Archive for February, 2014


Thursday, February 27th, 2014

I visited her for a while this afternoon. She is fed, warm, attended to – and bored. She’s as friendly as always, though, and grins and waves at the ancient humanity perambulating past her doorway. Her room-mate is inattentive and silent, so my mother is free to choose whichever of twelve TV stations most appeal to her.

We talked for quite a while about what she is doing. Her life is difficult to fully appreciate, I think. She resides on or near a bed, and watches television. She needs assistance getting about (right now, she needs help going to the bathroom, but presumably with steady medication she will recover some of her old mobility). She needs help caring for herself; providing meals for herself. This is her life: she sits on or near a bed and watches television. When she’s lucky, people visit – the greatest physical joy left for her.

We talked about her situation back at home, with the man staying in her living room. Like all her situations, she’s neither clear nor decisive about it. She imagines she could perhaps get a small TV, and sit in her own room watching hers while he sits in the living room watching the other – but he’s just an old friend. He’s not a caregiver. She wants, simply and only, for someone who loves her to come live with and care for her.

I will likely see more of her than ever these coming weeks, since she’s about eight minutes away. It’s useful to see her in surprising ways. Her room-mate is mentally unavailable and declining, yet her middle-aged son sits with his mother hour after hour, simply being there. I’ve been researching morality lately, and the fact I’m researching reveals the depth of its absence. For some sons with a thoughtful, engaged, but helpless parent, there would simply be no question. She would come home with me.

And yet I am not clear about that.

Think what you’re doing.

Thursday, February 13th, 2014

I’ve been thinking about driver-less automobiles. There are several now, motoring right along with the rest of us, and I’m sure they’re much safer for a passenger to sit in. Doubtless, just this safety feature will soon incline governments to forbid citizens to personally drive cars at all. And who would want to?

There’s a lot going on in the prior paragraph. I’ve been inclined to feel helpless in view of advancing technology. Not so much scared, though it can certainly be frightening, but simply aware it’s happening without me. Tomorrow, someone is going to hand me the tools and toys I’m allowed to play with, and I’ll have had nothing to say about choosing them. I don’t believe I’ll want to, because I’m assured they’ll be selected by competitive market forces, and they’ll be the things I’ll find most satisfying. People who used to covet vinyl albums are now happiest listening to whatever a computer selects for them.

I’ve gone through a brief obsession with ‘consciousness,’ because I’m curious about eternal life and I’m searching for moral imperatives in rational science. Many people don’t do these things. It turns out, most scientists creating intelligent machinery aren’t thinking about consciousness at all. It doesn’t matter. In fact, it’s stated right up front: the intelligent machine will be the one you can’t distinguish from another human being. It makes no difference what’s going on inside.

At the moment, the lucky few who own and control the resources of the world enjoy the luxury of complete experimental liberty. Not just the implications, but the actual activities of their scientists and engineers are beyond the most sophisticated Main Street comprehension.

Maybe we don’t want to know. I’ve heard it pronounced by officialdom that NSA accumulation of huge content databases is not threatening because they’re just so big nothing can be found in them. The opposite is true. The more data that’s available, the better the algorithms work. Given a few trillion lines of learning text, a fully powered language routine does a bang up job of translating poetic nuance. It’s far less adept if it’s restricted to only one or two billion.

I’m beginning to suspect that ‘faith,’ to a devoted rationalist, is too often faith in money – and that it’s served as fully as all the other gods it condemns. I saw a piece on a financial news website the other day entitled, ‘Nine jobs humans may lose to robots.’ This apparently showed up in a few places, and you can deploy a lot of ‘artificial’ intelligence right now by pasting the text into a search engine and reading as much as you wish. The subtext to the appearance I saw was, ‘may free people up for more rewarding work.’ One of the jobs was being a lawyer.

I’ve been reading up on technology – if only to get my head out of the twentieth century – and this is very clear: there are no jobs robots can’t do. Won’t it be wonderful when there’s no work for you at all?



Thursday, February 6th, 2014

A subjective ‘materialist’ is possibly just dumber than the ‘better’ scientists, but the standpoint offers a fairly solid toehold for someone arriving from a religious devotional background. ‘Materialism’ is the branch of evolutionary thinking which describes me simply as the physical object that I am: a teacup is a teacup; a mind, really,  is just a brain. This isn’t as sticky as it might sound. The demonstrations are very good. If you poke a certain brain spot, your leg will jerk, and you can call that the ‘jerking leg spot.’ The spot quite verifiably governs the jerking. Just imagine your pleasure emotions – or your fear, or your envy – as mental variations on leg jerking, and by examining the physical structure of your brain you can understand everything that you are.

Materialism’s devotional arrangement is identical to Christianity’s: conscious focus is assigned to rigorous conviction, and doubts are excluded as simply unapproachable. When reality is confusing, we single-mindedly search the data. The answer must be there somewhere.

So, I’ve been reading about cooking, and there are impressive observations suggesting I’m the man I am because an ape learned how to make a fire. I’m persuaded. The relationship between the size of my mouth, the weight of my guts, and the necessary blood supply which powers my brain makes it very clear this physical structure requires cooked food. Cooked food releases far more energy per unit consumed than raw food, and our species couldn’t replicate without it.

If we accept this concept – that humans evolved after apes started cooking – a great many things are explained. Our brains had a new supply of blood to grow larger on, and that brain was needed to figure out how to prepare, and most of all defend, our little piles of cooked food. The particulars are a good read in Richard Wrangham’s ‘Catching Fire.’ Go see for yourself. Cooking has produced both our bodies and our subtleties. It’s the reason we don’t grow hair. It explains the human female’s general willingness to contrive sexual arrangements wherever discretion permits, and the male’s bumbling efforts to overtly impose the same. Cooking is what we’re about.

Since I do arrive from a different background, I hesitate to embrace the first evolutionary ‘model’ I run into. The materialist model is the one everywhere on Internet news. It’s what the Creationists will argue against from their pulpits. But I feel it’s ignoring something. From its own explanation, it doesn’t wind up seeming that we, individually, ‘evolved.’ The species did. Everything about the theory is sensible when we’re talking about whole lots of animals reproducing over a very long time, but clearly: we were simply born. Our equipment has a history, but the latest automobile has a steering wheel that can turn it off a cliff. We’ve arrived as both the driver and the ‘wheel,’ and we’re observably not constrained by eons of cooking or anything else.

I understand there are alternatives to the ‘materialist’ model, which also genuflect toward Science. I’ve come across references to ‘neuronal Darwinism,’ and, even, the ‘quantum theory of mind.’ I’m going to do a little more looking around before deciding on a church.