefore a reflection of human self-reflection, validation and perception. In reality, such steep distinction between the living and non-living does not exist. For, as per the start of the essay, life is a natural process fundamentally no different to any other in the universe.

Image credit: Scott Eaton,

Wednesday, 16 March 2016

The Agenda of Those Who Praise You

Is praise for personal success just guised reinforcement for doing something that benefits others while hurting that individual? Often successful people aren’t themselves happy per se, truly, genuinely fulfilled with the object of their success, whatever it may be – so why do they seek it?

Reinforcement and praise is given by others, by society as a whole for doing certain things such as working hard and being generous. These things clearly benefit others, and that is why they should encourage it. They also often come at the expense of the individual doing it; they suffer ill health from pursuing those activities, mental health included, and take the brunt of things upon themselves. Another example of this in action is entrepreneurship – what is entrepreneurship? Why has it been glamourised so heavily?

Simply, entrepreneurship is that act of doing absolutely whatever it takes, often unpleasant activities no one else would derive any happiness from, to do things which are going to benefit others. Big corporations simply bypass the difficulties associated with entrepreneurship by glamourising that lifestyle as something for the ‘little people on the ground’ to do, in exchange for some insignificant items such as luxury cars, etc. that that particular demographic is likely to value. It’s simply a branch of altruism meant to maximise group benefit off the back of a minority of individuals.

That individuals who do genuinely enjoy doing sacrificial things such as entrepreneurship exist is not to be doubted. However, many others most definitely do not enjoy those things. Even outwardly happy entrepreneurs are simply happy in an abstract sense, that the success gives them fuel to keep going. However, they have reported basic dissatisfactions and various kinds of mental illness such as depression.

In a way, this is not dissimilar to the genius/madman example, where great feats go hand in hand with great challenges or suffering. In this context, it would make sense that the amount of praise is correlated with the amount of suffering or difficulty an individual would have in attaining that feat.

So, who really calibrates your happiness and success? You, or everyone else?

Friday, 26 February 2016

Are you ready to leave your body?

Imagine you have just upgraded your mind, brain or otherwise consciousness to an objectively superior carcass – a transhumanist dream come true. You no longer have bodily limitations as before, such as running out of breath or not being able to find the nearest toilet.

How would you relate to your world, a world built around our previous biological bodies? Would your mind quickly adapt to its new senses, or be left alienated and unsatisfied, still tethered to the ghost of your body past?

What would waking up become, now that the potent touch of sunlight no longer connects to your post-biological self? Homes, laden with accessories and structure to suit a feeble human body, now rendered all but obsolete. What’s a kitchen if you don’t need to squeeze chemical energy out of food? What’s a table with chairs if you don’t get tired or need to make the most of feeding and socialising in a designated space? What’s a bathroom for you now that failing skin need no longer be bathed, and organic dirt cleansed, nor teeth brushed, not bladders emptied?

What’s a street lamp or a morning alarm without limited eyesight and uncomputerised brains? Indeed, what is much of everything to a post-human, when the world was built for humans? The world as we know it, as timeless and glorious as it may appear, all but fails to bear any significance to our augmented selves, the future human body.

This is surely nothing new, but what is different, and so very important, is that we understand just how connected we really are to our present biological selves, and how our minds are deeply tuned to that – how merely handling our minds as separate from the body would render the first post-human isolated, mad and suicidal; an outcome surely anathema to transhumanist aspirations.

Imagine that the biological body connections that we have to each other are overlooked in your upgrading process. What does body language become when your eyes are cameras, and your skin cold? Would anyone try to find your heartbeat? What will restaurants offer when your energy is replenished through a battery, and what activities will your bedroom evolve to host?

If you were the first, would it break your heart to be approached by someone who asks “Are you alive? Prove you’re alive”, only to find that your empathic connection that previously spared you having to answer those questions, has now been broken. Indeed, we have no way of knowing that anyone else shares our consciousness, other than the similarity of our individual experiences and communication with them, whether bodily or mental. Will we have to synchronise our transition to an extent, to prevent breaking off from humanity?

Are you ready?

[The purpose of this thought experiment is to stir debate about how connected we really are to our bodies, and whether our mind alone in a different body would be satisfied having spent all its evolution getting used to our bodies now. I hint that we would not survive in a sudden transition to post-biological bodies; however, transhumanist ambitions in that direction are perfectly justified and desirable, and the key to success lies in a mindful transition that does not overlook our current state.]

Saturday, 9 January 2016

Where does intuition come from?

Intuition is the complex, as of yet unexplained phenomenon which enables people to gain knowledge without any direct or obvious pathway from raw, disconnected components, to a unified, coherent idea. The source of intuition is unknown, and therefore knowledge gathered through it is often questioned for its usefulness, validity and accuracy.

The source and process of intuition can be viewed in a mathematical way. I propose a viewpoint, not my own or original, that takes into account our human perspective and its relationship with the physical reality truths.

This can be boiled down to our own nature, and its necessary obedience of any natural principles or laws. In essence, this means that we are part of the universe, on the deepest and loosest level of connection, through the fabrics that span the farthest regions of the world, by the most fundamental principles such as time or gravity; and more intimately in our environment, through the fabrics that span closer regions of the world, by more specific principles such as biochemical processes and brain interpretation of sensory signals.

We can therefore access these laws within ourselves, by ourselves, as a function of our position in the immediate and broader universe we are found in. Not only are we observers of the environment and all its phenomena, but we are first and foremost, part of it. From the most basic levels through to the highest, we are a prime sample, test subject or specimen of the universe itself.

Much of the universe can be considered not to be accessible to our perception in an obvious way, such as light in our eyes and matter against the Pacinian corpuscles in our skin. Yes the spectrum of sensation that is available, the synergy between different senses, as well as our considerable processing power of all of them through the brain, amounts to a respectable amount of information.

By a process of reverse engineering, we can therefore work out the fundamental truths from the superficial expressions of these truths in ourselves and our lives. Higher, more virtual interpretations of these signals may occur mostly or solely within the brain, with minimal novel sensory input, such as in the case of intuition in matters of social interaction. Lower, physical interpretations of signals occurring in a more physical sense, may provide starting points and clues to fundamental laws, such as gravity, movement, diffusion, etc.

In a first instance, these ideas are purely experienced, and therefore not laid out systematically in an academic sense. Whilst the latter process greatly enables the dissemination and progress of those ideas, it is important to not dismiss the process of gathering these experiences in itself; for they are the basis of any further knowledge.

"There is no true interpretation of anything; interpretation is avehicle in the service of human comprehension. The value ofinterpretation is in enabling others to fruitfully think about anidea."
- Andreas Buja, Professor of Statistics

This can be achieved to varying degrees, depending on people's different abilities to reverse engineer these occurrences back to the fundamental truths. It is therefore expected that any given knowledge resulting from it may be more or less usable or accurate, since the processors of intuitive knowledge are people. Like a furniture factory, each person may well have equally valid raw materials (wood) and aspirations for the end-point knowledge (furniture), but different ability to accomplish this determines whether the end product really is of high quality or not.

Intuition is therefore a variable. This is important in appreciating that its knowledge products cannot be treated in black and white. They may be ill-intentioned conclusions or useless concepts, as well as enlightening nuggets of truth and direction that ultimately guide us through our exploration of the universe.