May 1, 2003

May 2003

Fearing and Loathing Death on the Road to Immortality :: May 26, 2003
We need not go quietly into that good night, but while extending our lives we must understand our motivations

Check out this must read article from Martin Rees, one of my favourite cosmologists, titled "In the Matrix." Here's an excerpt:
"All these multiverse ideas lead to a remarkable synthesis between cosmology and physics...But they also lead to the extraordinary consequence that we may not be the deepest reality, we may be a simulation. The possibility that we are creations of some supreme, or super-being, blurs the boundary between physics and idealist philosophy, between the natural and the supernatural, and between the relation of mind and multiverse and the possibility that we're in the matrix rather than the physics itself." -- Martin Rees

Like the original Matrix, I noticed a number of Buddhist themes in Reloaded ("There is no spoon," asceticism, etc.). For more, see "Wake Up! Gnosticism and Buddhism in the Matrix" in the philosophy section of the Matrix Website.The most obvious one in the new movie was the idea that humanity is stuck in a cycle of birth, death, and rebirth. It's only until we recognize the true nature of our reality that one can start working on becoming a truly enlightened individual.

In some Buddhist traditions, the more virtuous a life, the greater connection to the karmic cycle and the hopes of a better life in the next incarnation; of course, there's always the possibility of finally entering/achieving Nirvana.

In Reloaded, humanity is stuck in a similar cycle – which according to the Architect has had 6 loops, and as far as he's concerned, he'd like to see it go on indefinitely. In each cycle, the pivotal point comes when the Chosen One, i.e. Neo, has to choose between the destruction of humanity or instigating a new cycle. Each Neo previous to the one in Reloaded has chosen to restart the cycle.

But what's interesting is that each Neo is somehow slightly different than the last. In Reloaded, this difference is manifested by his love for Trinity, which is why he chose to snap the cycle.

I find so many things interesting about this, and not just from a Buddhist perspective. I suspect that reality may be similar to this. If we truly live in an infinite universe, then our lives are expressed an infinite number of times, each with an infinite amount of variability. Eventually, we may find ourselves observing a universe where a kind of Nirvana truly is attainable.

And as for Neo, while it took only him 7 cycles, he finally experienced enough variation for him to assess his position differently, and to act accordingly. But the number doesn't really matter – it could have been 100 trillion slightly variable cycles before he found himself in a Matrix where he fell in love with Trinity.

Wow. Just loved the new movie.

My Destination Cyborg piece has been translated into Italian and posted on the Extropico site: Destinazione: Cyborg.

Freedom in the Age of Technological Contraband
Regulating potentially dangerous technologies is one thing, but stifling research and innovation will lead to a dystopic future we're trying to avoid

One undeniable and overtly conspicuous fact of cosmology is that intelligence arises in the universe; and at the very least, through us, the universe is conscious of itself.

But what do we know about superintelligence, superconsciousness, or even the existence of god-like intelligences in the cosmos?

Our observations tell us that it's extremely likely that other intelligences exist in this universe. Moreover, the self-sampling assumption tells us that we should expect many of these civilizations to be similar to our own in terms of sophistication. What we don't know is the degree to which intelligence can evolve in this universe, or the extent to which intelligence has evolved in the cosmos. The Fermi Paradox suggests that either all intelligent life eventually goes extinct or that we can't yet fathom the types of manifestations that intelligent life can take.

The universe, for example, could be an extravagant form of intelligence that we don't quite understand yet. The universe appears massive and complex on so many scales because we dwell -- in relative terms -- in the intellectual and physical nanosphere (or physical macrosphere for all we know!).

What's troubling, however, is that if the universe is intelligent, it's utterly indifferent to life on Earth. Contrary to what theologians might say, there is nothing in this universe that indicates that a 'higher power' is looking out for anyone or anything. As Richard Dawkins has said, "The universe we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil and no good, nothing but blind, pitiless indifference."

Which begs the question: Can a superintelligent & superconscious entity be indifferent to suffering? I don't believe so. It's for this reason that I'm concerned that intelligent life cannot develop to the scale where it can manage the finer workings of the universe within which it resides. Otherwise, we would surely find ourselves in some sort of utopia or even heaven, which we don't.

At least not yet, as Tiper would say. Or at least not in this lifetime or this particular quantum many world.

Statement: "Decisions are made by individuals, and actions are, ultimately, taken by individuals. Therefore, the responsibility for them must also be taken by individuals."

Is this true?

On the surface it certainly appears that way, but groups -- particularly large ones -- tend to take on a life and character of their own. Once an organization exceeds 30 members or so, it starts to exhibit its own logic, intelligence, and 'agenda,' and becomes subject to Darwinian-like group selectional processes in relation to other groups (particularly competing groups) that impact on its decision making.

For it to continue to be viable, a large group's leadership hierarchy specializes its sentient agents into compartmentalized functionalities. So instead of having just one bookkeeper, you suddenly need accounting and finance departments. Individuals make decisions and perform work not on behalf of themselves and their personal needs (insofar as decisions that help the company reward the employee), but instead act as proxy decision makers for an entity that is unable to do so for itself, namely the corporation.

A large group with built in intelligence can in fact make a decision through a vote. If it's a vote, no singular person has actually made a decision on behalf of the group. Instead, an algorithm has been put into place that helps the group make a decision in consideration of the existence of many deciders who are looking out for the best interest of the group.

Take Microsoft for example. Because of the width and depth of its reach, no single person or even coherent group of persons is in charge any more; there is no singular vision that guides Microsoft anymore. There are far too many institutionalized and compartmentalized agendas at play that prevent a dictatorial-type running of the company. You've got Bill Gates. You've got the executives. You've got the shareholders. You've got the laissez faire economists and capitalists advising and supporting them. You've got some government and lobby groups breathing down their necks. You've got technological limitations. And of course, you've got the consumers. These environmental influences steer the character of the company and dictates the quasi-conscious decisions that it makes.

Thus, when Microsoft 'does something,' it does something outside of individual conscious thought. Scary, but true. It's a coherent entity with a life of its own, and one could argue that it's an intelligent but largely unconscious organism.

Added new quotes from Carl Sagan, Donna Haraway, Robert Bly, Bruce Sterling and the Dalai Lama.

Reason science correspondent Ronald Bailey interviews Daniel Dennett: "Pulling Our Own Strings."