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Sunday, 2 September 2012

Curiosity and the Evolution of Space Exploration

Mars. Actual, real, Mars. 

The data that the Curiosity rover (which finds itself on the red planet right now) will provide, is going to be useful in determining the place of life on Mars. Despite our neighbour planet being classified as "alien" in every way, looking at the above image taken on it gives a sense of familiarity. Indeed, the processes by which those rocks formed, as well as the processes by which life arises, are perhaps more universal than we perceive them to be.

The classic image of the Earth in the solar system portrays our mother planet as special and unique. Many people go as far as to suggest there is no life in the universe as there is on Earth. I for one am tempted to believe that there is life in the universe, wide and tall and diverse. 

Does the knowledge about the Earth render itself useless on another planet? On the contrary, all knowledge acquired is as relevant to the rest of the universe as it is to our planet.

Curiosity is a very apt name for the rover on Mars. It also names the human attribute which has led to many amazing discoveries and inventions throughout civilisation. The path has already been set for humans to colonise the universe.

Wednesday, 28 March 2012

The "Purpose" of the Female Orgasm

I read on Wikipedia today that the female orgasm has no reproductive use, whereas the male orgasm does. Who the hell comes up with this bollo**s? Firstly, orgasms by themselves cannot be directly related to reproduction, since the vast, vast, vast majority of living things reproduce just fine without them. Secondly, there is no such thing as purpose in evolution.

Our idea of purpose is something preconceived to serve a function. For example, a chair is made to be sat on. A typewriter is made to be typed with. A blog post is written to be read and shared. Evolution does not work that way. Nothing is ever made to serve any function because nothing is made according to a function, before that function exists. The concept of function itself is tightly dependent on the environment. A function is the relationship between two things which are connected to each other by cause, effect and time.

The only reason most things have a function in living things is because those that didn't, couldn't survive. The fundamental blueprint for life on Earth came to be the moment the very first, basic life form evolved. That is our common ancestor - of all alive today. Really, everything that came afterwards couldn't have been that far off the right recipe for life, since what it came from was a work of perfection (loosely, relatively speaking).

So what's the deal with this whole orgasm thing?

The idea suggested on Wikipedia is that orgasms encourage men to have sex, and since orgasms are associated with ejaculation of sperm, then that means that orgasm is involved in reproduction. On the other hand, female orgasms are not associated with an egg maturing, or anything like that, hence female orgasms are not involved in reproduction.

What results in reproduction in simple species, things such as mere chemical signals over a minuscule pathway, builds up to bigger things such as hormone secretion in dogs - and so the accumulation of these precursors is almost like an inheritance passed on to further species which diverge from the ancestors.

Would men have sex if they never knew of orgasms? Would women? Undoubtedly. Would men and women have more sex if they knew of orgasms? Certainly.

But such moment of truth never existed to start off with, because as humans, we have always been orgasming, and so have our ancestors further back. It's like having two ears was never up for selection, simply because it had been established a long time ago that that is the template. Women have orgasms, and while orgasms are not part of the zoomed-in mechanism of reproduction, they are part of the zoomed-out mechanism of reproduction.

Arguably, no one "knows" of orgasms before they have one, in the sense of actually knowing what it feels like. Yet they may still masturbate as children or teenagers, or even later on. The drive is not the orgasm initially, but the feeling of pleasure caused by stimulation - a feeling perhaps so basic that could be traced down many, many generations of species.

Wednesday, 22 February 2012

Why don't you want to live forever?

I am currently taking part in a very interesting project relating to the pro-aging trance. The pro-aging trance is basically people's perception that our lives will doubtlessly end as a result of aging, and there is nothing we can do to stop it. You might think, well, is there?

It's a psychological phenomenon that when someone is put in a situation where they are faced with a negative outlook e.g. "I will die, death is a certainty, what could I possibly do to change this? Nothing", they will find ways to cope with it, "I might adhere to some religion or group which promises life after death, or the persistence of "our" kind".

There are two subcategories of this: people with an external locus of control, and people with an internal locus of control. Those with an external locus of control attribute their abilities and life events to outside factors such as luck, god, karma, etc., while those with an internal locus of control attribute them to their own actions - instead of trying to find their cause, they focus on changing it.

People with an internal locus of control, therefore, would supposedly see aging as an inevitability, and when faced with the concept of defying aging, would be indifferent. Those with an external locus of control would be further split into:

1. People who acknowledge the idea as a true possibility, yet oppose it from a moral viewpoint (similar to the opposition to stem cell research e.g. lab grown beef burgers)

2. People who acknowledge the idea as a true possibility, and join in with others who are working to achieve it. Are you one of them?

The purpose of the project is to find out whether this model is correct, whether loci of control correlate with one's position on aging and rejuvenation technologies, and their subsequent likelihood to support it.

Wednesday, 18 January 2012

3 predictions that will change human evolution as we know it

Lately I have been reading a lot about innovations which could change our world and evolution forever. Frankly, most of them are very interesting, especially if you often wonder what the next big corner stone of humanity will be. These are the ones I've found most fascinating:

1. Mind uploading - this is the prediction that soon we'll be able to "upload", much like we do with photos and other information, human brains onto computers which would then be able to think using information from the brain that was uploaded. There are interesting questions surrounding this idea, such as Would uploaded brains have consciousness like humans do? How much control would they have over the computer on which they "exist"?

It would even be possible to store a brain (not the physical brain of course, just the "code" for a certain brain) on a very small storing device, similar in function to a memory card, and send it off into space to travel for a very long period of time, and then arrive to its destination thousands or millions of Earth years in the future. This would eliminate the complications of keeping a human body alive for so long, and transporting so much food, facilities like showers, and all that comes with the high maintenance human body.

2. Artificial intelligence - inevitably, if we do upload human minds, the issue of artificial intelligence would take a different spin. For example, at the moment, so-called artificial intelligence attempts such as iPhone's Siri and Japanese robots are hopelessly limited to a narrow range of capabilities which come nowhere near what a real human mind can achieve in terms of language and intelligence (other than mathematical and memory-based).

If an uploaded mind can be tinkered with, for example improving memory and processing speed and power, then the realisation of infinite intelligence wouldn't be far off. This concept would abide by Moore's law which in the field of computing states that  "the transistor density of integrated circuits doubles every 2 years". Essentially, this means that the power of artificial intelligence would then increase exponentially, and before we'd know it, artificial intelligence will have surpassed human intelligence to the point that we might not even be able to understand, or relate to, artificial intelligence that ultimately we have created.

Imagine reading a book on the detailed biochemistry of chloroplasts (given that you know nothing about it). It's likely that you will not understand one word at all, except "to", "in", "it", etc. Now imagine that a highly intelligent artificial entity (be it a robot, computer, etc.) has been successfully made, and everyone in the world is eager to find out the answers to all their questions. Upon asking any question whose answer humanity does not know, the highly intelligent entity answers without hesitation, in so much competent detail that it is impossible for us to understand it. Perhaps a different machine would have to be made that could simplify the answers so the average person could understand. Would our own fantasy of infinite intelligence overtake our own abilities to the point that it would alienate us, leave us behind, or even wipe us out?

3. Live forever - most people are convinced that eternal life is not a doable thing. However, experiments on various animals have shown that in fact, doubling one's lifespan is possible. People just like us, in the 17th century, hoped to live to 30. In the most longevity-blessed countries, the people hope to live to 90. A few have surpassed 120. But without fail, all long-lived people have aged. Popular belief states that "The only way to live a long life is to be old". I am convinced, however, that even longer lived, youthful lives will be possible in the future.
If you had the choice of living a very long time as a bionic individual, or a non-bionic individual, you'd probably enjoy to be non-bionic. To be able to feel someone else's human body rather than machine body. 

The implications of much-extended lifespans are many and complex. It's a hotly debated subject, with some people plainly rejecting the idea, and others strongly in favour.

Natural selection relies on diversity which causes differential reproductive success. As humans, we have already created a complex artificial environment which inevitably bypasses natural selection as we know it, and is instead dominated by artificial selection and sexual selection. Our gene pool as a species is hugely diverse, and we measure our reproductive success in brain children as well as, or perhaps even more so than, actual children.

Will the genes and memes that we carry, in their battle for survival, be the end of us? Will the future be made of machines that rule the universe silently, with minds derived from humans who, in their quest to achieve ultimate intelligence and power, have forgotten to maintain the human species itself?