Readings

Transhumanist Free Will

Even if you think debate over human free will has been conclusive (to say the least) or not agree in aphorisms as definitive judgements on the matter, Hank Pellissier’s “Free Will Does Not Exist – Should it be a Transhumanist Enhancement?” brings a refreshing debate on what would ‘enhanced’ human beings do about their possibility of free will.

“(…) We don’t have free will because human physiology isn’t wired that way. (…)

It is true that certain factions still believe in free will – Religionists and Libertarians – but I’m not in either camp. I’m an atheist social progressive.

Having established my opinion on free will, let’s proceed…(…)  Should 100% Free Will be a Transhumanist Goal? (…)  I believe free will isn’t available,but it could be attained, at least partially, perhaps through excruciating disciplines… or – definitely – via emerging transhuman technologies.

Returning to the present time, let’s examine the suffering caused by our enslavement to our outdated neurochemistry, which evolved to protect us from pre-civilization menaces. Let’s divide our investigation of the consequences into three categories:

Body –  Many people (…) enslaved to physical addictions that render them helpless. (…)

Emotion  – Humanity is cursed with negative feelings that injure us with internal pain and agony. (…)

Thought  – Our minds often flit spasmodically from one obsession to another, exhausting us with their randomness and superficiality. (…)

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if all these problems were eradicated?

Imagine an existence as Free-Will Transhumans, who decided 100% of the time what we wanted to think, feel, and do.. (…)

We’ll begin with options presently available, and continue from there into futuristic, far-out, fantastical possibilities.

Today’s Techniques and Technology  – Control of one’s thoughts and feelings can be improved via meditation. (…)

Pharmaceutical Control of our Biochemistry –  “Paradise engineering”, advocated by philosopher David Pearce of HedWeb.com, has “abolition of suffering” as its goal. (…)

Memory Erasure and Alteration + Injection of Joyful Invented Memories  – Our neurological response to situations is largely determined by memories of similar events. (…)

Rewiring Our Brains, with Wires – Our mental activity currently depends on largely-out-of-our-control neurochemical reactions….”  read full article

Will the future be more of the same in sexism?

Rose Eveleth’s Why Aren’t There More Women Futurists? published in The Atlantic discusses the relations of having a male skewed crowd of futurists and what to expect of the future.

Are men to reproduce current social sexist skews?  If so, as a self-fulfilling prophecy, or as unfolding of today’s cultural vices?

Then, looking at a possible explanation of why women are not so preset among futurists – is it an old educational/income bias – or women nonconformist stance towards current sexist society prevents them from seeing men’s brave new world?

In this case, it may be exactly what future calls for.

 

 

Spontaneous thoughts processes study

Published in ScienceDirect, “The wandering brain: Meta-analysis of functional neuroimaging studies of mind-wandering and related spontaneous thought processes” researchers use neuroimaging analysis on spontaneous thoughts.

Cognitive functions in mind-wandering states links to brain activity in both default mode network and not directly related regions with comparable consistency.

Quantitative meta-analysis of neuroimaging studies bring light to neural correlates.

“These meta-analytic results indicate that DMN activation alone is insufficient to adequately capture the neural basis of spontaneous thought; frontoparietal control network areas, and other non-DMN regions, appear to be equally central. We conclude that further progress in the cognitive and clinical neuroscience of spontaneous thought will therefore require a re-balancing of our view of the contributions of various regions and networks throughout the brain, and beyond the DMN.”  check the full paper

And the whole earth was of one language… (Genesis 11:1)

Reserachers Richard Futrell, Kyle Mahowald, and Edward Gibson from the department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences of MIT published a “Large-scale evidence of dependency length minimization in 37 languages“.

Words grammatically related tend to be closer to each other in sentences.  Across all languages, in what can be a case of a linguistic universal.  Linguistic universals are predicted by theories such as Universal Grammar by Noam Chomsky and applied in many natural and formal languages.

Key novelty here is ‘Large-scale evidence’.  Since Noam Chomsky (among other linguists) language models and hierarchy studies apply theoretic universal properties.  More data and application of language parser made it possible to gather evidence of dependency length minimization.

Researchers Reveal Climbing a Tree Can Improve Cognitive Skills

From press release:

“Climbing a tree and balancing on a beam can dramatically improve cognitive skills, according to a study recently conducted by researchers in the Department of Psychology at the University of North Florida.

The study (…)  show that proprioceptively dynamic activities, like climbing a tree, done over a short period of time have dramatic working memory benefits. Working Memory, the active processing of information, is linked to performance in a wide variety of contexts from grades to sports.

The results (…)  suggest working memory improvements can be made in just a couple of hours of these physical exercises. (…)

Proprioception, the awareness of body positioning and orientation, is associated with working memory. (…)
In the study, such activities included climbing trees, walking and crawling on a beam (…)  , and researchers found that their working memory capacity had increased by 50 percent, a dramatic improvement.

The researchers also tested two control groups (…)  in a lecture (…)  [and] a yoga class (…)  , neither control group experienced working memory benefits.

Proprioceptively dynamic training may place a greater demand on working memory than either control condition because as environment and terrain changes, the individual recruits working memory to update information to adapt appropriately. Though the yoga control group engaged in proprioceptive activities that required awareness of body position, it was relatively static as they performed the yoga postures in a small space, which didn’t allow for locomotion or navigation.(…)  ”

For more information about the study, visit http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26029969.

“Altruistic Horizons: Our tribal natures, the ‘fear effect’ and the end of ideologies” By David Brin

from IEET:

“In fact, while the models of Freud, Marx, and Machiavelli (also Madison, Keynes, Hayek, Gandhi etc.) attracted followers, I think a stronger case can be made for tribalism as a driver of history.
Shouldn’t any theory of our nature apply across the long span when that nature formed? Indeed, Freud, Marx and Rand shared cluelessness about Darwinian evolution, animal behavior, pre-agricultural anthropology, or ethology.

 

(…) Over and over, we see how devotion to a group, clan, or nation overwhelms individual self-interest. Indeed, for most of the last million years, any man or woman who lost the faith and confidence of his or her tribe was in great danger. Often effectively dead.

Ask any kid between the ages of ten and nineteen—how urgently youneeded approval of a small group of friends, coincidentally about the same size as a prototypical Cro-Magnon tribal band. And if that group turned on you, remember the pain?

Sure, parents tell their kids—“Don’t worry, you’ll make new friends.” At one level, in the rational prefrontal lobes, we know this to be true. And yet, the gut still wrenches, as if life were on the line… which it would have been, back in olden days, if the tribe ejected you from its circle of comradeship.

Oh, but humans can be very flexible defining what is “my tribe.” More often than not, the major determining factor is fear. (…)

1) There is a “Worry Horizon”… what threats concern you and your neighbors. Here we see that worry is quite a different thing than Fear! (…)  Fear controls what it is that we are worrying about. And how far we’ll look for it.

2) There is also a “Time Horizon” having to do with how far into the future you devote your attention (…) The better, more productive and secure civilization (…) empowers you to look farther, to more distant, dangerous horizons.

3) Another might be called the “Otherness Horizon” – where one looks not for danger but for opportunities, adventures, new allies, new mating partners. (…)

This could also be called the “Horizon of Inclusion” since it is partly about deciding how many people you want to deal with as worthy fellow citizens and negotiating partners, and where you draw the line, calling others foes. …” read full article

Brain Picking’s on Andre Gide’s Journals

Posted on Maria Popova’s Brain Pickings:

“That nebulous notion is what the great French writer André Gide (November 22, 1869–February 19, 1951), who received the Nobel Prize for his “fearless love of truth and keen psychological insight,” explores with precisely such keen psychological insight throughout The Journals of André Gide (public library) — the most cherished of young Susan Sontag’s favorite books, and the same indispensable volume that gave us Gide on the vital balance of freedom and restraint and what it really means to be yourself.

Gide was one of history’s many celebrators of the creative benefits of keeping a diary, but what makes his journals particularly compelling is his dedicated discourse with the nature of the mind itself, constantly contemplating the inner workings of our highest human faculties — originality, the imagination, and the machinery of the creative process.” read full, original post

Sexist men are underperformers. Again. Again, scientifically proven.

Researchers Michael M. Kasumovic and Jeffrey H. Kuznekoff published “Insights into Sexism: Male Status and Performance Moderates Female-Directed Hostile and Amicable Behaviour“.

” Although social constructionist theory argues that sexism is a response towards women entering a male dominated arena, this perspective doesn’t explain why only a subset of males behave in this way. (…)

We hypothesised that female-initiated disruption of a male hierarchy incites hostile behaviour from poor performing males who stand to lose the most status. To test this hypothesis, we used an online first-person shooter video game that removes signals of dominance but provides information on gender, individual performance, and skill.

We show that lower-skilled players were more hostile towards a female-voiced teammate, especially when performing poorly. In contrast, lower-skilled players behaved submissively towards a male-voiced player in the identical scenario. This difference in gender-directed behaviour became more extreme with poorer focal-player performance.

We suggest that low-status males increase female-directed hostility to minimize the loss of status as a consequence of hierarchical reconfiguration resulting from the entrance of a woman into the competitive arena.

Higher-skilled players, in contrast, were more positive towards a female relative to a male teammate. As higher-skilled players have less to fear from hierarchical reorganization, we argue that these males behave more positively in an attempt to support and garner a female player’s attention.

Our results provide the clearest picture of inter-sexual competition to date, highlighting the importance of considering an evolutionary perspective when exploring the factors that affect male hostility towards women.”  check the full paper

Adaptive data analysis

In “The reusable holdout: Preserving validity in adaptive data analysis” published in Science researchers Cynthia Dwork, Vitaly Feldman, Moritz Hardt, Toniann Pitassi, Omer Reingold, Aaron Roth addresses the issue of data analysis adaptivity.

Applying thumb rules such as the same 5% significance test many learn when introduced to scientific method at school sometimes corroborate misleading ‘discoveries’.  Data analysis often enough is made through a re-interpretation of statistics.  So that conclusions carry much of our models and how we interpret raw data in the first place.

Author Moritz Hardt posted an interesting introduction to the paper in Google Research Blog.

does objectivity help creativity?

in “Stop Trying To Be Creative” CHRISTIE ASCHWANDEN brings testimony of a less structured find of creativity.

Having defined objectives might actually be driving you out of the path to creative solutions.

ATCG not enough for good DNA?

In “Structural Basis for a Six Nucleotide Genetic Alphabet” published at the Journal of the American Chemical Society researches propose adding a couple of letters.

“Z” and “P” would contribute to the classic double helix structure with similar flexibility and rigitdy.  Paper states that this would integrate well with current ‘conventional’ pairs.  An ATCGZP DNA could evolve and take a life of its own.  Literally.  Including evolution and all its unforeseen consequences.

In theory, having an enriched set of building blocks would increase the possibility of creating new proteins and thus potentially useful for medial and scientific purposes.  Perhaps one advantage is that such proteins (and other biochemical structures) is the fact that they would be easily marked and spotted as distinguished elements.

see the press release

“The First Energy Revolution — Tesla Energy Changes Everything” by Ken Trough

From Cleantechnica:

“(…) We all know the world runs on energy, but we’ve been conditioned over the last couple of generations to see energy as something that requires careful conservation and conscious usage.

(…) Power conservation has only been necessary because the vast majority of our energy needs have been, up until now, either provided by non-renewable resources (like coal or other fossil fuels), or by resources with considerable negative environmental risks (like nuclear power). Remove the downside of energy production, build out a decentralized green power generation network with more capacity than is required, and you remove the necessity to conserve power at all. (Of course, until it is really built out, conservation is very important to keeping our emissions down and stopping global warming.)

(…) Of course, harnessing all that free solar power for our use is easier said than done. (…)

Aren’t Battery Systems Old News?(…)

Our past energy paradigm was largely based on central power generation (…) Tesla Energy’s stationary battery systems support a decentralized power generation architecture.(…)

This is the key fundamental enabling technology that solar power has been waiting for. (…) No longer will the “energy conservation” paradigm rule our thinking and limit our growth. Once the artificial scarcity of power production based on fossil fuels is removed, we will see a revolutionary transformation of our society and the world at large.(…) read full article

reading list: Woody Allen

“The World of S.J.Perelman” by S.J. Perelman

– Woody Allen’s interview
“Elia Kazan: A Biography” by Richard Schickel

– Woody Allen’s interview
“Epitaph of a Small Winner” by Machado de Assis

– Woody Allen’s interview
“Catcher in the Rye” by J. D. Salinger

– Woody Allen’s interview
“Really The Blues” by Mezz Mezzrow

– Woody Allen’s interview

you may be giving away your attention for free

Sometimes we take services (apps, web, search, lots) in exchange of our permission to our behavioral and pesonal data.  And very often we refer to this exchange as using services ‘for free’.  Even a not-naive position still may tend to undervalue our attention.

In “Is Advertising Morally Justifiable? The Importance of Protecting Our Attention“, Thomas Wells proposes an interest argument that may highlight some issues on the topic.

Consciousness, mind and brain – introducing Passive Frame Theory

Taking in consideration the carefulness required in any claim of a novel theory on consciousness and the necessary time to read and digest such a paper: “Homing in on Consciousness in the Nervous System: An Action-Based Synthesis” published at Behavioral and Brain Sciences by Associate Professor of Psychology Ezequiel Morsella from San Francisco state University.

A traditional disputed field among philosopher’s, psychologists, and many other research areas, theories of mind struggle to stand in solid ground.  In this aspect, this paper could be situated as a more naturalistic approach to the matter.

Focusing in overt action and reversing the attempt to understand mind-brain relationships from action to causes (instead of a stimulus-response study) is indeed not usual in recent or mainstream debate.  On this, it may bear some interesting dialogue with Piaget’s theory on intelligence, impulse and logic.

Such approach and the naturalistic arguments walk its way in what could be a descriptive, not normative, theory of mind-brain relationship.

A short introduction may be found by means of the press release issued along the article.

mens sans in corpore sano

A stroll in the field is good for our minds?  Sure.  Update your repertoire on why it is so with this “Nature experience reduces rumination and subgenual prefrontal cortex activation” by Gregory N. Bratmana, Paul Hamiltonb, Kevin S. Hahnc, Gretchen C. Dailyd,e,1, and James J. Grossc.

The study approached the question “what mechanism(s) link decreased nature experience to the development of mental illness?”

Researchers suggest “One such mechanism might be the impact of nature exposure on rumination, a maladaptive pattern of self-referential thought that is associated with heightened risk for depression and other mental illnesses. We show in healthy participants that a brief nature experience, a 90-min walk in a natural setting, decreases both self-reported rumination and neural activity in the subgenual prefrontal cortex (sgPFC), whereas a 90-min walk in an urban setting has no such effects on self-reported rumination or neural activity.”

The Genesis Engine – will we change DNA faster than we can deal with it?

In another good piece on CRISPR DNA editing revolution, “Easy DNA Editing Will Remake the World. Buckle Up.” by Amy Maxmen.

“The technique is revolutionary, and like all revolutions, it’s perilous. (…)  It could at last allow genetics researchers to conjure everything anyone has ever worried they would—designer babies, invasive mutants, species-specific bioweapons, and a dozen other apocalyptic sci-fi tropes. It brings with it all-new rules for the practice of research in the life sciences. But no one knows what the rules are—or who will be the first to break them.

IN A WAY, humans were genetic engineers long before (…) through selective breeding. But it took time, and it didn’t always pan out.

(…)

Working together, microbiologist Emmanuelle Charpentier and biochemist named Jennifer Doudna’s teams found that Crispr made two short strands of RNA and that Cas9 latched onto them. (…) Cas9 does something almost magical: It changes shape, grasping the DNA and slicing it with a precise molecular scalpel.

(…) Once they’d taken that mechanism apart, Doudna’s postdoc, Martin Jinek, combined the two strands of RNA into one fragment—“guide RNA”—that Jinek could program. He could make guide RNA with whatever genetic letters he wanted(…) Cas9 protein proved to be a programmable machine for DNA cutting. (…) Doudna’s team published its results in Science.(…)” read full article

Populating paleoamerica – who’s to blame

Two recent studies – with non-convergent conclusions – about early human settlement in the americas.

nature’s “Genetic evidence for two founding populations of the Americas” analyses genomic data pointing to genetic familiarity among some amazonian populations and Australasians.  This is a more diverse genetic ogirin than presented in the other study,

Science’s “Genomic evidence for the Pleistocene and recent population history of Native Americans” claiming evidence for a single migration wave from Siberia populated Americas.