The Mind

Numbers are tough to learn as a child.  One, two – many.  That is how you first see the world, and as how lots of other mammals and birds see the world.  Then you learn the numbers and the idea of counting, then connecting the idea that you can count a large number of individual things which makes the number of things.  It might seem that we understand numbers as adults, but unfortunately we cannot easily deal with large numbers. Remember poor Carl Sagan with his “Billions and Billions” of stars, atoms, lightyears or whatever else he was talking about. – We had no clue how many suns, galaxies, base pairs, cells or light years he meant, just that it was a lot.

The Dragons of Eden: Speculations on the Evolution of Human Intelligence

Reading Carl Sagan’s “The Dreams of Dragons” is like reading an ancient polymath’s writing – Bacon or Voltaire proposing their best insights from renaissance knowledge. Sagan draws on 1970’s knowledge of the human brain and consciousness to propose a broad vision for what was known from “recent” researches from the likes of Bronowski, Dement, Eccles, Gazzaniga, Gould, Leakey, Minsky, Sperry and Von Neumann. Many of their researches were cutting edge at the time, but have been overshadowed, modified or overturned by new work by themselves and others.

Earthrise over MoonscapeWe all have a personal reality, shared throughout society, more or less.

The Wave of The FutureIn the early nineties The Boston Computer Museum and a magazine called The High Tech Times sold a derivative print of Hokusai‘s The Great Wave off Kanagawa called The Wave of the Future. The image begins at the left with the original Great Wave, and is color pixellated through the center, and another wave in wireframe is added to the right. An original Great Wave print hangs in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in NYC, and in Claude Monet‘s house in Giverny, France. An original Wave of the Future print hangs opposite a print of the original in the staircase of my home. It appears that the full size digital rendition is out of print and unavailable from any source except a few copies in private hands. I was unable to find any indication of the artist’s identity or other information about this work.

great WaveThe image contrasts the size and power of the wave with the skill and courage of the fishermen and with the strength of Mount Fuji in the background. The revised image continues this contrast of strength versus skill, in taking at first the woodblock print technology representing a natural scene, then pixelation as a computer monitor with very low resolution would produce, followed by a coarse wireframe model of a new larger wave than the original. Wireframe modelling is the underlying basis for 3d modeling as used in Pixar movies. The strength and power of the natural world is represented by the skill of the art of Kokausi, followed by the revised technological representations of his work – at first crudely and coarsely done, then refining to something that reflects or virtualizes nature. The Wave of the Future tends to bit pop art – adding color noise in the pixelation, and using a coarse wire frame in the added wave, but it made the point then, and can be seen with an additional perspective now. (more…)

Venus de Milo - Photo by Jastro at commons.wikipedia.orgPythagoras showed that the golden ratio, phi ( φ) – 1.61814, used as the relationship of parts in a structure is amazingly pleasing. Physical dimensions in this relationship produce an order that is compelling and beautiful. The relationship of the successive chambers in a nautilus, the relative length of the tip of a finger to the tip to first knuckle, then to the length of the first two segments to the entire finger, then the hand, the relationship of successive vein length segments in a leaf all merge to the limit of φ . People know that symmetry is a characteristic of beauty, as you can see in my portrait, The Vitruvian Man by Leonardo da Vinci. φ is the “constant” of proportional symmetry in nature. Recognizing this constant and its derivation can bring order to a practical assessment of what makes things beautiful. (more…)

Throughout all of history, folks have tried to determine what it is that makes a person have consciousness. What is it that makes the light illuminating our mind with awareness of being?

No one has found a physical “thing” in a person that could be called a soul. In spite of the images in Harry Potter, Ghost and other works, no structure, vapor or essence has been identified as the soul or consciousness. I suggest that the reason is that the soul is an action, not a thing. In I am a Strange Loop, Doug Hofstadter makes a convincing case that human consciousness consists of a self referential strange loop.Lightbulb

I don’t think Doug completed his thesis. He left the nature of the strange loop as simply “something” within the cranium. The definition of a loop can be anything from a complete electrical circuit, anything round or oval that is closed or nearly closed, a curl or coil, or finally, a computer program sequence that repetitively executes a series of instructions. If one looks at a strange loop as an algorithm that recursively refers to both new input and itself, a clearer picture of what might be consciousness arises.

DesCartes said, cogito ergo sum (“I think, therefore I am”). He should have said “I think, and this makes me be”. Thinking is consciousness – while we are awake and aware the strange loop is the execution of thought. It depends on all the inputs from our senses, the state of our body and all the memories and associations or “tokens” we have developed through life.


I Am a Strange Loop

I waited with great anticipation for the release of Doug Hofstadter‘s new book, I am a Strange Loop. Doug has expanded on a central theme of his landmark book, Godel, Escher, Bach (known as GEB) to explore and expand his concept of the strange loop, and its implications on human consciousness. I call him Doug in this review because he has written both an enlightening and personal book that makes me feel that I have known him for years, in spite of only reading two of his books.
The book meets all my expectations and hopes. It is not to be approached without effort, as Doug makes reading a mental exercise – illustrating his points on self referential loopiness by wildly alternating between straight exposition, and restating others’ illustrative passages in barely recognizable forms. This strategy shows additional meanings by mapping classic themes to new symbols. He also masquerades new parables as quirky stories using a vocabulary of anagrams of the main points and names in his thesis.

These antics can fatigue your mind, especially because he seldom lets you know what he is up to until you are several pages along. You then have to go back to pick up the fourteen points that you have missed along the way. (more…)

Dublin, Ireland Street Scene 2006I’m visiting Dublin in the emerald isle for the first time, realizing that this place was under British rule for 700 of the last 750 years. I can’t help but realize that colonial rule doesn’t end well. It isn’t good for the natives, and in the end it causes lots of problems for the colonial power. Northern Ireland is still a terrible sore spot for both countries.
The people of Ireland were poor and starving under British rule. In about sixty years of independance, they have made this a prosperous land. I expect that Ireland will be, over the next sixty years, a better trading partner with England than it ever was as a colony.

Only those few who got rich by the suffering of others made out well in the previous regime – at the cost of their souls.

Looking for Spinoza: Joy, Sorrow, and the Feeling Brain

Antonio Damasio has written two books in one: A tour of his field of active brain imaging science which provide new insights into the dynamic working of emotions and feelings, and a biography of Benedictus Spinoza who three hundred and fifty years ago published exquisite, but very disruptive insights into the nature of man.

The important thing is that Looking for Spinoza, in the end, brings its multiple theses together in a gratifying view of the human condition. It shows not only how much we now know about the function of feelings and emotions, and how they regulate the body. Damasio shows how exquisitely accurate Spinoza’s insights were.
At first, Looking for Spinoza seems a little disjointed – what do brain scans and symptomatic analysis of people with brain lesions have to do with seventeenth century philosophical writings? Well, it turns out, quite a bit. It seems that Spinoza, intuited the functional relationships between emotionally competitent stimuli, emotions and feelings that are only now are being rediscovered by neuroscience. (more…)

The Age of Spiritual Machines: When Computers Exceed Human Intelligence

Ray Kurzweil is one of the most vocal proponents of the acendency of thinking machines. His The Age of Spiritual Machines: When Computers Exceed Human Intelligence, written in 1999 is dated, but that is a good thing for a book predicting the future! You can see how many predictions have come true. Much of what he predicted for 2009 is on the money. The interesting thing is that these predictions, which must have seemed wild in the last century, are just part of our everyday life!
The picture of the future he paints is one where machines and humans join to form a new intelligent species. His positive view of this brave new world is infectuous, but he is careful to evaluate the position of the naysayers, and respond. (more…)

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