Friday, January 26, 2024

Update to the DNA dream...

 Just adding a wrinkle to the DNA dream: instead of the crazy "squirrel doing brain surgery" scenario, how about we discover a DNA-like structure preserved on Mars, which, when examined, contained a scientific result that we had not yet discovered. This leads to an examination of our own DNA, and that of other life forms, and the discovery of many gems of knowledge.

What's a few million years...

I love the PBS show, Eons! Where else do I find captivating tidbits (each show is about 10 minutes long) that help me expand my awareness beyond my lifetime!

I count myself lucky to live in this time of exponential growth of science and technology. In my lifetime, I have seen the confirmation of the theory of the end of the dinosaurs (a large asteroid), the discovery of DNA and the complete sequencing of the human gene, and the creation of a conversational "Chat-bot" (ChatGPT-4) using neural networks.

Now, these are only three of a huge number of discoveries. And I make no claims that these are the most important discoveries. But these three are fundamental to my personal journey, and my quest for meaning and purpose.

But what does any of this have to do with Eons, the PBS show?

There are two aspects of humanity that differentiate it from all other forms of organization (and here, I draw the distinction between an individual human being and the longer-term and broader collection of humans and their constructs, which I call humanity):

First, humanity has become aware of, and exploited, the concept of time. Although it can be argued that humanity is not unique in this, humanity has carried the model far beyond the conception of any other life form. Humanity has stretched the existence of "here and now" to include "the entire universe over billions of years". Humanity has developed the ability to experience an added dimension, that of time.

Second, humanity has developed and exploited the ability to share perspectives, from one human being to another. This has increased human beings' ability to perceive beyond an individual's experience to that of a collection of human beings. And with the advent of passing on information through communication, not just genetically, but orally, verbally, in writing, and embedded knowledge of social structures (cultures, mores, superstitions, religions, governments, economies, etc.), humanity has amassed a great storehouse of knowledge, thanks to the universe of systems for which time has a direction, yielding cause and effect.

Our ability to experience the past, observe the present, and predict the future has helped us learn faster and deeper than our genes can evolve. We have created a whole world of "memes", that are passed on, not through genes, but through communication, from one generation to the next.

So what does this have to do with the PBS show Eons?

Every day, since I was a teenager, I have wondered, "Why am I here?" "Do I have a purpose?" "What is the meaning of my life?"

As I've gotten older, these questions became more generalized, expanding over time and space: "Why are we here?" "Do we have purpose?" "What is the meaning of human existence?" And opened as far as I could imagine: "Why is the universe here?" "Does the universe have purpose?" and "What is the meaning of life?"

Shows, like Eons, continue to challenge my perception, my time horizon, beyond my own lifetime, beyond the lifetime of humans, beyond the lifetime of the universe.

And this particular episode, which I watched today, "The Hidden Genes That Make Us Human", left me thinking that the things that make me human are not just genetic. There is my "memetic" composition, too, all the things I have learned, passed on to me from earlier generations of humans, which I carry, passing them on to others, as I communicate them in ways such as this blog.

PS: Have you ever thought how fragile our memetic composition is? While it is hard for me to imagine a world where our genes are not successful (reproductive forces are (nearly?) instinctual), it is not hard for me to imagine a world where we "drop the ball" with education, leaving behind what we've learned. In the same way as our genetic history has experienced several major extinctions, our memetic history has, and will, again, see humanity's knowledge rise and fall over the eons.

Friday, January 12, 2024

Matrix-Like Dream

 I had a strange dream...

I was a student in a class, trying to solve a problem, and trying to connect with others to help solve the problem. I realized I needed more memory, and left the class to find some (a chipset replacement seemed to be in order ;-).

I was told the nearest memory store was quite a ways aways. But I noticed there was a much closer source of memory. When I asked why I couldn't just go to the nearer source, I was told that they wouldn't give me any, and I should go to the farther source.

I didn't, and went to the nearer source, where I was told I could only have the added memory if I was willing to agree to certain terms: sharing the memory with others on the network, when I wasn't using it. I agreed, and lots of memory was installed (mounted to my skull through DIP sockets).

That night, I found myself leaving my body, oozing out like a leaky circuit, into another world, another universe. Turns out, this other universe was a superset of our universe, with one small portion being everything I had understood to be "the universe" before.

I was able to travel to many universes, though my connection always depended on a "cooperative port," an entity that had agreed to share their memory.

When I woke up, the world felt different. And as I passed anything else with electronic memory, I heard a faint, "hello." I came to realize I was connected to everything "on the network."

When I went to class, everybody looked different, as if I were seeing them from a distance. And my consciousness was expanded to include all the connections in world, and others in other universes.

That night, I dreamed about visiting many other people on Earth who had agreed to become connected, only I met them in the other universe.

So, it was different from being part of "the Borg." And it was different from being part of "The Matrix." It was more like being aware of another dimension, that transcended our universe, and allowed connection to all parts of our universe, as well as many other universes.

Here and Now Versus Intention: Survival Strategies

 I've always doubted the Buddhist philosophy of "living in the here and now." Though I have gotten great insite from the practice of meditation, and the awareness of attachment, I have worried that Buddhism is not a survival strategy. If I am not attached to anything, and I am living in the here and now, how to I protect myself from those that are intending me harm?

Buddhism is right, though, about the nature of the most of the universe. A rock lives in the here and now, has no attachment, and "doesn't do something, just sits there." And rocks survive, for long periods of time, just as atoms do. Does that mean we should imitate this form of survival?

Over the years, I've wondered about atoms. Why do they persist? Since high school chemistry, with one of my favorite teachers, Candace Simpson, I have had a good understanding of chemical reactions and stability versus instability, and the direction of entropy. And for quite some time, since my training in statistics, I have understood the difference between local decreases in entropy versus global increases. Life, as we know it, is an example of local decreases in entropy.

But it was only last week that I had an insight into the difference between "being here and now" and "being intentional." And it seems so obvious, and yet this insight remained hidden from my view by my own attachment to my experience of existence: I live in a different dimension than atoms, rocks, and most living organisms.

Whereas most of the universe, including all the atoms, sub-atomic particles, chemical compounds, and even most life forms exist, these forms do not have a conception of time. Moment to moment is lived as local conditions balance, trying to reach an equilibrium, each moment defined by the simultaneous result of millions, billions, perhaps uncountable forces interacting. These forms live in a world, for them, without time. For atoms, and rocks, and countless other forms, there is only "here and now," because past and future do not exist for these forms, only the present.

The great awareness available to humans is remembering the past. And most recently in our evolutionary history, the capacity to observe and classify the past in ways to help us recognize some cause and effect, which gives us the opportunity to make some predictions about the future, from which we may have intention and choice.

Human survival strategy has been successful because we live in this added dimension of time: past, present, and future. We have been survived, and thrived, as a life form, because we observe and exploit cause and effect. And in the universe, the vast majority of what we observe does not have this awareness.