Category Archives: Science

Freedom Club Showcased on AISFP

Shaun Farrell, who runs the Adventures in SciFi Publishing podcast, interviewed my editor David Bischoff last week.  The whole thing went very well, and David did an excellent job talking about his long career both as a writer and editor of SF, and his recent foray into indie publishing. As you may know, David started Hotspur Publishing, an independent company to publish his backlog that has accumulated over the years, along with new titles like Freedom Club, written by me.

I’m especially pleased that my book was mentioned as well during the podcast. It was really nice of Shaun to help promote the book, and I would urge everyone to listen to episode 154 of Adventures in SciFi Publishing and even comment on the the podcast web page if you can.

AISFP Rocks!

Retrocausality – Is it real?

Even though central to my book’s theme in some respects, I only recently familiarized myself with Retrocausality. An interesting concept which boils down to this: effect before cause.

So is it real? I believe it’s more interesting as a philosophical topic. Certainly, we at times imagine our actions are based on the influence or desires of others in the future. No? Then just imagine someone who bucks society, and then defiantly slams a fist on the table. “I’m right god-damn-it ! You’ll see, time will tell!”

So…, taking actions now in the name of future morality (the cause) is employed. It’s not so strange  for the human animal. Even if it’s wrong, it certainly is poetic. Isn’t that enough to give pause to this absurd notion?

Anyway, I suppose time will tell if it’s right or wrong. Time will tell.

Why Good Old Fashion AI is Dead

Martin heidegger

The following paper is probably the best document which describes the death of “Good Old Fashion AI”.

Why Heideggerian AI Failed and how Fixing it would Require making it more Heideggerian

Okay, it might be a bit long for the casual blog readers. But Professor Dryfus makes a compelling case for the death of traditional AI, and why its future depends on Heideggerian philosophy. In reality, the AI community now seems to recognise that to crack the secret of consciousness, we must first understand how it manifests itself in living creatures. Only then can we begin to create artificial intelligence that represents that which we can only now imagine in Science Fiction.

It’s a fascinating topic.

Technology’s Emotional Driver

Chimp using stick  Chimp Using Rock  Bonobo Eating 

I have often considered why man seems so hell-bent on changing his environment. Why humans invent many types of useful objects and techniques, all of which I deem to be technology.

Quite honestly, most philosophical books on this topic do not have an answer. In other words, the motivation behind man’s incredible creativeness is not explained. It remains simply,  a mystery.

From my point of view, such a position is tragic. Humans are by their very nature, technological creatures.  In my opinion, the very thing that separates us from the natural world (although this too is a pont of argument) is our ability to envision an optimal state of existence, and then work towards that state by applying appropriate tools or techniques. We want to create and invent, and deep down within us there seems to be a motivational driver. But sadly, no one seems able to put their finger on it.

However, after listening to an interview with Jaak Panksepp on the Brain Science Podcast, I was stuck with the possibility that man’s primary motivation to create technology could be a specific emotion. 

In brief, Dr. Panksepp has for some time experimented on the emotion centers of animals, and has concluded there are seven primary emotions that can be found within the brains of most mammals. They are; Seeking, Fear, Rage, Lust, Care, Panic, and Play. I won’t discuss them all, but I am very interested in Dr. Panksepp’s ideas on the Seeking system.

According to Panksepp, the Seeking emotion is a primary driver which is within all mammals, and presumably humans. It motivates us to find solutions to imminent problems, the most fundamental of which would be forging for food. However, the Seek emotion is a general goal seeking system. His own words sum up its complex behavior;

… the neuroscience evidence indicates that all mammalian brains do contain a general-purpose SEEKING system designed to actively engage the world, especially its life-sustaining resources. The active and automatized urge to energetically interact with the world and to help integrate associated information about environmental events, increases the future efficiency of behaviors through the emergence of cognitive maps, expectancies, and habit structures (Panksepp, 1986a, 1992a, 1998a).

After listening and reading up to the links above, I would ask anyone to consider whether this very same Seek emotion could be responsible for technology’s creation. Is it so strange? After all, our will to discover and invent seems driven by something. I would hypothesize that Panksepp’s “Seek” is in fact that force. And this would explain why technology is so general in nature. As I have argued in previous posts, technology is not just a simple tool or invention. It is more like a useful idea that helps us shape the world. Yes, technology can be instantiated into an object. However, the concrete form pails against the idea which created it. That is because, the idea within our heads can be passed down to others, and repeated when the desire to do so exerts itself.

However, even if Seek is the primary force behind our inventiveness, there are many more questions to ask. For instance, why is man so capable of going beyond the creative ability of animals? Is the technology we create  intrinsically different from what we see in nature? For example, when beavers build dams, and birds build nests; is that an application of technology? It could very well be that the emotional centers of all our brains are driving this, but I tend to feel our cognitive scope is much higher, and allow man to enter the world of the “unnatural”.

But as interesting as all these questions are, let’s not tackle them all here in this one post. For now, the issue is whether or not the Seek emotion acts as our primary source of invention, or want to invent. I believe it is. And hopefully new experiments in neuroscience will gather enough evidence to make a more objective case.

If you want to have a more technical breakdown of Dr. Jaak Panksepp‘s ideas, I would suggest you also look at the following paper. It is more technical, but still a good read.

But what is natural?

I have had several discussions about technology, and my defining it as any application of Sentient (not necessarily human) intentions to modify the environment in a preferred manner. I along with some other scholars see it as an unnatural act by definition. But this begs the question why our “intentions” make a difference. Are they really special or just an extension of the natural world? And If they are natural, then all our intentions and technology which emerge from those intentions, could be seen as an extension of nature.

This issue has created some debate. The crux of my argument boils down to the definition and intrinsic meaning of “natural”. Things seem to get blurry at this point, and to be honest I don’t think anyone has the answer to this. I suppose everyone can decide for himself how to apply the meaning.

But I did come across a philosopher “Peter Hancock” who seems to have thought this through, somewhat like me. The following link is interesting;

And within this text I found the following;

Technology and Natural Laws
In the sense I have conveyed we now have to inquire whether
technology and nature are different or whether they are in fact
essentially the same. For good or bad, we have come to a situation
where strong positive empiricism reigns and technology is the material
manifestation of that creed. But is this natural? As I am sure the reader
has suspected all along, it all depends upon what is considered
‘natural?’ That is, are we going to use the term in an inclusive or
exclusive sense. The inclusive, coarse-grained view is that physical
entities obey physical laws. Hence, everything is ‘natural’ by this
definition of nature. But this view is biased by a re-ificiation of
physical laws. To the strict ecologist, to whom these laws and their
application is sacrosanct, technology in general and human-machine
systems in particular are only extensions of nature. True, they explore
exotic regions that cannot be compassed by any living organism alone,
but they are bound by the same strictures and constraints and are subject
to the ‘pervasive’ laws. But, in conception, they are founded in human
imagination which is not bound by any such laws. As Koestler (1972)
notes, ‘the contents of conscious experience have no spatio-temporal
dimensions; in this respect they resemble the non-things of quantum
physics which also defy definition in terms of space, time, and
substance.’ This unbounding is what makes developments such as
virtual reality so intriguing (Hancock, 1992).

If I understand the above, it seems to put importance or meaning on the fact that technology distinguishes itself as an expression of imagination, beyond any limits of physical laws.

You could say that many (if not all) humans do put importance upon man’s imagination and desires. If not, why not just go back and live in the jungle? Mind you, I don’t think this is the brainwashing of any one culture/religion of humans. We are all guilty of this thinking and we have been since man got a brain big enough to leave the jungle. As proof, wouldn’t you agree we all seem to like singing around the fire? That is not the work of Judeo/Christian culture. It is the work of Sentient beings.

Of course, now I need to explain what is imagination and intention. Perhaps it is an emergent property of nature. One that allows the cosmos to understand itself.

I don’t know. I guess I will never know.

Technology Defined

I think this is needed. Without a definition of Technology/Technique, much of the book can not be fully understood so I offer the following as a starting point;
Wikipedia: Technology deals with human as well as other animal species’ usage and knowledge of tools and crafts, and how it affects a species’ ability to control and adapt to its natural environment.

Webster: 1 a : the practical application of knowledge especially in a particular area : engineering 2 <medical technology> b : a capability given by the practical application of knowledge <a car’s fuel-saving technology>
2 : a manner of accomplishing a task especially using technical processes, methods, or knowledge <new technologies for information storage> : the branch of knowledge that deals with the creation and use of technical means and their interrelation with life, society, and the environment, drawing upon such subjects as industrial arts, engineering, applied science, and pure science
From this viewpoint, following Frances Stewart,[38] we shall make the important distinction between the available technology and the actual technology in use. Thus, starting with a broad definition of technology as extending to all the ‘skills, knowledge and procedures for making, using and doing useful things’, we may describe technology as a set of techniques, each technique being associated with a set of characteristics.

Technology is interpreted as an anthropological constant to construct an environment in which man can survive. Acting in the field of technology is to act rationally with a purpose, i.e., in the framework of a means-end relation, and it is employed for coping with “experiences” (Widerfahrnisse) by means of using tools.

The Technological Society by Jacques Ellul

  • In the forward by Robert Merton: defines technique as, “any complex of standardized means for attaining a predetermined result” (p. vi).
  • Jacques Ellul himself defines technique as:  “the totality of methods rationally arrived at and having absolute efficiency in every field of human activity” (p. xxv).
  • Theorist H. D. Lasswell’s definition of technique as, “the ensemble of practices by which one uses available resources to achieve certain valued ends” (p. 18).

My personal definition:
Technology in general can take many forms both concrete and abstract. However, it is born by the intentional actions of Sentient Beings (Human for the most part in this time frame) to change the environment in a way that is both unnatural (by definition) and  more efficient. Once created, technology can persist in either abstract form as an idea or methodology (generally referred to as techniques) or be instantiated as a physical object which may (or may not) require further utilization by a sentient being to have an affect upon the environment.