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Showing posts from 2014

What Living in a Computer Might Feel Like

What is the relationship between consciousness and sensory input?

Consider this: you are on a beach sipping a cocktail while the sun sets over the horizon. There is significant information which may be considered fresh, or renewed, which is being drilled into your perception of the surroundings - the breeze, sight, sound, taste, smell, gravity, balance, etc.

The continuous transfer of information into your brain is defining your conscious experience which feels unmistakeably "real".

Now consider the exact same scenario on the beach, but as a dream. Your subjective experience may feel quite identical, as long as you don't spontaneously realise within the dream that it's a dream (lucid dreaming). Even then, the sensations simulated - without a doubt, they are simulated because there is no beach, there is no breeze, etc. - you are after all sedated in your bed with your body under paralysis; those sensations still feel pretty convincing, and only upon waking are they de…

Death by Hunger, Death by Ageing

People die of hunger all the time. You can't make food out of nothing, right? No, people around you don't die of hunger at all, it may even seem a laughable, ridiculously unlikely event. But they do, people in the world die of hunger. Because you can't make food out of nothing. Our food? It comes from the sun - ultimately the energy from the sun. In a way, so does electricity and everything else. Because now, more than ever, we can transform types of energy from chemical to electrical and so on.

That's why you and I - we don't die of hunger. The punchline: why is our compulsive urge to avoid death by hunger - to seek out food - accepted by ourselves so obviously, since it is merely an extension of our urge to stay alive? Food is just to stay alive, not a purpose of its own.

Why is it that while hunger for food is a legitimate goal to pursue as a human being and as a civilization, hunger for what ultimately food is for - staying alive - is seen as illegitimate? Defeat…

The Long, Long, Cycle of Life

I remember a time when I was a child and wasn't aware of what happens as we get older and older. I asked mum what happens afterwards, and she said we stop getting older and older, and start getting younger and younger until we are children again. Then we get older and the cycle continues. I thought it was a beautiful thing and looked forward to my "second" childhood.

Today I acquired a unique perspective on how the above metaphor is exactly what happens with our germ (egg and sperm) cells. In the lineage traced back to the beginning of time, one cell never died. It grew forwards and specialised into the cells that make up a new individual, including that one germ cell that was passed on. At fertilisation, the cell started going backwards and turning into a totipotent stem cell that could once more grow forwards and specialise again. To germ, back to stem cell, to germ and back again. Backwards and forwards, backwards and forwards. Never dying. This cell has been alive for…

What Young Scientists Should Do

“A Fred Sanger would not survive today’s world of science. With continuous reporting and appraisals, some committee would note that he published little of import between insulin in 1952 and his first paper on RNA sequencing in 1967 with another long gap until DNA sequencing in 1977. He would be labelled as unproductive, and his modest personal support would be denied. We no longer have a culture that allows individuals to embark on long-term—and what would be considered today extremely risky—projects.”

"Today the Americans have developed a new culture in science based on the slavery of graduate students. Now graduate students of American institutions are afraid. He just performs. He’s got to perform. The post-doc is an indentured labourer. We now have labs that don’t work in the same way as the early labs where people were independent, where they could have their own ideas and could pursue them.

The most important thing today is for young people to take responsibility, to actually …

Changing the Building Blocks of Life

"The history of science shows several changes to our worldviews, altering our folk-based narratives to more scientifically inspired (semi-)rational approaches. In this context, science has inflicted a series of disappointments and disillusions to our folk-based beliefs, such as: the earth is not the center of the Universe, men and apes share the same ancestors, or that emotions and thinking is correlated to a neurological substrate. The promoters of these ideas were often attacked by those trying to keep the intellectual status quo.

Xenobiology could easily trigger the next paradigm change in the way we understand nature and life. Just as the Earth lost its place as the center of the universe, or men lost its unique status in the animal world, our natural world could lose its unique status as being synonymous with “life.” But as with all other paradigm changes, concepts that better explain the world around us cannot be ignored for long."…

Are there limits to what you can do in a dream?

Researchers are very interested in figuring out how memory works, as well as what consciousness is. In order to gather more insight into these areas, they are studying the phenomenon of lucid dreaming in which people are aware, within a dream, that they are within a dream. Lucid dreaming can be accompanied by the ability to alter the dreaming environment at will.

I'm not yet one of the people who can control how often they have lucid dreams, yet last night I had one. After the initial testing to check if it was indeed a dream (poking a hard surface and seeing it bend around my finger), and the inevitable playing out of certain "quick scenarios that could not happen in real life" (leave that to the imagination), I proceeded to do a few in-dream experiments.

I tried to see just how much I can alter within the dream, and what the limitations are.

1. After continuously altering everything in the environment for a few seconds, it became too difficult to continue. I got fatigued …

Where did our Moon come from?

Recently new evidence came to light that supported the long-held hypothesis regarding the formation of our Moon. Where did the Moon come from? Scientists believed that a very, very, very long time ago (4.5 billion years) a planetary body called Theia, the size of Mars, indirectly collided with Earth and formed a lot of debris. 

The Moon formed over time from this remainder, and ever since has been orbiting out planet like clockwork. In 2 days, we'll have a full Moon as seen from Earth. The phases of the Moon have been calculated with extreme precision for every single day gone, and every single day yet to come. 

Many associate the Moon with emotional depth, a hidden yet powerful force - the kind that makes the oceans move. And they do, they move, in tides. Whenever two people meet, a collision takes place. Most of what happens bounces off into deep space, just like the debris from Theia. Yet sometimes, a little something stays with you, becomes intertwined with your inner workings i…

Genetic Selection Guidelines on Babies

Should people be able to choose their baby's sex, skin colour, intelligence, etc.? I propose a guideline that has the following foundation: the limitations of direct genetic engineering on babies should be the same as those of indirect selection through choosing who to have the baby with. 

Guidelines are important here because there is a fine line between the inalienable human right to reproduce by choice with whomever, and outright eugenics (creating a human "superior master" race).

I don't believe eugenics would be the main issue. After all, how many people would choose to have a child not genetically theirs because they objectively assess themselves as ugly and stupid (chuckle)?

I believe the main issue would be an amplification of the already existing set of expectations parents lay on their children before they are born.

A baby's general appearance can be selected indirectly by mate selection, therefore to that extent it should be available in genetic engineerin…

Can Artificial Intelligence Become "Alive"?

Re: AI (Artificial Intelligence) et al.: The direction of all things which seem a result of human intelligence is not determined by this intelligence. AI in itself is just this intelligence; our intelligence is the means - not the cause or the purpose. 

Both cause and purpose are the driving forces behind all humans do, and AI is not inherently endowed with either. Both cause and purpose in quality are constant tracing back to the first cell. It is what separates living from dead matter.

The Sun is great and powerful. Yet it has no intent to survive and reproduce - to take over the world, to own, to expand. These are living matter properties that are not breathed into intelligent dead matter.

Our consciousness is not suspended by intelligence. It is suspended by instinct. Our condition not logical. Even our inferior intelligence ultimately realises the nonsense condition life is. Superior AI does not doubt it.

Without an illogical drive, which may or may not be tainted into the AI, the de…

Rejected Post on the Pro-Aging Trance

A while back my university magazine approached me to write a scientific article for a well-educated but non-specialist audience i.e. my fellow students.

After submitting it multiple times and trying to get in touch, I abandoned the whole thing (they didn't seem to be interested; or bother letting me know that they weren't interested anymore). I've just found the Word file and thought - hey, might as well share this with the world. Please take into consideration that some of the circumstantial aspects of this piece are now out of date.

Do you believe in aging?

You’re lying down on a soft, lush green lawn, staring at the crisp blue sky, watching clouds fly by. Could it be that you could fly beside them one day? This isn’t the thought of someone who has ever been on a plane. This is the thought of the millions of people before us who didn’t. Imagine being them - it makes perfect sense, after all, that humans don’t have wings and can’t fly. Full stop. Yet people fly, they fly ev…