Gaia is the word for "unity-of-life-processes". The experiment here is to unify the various threads of voice and sense of self together into an undivided unity. Spirituality, economics, politics, science and ordinary life interleaved.

Thursday, August 31, 2006

This week's online discoveries

I've had an great week of discoveries online. Charlies Stross's blog introduced a fascinating discussion on English speaking science fiction, fantasy, horror and alternative history, involving some of the leaders in the field on the comments to his entry.

Some noteworthies that I found chatting there:

Peter Watt's wonderfully professional and creepy website Rifters, where texts of two of his books are free and many stories:

And I suppose it's just really nice to have my biases confirmed. Alt history is diverging from SF as a genre. Fantasy is escapism. American Science Fiction has lost much of its optimism and drive at present, due either to editing risk-aversion or to the sociopolitical conditions. UK Science Fiction is flourishing. He talks about the degeneration of horror as the child of tragedy from bloody catharsis into neurotic eroticism and glamorized cliche.

In addition I had the pleasure of hearing Gil Fronsdal read his own translation of the Dhammapada online through, and the fun of being able to use Wikipedia and Amazon for any old enquiry I might have about sundry things.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Gaian AI – A New View of Nature and Artificial Intelligence as Symbiotic.

Why not manage nature with nature? Artificial Intelligence based in our sense of human and natural processes yields the greatest benefits.

Asteroids. Tsunamis. SARS. For years the news and Hollywood have featured nature out of balance. These events show nature in a variation on the ancient story of defeating the monster, with the ‘monster’ as the perfect storm. And wild weather events on the scale we have seen in the last few years, such as Hurricane Katrina, make the old reptilian nightmares of campfire stories seem positively benign in comparison.

Common views of nature see a fragile imbalance, or as a balance that is hostile to human life. Both views seem to arise out of a Romantic 19th century worldview. On the other hand, 20th century scientific scepticism casts long shadows, not the least of which include idealizing and romanticizing nature as a kind of goddess, while simultaneously acting as if nature were a larder of patents and grain mutations to feed the hungry millions.

Early on in this new century we have experienced wild weather events such as Hurricane Katrina and the South East Asian Tsunami, epidemiological threats in the spectres of SARS and biowarfare, and a new view of nature is slowly being formed out of the cauldron of these emotionally charged events, a new view informed by the fields IT, biotech, and artificial intelligence. But before examining this new view it is good to appreciate the old memes of nature still around.

The old memes of nature are still alive and at work, and have consequences of their own. The ancient views of nature as alien, the Romantic views of nature as fragile, hostile and imbalanced, and the modern views of nature as passively inert and divine all have the same source. All these views are human projections. By projecting these qualities onto nature, we gain some small experience of freedom from those qualities we project.

On the other hand, traditionally nature has been a kind of teacher whereby we became aware of our alien-ness, fragility, aggression, imbalance, apathy and religiosity. But none of these memes necessarily inhere to nature itself. They have their source in humans, and in a collective denial that allows us to treat nature in a wide variety of odd, unpredictable, inconsistent, and destructive ways.

So suppose we own these ‘natural’ qualities ourselves. Where does that leave nature? What characterises nature when we have let go of the above primitive, anthropomorphic and scientific projections? I feel there are two answers to that: one is based in natural scientifically studied processes, and the other based in subjective and experiential qualities.

What processes characterize nature? Is nature the monstrous vortex of a tsunami or hurricane? Is nature the sum harmony and balance of trillions of relationships involving predators and prey, symbioses, and species striving on the fluctuating margin between starvation and population? Is nature ably represented by the notion of homeostasis, where heat and light transfer through life and death into cool and dark via multiple loops of recycling and catchment?

Whatever one’s idea of nature is, it would seem that natural processes themselves continue to prove more subtle than our scientific models at present. Partly this is because our knowledge of physics and biology is so incomplete, and partly this is the problem of modelling. For natural processes to be known they must be mapped to a high granularity; the map must be isomorphic to the territory. Such precision of mapping is something we can suppose an artificial intelligence would excel at.
One final characteristic of nature is the experiential. If one strips away the common projections onto nature, it becomes obvious that a deep human tendency is to project the sense of the Other, alien, strange and uncanny onto nature. This is only sensible: nature is not-human, a non-human intelligence which is literally alien to us, and for much of humankind’s deep past it has been a permanent source of danger and opportunity.

So at the present time we are faced with the mystery of the Other as nature, the inexplicably alien presence of non-human intelligence, and this bears a direct analogy to our relationship to artificial intelligences. A strong AI would be irreducibly strange and alien, a supermind beyond our comprehension, it is said. I would like to suggest that in fact this image of a strong AI is a representation of nature, and that how we comes to terms with nature determines greatly how we may come to terms with a strong AI or posthuman intelligence.

We are unable to bear the strangeness of our own biosphere without in some measure distancing it from us. The key move in human consciousness that allows us to interact with nature is that of turning the real, phenomenal, astonishing direct experience of the natural into a symbol. A symbol of nature makes nature manageable.
At present the Global Positioning System, the Global Information System, and the various early-warning systems act to inform us when disaster is about to erupt. But that is not enough. We need an integrated biological management system, made out of the fabric itself of nature’s systems. The more seamless a system the better: if it runs on light like plants, scavenges forest floors like mammals, scales the canopy and recognises when fruit is in season like primates and birds and other animals, all the better.

If nature has an intelligence in any recognizable sense to us, then it is either inarticulate, or it is us ourselves. That is to say, either we must learn how to translate for our own benefit what nature signifies, or we must find meaning for natural events and processes in the events and processes of nature themselves. And either choice, translating or giving voice to nature, amount to the same thing:

I suggest the first workable AI may be based on nature. And I don’t simply mean biomimicry, although the successful AI may have many such features. I feel that the metaphor of ‘computing’ a living mind is a misnomer: an artificial intelligence may emerge in the same way nature does. In fact, it must do so: our relationship to the Other, to the idea of the outsider or alien, is completely overdetermined by nature itself. The search for life on other planets seems to be stalled at present, perhaps because we cannot yet afford to bear the psychological burden of possible contact with something completely alien to ourselves .

We cannot but create a ‘natural’ artificial intelligence. It is presently beyond our abilities to do otherwise than create a Gaian AI, any more than it is outside our abilities to live far from this planet for any length of time. Earth remains the context and crucible of our efforts. When we have the ability to make an artificial intelligence it cannot but reflect nature and our feelings and attitudes towards the biosphere.

The emergence of artificial intelligence with bio-engineering abilities seems not simply a chance concurrence, but a significant development in our ability to interact with the irreducibly alien realm of nature itself. None of the AI and biotech we can create can diminish the mystery of living processes and systems, but to be successful, AI must augment and give voice to nature. And in a world of unpredictable natural events, an artificial intelligence able to caution and provide insight into nature, represents a symbiosis of the human and the natural that can potentially provide great benefit.

Constraints of systems theory

I am interested in this cluster of topics around systems theory which I have been reading among on wikipedia:

1. Systemantics
2. Theory of constraints.
3. The 12 Leverage Points in a system.
4. Throughput accounting.

John Gall states the paradigm well:

"...the fundamental problem does not lie in any particular system but rather in systems as such. Salvation, if it is attainable at all, even partially, is to be sought in a deeper understanding of the ways of systems, not simply in a criticism of the errors of a particular system."

Abstract understanding consumes the particulars and allows for a global comprehension. But in practice, this tends to devolve into several kinds of bit-by-bit systems approaches.

One approach is to eliminate constraints, things that limit productivity. But this fails to appreciate the difference between productivity and sustainability: it may be actually unwise to increase productivity, depending on the conditions.

An appreciation of the whole system, I would suggest, is intuitive. It is a style of knowingness.

I am presently reading John F. Kennedy's 'Profiles In Courage', and here is a man who intuitively comprehends the world of the Federal government and the Senate around him, one feels. That is the kind of subtle, supportive, serviceable knowingness I mean. Anything else can give rise to unwise interventions.

And I suppose I presume that living systems have a living intention - to support life - so to some degree I trust and accept what a system produces without trying to change it. To do otherwise would be to go against the flow. So while skepticism as to the effectiveness of social and business systems is usually fair, cynicism is no use at all to actually living in and on such systems.

Monday, August 28, 2006

Nice to be back.

I'm back online. It's nice to have the net at home again. I was glad when I didn't have it here for some months, and now I'm glad to have it back.

I've written a couple of longer pieces on transhumanism and artificial intelligence in recent months, in addition to many hundred of other blog and journal entries. I'll be putting the longer pieces up I think and leaving much of the other stuff for the moment.

Nice to be back!

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Space, house, and happiness

My house is looking lovely at the moment. It has added a new dimension of pleasure to my life to be able to work on improving it every day. I had a person stay with me four days and we worked together like Trojans to fix it up.

All the extra space in my home inspires me to begin resolving other issues in a practical way, so I am feeling very balanced and complete at the moment, and comfortable in my own skin, and content with the progressive satisfaction of taking on worthwhile challenges.

Monday, August 07, 2006

More fundamental forces; the wyfe of Bath

I was watching the documentary, The Elegant Universe, on tv last night. It was elegantly explaining the four fundamental forces, how they were discovered, and so on. The explanation was an order of magnitude simpler and more interesting than anything I had seen before, and I was delighted and fascinated by the series.

But at one point in the narrative I stopped and said aloud to myself "I bet there's more than four fundamental forces!" If you look at the way the first four were discovered, it seems probable enough there are more!

Why I would like that to be true is so that the claims of spirituality can be contextualized into a useful context from the point of view of science. There are more things on heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.

Last night I read the prologue and description of Chaucer's wyfe of Bath, and found her to be a bit of a poseur and sophist, contrary to Harold Bloom's characterization of her as a master ironist. Oh well.

Friday, August 04, 2006

One way to find the ideal work

The 2006 Edition of Mr Bolles book "What Color Is Your Parachute?" asks an intrieging question in the context of finding the ideal work.

If you could choose three people in the world whose careers and lives and achievements you most envy and would love to emulate, who would you choose?

His book this season is summarized in one word: alternatives. Folk who have alternatives have hope for growth and change. I really appreciate the simplicity and sophistication of Mr Bolles' work.

Quote of the day:

"I'd rather be funny than wise."
-Attributed to Henry Miller.

The funny thing is, an honor good cheer is actually a powerful medicine for the soul, and so a pretty wise thing in and of itself.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

A few words of appreciation about Tim Leary

I'd like to say a few words about Tim Leary.

I studied Dr Leary's 8-circuit model for several years and was also emmersed in his earlier theories and practices, invented whilst he was working at Harvard University. I now avoid these ideas as not useful and want to say a few words in retrospect about their wise use.

Tim Leary was a rhetorician of freedom. His words strove to evoke, infer, imply, and insinuate much more than they actually said. To separate the style of the words from the substance is actually to do his ideas a disservice. But to avoid looking clearly at them is to do truth a disservice.

Generally speaking, one might suppose that style and rhetoric came to predominate over substance in the years after Dr Leary left Harvard university. Consequently, if one reads his thoughts on drugs (in the 60s), space exploration (in the 70s), and computer networks (in the 90s) they are basically the same core ideas elaborated over the top of the new fad.

The core or key ideas of Dr Leary, present in his Harvard days already clearly, are quite simply stated. These key ideas are:

1. The evolutionary role of the individual
2. Liberation from and rebellion against all social constraint, and
3. The evolutionary role of group psychological experiments-slash-experiences.

It is helpful to discover and explore these ideas free of the later overlays.

The latter work contains suggestive implications in the structure of the language (ie, in the rhetoric) which presuppose rebellious, hedonistic, attention-seeking behavior - in other words, they are adolescent.

The gloss for this behavior is to explain it as biology. The biological term for adolescent behavior in latter life is "neotony", and for Dr Leary practicing this kind of behavior was a way to evolve, rebel, and have group experiences he wanted.

Primarily this is a rationalisation for self-indulgence, which can in turn be concealed by yet more rhetoric. It is instructive to discover these explanations for oneself, but the risk is that one becomes influenced to use them oneself. They are seductive and easy to use and their use is limited.

Dr Leary's ideas in the 50s were superb and cutting-edge, and well worth exploring in many contexts, including one's personal life, psychotherapy, and social dynamics. I highly recommend them as immensely useful.

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