Monday, July 14, 2014

Danger, Will Robinson! Google a benevolent monopoly?

"Google is a private company, and its users aren't entitled to anything beyond Google honoring it's end of its user agreements and following the law."

Warning, Will Robinson! Warning! I thought we had already learned the lesson of the cost and benefits of monopolies. Google not a monopoly? Under whose definition? Under the law? Where did the law come from? There were some big companies that were not operating in the best interest of the United States.

Here's a newsflash: A system (like the economy) has rules (like laws) because the system was unable to keep from tending towards a sub-optimal solution. The solution is judged sub-optimal because of criteria that are used to measure success in another system (like religion, science, politics, country, community, family, ego, and even overlapping systems inside my head). Rules are the interface protocol where two systems interact.

I hope I am misunderstanding many of these comments saying that Google has the right to do what it wants because it is a private company. Funny how private companies have got us thinking that they have the right to act against the interests of my community, sometimes treating human beings as if we were just another resource to be efficiently allocated to maximize profits. Doesn't economics teach that private monopolies have a conflict of interest when it comes to choosing between maximizing utility and maximizing profit. And if economics doesn't teach that, hasn't history taught us? In a perfectly competitive economy, maximizing consumer utility and maximizing company profit tend to encourage decisions in the same direction. Since monopolies don't have the same checks and balances, they can tend to move in the direction of maximizing profit, to the detriment of the consumers. That is why we often decide, traditionally through a political process, that monopolies cannot have so much power.

Google's hold over the search engine business and being privately owned and controlled by a small number of people is like trusting a private company to own oxygen. Sure, if Google is benevolent, people might not be exploited and people might not have their goals and aspirations squeezed out of the decision-making process. But it is unlikely (see history) and it is very dangerous (see history). One of the important (often forgotten) roles of our political institutions is to provide a check and balance to economic forces driven by profit maximizing and monopoly power.

Idea for a play about conflicts between genetic and memetic ways of seeing things

I had a dream about interviewing different convalescent homes to decide which I would choose to be sent to at the time I could no longer make it on my own. The reaction of the people I was interviewing was confusion and misunderstanding because they didn't understand the question I was trying to answer. How do I choose where I should go after I have lost the ability to make a "reasonable" choice? What is a  "reasonable" choice? Is there a universally accepted definition of a "reasonable" choice?

The survival of an organization depends on its ability to foresee the consequences of its choices (assuming choice is important). What happens when the choices of the independent parts of an organization are at conflict with the survival of the organization?

For example, the human species has made a fundamental break with billions of years of evolution by encouraging the survival of memes. Up until the commitment to memes, genes were the main drivers of evolution and survival.

Write a play which shows how an individual's choice is not in the best interest of the organization and explore how a genetic organization might deal with such a conflict versus how a memetic organization might deal with the conflict.

Ideas for subject matter of the play: How do I deal with the deterioration of my own ability to make choices? What if there were a society that had a test for the society's choice on supporting the survival of an individual? The society puts the individual into a room and tells them they have one of two choices: push one button to kill oneself or push another button to kill one hundred children. What does the individual do? If they choose to kill the one hundred children, the society withdraws all (and I mean all) support towards the survival of the individual. If the individual chooses to kill him/herself, then support is not withdrawn. If the individual refuses to choose, then support is not withdrawn.

"People don't choose to go into this room because the have a good reason. They go in because they have lost the ability to reason."

If I cannot reason, am I still human? Is the definition of being human based on "making choices based on consequences"? If I can no longer make choices, how should I be treated? What kind of freedoms should I be allowed? Perhaps an example that I can understand is how I treat animals, like dogs and cats, who are no longer wanted. The process of the "death row" of a pound might be an example of how we deal with such choices as an organization.

The problem is I will not know it is time for me to go at the time it is to go, because the time to go depends on how well I can see the consequences of my choices and how much I am committed to the survival of the organization (a meme) versus my own survival.

Another source of possible ideas is how have we dealt with the choice of my survival versus the survival of my children (genetic survival). Would I die to save the life of my child? As long as I might have more children, I might be able to justify my own survival over my child's. This is a classical choice, one we have been coping with since "the system's" success at perceiving the survival of the gene versus survival of the individual.

How does our dependence on independence resolve these conflicts? How slowly the organization changes to reflect the learning of poor choices through the observation of consequences! Look at the conflicts that arise from the meme of "individuals have the right to make their own choices" and the meme "survival of the species".

The acceptance of the meme "life is an illusion" is not prescriptive, yet it most certainly affects the chances of survival, one way or the other. Interesting how "enlightenment" still leads to the choice of "living on the mountain" or "returning to teach enlightenment". What is the process of making that choice?

Survival is attachment to existence. Does Buddhism survive the extinction of all life? Certainly the concept, the meme of Buddhism survives, but who is left to care? The irony of Buddhism is that Buddhism reflects the very "one-ness" of the universe with the concept of detachment. Who can argue with the statement that the universe "is"? The value to me of the meme "Buddhism" is its ability to reveal the weaknesses of my own experience versus the experiences of others, whether animal, vegetable, or mineral. With Buddhism, I must  still decide on what choices I will make, which may still require me to have some process for evaluating the different consequences of my choices. The value of Buddhism is being able to see those choices and consequences from a larger perspective, which allows me to make choices that have "better" consequences for that part of the universe that is not me.

Memes versus genes - another observation

Is one of the indications of the success of memes replacing genes the evolution of organizations to become more tolerant of non-genetic relationships? For example, the move from societies based on genetic (tribal) relationships to societies based on memetic relationships. Is this an explanation for the reduction of genocide as a means of organizational selection? Does the value of non-genetically related human beings versus the value of genetically related human beings depend on the social organization of the human beings? Is the value of a non-genetically related species different from the value of genetically related species? What other examples of genetic-based values are present in all or most organizations? Are these genetically-based values stronger in more genetically-based organizations?

Is there a conflict between memetic-based organizations and the protection of secrets?

Secrets have long been used as a way to organize memetic affiliations. Is this a strategy that is becoming less successful? Is the connection between memetic organizations and the trend towards full disclosure and transparency causing any conflicts? What sort and how?

The Role of the Epiphany in Meme Evolution

I had an epiphany! An epiphany about epiphanies, so a kind of meta-epiphany![1] I was lying in bed after a good night's sleep (and good sex), and an image floated through my brain: it was a sled run, a kind of bobsled run, though it was square-cut and made with dirty (sooty) snow. As I often am when allowed to sleep in after good sex[2], I was in a semi-dream state, which means I let the image run as my brain made up a story about the image. The story became a science fiction story (haven't written it, yet), and the wanderings of the story led to my epiphany about epiphanies:

          Epiphanies are to meme evolution as orgasms are to gene evolution.

Somewhere, sometime, a genetic "defect" led to the creation of a connection between my brain's pleasure center and the process of connecting clusters of neurons associated with "distant" concepts[3]. In other words, I get so much pleasure out of making new connections between previously unconnected ideas, that I engage in the activity on a regular basis, conceiving new ideas in a population explosion of memes!

This epiphany leads to a whole cascade of corollary epiphanies:

          Research is a form of foreplay.
          Collaborative research is a form of group sex.
          Conception can, and usually does, involve multiple contributors.
And the best part: As I get older, and my sex drive decreases, I can focus more of my pleasure center neural hardware on the conception of memes. What fun! But the real question is, [taking long draw on cancer stick], "Was it good for you?"


[1] For some fun reading, search for "epiphany" on the internet and read about ego-maniacs, like me, and claims of "my epiphany is bigger than yours." This is just more evidence of the role of "the feeling one gets from an epiphany" as a motivator for the conception of memes through the neural pleasure achieved during the creation process of epiphanies.

[2] Hypothesis: Epiphanies occur more than expected by chance on "days of rest" in the work cycle. For example, in Christian-tradition work-week cultures, epiphanies occur (more than expected by chance) on Sunday mornings (or afternoons, depending on the timing of arousal and awakening), unless the person having the epiphany is single or goes to church. And other cultures the tradition of a "day of rest and/or worship" would produce a greater than expected number of epiphanies. I wonder if "sabbaticals" actually produce more epiphanies?

[3] I haven't researched the research on epiphanies, but my own experience (and feeble knowledge of how my brain works) is that epiphanies occur when my brain is well rested (neurons are fully charged due to inactivity), brain activity is minimal (semi-consciousness is helpful), and wandering is tolerated (undirected or semi-directed firing of neural sequences). These conditions allow clusters of neurons associated with "distant" concepts to make contact with one another, and triggering an avalanche of neural activity, which stimulates the pleasure center, resulting in an epiphany orgasm.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Centric Thinking (Determined Determinism)

I love to travel to other cultures to expose myself to different perspectives. Travel helps me practice the discipline of seeing the world from another person's point of view. Yesterday, I had the opportunity to spend the day with someone who had lived in Ireland for the past 25 years. As we were talking over a cup of tea, he pointed out how "American" my perspective was. On my long walk home, I got to think about his comment and our conversation. I realized he had made a very good point (obvious from his perspective, blind from mine).

Why DID so many of my comments reflect a "United States"-centric perspective? That's easy: I spend most of my time in the United States, so the vast majority of my reference points come from stories told from a U.S. geo/socio-centric perspective. And so the stories I told him tended to be the stories I had heard. (i.e., I am more likely to recall a meme than imagine one.)

[Note: I use the word "stories" in a broader sense of the word, where everything that I observe is a "story." I prefer to think of memes/ideas as stories, too. Everything I learn, fact or fiction, is a story, stor(i)ed away in my brain. I like the word "story" because it helps me remember just how much of my perception of the world is the story I tell myself about the world, as seen through my associative brain. My brain sees the world as it understands the world, rather than as the world might actually be.]

This all got me thinking about "centrism" (e.g. ego-centrism, ethnocentrism, anthropocentrism). "Centrism" is something I cannot avoid, because it is all I have, really. I am centric because I have no choice but to experience the world through my ego-/ethno-/antropo- self.

This led me to think about "centrism" and "being centric" - being in or at the center, being central. Which led me to the concept of centric observation, the need for observation to be central in time and space. Centric observation in time means at the beginning. Centric observation in space means at the origin. It came to me just how much of a "centric" thinker I am. I search long and hard for the the beginnings of things, their origin. I realized just how much I am tied to "causal" thinking, searching for the starting point, searching for the earliest and smallest origin. (By "smallest" I mean the smallest number of assumptions from which all results/consequences flow in a determined, expected, predictable way.)

This line of thinking took me back to my thinking about causality, and causality's relationship to how our brains work, rather than causality's relationship to how the universe works. Is our fascination with causality our brain projecting our centric story about survival? What if I tried to think outside of this anthropocentric story?

Okay, so I know it's impossible, but I do have a good imagination, so let me just make something up: There are other ways of experiencing the universe that are not anthropocentric. There are other ways of being that are not centric to human perceptions of time and space. There is another way of being we are slowly becoming aware of. This is the perspective of Buddhism (connectedness) and more recently the perspectives of ecology and evolutionary biology, complex systems with large numbers of objects interdependent on large numbers of objects. These sciences are harder for me to understand because they tend not to have clear beginnings or ends, and tend to involve very complex processes that are not reduced to simple cause-effect statements. They remind me of the complexity introduced to me in algebra with the solution of simultaneous equations, with the added twist that there is no stable solution and the equations are changing over time!

I accept that I might never be able to understand. I accept that I am trapped "inside the box," because my brain doesn't know anything but "the box." But perhaps by stretching my imagination, writing down some of these ideas, and sharing them with other people around the world, our combined efforts of lots of brains will result in understanding something that none of us can understand individually.

At least I know one thing: I am determined to continue to search for answers, so I better get that trip to China on the calendar!
Derivative wanderings:

1. Some interesting questions: How is compassion NOT anthropocentric. How are other life forms compassionate? Animals? Plants? Fungi? Bacteria? Viruses? Why might alien life forms be compassionate? How is compassion intelligent? Is imagination necessary for compassion (i.e., does compassion imply imagination)? Is there anything that is sufficient for compassion (i.e., what implies compassion)?

2. Interesting connection between "store" and "story, " which led me to use the phrase, "stor(i)ed away in my brain." I looked up the origins of the verb "to store" versus the noun "story" and interestingly didn't find that much overlap, though I am certain "to store" and "story" come from the same concept of information preservation and retrieval, where a "story" is a technology for "storing" memes that exploits the associative nature of the brain's memory:

 - "to store" (from Online Etymology Dictionary)
store (v.)  mid-13c., "to supply or stock," from Old French estorer "erect, construct, build; restore, repair; furnish, equip, provision," from Latin instaurare "restore, renew, repair, make," in Medieval Latin also "to provide, store," from in- "in" + -staurare, from PIE *stau-ro-, suffixed extended form of root *sta- "to stand" (see stet, and compare restore). The meaning "to keep in store for future use" (1550s) probably is a back-formation from store (n.). Related: Stored; storing.
 - "story" (from Online Etymology Dictionary)
story (n.1) "connected account or narration of some happening," c.1200, originally "narrative of important events or celebrated persons of the past," from Old French estorie, estoire "story, chronicle, history," from Late Latin storia, shortened from Latin historia "history, account, tale, story" (see history). Meaning "recital of true events" first recorded late 14c.; sense of "narrative of fictitious events meant to entertain" is from c.1500. Not differentiated from history till 1500s. As a euphemism for "a lie" it dates from 1690s. Meaning "newspaper article" is from 1892. Story-line first attested 1941. That's another story "that requires different treatment" is attested from 1818. Story of my life "sad truth" first recorded 1938, from typical title of an autobiography.

Tuesday, February 04, 2014

The Edge of Change

I stand on the edge of change, only to find it is not an edge.

The edge is in my mind, my perception and fear of the different. The edge is that which is out of pattern, out of the usual. It is only an edge because I make it so, to protect myself from the effort and pain of change, afraid that all I have done up to now becomes pointless, terrified that everything I hope to do lacks meaning, lacks purpose.

I stand on the edge of change, only to find it is not an edge, but a Möbius strip, a path that reveals no steps, no breaks, is smooth and continuous, but ends up turning my world upside down.