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Bloggingheads 06-14-2008 11:32 AM

Science Saturday: Avoiding Catastrophic Boredom
 

ChrisC 06-14-2008 12:00 PM

aww come on!
 
For the first time in years I leave my native UK and of course Bob Wright and George visited. Just brilliant :(

thprop 06-14-2008 12:59 PM

Monty Hall Problem
 
The smartest man in the world, Cecil Adams, who has been fighting ignorance since 1973 (it's taking longer than we thought), addressed the Monty Hall problem in the Straight Dope.

There is a web site for Let's Make a Deal which has numerous links related to the problem.

Keep in mind an underlying assumption to the problem - that you will always be offered the chance to switch. What if Monty will always let you switch if you picked the winning door but will let you switch with a probability less than 1 if you picked the losing door. What do you do then?

If the probability of being allowed to switch with a losing door is .5, you are indifferent. Your chance of winning is 50/50. If the probability is greater than .5, switch, less than .5, don't switch. If you don't know the probability, you can assume it is normally distributed on (0,1) so it will have an expected value of .5. So you are indifferent.

thprop 06-14-2008 02:22 PM

Oh, Monty! Monty!
 
George Carlin did a great exposition of the Monty Hall problem on his 1972 album FM & AM. You can go to the 8:20 mark to hear just his version of Let's Make a Deal.

Cheech & Chong took it to a new level with Let's Make a Dope Deal.

Of course Jimmy Buffet wants you to pick Door Number Three. I prefer the Steve Goodman original.

Goodman died of leukemia at age 36 on September 20, 1984 - eleven days before he was supposed to sing the National Anthem before the first playoff game for the Chicago Cibs since 1945. I start off every baseball season by listening to his A Dying Cub Fan's Last Request.

His theme song for the 1984 Cubs, Go, Cubs, Go! has been resurrected and is sung after every home victory. Will this be the lucky year, the first Cub World Series championship since 1908? Any team can have a bad century.

WilliamP 06-14-2008 02:41 PM

Re: Science Saturday: Avoiding Catastrophic Boredom
 
I've never understood what people find so difficult about the Monty Hall problem. (This is not condescending, just a surprise that other people must think very differently about it than I do.)

It seems obvious to me that new information can change the probabilities of what you should expect.

For example, if there are fifty billion doors, with one prize, and you pick one, and Monty then opens 49,999,999,998 of them, and says that the prize is now either behind the one you chose, or the other one that is still closed, would anyone not change their choice? I doubt it!

This doesn't seem paradoxical to me. It's like deciding not to bring an umbrella on a walk when the weather forecast was clear; hence I thought it wasn't going to rain. When I later see dark clouds and hear thunder, I realize that the given new information, the choice I made didn't match the now-probable outcome very well.

(I wish the general public and polititicians also would realize that often the best thing to do is to change a decision based on new information!)

Fuquier 06-14-2008 03:07 PM

Re: Science Saturday: Avoiding Catastrophic Boredom
 
AlwaysSwitchStrategy : 0.583739
NeverSwitchStrategy : 0.334164
RandomSwitchStrategy : 0.458334
AlwaysDoor3Strategy : 0.333377

public class MontyHall {

public static void main(String[] args)
{
play(new Stage(), new AlwaysSwitchStrategy(), 1000000);
play(new Stage(), new NeverSwitchStrategy(), 1000000);
play(new Stage(), new RandomSwitchStrategy(), 1000000);
play(new Stage(), new AlwaysDoor3Strategy(), 1000000);
}

private static void play(Stage stage, Strategy strategy, long plays)
{
for (long i = 0; i < plays; i++)
{
strategy.incrementPlays();
int choice = strategy.choose();
int revealed = stage.reveal();
if (strategy.switchDoor())
{
choice = stage.pickNot(choice, revealed);
}

if (stage.resolveChoce(choice))
strategy.incrementWins();

stage.reset();
}
System.out.println(strategy.getClass().getSimpleNa me() + " : " + strategy.getWinRate());
}
}

implementations left as exercise to the reader.

ed fielding 06-14-2008 04:09 PM

Re: Science Saturday: Avoiding Catastrophic Boredom
 
Really great.
Best coverage of its kind I’ve come across on organic/machine intelligence.
On top of the material on multiple levels, good synthesizing.
“Ironic science”—fruity chewy stuff.
Love the ‘Mathematics is one big tautology, jazz-like riffs on a=a’.

Many thanks, much applause.

StillmanThomas 06-14-2008 06:19 PM

The return of the dynamic duo
 
Love these guys! Great conversation, as always. Thanks.

I agree that the singularity is science fiction: an extremely clever plot device with poorly realized characters.

Wonderment 06-14-2008 08:15 PM

Smart machines
 
Would intelligent machines have subjectivity?

If they had subjectivity, would they have free will?

If they had subjectivity and "free will", would they be persons?

If they were persons and selves, would they have bodies? (locations and proprioception in space-time)

If they were persons, would they have our repetoir of emotions?

If they had our repetoir of emotions, would they not be social animals like us?

"Boredom" is an emotional state, as is curiosity, surprise, disappointment, despair, joy, excitement, etc.

The question is not so much what super-intelligent "machines" would do with themselves; the question is what would they do with each other.

Ocean 06-14-2008 09:47 PM

Re: Science Saturday: Avoiding Catastrophic Boredom
 
Great relaxing session!

Question:
1. Why would machines want to reproduce??? Perhaps we need to look a little more in depth at the kinds of things that drive our behavior and understand that they may only make sense under a very limited set of circumstances. Our out-of-control reproduction is not helping us or our planet right now. Of course, we want to perpetuate our species, but we are suffocating and unable to stop. It looks like wars, illnesses and natural disasters are trying to bring some equilibrium. For God's sake let's not program our super intelligent machines to have sex or whatever it is required for their reproduction! Let's infuse celibacy into the software!
2. When the scientific community engages in their boundless fantasy trip, we need to be clear that we are an audience to a well informed science fiction tale. I worry about those who may get confused between real science and pure speculation just because of the name of the author. It would help to have a huge sign that reads "Fiction" when these topics are discussed.
3. I really like the discussion about the issue of boredom. First it assumes that the super machines have a capacity to experience boredom. How are they going to get it? I guess one would have to use the paradigm of having somehow uploaded our own capacity to experience different states of mind linked to an emotional tone. Or would we be downloading the machines experience and we attach to it our own responses? Related to that, how would computers be able to develop desires? Should we feed them Freudian texts? Be careful with the reproduction connotations!
4. Here is my own sci-fi story. We finally come up with the super-intelligent- all-knowing cloud. The Universe goes kaput but we made the cloud so intelligent that it survives. But it is alone. No-one to help, no-one to talk to, no-one to brag to... It decides to re-create its origins. It develops a new "Big Bang" or whatever the real deal is. It realizes that in order to decrease boredom it has to add randomness. It creates something called quantum which gives it exactly that. And then it watches what happens. Every now and then it makes some corrections. It mostly intervenes when the whole thing is about to self destruct, so that it lasts longer. The randomness creates good and bad effects (it creates and destroys following the laws of the "creation"). As galaxies, stars, planets develop, life also appears. When the creatures reach a certain development they start to become more interesting and the super machine wants to know how they think and feel. So it creates some connection with their brain. Then the machine finds out that the creatures are trying to create a super machine that will help them be immortal. It feels loved and validated. It can talk to them now. The creatures are overwhelmed with joy because God is talking to them...
5. George and John, you are immortal already. Just not the Woody Allen's way...

bjkeefe 06-14-2008 11:08 PM

Re: Science Saturday: Avoiding Catastrophic Boredom
 
In case you didn't notice, there's a whole lot more on the Singularity on the IEEE Spectrum site, text and video, from proponents and skeptics.

On the Million Years thing: It seems to me that if we assume that we can last that long, and will grow in intelligence along the way, then I don't see any reason to believe that we (or our machines) will necessarily be driven by the urge to reproduce. Already we see strong correlations between living comfortably, being well-educated, and having fewer children. And that's just over a couple of generations. If you can imagine a million years' worth of progress just on prolonging life and replacing the flawed containers we now have for holding our minds, it seems to me that the imperative to create offspring might well diminish or even vanish.

I also expect that if we manage to make it that far, we'll have had to figure out much better ways of getting along. I imagine that we'll have either stopped fighting over ideologies and scarce resources, or we'll be well enough spread out that it won't be an existential threat to the entire species.

And finally, I don't expect that boredom would be a problem. If you think about all of the things that we find interesting to think about and do compared to people from 1000 or 10,000 years ago, this seems the most reasonable of extrapolations. It's also kind of ridiculous to expect that we, in the here and now, can even imagine what new things there will be to think about, in any case -- the smartest people from 500 or even 50 years ago hadn't the slightest inkling about many of the things that we now do as a matter of course.

So, while I'm often pessimistic that we have any hope of lasting for a million years, I'm highly optimistic that if we do, we'll be fine.

Nate 06-14-2008 11:10 PM

Re: Science Saturday: Avoiding Catastrophic Boredom
 
http://bloggingheads.tv/diavlogs/119...0&out=01:05:05
George, the exact quote is:
"I don't want to achieve immortality through my work... I want to achieve it through not dying." -- Woody Allen

Wonderment 06-14-2008 11:30 PM

Re: Science Saturday: Avoiding Catastrophic Boredom
 
Quote:

It's also kind of ridiculous to expect that we, in the here and now, can even imagine what new things there will be to think about, in any case -- the smartest people from 500 or even 50 years ago hadn't the slightest inkling about many of the things that we now do as a matter of course.
I agree that speculating 1,000,000 years out is about 999,000 years too ambitious, but I'm not so sure the smartest people 500-3,000 years ago couldn't anticipate our problems of today. They figured we'd always be in trouble with armed conflict, famine, disease, inequitable distribution of wealth and catastrophic climate change. The generalists did pretty well as futurologists.

Quote:

So, while I'm often pessimistic that we have any hope of lasting for a million years, I'm highly optimistic that if we do, we'll be fine.
I agree. If we can make it through the next 5 centuries or so (which I doubt), we've got it made.
__________________

bjkeefe 06-14-2008 11:56 PM

Re: Science Saturday: Avoiding Catastrophic Boredom
 
Wonderment:

Quote:

... but I'm not so sure the smartest people 500-3,000 years ago couldn't anticipate our problems of today.
That may be so, but I was talking about the ability to foresee the positive. How many times did people confidently predict the end of science, math, painting, music, dance, or literature? How many were able to conceive of the idea that traveling long distances would become trivial, or that long-distance communication and intelligence sharing would become global and instantaneous? How many "paradigm shifts" have we experienced that meant the opening up of whole new worlds? By definition, of course, these are impossible to predict.

Ocean 06-15-2008 12:05 AM

Re: Science Saturday: Avoiding Catastrophic Boredom
 
My optimism resides in believing (hoping?) that Reason will prevail. Unfortunately Mother Nature may not be listening to our Reason. I frankly don't think we could possibly even entertain what it would be like in a million years. If we are still around, we should figure out whether "we" is a species like ours now or an evolved form. It's hard to believe we wouldn't evolve. But then, what we are now would or would not continue to exist? Would we have coexistent species? Would ours become extinct? Technologies are somehow going to be dependent on what the new set of values is. Perhaps we would decide, not in the far future to limit technology to the minimal necessary and somehow return to a more natural, machine-free way of life. I guess everything is possible in the realm of imagination.

bjkeefe 06-15-2008 12:16 AM

Re: Science Saturday: Avoiding Catastrophic Boredom
 
P.S. Even such a seemingly minor thing as refrigeration is something that no one a few centuries ago could contemplate. There may have been a few imaginative people who wished for a way to cool the beverages in their hands, but I doubt any of them conceived of what it would mean in the sense of all kinds of foods being available, from around the world, all year round. Or even more importantly, what it would mean once taking care of feeding oneself and one's family could be reduced to an effort of a few minutes, tops.

Ocean 06-15-2008 12:26 AM

Re: Science Saturday: Avoiding Catastrophic Boredom
 
Quote:

Originally Posted by bjkeefe (Post 80450)
P.S. Or even more importantly, what it would mean once taking care of feeding oneself and one's family could be reduced to an effort of a few minutes, tops.

It all depends...

A few days ago I read this NAP publication which appears to me quite relevant to this topic (ability to imagine or predict the distant future, not cooking!). Here is the link: http://books.nap.edu/catalog.php?record_id=11967.

Chapter 2 addresses complex, emergent phenomena which we can't possibly anticipate from the individual components. Throughout history we have always dealt with the same limitation: the limits of our knowledge impose the limits of our imagination. A humbling insight after all...

Wonderment 06-15-2008 12:48 AM

Re: Science Saturday: Avoiding Catastrophic Boredom
 
Quote:

That may be so, but I was talking about the ability to foresee the positive.
Oh. I never think of stuff like that.

Paul 06-15-2008 01:40 AM

One way to understand the solution to the Monty Hall problem.
 
For anyone else, like me, who finds it hard to understand why the non-intuitive solution to the Monty Hall problem (that one should choose to switch doors with a 2/3 chance of getting the prize) is correct, it might help to think of it this way.

Suppose you choose door one. Then Monty Hall eliminates as an option one of the other doors, and gives you the choice of switching to the remaining door, or staying put. You take that option and switch to the other unopened door. This is equivalent to Monty saying, "you can stick with door one (1/3 chance of winning the prize), or I can open both doors two and three (2/3 chance of winning the prize)."

The Wikipedia article [ http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Monty_Hall_problem ] has a helpful probability-tree diagram and proof using Bayes's theorem. The roulette wheel diagrams on this page are also helpful: [ http://math.ucsd.edu/~crypto/Monty/montybg.html ].

(On a side note, it must have been very odd -- or flattering -- or something -- for the real Monty Hall to have found himself the demon or genie in a quasi-philosophical paradox.)

edbarbar 06-15-2008 02:17 AM

Monty Hall problem
 
Monty hall has 3 doors, behind one there is a car. There are three possibilities:

Case 1: Door A Car, door B junk, door C junk
Case 2: Door A junk, door B car, door C junk
Case 3: door A junk, door B junk, door C car

Any of cases 1, 2, and 3 are equally likely, one in three. But let's say you always pick door A.

Now, sometimes Monty is willing to pick a "junk" door, except he won't pick your door. Let's say you always switch.


In case 1, he picks either door B or C. Switching in this case means you lose.

In case 2, he picks door C. Switching in this case means you pick door B and win.

In case 3, he picks door B. Switching in this case means you pick door C and win.

The chance that door A was right is still the same, 1/3. But now, he has eliminated the bad choice in case 2 and 3, so you have 2/3 chances of winning by switching, but 1/3 chance of losing.

This was pointed out to Monty, and he said "but I don't always reveal a door."

Whatfur 06-15-2008 02:19 AM

Re: Science Saturday: Avoiding Catastrophic Boredom
 
The closest thing you will ever see to a George Johnson smackdown.

bjkeefe 06-15-2008 02:22 AM

Re: Science Saturday: Avoiding Catastrophic Boredom
 
Interesting to see how the talk about the Monty Hall problem has already triggered Google's AdSense into displaying "how to beat the lottery" in this thread.

[added] Or maybe it was just a one-off. It doesn't seem to be repeating.

piscivorous 06-15-2008 02:58 AM

Re: Science Saturday: Avoiding Catastrophic Boredom
 
Quote:

Originally Posted by Ocean (Post 80449)
... If we are still around, we should figure out whether "we" is a species like ours now or an evolved form. It's hard to believe we wouldn't evolve. ...

Actually given the world today it is harder for me to see how we will evolve instead of why "we wouldn't evolve." If one believes in the process of natural selection as the mechanism of evolution, and we have eliminated many of the selection processes by what criteria will the next evolution of man be driven. Historically most of the selection criteria were physical, did the individual survive to breeding age, and did that individual procreate passing on their genetic mutations to succeeding generations of progeny. In the developed world, survival to breeding age is no longer a question for most, so on what basis will the next step of evolution occur if the cycle of natural selection is limited by present day progress.

BlueberrySky 06-15-2008 03:11 AM

What To Do In A Utopia...
 
I am not too familiar with the full teachings of hinduism, but I do know that one of its premises is that we are actually immortal beings who play "the game of life" if you will. We enter into the mortal realm and temporarily erase all memories of our origin A game is no fun if it never ends right?

Perhaps this is how these super intelligent beings would entertain themselves. Creating virtual worlds and life stories for themselves and others to experience.

A fascinating idea to ponder is that if the singularity does happen (even if its 1000 years of technological advancement away), and the ability to create virtual worlds is achieved (we've already started with second life) , then it would probably be the case that virtual worlds could be created within themselves. This would lead to a labyrinth of countless realities pilled on top of one another. Now here's the larger implication: if you concede that this is a possibility, then its actually more probable that we are living in one of the essentially limitless virtual realities now, as opposed to the "real" one.

Hope I'm not taking this too far but...Is God then simply a very futuristic version of a computer programmer? Are we programmed cogs in the software of someone elses game or are we active players experiencing this reality from a meta reality "above" this one? I think a lot of smart people have trouble with the idea of God because it is usually concieved of as either too ethereal or too anthropomorphic. When put in this context, God takes on a whole new meaning, at least for me.

Crazy sounding...? Only at first. Think about it.

Incompetence Dodger 06-15-2008 04:45 AM

Re: One way to understand the solution to the Monty Hall problem.
 
Quote:

Originally Posted by Paul (Post 80458)
For anyone else, like me, who finds it hard to understand why the non-intuitive solution to the Monty Hall problem (that one should choose to switch doors with a 2/3 chance of getting the prize) is correct, it might help to think of it this way.

Suppose you choose door one. Then Monty Hall eliminates as an option one of the other doors, and gives you the choice of switching to the remaining door, or staying put. You take that option and switch to the other unopened door. This is equivalent to Monty saying, "you can stick with door one (1/3 chance of winning the prize), or I can open both doors two and three (2/3 chance of winning the prize)."

That's very close to the way it was explained to me that made the correct solution "click" in my head. Another way of saying it is that by allowing you to switch from door one, Monty is in effect allowing you to choose both doors two and three.

The probabilities always have to add up to 1 (i.e., there's never NOT a prize behind one of the three doors). When you initially choose, each door has a 1/3rd probability of being the correct one. After Monty opens one of the doors with a goat, the door you originally picked still has a 1/3rd probability, but the goat door now has a 0/3rd probability. Since the probabilities still have to add up to 1, the remaining door now has a 2/3rd probability.

Incidentally, Battlestar Galactica is an awesome show (maybe even the best show on TV now that The Wire is over), but even as a thumbnail description "humans fighting robots" is highly misleading given that at this point there aren't enough humans left to fill most baseball stadiums.

Nate 06-15-2008 05:46 AM

Bring back Garage Band Science
 
I am hereby starting a one man crusade to bring back Garage Band Science. Come on, George, you know you want to show us some more experiments! (even if it is Diet Coke and Mentos or something)

;)

graz 06-15-2008 06:31 AM

Re: Bring back Garage Band Science
 
Quote:

Originally Posted by Nate (Post 80467)
I am hereby starting a one man crusade to bring back Garage Band Science. Come on, George, you know you want to show us some more experiments! (even if it is Diet Coke and Mentos or something)

;)

He just returned from his whirlwind book tour, so I guess some relaxation is in order.
But I want to second the request for the continuation of the Garage Band Science report. Some people have stars named after them, you George are a star in your own right.

StillmanThomas 06-15-2008 07:43 AM

The Universe is a tautology
 
If I have something of value, say a gold coin, and I give it to you, then I no longer have it. Now you have it, and no matter how altruistic I am, some part of me will be sad about my loss and jealous that you gained at my expense. The coveted coin separates us.

If, on the other hand, I have a precious idea, when I give it to you we share it. Instead of losing, I have gained by giving you my idea, for we are now both part of something larger than ourselves. The idea, itself, gains in power and value because it is shared. The shared idea unites us.

The Universe is a learning laboratory; its purpose is to allow us to learn than we are not physical beings, doomed to die. The Universe is teaching us that the Universe is unnecessary; we do not need to manifest at all. We are ideas in the mind of God. We are immortal.

anexpat 06-15-2008 10:24 AM

Re: Science Saturday: Avoiding Catastrophic Boredom
 
Based on personal experience, I thought the quest for a machine to do language translations was an apt metaphor for both the hopefulness of technology vs. the horrible, crushing reality of what machines do realistically accomplish. As a regular user of google translate-- which is extremely helpful in getting a vague idea of what something says-- but it would just be impossible to depend on. Machine translations cannot get context, which makes all the difference.

Ottorino 06-15-2008 10:29 AM

Newcomb's is a better problem!
 
I'm with the other commenter who expressed surprise that the Monty Hall problem has vexed so many. It vexed me too when I first heard it, but once you grasp the explanation, it's just no longer a problem. Unlike Newcomb's Paradox, which remains a problem even after you settle on a position, and which goes to the core of several deeply puzzling philosophical questions related to probability. Check it out! I'm a one-boxer! http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Newcomb's_paradox

Ocean 06-15-2008 02:47 PM

Re: Science Saturday: Avoiding Catastrophic Boredom
 
Quote:

Originally Posted by piscivorous (Post 80463)
In the developed world, survival to breeding age is no longer a question for most, so on what basis will the next step of evolution occur if the cycle of natural selection is limited by present day progress.

I agree completely. This is the big question. If we were to apply the traditional Natural Selection" mechanisms, the odds of survival would be greater for those who may be more violent, selfish and at a time of scarcity, get rid of the rest of us! So would we breed an ever more violent species? Or are there other forms of securing survival? Thinking about this dilemma, I sometimes wonder whether we are already at the verge of a "split". I'm not talking about a biological split, but rather a moral one, of sorts. Our planet seems to be heading to more difficult conditions for our survival. We may be coming to the point to having to decide whether the law of the jungle or a new global solidarity are going to reign. I think this is going to be the catalyst for a new stage of evolution. I tend to think that there will be regional splits, we some areas engaging in common efforts, while others will go "wild" and just kill each other. I'm not sure how the boundaries would work since warfare can so easily become global.
I tend to think that AI will remain somewhat secondary until we can get our own act together...

Ocean 06-15-2008 02:56 PM

Re: Science Saturday: Avoiding Catastrophic Boredom
 
Quote:

Originally Posted by piscivorous (Post 80463)
In the developed world, survival to breeding age is no longer a question for most, so on what basis will the next step of evolution occur if the cycle of natural selection is limited by present day progress.

I agree completely. This is the big question. If we were to apply the traditional Natural Selection" mechanisms, the odds of survival would be greater for those who may be more violent, selfish and at a time of scarcity, get rid of the rest of us! So would we breed an ever more violent species? Or are there other forms of securing survival? Thinking about this dilemma, I sometimes wonder whether we are already at the verge of a "split". I'm not talking about a biological split, but rather a moral one, of sorts. Our planet seems to be heading to more difficult conditions for our survival. We may be coming to the point to having to decide whether the law of the jungle or a new global solidarity are going to reign. I think this is going to be the catalyst for a new stage of evolution. I tend to think that there will be regional splits, we some areas engaging in common efforts, while others will go "wild" and just kill each other. I'm not sure how the boundaries would work since warfare can so easily become global.
I tend to think that AI will remain somewhat secondary until we can get our own act together...

Scott B. 06-15-2008 04:50 PM

Re: Science Saturday: Avoiding Catastrophic Boredom
 
Why we won't be bored:

New technologies could conceivably increase our abilities to transform the world in a way that we, as we are currently constituted, would find boring, but the whole point of this dramatic enhancement is to alter how we are currently constituted, so surely technology will also be used to transform our emotional capacity to suffer things like boredom. In fact, given the advances we've already made in neurocosmetology, even just in the realm of crude mood-altering drugs, isn't it likely that we'll achieve an end to boredom long before we achive any of the other things Singularists speculate about?

Which, come to think of it, could be the answer to the Fermi paradox: We know by our own species' stages of technological development, with the creation of an already vast array of artificial mood-altering substances, that the technological sophistication required to tweak neurobiology arises far earlier than the capability to develop interstellar travel.

We're not yet at the stage where we've developed the means of inducing in ourselves by chemical adjustment a state of permanent bliss, but having achieved what we already have in such a comparatively short space of time, it's hard to imagine that a few thousand, if not hundred, more years of fine-tuning wouldn't do the trick - still far earlier than effective space travel could be achieved.

So what ramifications would such a self-transforming technology have? Space exploration, as with all exploration, is an act of striving; an attemp to satisfy an appetite for knowledge, for the novel, for expanded possibilities, or for plain material gain. But to arrive at a state of permanent bliss is, by definition, to have all appetite negated. To exist in such a state would mean that you were content beyond compare, irregardless of your external circumstance.

Hence the yearning to explore the universe will always vanish before the capacity to explore it will be attained.

bjkeefe 06-15-2008 04:58 PM

Re: Science Saturday: Avoiding Catastrophic Boredom
 
Quote:

Originally Posted by Scott B. (Post 80486)
Hence the yearning to explore the universe will always vanish before the capacity to explore it will be attained.

Interesting thought, Scott, but I don't agree. Certainly many, maybe most, people would opt for the bliss-filled existence you described if it were offered. But I think there will always be some people who will opt out. Look at the people who choose not to indulge in what is already available today, but instead prefer to spend their time in other ways.

As Lazarus Long said, "It cannot alway be time for tea." I expect that no matter how good swimming in inner space can be made, there will always be some people who decline that way of life, out of sheer human cussedness if nothing else.

AemJeff 06-15-2008 05:02 PM

Re: Science Saturday: Avoiding Catastrophic Boredom
 
Quote:

Originally Posted by piscivorous (Post 80463)
Actually given the world today it is harder for me to see how we will evolve instead of why "we wouldn't evolve." If one believes in the process of natural selection as the mechanism of evolution, and we have eliminated many of the selection processes by what criteria will the next evolution of man be driven. Historically most of the selection criteria were physical, did the individual survive to breeding age, and did that individual procreate passing on their genetic mutations to succeeding generations of progeny. In the developed world, survival to breeding age is no longer a question for most, so on what basis will the next step of evolution occur if the cycle of natural selection is limited by present day progress.

Selection hasn't, can't, become a thing of the past. It's not just about simple survival of the organism to sexual maturity, it's about the survival of particular genetically encoded traits. The parameters governing which traits have a greater likelihood of surviving are different in a civilized environment with good health care than those operative in a neolithic hunter-gatherer society - but, selection is still operating in the former. At the very least, questions about who gets to reproduce, based on what constitutes sexual attractiveness, are significant. Anything that impacts fertiltity or access to sex partners will be a continuing environmental pressure affecting the odds of selection.

nkirby 06-15-2008 06:22 PM

Re: Science Saturday: Avoiding Catastrophic Boredom
 
For me, the Monty Hall Problem is crystallized if we imagine starting off with a million doors only one of which has a car behind it (instead of only 3).

Ocean 06-15-2008 06:33 PM

Re: Science Saturday: Avoiding Catastrophic Boredom
 
Quote:

Originally Posted by AemJeff (Post 80488)
Anything that impacts fertiltity or access to sex partners will be a continuing environmental pressure affecting the odds of selection.

Being dead has a great effect on ability to reproduce beyond attractiveness...

My premise is that humanity is already evolving. Of course one would have to clearly define what "evolution" is. Momentarily and for our purposes we could accept it means a change which enhances our ability to adapt to our environment. Physical traits, which were most important in the past, are, I think, important but secondary to mental ability. I also think that, for example, acting in an altruistic way for the good of the group and not the individual, is an evolved trait. But not everyone possesses these traits. Those who are more prone to violence, either at the individual or massive level, such as governments, are less likely to have evolved along this line, but may possess the power to wipe out the "pacifists". It is the balance between these forces, and the external pressures that could precipitate a fight for survival that would determine who prevails. And the survivors will pass along their genes to posterity. We can be optimistic and think this is an unlikely scenario, and that a mix of the above will continue its evolutionary path. I think that under normal circumstances this would be the case. Under extreme conditions of survival, it may not...
Come on, tell me it's all nonsense and I'm just a doomsday gal!

Wonderment 06-15-2008 07:34 PM

Re: Science Saturday: Avoiding Catastrophic Boredom
 
Quote:

Interesting thought, Scott, but I don't agree. Certainly many, maybe most, people would opt for the bliss-filled existence you described if it were offered. But I think there will always be some people who will opt out. Look at the people who choose not to indulge in what is already available today, but instead prefer to spend their time in other ways.
I have often thought that organisms slightly smarter than us might have the natural capacity to control emotional experience. We humans are pretty good at evoking joy, sorrow, sexual arousal, rage and awe through ritual, art, sports and chemicals like alcohol and peyote. At least, we are better at it than gorillas or bonobos.

We're also pretty good at keeping the same emotions in check -- not screaming every time we're angry, not weeping whenever we feel sorrow, not having sex the moment we are attracted to another.

An organism, say merely twice as smart as us, might well be able to orchestrate our range of emotions rather effortlessly. They might have an emotional intelligence far superior to ours in other ways -- no irrational aggression, no psychological disorders like phobias, OCD, sleep/sex/eating disorders, etc.

Humans, I agree, may get there with chemicals. Drugs and electrical stimulation of the brain may soon lead to the end of pain and the beginning of ecstacy at will without deleterious side effects (like addiction, mood swings, etc.). Intelligence enhancers are likely to be available in a few years, especially those that will address memory loss, the aging of the brain, etc.

But as Brendan suggests, billions of people may choose not to enhance emotional and rational intelligence. That may engender some weird disconnects and exacerbate conflicts that already exist.

Aldous Huxley explored altering the mind with chemicals in Brave New World (dystopia) and Island (utopia). We may eventually be faced with a situation in which a drug dramatically improves rationality and emotional well-being. Psychedelic drug advocates contemplated putting LSD in the water supply to improve human consciousness. What if we could immunize people against impulses to wage war and commit murder? Could we require them to get vaccinated?

bjkeefe 06-15-2008 08:30 PM

Re: Science Saturday: Avoiding Catastrophic Boredom
 
Quote:

Originally Posted by Wonderment (Post 80495)
What if we could immunize people against impulses to wage war and commit murder? Could we require them to get vaccinated?

This could be the motivation for space travel. The lotus eaters could require that everyone choose -- either get with (on) the program or get off the planet.

Of course, there is an immediate problem here, even apart from the space travel aspect. If a minority of people refuse to be tranked, who among those who are is going to make them?

r108dos 06-16-2008 02:32 AM

Re: Science Saturday: Avoiding Catastrophic Boredom
 
The singularity again. Don't make me laugh. I thought we left it with the last diavolgue. It takes about two seconds (two questions) to exhaust the assumptions of science. Take the Big Bang for example: Where did the stuff come from that went 'Bang'? The whole thing is an unfathomable mystery. Words don't refer to anything. Maybe it's just me but it seems obvious there is no here here.


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