Category Archives: Technology

Descartes and Musk – On Dreams and Simulation

I’ve just begun reading through a paper of Tom Campbell’s which appeared in this video [link redacted]. In this post, though, I only aim to liken the popular simulation theory with Rene Descartes’ older “dream argument”. The former states that at least some of us are living in a virtual simulation. The latter runs as follows:

Premise 1 – If I know that I am awake, then I can eliminate as false the competing hypothesis that I am dreaming.

Premise 2 – I cannot eliminate the dreaming hypothesis.

Conclusion – I do not know if I am awake.

Elon Musk seems sympathetic toward the type of conclusion above. However, Musk’s interest has been not in dreams, but in whether a given person’s reality is provably virtual or actual. Descartes’ dream argument could be adapted in light of Musk’s challenge that we don’t know whether we’re living in virtual reality (VR):

P1′ – If I know that I exist in actual (non-virtual) reality, then I can eliminate as false the competing hypothesis that I exist in VR.

P2′ – I cannot eliminate the VR/simulation hypothesis.

C’ – I do not know if I exist in actual reality (as opposed to VR).

Testing the simulation hypothesis would minimally involve two steps. The first would be running participants through VR simulations. Following, the essential question for these subjects would become: “Did you know when your reality shifted between actual and virtual?” Naturally, experimenters could not give anything away until the end of such a study for it to be meaningful. If participants were consistently aware of when their reality changed kinds, then Musk’s simulation hypothesis would not apply: for their case, it would have to be ruled out as false. On the other hand, if subjects were generally unaware of their reality becoming actual or virtual, then Musk’s simulation hypothesis would hold true.

Campbell notwithstanding, this question presently remains unresolved.

Artificial Intelligence: Can Science Truly Recreate You? [Daily Nexus//Science & Tech, 8.28.2014]

With the unprecedented rise of millennial computing, lightning fast telecommunication, vibrant social media and virtually limitless access to information, our lives are consumed by a torrent of powerful technological influences.

The gap between who we are at a deeper, more philosophical level and who we appear to be on our various web profiles is simultaneously widened and blurred by recent scientific and technological advancements. “Who we are” has become a vexing and tiresomely complex concept, and in our push toward increasingly more efficient modes of survival, we seem to have run out of collective patience with it.

Yet in spite of this, debates over what makes us who we are continue today. The age-old question of how our minds interact with our bodies has been passed off from philosophers to computer scientists and engineers. Some of the latter figures claim that the advent of robotics and more sophisticated computing methods has made inevitable what Google engineering director Ray Kurzweil refers to as our “next stage of evolution”— by which he means artificial intelligence. A.I. is, in simplified terms, a rapidly accelerating field that tries replicating human functions and capabilities in machines to the fullest extent that current technology allows.

But is it possible for machines to exhibit complete human intelligence and consciousness?

UC Santa Barbara Psychology professor Stan Klein, whose research focuses on issues related to social knowledge representation, said that mainstream psychology believes that humans are machines, and thus can be understood from principles that comprise the backbone of modern applications in machine technology.

“The materialist dogma of modern science threatens to remove the [mind-body] issue from discussion, since it does not fit their metaphysical presumptions,” Klein said. “Perhaps they are right — or perhaps one can intelligently widen the scope of physicalism to encompass experience.”

At the forefront of such “physicalist” groups today are neuroscientists, many of whom believe that the mind can be fully reduced to electrochemical and mechanical bodily functions. From this perspective, replicating human consciousness in machines may prove less difficult than expected.

This possibility once pondered only in science fiction thrillers (in which the robots typically end up rebelling against their creators and destroying humanity) is becoming more compelling with the integration of technology and automation into nearly every facet of our lives, and may even become perfectly natural.

But is it scientifically feasible?

Albert Shin, a UC Santa Barbara Philosophy doctorate alumni and visiting assistant professor at Villanova University, said that even if we can explain the various workings of the brain, we are still missing something in our explanation of day-to-day conscious experience.

“With recent developments in cognitive and neuroscience, it is easy to think that all there is to the mind is a collection of brain cells,” Shin said. “Admittedly, the evidence suggests that there is a much closer relationship between mind and body than was argued by dualists like Descartes. But it would be a mistake to jump to the conclusion that all there is to the mind is simply matter.”

How these debates will pan out is still yet to be determined. But in proceeding, we should not forget to keep asking ourselves two basic questions. Who are we? And to what extent can — or more aptly, should — we allow science to answer that question for us?

[Feature image courtesy of Christine Daniloff/MIT]

Inspiration

Apologies for the delay. I haven’t been feeling inspired enough to produce worthwhile content, over the past week.

Speaking of which, today’s blurb-esque post will be about inspiration. (How uninspired, you say? Balderdash! Poppycock! Gibber-flabber, gobbledygook, pishing-posh, …!)

It’s a tricky, capricious thing, inspiration. Bedevils and frustrates just about everyone who consistently engages in projects requiring it. Indeed, in order to create something, one must first be sufficiently inspired to act on forming that very thing. So, naturally, inspiration is very important in a variety of task-related contexts.

To help get us started, a quick run over to Google Search yields:

in·spi·ra·tion
noun
1. the process of being mentally stimulated to do or feel something, especially to do something creative.
synonyms: creativity, inventiveness, innovation, ingenuity, genius, imagination, originality; …

Very broad starting base, this. By the above definition, inspiration is a process that is directly involved in both motivation and the intrinsic stimulation required to do or feel something.

When I sat down and looked at this (then-empty) text-space last night, I thought: “I’m just not inspired enough to write anything.” But can inspiration not happen along the way during a project, rather than right at the start? Who’s to say when exactly inspiration will hit during an activity? In general, inspiration is not very finely traceable (for those without the appropriate neuroscientific tools with which to scan their mental processes in a visible format, that is). All too often, those of us who rely on inspiration (and everyone does) are very much at its unpredictable mercy.

I shall offer up a theory: that for those of us more regularly involved in the so-called creative arts–e.g., writing and the calligraphic arts–inspiration does, and should happen when we least expect it. This is because inspiration knows no master: its fickle nature occurs precisely because of our desperate attempts to capture and put a lid on it. Inspiration has a mind of its own: you could almost hear it taunting from across the room where you can’t reach it, “nuh-uh–I’ll call you!” as your pay-deadline for a project approaches nearer and nearer.

Why should things be so frustrating and complicated? Because by its very nature, inspiration’s product–namely, art–is all about relinquishing control and surrendering one’s sensibilities to the work being considered. Whether it’s nature, a painted masterpiece, or a perfectly eloquent line in a book that enthralls one’s imagination, the most genuine inspirations occur when one is falling in love with the object of his or her appraisal.

And love, that greatest work of art one could possibly create or become engrossed in, involves the ultimate in letting go of one’s usual controls and defenses. Inspiration hits when we are so inexplicably struck by the beauty of a thing, person, or idea, that one simply must “do or feel something–especially something creative”, for the purpose of an unequivocal, irrefutable, and undeniably-felt love.

And I say that’s the way inspiration should be.

Approaching the noble art (and sublime science) of communication

Apparently, this has become an “art of” blog. Perhaps soon, it will become a pure art blog!

Today, I want to talk about communication. What accounts for the often vast and perplexing discrepancies invisibly at play as (apparently goodhearted) individuals attempt to successfully communicate?

Broad question, Suraj! Yeah, yeah, I recognize that. Actually, a (very dear) reader of mine said so first. Perhaps she will grace us with her insightful perspectives and charmingly elegant presence in a follow-up comment here, sometime.  [ 🙂 ]

Right, then: let’s narrow this down. What variables are at play when it comes to the observable and commonplace nuances in human communication?

Here’s a piecemeal set to help get us started:

  • Personality— A favorite pastime of mine to study, and an endlessly fascinating subject in general. See here for more.
  •  Cognition— How do people think? For more on individual differences in this vein, consider the scientific (albeit simplistic) Cognitive-Experiential Self-Theory (CEST).

Naturally, there are plenty more factors to discuss than the mere two I’ve just listed. This is simply to get the slow ball rolling on my blog’s gently-sloping hill. Communication is important for obvious reasons, yet it’s frequently and inconveniently misconstrued at best, inexplicably and woefully understudied at worst.

Here’s a link to expand our current scope–one that I hope will provide worthwhile and interesting enough to flesh out accordingly in a future post.

Innovation, authentic entrepreneurship, and martyrdom

Today’s entry will deal primarily with the art of innovation.

Innovation is something of a buzzword among our generation–perhaps so much so that it’s no longer entirely clear what it means. Accordingly, it has become worthy of my more penetrating (and relatively practical!) philosophical attentions.

Here are a few of the things that genuine, true-to-heart and cutting-edge innovation entails:

  • An insatiable thirst to succeed;
  • The correct resources/resource-gathering strategies (tricky, for the self-sacrificing entrepreneur);
  • A clear passion for what one does (much easier to identify, than to truly follow);
  • The ability to keenly foresee consumer needs that are mostly invisible to others (most people can’t do this well);
  • The will to follow up on a vision and successfully bring one’s ideas to fruition; and
  • The ability to persuade prospective partners and the masses that one’s product is truly worth investing in, and is far more effective than everything else out there (exactly because it’s so different from everything else).

Not everyone has the resources, willpower, psychological resilience, or even the innate creativity necessary to be an authentic innovator. There are many phases involved the in process of innovating, and many personal traits required by the visionary–self-sacrifice and the willingness to risk it ‘all’ (i.e. one’s own sanity) high up among them.

To be clear, this post is nothing very innovative. But I think it’s important to pause on what makes something truly novel and worth its target market’s while. There’s a lot of talk about entrepreneurship and innovation in our generation, but not the appropriate amalgamation of factors to turn enough of our ideas into longstanding realities during our own lifetimes.

“During our own lifetimes”–to the aspiring innovator, that “our” is relatively immaterial. Why? Because this type of person sees past the confines of their present time, the conventions that define their surrounding society, the go-to methods it deems “correct, respectable and reliable” in order to succeed. What’s familiar and “secure” is by no means the driver behind the unique innovator’s work-related impetus.

The successful pioneer commits unhesitatingly to the future worth of their investments, and plants the seeds necessary for their efforts to be of worth to the hearts and souls of a posterity that will benefit from (and henceforth reap the rewards of) their work.

The biggest problem, however–as I will discuss in the forthcoming days–is that the overwhelming majority of self-labeling entrepreneurs are far more attached to their own egos and material success, than to the thought of enhancing the future of their species’ hitherto undefined standards of life.