No need to add a single word to this article .
The Meaning of Life Team
No need to add a single word to this article .
The Meaning of Life Team
Michael Shermer, a renowned author and Presidential Fellow at Chapman University gave valuable comments to one of the most disturbing questions regarding the significance and meaning of our life: do we and our actions matter in the universe? The question seems valid. Compared to cosmic scales (to the Milky Way, let alone to the observable universe), not just we, humans, but Earth itself is insignificant, less than a grain of sand on the seashore. We are so proud of our achievements, but we can hardly leave our own planet. We say that we rule the Earth, but we are more like ants on its surface, more depending on nature than ruling it.
Michael Shermer, however, shows that our actions do matter, if we make the analysis at a proper level. We shall assess our actions at the human size and timescale, at where we actually are. Our actions do matter to our friends, enemies and also to our society. See the article below. We can add only one thought to this. If we are diligent, lucky and if we are very smart, making the right decisions, we may even reach a level of development and may live long enough to have some effect on systems beyond the Earth and the solar system. Our current actions do matter to our own future and potentials as well.
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Browsing the net I have indirectly run into the new book (about to be released) of Digby Tantam, a British Professor of Psychotherapy. The first traces toward the book were not promising at all: some article in the International Business Times (India Edition) reported that „Human brains act like Wi-Fi”. Great, I said, another like hunter article with either no content at all, with overstretched conclusions or a commentary grossly distorting some background research. But at least I can write a short post about how modern and/or social media distorts scientific results, I thought.
So I clicked and yes, at first the content of the article has just seemed to confirm my suspicion. No reference to any research or proper written source: a supreme act of evil in my eye. Moreover, at some point the article said that Mr. Tantam claims that there are „direct connection between our brains”. Great, what comes next, telepathy? But a newspaper article is not a proper representation of the author’s statements – especially if the journalist is not able to write his name once properly, but misspelled it two times in two different way… And there were also interesting points as well: the importance of nonverbal, subconscious perception of other peoples’ emotions and their focuses of attention. We all are constantly aware of the moods and intentions of people around us – obviously a very useful feature for one’s survival and success. Humans are social beings after all. Obviously it won’t make our brain wi-fi, it will make more of a part of a larger net, if you are forced to use a metaphor. Regardless, the scientific article in the background may be interesting, I said, so lets’ find it.
There came the surprise: I could not find any related recent article from Mr. Tantam at the beginning. But my hunting instinct was already on, so after a time I discovered that the article was probably linked to his new book, The Interbrain: Embodied Connections Versus Common Knowledge. Luckily I was able to look into it and could see that there is no nonsense there: no telepathy, not even wi-fi, but well based research and conclusion about the idea that human beings are endlessly connected by a continuous interplay of non-verbal communication, of which we are unaware. The channels of these communications are the eyes, nose, skin and ears. All inputs from these sources are subconsciously processed and used by everyone’s brain, potentially creating a network of connected feeling and low-level awareness. If you think about how much the feelings of our family members immediately affect us, causing either happiness or misery, you can understand the validity of the conclusions. And all of this automatically, without a conscious thought. Quoting from some summary: “Considering social smiles and the way emotions can spread from one person to another, he explores the research that shows how our brains are linked and draws out the implications of the interbrain for our understanding of empathy, social communication, psychology and group behaviour.”
The book may have several interesting fundamental contributions to our own topic (the scientific answers to the meaning of life):
And I also have a gut feeling that this book may deserve a proper post-publication review sooner or later.
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It was interesting to read about and see the studio discussion of Ray Kurzweil, Google’s Director of Engineering in the SXSW Conference. He is a well-known futurist and he claims “Of his 147 predictions since the 1990s, …86 percent accuracy rate.” An undeniably smart guy with (probably merited) high self-confidence. Let’s see his latest forecasts!
“2029 is the consistent date I have predicted for when an AI will pass a valid Turing test and therefore achieve human levels of intelligence. I have set the date 2045 for the ‘Singularity’ which is when we will multiply our effective intelligence a billion fold by merging with the intelligence we have created.”
The related article confirms that “Kurzweil’s timetable for the singularity is consistent with other predictions,– notably those of Softbank CEO Masayoshi Son, who predicts that the dawn of super-intelligent machines will happen by 2047.”
Ray Kurzweil may even be right. The future is unpredictable and computers are still developing rapidly. New technologies are developed daily. However, there are also reasonable doubts here.
Even if we assume the Moore’s law will be valid for the next 18 years (not fully realistic), computer’s speed may increase by about 260 thousand times “only”. We can’t see the million times here. Besides our intelligence is difficult to be measured. We can hardly estimate our memory capacity, let alone the number and nature of calculations our brain makes automatically during e.g. image/pattern recognitions. Moreover, how can we “merge” our brain/intelligence with that of the machines? It sounds great, but any programmer can tell to you that even building interfaces between computer programs is difficult sometimes. What about building functional connections between two entirely different “hardware”, “software” and “operations”, between human brains ad silicon chips?
These problems are somewhat resonate with those expressed regarding any other “singularity” theory. Singularity theories usually relies on assumptions of exponential growth – growth of knowledge, growth of performance. However, it is knows that in several areas of science new discoveries requires investments increasing more that linearly. USD 5 bn price tag of the Large Hadron Collider is a good example. Moreover, there are physical limits to certain developments, as there are limits for the speed (the speed of light) and the accuracy of certain physical measurements (Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle). It is simply too bold to say the exponential growth is feasible anyway in a limited environment, on Earth. And yes, we used the word “environment” not accidently.
But we don’t have to rely on word only. We can test his predictions relatively soon. In his 2005 book “The Singularity Is Near” he predicted that we can buy a computer with computational capacity of the human brain for 1000 dollars in 2020. So we can just sit back and wait for the first test results.
What is also very interesting in his speech is his positive outlook of these developments for us. “What’s actually happening is [machines] are powering all of us,” Kurzweil said. “They’re making us smarter.” Yes, there are many positive effect of the computers. We can hardly wait to be cleverer – we all know that we need it, right? But they can also make us weaker and stupider. It is proven that those parts of the brain and the body, which are not used and exercised usually, become weaker. Brain and body functions taken over by machines will not be better – they will be artificially augmented, resulting in dependencies. Remember the cars/elevators and obscenity, glasses and weaker eyesight, orthodontics and tooth degradation. Such effects can happen in short-term (lack of exercise results in weaker muscles) and long-term (lack of evolutionary pressure can allow the inheritance of unfavourable genes variants).
So while we sincerely hope that Ray Kurzweil is right in every possible aspect, we recommend not to lay down our mental weaponry and give up thinking. Chance favours the prepared mind – not the lazy one.
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Once upon a time, human needed food and shelter most. Then they lacked security from diseases and wars. They wanted to have love, to join a family, group, to belong to a community. From this community, they also wanted to gain prestige and self-esteem. The lucky ones who got even these things might wish for self-actualization too.
Yes, you remember well. These things are coming from the Maslow’s Pyramid of Needs. It is not easy to achieve all these aims, fulfill all these needs. However, at least some problem seemed to be solved recently: lack of information, lack of community, lack of groups and people to connect with, thanks for the internet and the modern social media providing the technology connecting people on the other side of the globe.
Is this all well now?
Definitely not. It turned out that too much information through the net can also have material side effect: lack of or limited attention time span. In case of too much information and too much connection opportunity you have to decide that for what you will use your limited time. Moreover, your time has become a prize, a currency in itself. Whoever can grab and hold your time and attention can use this time to try to sell you something. Or he can sell your time to other sellers: what do you think Facebook, Google, and all celebrities are living on and profiting from? Yes, from your time and attention.
The business model is very tempting. The information flows freely and abundantly. You are receiving one fabulous story after another. You have access to news and articles of all kind, both Google and Facebook offer you free services: search engines to reach the global knowledge base of humanity and a useful platform to keep in touch with your friends and people interested in same things than you. The same goes to Twitter, Snapchat; you name them.
However it all comes at a price: they try to monopolize your attention with smart solutions, deviously designed “useful” applications and with algorithms knowing your tastes and habits better than you do. Computer game addictions are just the tip of the iceberg: obviously they are mostly useless, obviously they are developed to make you spend money in them or become a platform for ads and obviously they distract you from the reality, where you can have a meaningful life and where you can achieve you real (not virtual) aims and desires. In most cases, the “information” provided by them turns out tabloid-level “news,” celebrity stories or outright marketing and product placements. Even more useful applications and facts can distract and disturb you so much that your useful intelligence can drop by 10 IQ points. These providers and applications have become so efficient that even their designers may decide to break any link with them.
Certain analysis of this situation goes so far that modern media effectively limit your free will (as it limits your effective IQ). There are well-supported arguments that Modern Media Is a DoS Attack on Your Free Will. It is not just that modern media may have influence can distract you from real activities. There are arguments that they can hijack your brain: modern media specialists and marketers know too much about our brain and behavior. Using this knowledge they can tailor and title articles and messages to grab your attention and influence your behavior. They don’t even have to be perfect: analysis the results of an actual campaign and using A/B testing methods, they can correct their mistakes during flight. They can even cancel whole campaigns in the middle and try it from a different angle. Without their knowledge, budgets of few million dollars, tools and methodologies it is difficult to resist such campaigns.
Quite a dark picture, isn’t it? Where is the meaning of our life if we have become puppets of the puppet masters/gurus of the online social media?
Fortunately, this situations is not so severe. So far we have presented only one side of the coin, the pessimistic one. On the other hand:
So what is the moral of the story?
Use your intellect, learn the nature of the beast and you will easily have the upper hand in this game. You just have to realize that the aces are with you already.
The Meaning of Life Team
In his latest paper in the International Journal of Astrobiology Daniel P. Whitmire, PhD., teacher at the Faculty of Mathematical Sciences of the University of Arkansas found (taking our current state and the Principle of Mediocrity into consideration) that we have high chances to go extinct relatively soon. Needless to say that extinction would be a telling argument against any meaning of our existence. Is the situation really so grave? We can not afford to look away from such a risk, so we shall come back to this topic as soon as possible.
The original article: Implication of our technological species being first and early
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It’s long been assumed that the human genus originated during a significant climate change event in Africa. According to this hypothesis an ice age occurred between 2.8 and 2.5 million years ago which coincided with a pulse or cluster of diverse new species, including Homo. These pulses may be seen in the African fossil records.
It’s a theory partly made popular because of its grand theater. It highlights a dramatic story of humans having evolved into a sophisticated species with huge brains under extreme pressure. It sounds heroic to become a clever enough survival in a few hundred thousand years after the onset of a catastrophic ice age. A great origin story worthy of our intellect.
Now Andrew Barr from the George Washington University (Signal or noise: significance of turnover pulses) has published a study which refutes the ice age theory. Instead it claims that simple random factors other than environmental shifts are likely to have caused these pulses.
W. Andrew Barr’s paper declares that the underlying cause of these pulses may be down to just chance. To prove it, he ran a series of computer simulations to model how the African fossil record might look without factoring in climate change. The results showed species clusters of a similar size to the real African fossil record. While it is true scientists can’t agree on what defines a cluster, Barr’s paper implies that species origination is more random than once believed. In other words, Homo, the most intelligent of species, may have come about from pure luck. A simple roll of the cosmic dice.
At first glance, it looks like our collective human ego has been dealt a massive blow. Barr believes his findings must prompt us to look for causes other than climate change for human evolution. He adds that our larger brains and technological prowess could have evolved for any number of prosaic reasons.
For those searching for meaning in life, Barr’s randomness of evolution may strike a deep disappointment in our hearts. It seems like our heroic backstory has been stripped away, leaving nothing but a primordial soup of arbitrary numbers.
This randomness of life’s origins suggests that we as high functioning individuals have no control over our own fate. However noble the vision of our destinies, we might as well wander aimlessly through our lives, subject to the vagaries of chance.
How does that alter our perception of life’s meaning? Moreover if all organisms are created by chance, what does this mean to be human? How does this shape our ego? If all species originate from random fluctuations over the course of time, then that makes us no better than amoebae. Our first thoughts might be that this is rather depressing for humankind. It’s far easier to have purpose to our lives when we believe we were shaped by an extreme external forces providing us a favourable (we, the clever-enoughs to survive) framework for our existence.
Science relentlessly seems to strip away the purpose in our lives, declaring we’re not as important in the scheme of things as we believe. Galileo risked inquisition from the Church by suggesting the Earth revolved around the Sun, implying Man was not the center of the Universe. Darwin theorized that all species evolve by natural selection and are not designed from scratch by some celestial being. From parallel multiverses to quantum mechanics, our sense of order and how we shape our destiny has been knocked time after time. Science has shown us to be tiny and inconsequential against the vast backdrop of space and time. With this latest paper, has Andrew Barr just thrown another pebble at the hubris of mankind?
However, before we get too disconsolate, we shall step back to have an overall picture.
First of all, we shall realize that randomness is integral to the fabric of life and universe. It’s been with us since the Big Bang and will exist to the universe’s last dying whisper. The molecules of a gas move around randomly, a process called Brownian motion. Volcanoes erupt through sudden shifts in the Earth’s tectonic plates, spewing destruction. An abrupt shift in temperature can trigger avalanches. Sunspot activity occurs at random resulting in magnetic storms affecting the Earth’s weather. Stars form and collapse into black holes, sucking other stars into oblivion. These are events are beyond our control, caused by forces of nature arbitrary and spontaneous from our point of view. They existed long before humans walked the earth and will continue long after.
Consequently Barr’s study didn’t uncover a new layer of randomness in life’s origins; it only shines a brighter light on the existing ones.
The real question we must ask is whether past randomness of our formation is a decisive factor of our meaning of lives. Is our past or our future is more important for us?
The answer depends on your personal views and preferences. One may think that the past, such as our ancestors and where we are coming from is more important than what we will do in the future. I don’t share this view. You cannot change the past, but you can define yourself and make your own decisions in the future.
Randomness might pervade all mechanisms of Nature, but it may not prevent us from forging a path toward our selected destiny. This chance is obviously depends on the existence of our free will, so further research is more than justified. But if we can meet this “minor” precondition, we can look for meaning outside the past whims of Nature.
Such future realization of the meaning of life is uncertain in almost all respect at best. We are all mortals, so our personal “futures” are limited. Even humanity’s existence in threatened by internal and external dangers. Individuals, whole groups and even entire societies have grossly different views on what is a worthy meaning of life. Nevertheless, we all, individually or together must look inside ourselves for a meaning of life. Raising a family, having a successful career, or travelling the world? Why not? Accomplishing our dreams during a finite lifespan of an individual or a hopefully very long existence of humanity may be the best we can hope for in a random world.
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The Greatest Story Ever Told–So Far by Lawrence M. Krauss
We don’t know whether it is the greatest story ever told or not – but definitely among the most interesting ones. Going through a large chunk of the development of modern science is exciting even if one knows what are the latest discoveries.( Obviously most of us have to realize that we don’t know or we don’t know well enough of them). Compared to other popular science books one of the most difficult but most rewarding characteristic of this book is that it doesn’t simplify the scientific results too much. It is brave enough even to risk losing some of its audiences. Nonetheless, if you are persistent enough (and you are not lazy to check out Wikipedia for some additional explanation 🙂 ) you can really learn something new about the world around and inside you.
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