The Technology of Labor in the 21st Century

There are two possible ways the world might look in the distant future, or perhaps even the not-so-distant future.

The first is a world filled with people empowered by technology, as we develop increasingly sophisticated tools to enable people to speak freely, associate freely, control their property and direct their own destinies. The story of this world is of a revolution in technology granting greater power to more people, freeing them from needs both economic and political. A world where every person’s powers of choice and control of their own destiny is protected both by technology and by the universal agreement of all that those rights are worth protecting.

The second is not so rosy. The second version of the future world is filled with people repressed by increasingly sophisticated tools to control them. Pervasive surveillance watches everything that everyone does. Advanced predictive algorithms multiply the effectiveness of mass data collection by making inferences about other aspects of a person’s life. The benefits of technology are consolidated in the hands of a few people who own enough capital to have large interests in major corporations. New technologies developed by these corporations are leveraged to make money.

The problem here is that an endless train of small, separate decisions which in isolation appear reasonable, will nevertheless lead us down the road to world #2.

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Psychic Phenomena

I am going to make some statements in this post that are going to shock most of my readership, but I expect that you’ll consider me sensible if you read it the rest of the way through. I believe that psychic phenomena are real. However, I do not believe that they are physical manifestations of any sort- they are purely in the minds of the people who “experience” them. It is important to note, however, that no other criterion is required to determine if these phenomena are real or not. Let’s say that someone believes they communicate with ghosts- they have what might be called visions and might be called visceral hallucinations. My question is, is there really a difference between these two phenomena or is it simply a matter of connotation of the words used to describe them? True, there is no “ghost” existing in objective reality, this much is obvious. However does it necessarily follow that hallucinations of this type indicate insanity?

Consider the emotions felt by normal, healthy people. An emotional reaction is a complex sequence of chemicals and neural firings to produce a sensation or a reaction, and the mechanisms used are significantly different from other systems in the brain such as those used for memory, spatial or linguistic manipulation, reasoning, and others. They are of course intimately linked because they’re all in the same brain. Consider the fact that there exist drugs that can be administered to produce a “religious experience” which is essentially a complex of emotions, sensations and thoughts that is more complicated but not fundamentally different from more primitive emotions like contentedness. Does this mean that religious experiences don’t exist? Of course not. Indeed I would say this is conclusive proof that religious experiences are a fact. Whether a religious experience means what most users of the idea think it does is a separate question entirely. The hardcore religious who passionately believe their religion because of a personal religious experience, perhaps of connecting with their god or something along those lines, are justified in their sensation, but fatally in error about what that sensation means. Their religion has told them that if certain protocols are followed, a certain religious euphoria will follow, and provided a very intricate framework of religious scripture and ideology which backs this up. When someone experiments in the religion, they might truly surrender to the experience or do whatever else is required and then when they get exactly the reaction promised to them, they take it as visceral emotional proof that everything else that they were told must be true as well. This is, when phrased this way in words, fairly obvious, but it’s actually a very easy mistake to make, even for the highly rational. There is a specific emotion that most people don’t name expressly which I call the “convincement” feeling. It’s that feeling you get when you read or hear something and become convinced by it. This can powerfully bias your view on the matter that convinced you, the author or speaker, and also your future thought on the subject. Indeed, I am actually in quite serious doubt over whether a significant body of my reasoning has been tainted by this “convincedness” on the subject of anarcho-capitalism, among other areas. It happens to me all the time reading articles on the internet but I’m well accustomed to dealing with such things- it just requires fact checking and appropriate degree of due process. The reason the “I’m convinced” feeling is so tricky is because it is the tool you use to gauge whether or not you actually are convinced. In the vast majority of situations, it’s an incredibly useful tool. However, when squared off against an act which is carefully designed to fire off that convinced feeling and thereby sway your reasoning, extra care must be taken. There should be a fancy Latin name for this fallacy, like “argumentum ad convincem” or something. Latin being a dead language, though, coining new Latin phrases is something of a pointless exercise. The point I want to communicate is that just because a reaction only exists in one person’s perceptions, that doesn’t make it non-real, only non-objective. What types of dreams someone has, what ghosts or voices they hear might be very useful for psychoanalyzing that person.

Instead of turning this on religious phenomena only, I want to discuss a broad range of paranormal issues. Those that are obviously nonexistent in reality, and are products of mere superstition, are relatively easy to pick on and done by many other thinkers to great effect. I propose a new category of paranormal phenomena that are real, but only because people experience them, and the fact that they are experienced is the totality of their existence. Psychokinesis is obviously impossible, but is telepathy possible by building on intuition and body language? Mind-to-mind communication is also obviously impossible, but consider the fact that you can look at someone’s face and identify their emotional state. To what degree is that communication, and to what degree is that divination of information that lies in the other person’s mind? A polygraph is a technological attempt to “mind read” using subtle cues. Is it feasible that one person might understand enough of someone else’s thoughts and mannerisms to deduce what they are thinking? To one degree this is a trivial question, people have been guessing what others have been thinking since time immemorial. My question is how much information is actually available, being broadcast continuously by each of us, and available for sufficiently observant people to effectively read our minds. Consider that poker players, especially very good ones, can often deduce exactly what hand the other player is holding. They aren’t using some sort of pineal gland to probe the other person’s brain- they’re studying the other person’s face and behavior, as well as the strategies that they choose to play, and have played in the past. Is this obvious, or is this telepathy? My argument is that the distinction between “duh” and telepathy is meaningless. The fact that it is easy for us to figure out what other people are thinking to some degree proves that “telepathic” phenomena are real, it’s just that it’s, well, normal. The reason why the idea of “super-telepathy” which allows complete observance of another person’s mind persists so strongly in culture is because it’s easy for us to extrapolate the abilities we have to their logical extremes. We can easily conceive of super-strong, super-intelligent, or super-anything people, and indeed all of these caricatures persist in culture as well. These characteristics are treated differently because less subtle human abilities are much easier to verify. If there was a super-strong human, we could just say “lift that bus.” A super-intelligent human should be able to perform similar feats, but of a mental nature. A flying (extrapolation of walking- additional freedom of motion into the 3rd terran dimension) human could just lift off. Abilities like telepathy are difficult to prove or disprove, and so someone could posit “hey, I can mind-read” and get some attention out of it. People like Uri Geller who claim to bend spoons have a carefully constructed magic trick to accompany their act, which in a way acts like the religious experience. Because he claims to bend spoons, and does so on film, therefore everything else he says about telepathy and such must be true as well. Fallacious on exactly the same grounds, but convincing to many.

Clairvoyance and precognition fall into exactly the same mold as telepathy. They can be treated in more or less exactly the same way. These are faculties that all humans have- the ability to deduce what is happening at a different location in space or time, respectively. When someone tells you that twenty minutes ago the lights were out, you can picture in your mind the room in exactly the same state, or with whatever other alterations are supplied to you or fabricated to order by your mind, with the lights off. This isn’t some superhuman power, although the ability to do it with impeccable accuracy is certainly superhuman. The fact that you can conceive of what winter in Russia might be like, even if you’ve never been there, is proof of the power of so-called “clairvoyance” although its accuracy is highly questionable, and you naturally treat it with the appropriate level of confidence (virtually zero). Truth be told, there are actually very few “new” superpowers being coined in a cultural sense, and all superpowers as we know them stem from some natural faculty, trait, or principle carried to a logical, or illogical, extreme. Even very weird powers such as being half-man half-something are formed in the same way by combining concepts of man and something else, usually an animal. The adventures of man-onion don’t sound particularly entertaining because the suite of powers available to an onion are hilarious but boring, and those available to a man, while tremendous, are common to everyone and are dismissed as merely normal.

Now on to UFO encounters. First off, I am quite possibly the most convinced human being on the planet about the existence of extraterrestrials. The Drake Equation is a tough argument to beat. However, the reason why the Drake Equation is so powerful is because space is BIG. As a result, the odds that the aliens are anywhere within a million light years of earth is… extremely small, let’s just leave it at that. Also, the odds are dramatically in favor of alien sea sponges as opposed to interstellar civilizations (and finding sea sponges, or even xenophilic bacteria would be badass). Even in the event that they developed some form of faster-than-light or warp travel, why would aliens have any interest in a society as primitive as ours, relative to their own? Human civilization is at a sub Class-I state. We haven’t even gained control over the energy of our home planet yet, much less our home system. A civilization with both the capability and the need to build an interstellar drive would dramatically outstrip our own in terms of size, population, resources available, culture, etc. etc. Plus, such a society would necessarily have evolved a very intricate social form as well, in a similar way that human societies have evolved modern governments and social conventions to better preserve human life, well-being, property, industry, self-esteem, etc. Iain Banks’ Culture novels present an amazingly accurate view of the type of interactions interstellar civilizations might have (I’ve only read The Player of Games, but it was awesome on so many levels). Such a society “studying” us would be somewhat like humans studying an ant colony. There are plenty of methods by which they would never need interfere in any detectable way, and there are a plethora of methods by which they just step in full-force and there’s not a bloody thing the ants can do about it. Anyway, enough of my geek-out analysis of why the picture painted by UFO fanatics is absurd. The ultimate proof is that there has been no objective verification of claims made on objective reality- namely, the detection of UFO’s. This isn’t strictly true because UFO stands for Unidentified Flying Object, and there have been many, many incidences of objects detected on radar which could not be identified, perhaps by refusal to transmit or lack of IFF or digital uplink technologies. Enemy planes aren’t going to identify themselves, perhaps buying a few seconds before the interceptors are scrambled to engage them. Proposing the existence of aliens in flying saucers is completely apart from the UFO case, even though for some reason they have become synonymous. Show me a crashed UFO, wreckage of a self-destructed one, conclusive photos, or a depth of proof sufficient to confirm the existence of a new species of monkey, and I’ll believe you.

Now, faith healing is an issue I have a very hard time with because the weird thing is that it works. Of course, placebos also work, and it is quite obviously the same principle at work in both faith healing and placebos. Considering that sugar pills are cheaper than real drugs I can imagine a great value to being able to identify where a placebo is sufficient, and where real medication is required. Now, sugar pills are dirt cheap so whether faith healing is cheaper is doubtful. However faith healing does obviate the medical issue with giving out dud medicine. In order for the placebo to work, it is necessary that the patient not be aware that it is a placebo, and this type of treatment is totally unworkable for a reasonably managed medical establishment. One case of prescribing a placebo and having it fail will draw malpractice flak like a giant kite carrying a metal box and trailing a NUKE sign in enemy airspace. A doctor could refer a patient to a faith healer and avoid this type of legal insanity because the faith healer is a separate agent who a pissed off patient could sue independent of the original doctor. Using faith healers as a litigation scarecrow is actually quite an elegant solution to both the overly litiginous medical establishment and also puts people’s ridiculous beliefs to good use, quite neatly killing two birds with one stone. Interesting saying because I would be quite content to kill one bird with one stone- it’s just a rock after all, and reusable at that, but I digress. Faith healing is sticky because while it is totally bogus, it actually does work, and verifiably so. I am amazed at the amount of garbage they can churn out, take a look at homeopathy- it’s just water. Nevertheless people swear by it, citing some assumption about a new property of water which is totally unsupported by chemistry. Damn good thing too, because the water that’s in your body has probably been in contact with all kinds of stuff, and I find it rather comforting that water is just water, no complications- it’s just H2O regardless of history.

There are a lot of gullible people out there. They’re gullible because they want to believe in something, or there’s an engine of social acceptance or consistency behind the choice to “believe” which drives them into accepting irrational precepts without looking at them too closely. This is the secret of getting anyone to believe anything- provide an incentive for them to agree with you that is irrespective of the argument at hand. Then, get them to publicly confirm their belief to someone else, or even just say it aloud, and then a commitment to consistency or self-simplification will push them to actually fully accept and integrate it, a process which when divorced from its rationale is known as cognitive dissonance. Cults use very extreme persuasion and conditioning tactics, and it’s part of the structure of cults to hit each member as hard as their “belief” can handle. To acquire new members, use subtle tricks which appear reasonable. If they accept those, move on to more intensive material. The more extreme and unreasonable the material that they can make that individual confirm to themselves and others, the more deeply ingrained the ideology of the cult becomes, allowing even more extreme material to be put to them. Scientology is remarkable because it has such a rigorous methodology for maximum conversion effectiveness, even going so far as to explicitly call them “levels.” They need to keep their higher-level material secret because if it leaks (as it has) it exposes them as ridiculous frauds spouting utter insanity. If we only knew their outermost material, designed to pull in the unwary using relatively reasonable methods, we might suppose them an acceptable religion. I have a lot to talk about on this subject and I intend to go over it some other time, particularly as it relates to social conditioning by degrees. I bring it up here because psychic phenomena function in the same way. Small topics like palmistry or graphology lead up to more intensive phenomena like full-blown astral phenomena and UFO sightings. Because there is no centralized purveyor of material, there is no controlling agent to make sure that each person receives only material they are ready for, but the sheer volume of information acts like a smokescreen instead. As a result, only people actively searching for a certain subset of information are going to discover a full set of details. The rest of us are left with a stereotypical picture which we recognize as clearly simplified and inaccurate. This means that if at some point we become activated to seek out such phenomena, we can uncover additional information and naturally “refine” our perceptions with the new information, resulting in a new convert to paranormal phenomena. Effectively, you persuade yourself when you are ready to find out. Once again, there is no authority that causes this, there is no conspiracy theory, this just happens. Fiction writers make extensive use of this faculty, particularly science fiction and fantasy writers. They can easily concoct an alternate explanation which is equally fictitious but fulfills the same criteria for “why I used to think that” as the explanation that the true believers of the real-world phenomena ascribe to. For example, a writer about a common myth such as vampires or dragons has a well-known set of properties to address such as blood-drinking or fire-breathing, and these act as an interface that any science fiction or fantasy writer can implement with whatever explanation they like. Myths like this are so powerful because the explanation can be easily adapted with new information or discoveries. Note that the explanation can actually short-circuit the properties of the myth as long as it produces a “common misconception” situation. For example, maybe vampires can go out in the sunlight if the writer desires, but there has to be a reason why everyone thinks they shrivel up in the sun. Writers like Terry Pratchett are so good because they can create a compelling and internally consistent world, and this same principle applies to the real world. People will believe models of the real world that are compelling and internally consistent relative to their own framework. Note that a model can be internally consistent and be fraught with contradiction. A contradiction in such a case is a result of an external inconsistency and can be resolved by placing the model above the actual world, as is commonly done with the Bible. If the real world and the Bible disagree, people so conditioned will side with the Bible because otherwise their world won’t make any sense, which can be why such evangelicals are impossible to convince with reason. They have bitten off so much of the religious conditioning and publicly acknowledged it that they base their identity on it so much they cannot stop. A religion is simply taking the most potent aspects of a collection of stories, myths, phenomena, etc. etc., often based on what phenomena people believed a long time ago, and crafting it into one grand model which can be passed out in pieces the way Scientology does to maximize communicability. The Ten Commandments are an excellent example. Due to the decentralized nature of paranormal beliefs, they aren’t a “real religion,” they’re piecemeal. People who use it as their only belief system are “pagans.” There are no Ten Commandments of UFO sightings because such a centralized and widely agreed-upon document cannot be agreed upon, or even created in the first place.

Net Neutrality

An issue near and dear to my heart, indeed.  It’s a foolhardy name- we need to call it “net freedom” or something.  However, that’s not what this post is about.  I’m going to cover the issue as objectively as possible.

First, the entrenched enemy.  Companies like Comcast, who own the internet’s basic data transmission infrastructure, are completely justified in their claims that they have the right to use their infrastructure however they please.  The people who respond to the net neutrality issue with the knee-jerk “we’ll get the government to make it illegal!” are foolish children having their candy taken from them.  Bringing the government to bear on the management of the internet is an incredibly bad idea, firstly because the internet is international.  However let’s not ignore the fact that the government will mismanage a medium such as the internet, and how centralized control will not be helpful to the internet anyway.  I believe that Comcast is free to do whatever it wants with its own hardware.  The rub comes from how Comcast probably has sufficient power to enforce such controls over other companies, possibly from an agreement.  This breach of market equilibrium means that Comcast has limited rein to just screw us over.  Without that assurance, blatantly screwing your customers is a ticket to bankruptcy.  But if those customers have no choice…  The problem isn’t Comcast’s right to use its infrastructure, it’s Comcast’s power to oligopolize the industry.  Still, there are people who would claim, “alright, then let’s get the government to nail them for anti-trust violations!”  While better than trying to directly control Comcast’s business model, it’s still a bad answer.

To give Comcast et al. a little credit which they seem oblivious to, it may well be that metered internet is the best path for the future.  With our unlimited model, there is no real penalty for colossal data inefficiency.  Sure, the awful file type will take longer to download and eat your hard drive space, and scripts, protocols, or instructions might be horrifyingly inefficient, but there’s no actual fiscal cost.  If the internet were metered, then as a web client you are going to expect a certain degree of respect for your bandwidth.  Websites arrogantly squandering your bandwidth for ads had better have the services to back it up.  Currently we assume that a metered internet will look just like the current internet, just more expensive and charged by the byte.  Not necessarily.  For most users it will probably be cheaper.  And, there may be new systems built in to improve the user experience.  For example, you might have a browser master control panel which gives you control every byte you download, and allows you to easily lock out unwanted sites’ data.  There would be a strong incentive to create double-layer security and user facility protocols, a default deny data acquisition model, streamlined packet handling, and so on.  On a grander scale, older and obsolete file types or programming languages and paradigms will be upgraded and phased out more quickly, giving you more bang for your hardware dollar (and software too).

Much of my audience is probably ready to throw up by now.  Just to make this clear- I DO NOT support Comcast and their cohorts in their efforts to strangle the internet.  However, I disagree with the alarmists who think that a metered internet is a dead internet.  It will be a very different internet, to be sure, but we can be resourceful.  Firstly, who says we have to do business with people who are screwing us?  And if they oligopolize the industry and give us no choice, then we can do it ourselves.  Buy your own fiber optics lines and connect your neighborhood together, then add lines to other places, etc. etc.  Comcast isn’t doing anything that is somehow impossible for your average Joe, although they would like you to think so.  If you, not Comcast, own your line that connects to a hub which can go anywhere, you can choose to use Comcast’s services or you can contact lines that also choose unlimited service, etc.  It might even be totally free.  Why not?  Open source hardware is not that big a leap.  We have options- but if we go and tell Comcast that they don’t actually own their own infrastructure, we’re no better than the people chopping our media with DRM.

Of course it’s more likely to be practical to use wireless connections and navigate by hubs alone rather than having wires running everywhere- and stashing them underground is expensive.  Comcast can offer us fast, high-capacity data services while we get our own free internet in other ways, such as each house running its own wifi.  You get a hub, other people can tap your bandwidth and you can tap theirs.  You can disallow anyone you like, or everyone, wherever or whenever you like.  But then don’t expect them to permit you to use theirs.  A decentralized internet is an ideal perhaps greater than that of an unlimited data model from a vendor like Comcast.  I don’t know what’s going to happen- this is just speculation, although it seems reasonable to me that people want internet, and if they can’t get it for free from companies like Comcast we’ll start seeing inventive solutions to make it happen.  If signals can leapfrog wirelessly from house to house to commercial building to house, then that seems like a good possible solution to me.  Hey, it might even be an improvement for us not to be dependent on data services or wires.  And we may be reaping the data efficiency benefits of limited pipelines between disparate areas.  I doubt wireless technology will get powerful enough to broadcast over, say, the Pacific Ocean in the next couple years.  So fiber optics lines will probably be the best way to get lots of data around the world, fast.  If you don’t need to pay for speed, maybe a circuitous route through many low-signal areas to get to you is good enough.  I am optimistic about the outcome, either way.  If net neutrality fails, so what?  The environment changes, and we bend our intelligences to working out the problems in front of us.  That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t fight for what we want, since what I’ve been talking about are basically after-the-fact tactics we might employ to the same effect: getting what we want.

Random Numbers

The power of utter randomness. Given time, any and all processes and information can be duplicated exactly. However, the larger and more precise the process, the less probably the duplication will be. However, what if you consider a sequence where it isn’t random? What if you consider a sequence designed to efficiently produce a specific sequence in random fashion? Does this have broader implications for encryption, compression, or encoding? Does this mean that intellectual property is contradictory and unethical? Do random numbers have some critical functional significance for human intelligence, or the workings of the universe?

Randomness is perfect noise; chaos. Infinite randomness therefore includes all possible strings of information. All possible strings of information therefore includes all specific strings of information- movies, books, classified documents, you know whatever. As the categorical example goes: pi is normal. Therefore, everyone who converts pi to decimal or binary form has just infringed on every copyright that exists, has existed, and ever will exist simultaneously. You just pirated every state secret, every bit of juicy, dripping tabloid scum, and every grand work of art that will ever exist. True, we don’t know pi is normal but if the logic holds then any noise-generating algorithm will work just as well. Any process that is normal, or generates perfect noise, or can in any other fashion be used to reproduce copyrighted works, must be banned.

Of course this is bullshit. If you banned the creation of random numbers… I don’t even want to think about it. “Seven.”

“Why did you say seven?”

“I don’t know”

“Alright sonny, you’re coming with us. We’re going downtown.”

Theoretically, the more unlikely someone else is to duplicate a specific string of information then the more right the “creator” has to it. It’s extremely unlikely that a noise algorithm will reproduce, let’s say the movie I Am Legend, in a *timely* manner. However, a noise algorithm would reasonably quickly produce the ASCII code for the word “orange” or perhaps a short sentence. So you can’t copyright the word “orange” or the number 7, but you can copyright I Am Legend. Theoretically.

However, this model is fraught with issues. Firstly, does that mean that I have more right to my 1000-page book than I do to my 100-page book? A random number generator is exponentially less likely to produce a longer or more information-dense work. Does this mean that any work less than X bits in size is open source, but greater than X is closed-source?

Next let’s try the argument from economics. There exists a commodity that can be reproduced for no charge. What is the cost of this commodity? That’s a good question, yes indeed. If you’re the one selling it, obviously you’re looking for a reason to charge for it. Much of the time, even the most basic commodities have costs associated with them: the sale of water involves a physical commodity that had to either be pumped to your house, or bottled in a plant. A piece of paper had to be created from lumber, etc. etc. However, information can be duplicated for absolutely no charge. We’ve been doing this since the dawn of civilization. How do you teach a baby a language? You can hire a tutor, but then you’re not paying for the information, you’re paying for the tutor’s time. Now this is where things seem to get a little grey; what happens if you buy a book. You’re buying a bunch of paper with a cover, and some ink in interesting shapes on the pages. The book cost money to produce, undoubtedly. Here’s the crunch: some books, let’s say book A and book B are of equivalent page length, equivalent cost of physical production, and have the same quantity of information. This is not to say they have the same content; only that if you converted them into binary they could each be represented by the same amount of data. But somehow, one book sells better than the other. The people selling the book will clearly say, “look, look, everyone wants book A because the information in it is more valuable!” And then because book A sells more, the vendors will charge more for it; supply and demand. Seems logical, right?

The fact that A sells better than B does not indicate that information contained within A is intrinsically more valuable than B’s. It does not logically follow that information has fiscal value in consumer terms. What if B is written by a genius philosopher who will remain undiscovered until three hundred years after his death, and his book will be widely hailed as one of the greatest works of all time for enlightening humanity. As a case, that situation in no way conflicts with A selling better than B. As a matter of fact, I’d say the true geniuses are the ones so far ahead of their time that nobody in their time will buy their stuff. Works of quality are generally superseded by what is “popular”- this is an obvious, and also common sentiment.

The fact of the matter is that there is quite a lot less money to be made selling things like books and movies than the industry has been predicated upon. Another fact of the matter is that virtually all of that little money to be made, in a naturalistic system, would end up in the hands of the creator(s). Such industries are disgustingly contorted and inflated to maximize revenue. They have no qualms about hyping, sensationalizing, and swamping anything that they need to to maximize income.

For books, all the publisher is providing is the paper and printing services- but somehow they make all the money. The Book Industry Study Group says the book industry encompassed a net revenue of $34.59 billion in 2005, and will reach $40.4 billion by 2010. Para Publishing disagrees, saying the industry’s net revenue is $34.63 billion, and goes on to claim 2.3 billion books are sold each year. Now, correct me if I’m wrong, but 2.3 billion books goes into $34.5 billion 15 times, so the average book cost $15. The printing cost for said book, shall we say, is not $15. It is, unsurprisingly, remarkably difficult to find good data on the cost of physically printing a commercially distributed book. But culling from a dozen independent print companies’ websites I’ve concluded it probably costs about $4 to $5 to print a $15 book. Printed in bulk, the price per unit must drop, hence the profitability of being a publisher. But the insane 3x to 4x price increase is justified only by conceptual wrangling.

For movies, the discrepancy is even worse. A modern movie is a multimillion dollar undertaking, funded by an elite core of wealthy, professional publishers. It just doesn’t cost that much to make a movie. What happened? The nature of a movie is that once created, it becomes profitable for each theater seat sold afterward, and for each disc sale. A theater seat is a fairly simple commercial exchange: you are paying for the use of the screen, and your seat. They can charge based on the number of people interested, at a slight but steady profit. Because of the nature of theater sales, a movie that goes box-office is going to get millions of viewers, and there are huge revenues to be made. This caused moviemakers to anticipate, enabling them to increase the cost of their movies thinking to make them better and win a bigger slice of that enormous theater-seat pie. Advertising is devastatingly effective at promoting movies in such an environment, and huge advertising budgets are a no-brainer. Pretty soon you see bad movies wasting millions, and people watching them anyway because they’re so heavily advertised and there are few truly great movies created anymore. A disc, too, is fairly simple. They made something that you want to own. However, in both cases “the movie” is adding some imaginary value. A DVD costs only cents to make, plus a few more cents of some disc burner’s activity. That’s all you’re paying for. Plus the box, the package, and the profit of the seller. However the enormous cost of producing the movie left a huge burden on the producer, on anyone the producer sells the rights to, and ultimately that price falls on the consumer. In order to justify their overcharging- which they can no longer stop by their own volition- they start pushing legislation around. At the end of the day, they’re selling you information. Information which they have to protect as an industry through legislative artifice to maintain their profit margins.

I could go on about the music industry, but that horse is dead. The RIAA was purporting an unstable market model from the beginning, and it was only a matter of time before someone figured that out and cut them out of the picture. Change is painful, both to individuals and to industries. Uncertainty clouds our judgment more than it should. With the advent of TiVo, companies started with that knee-jerk response of “how can we protect our ads?” before realizing that, you know, the old ad model was just dead. New systems with new possibilities opened up. Viral advertising over the internet, for example. Making ads entertaining to watch, so that consumers would actively seek them out. With the music industry, they just need to figure out that music costs nothing to distribute. In Rainbows demonstrated the new model, and that’s just how it’s got to be. In the music industry’s case, we’re proposing to the T-Rex that they should just lay down and die because the new, superior species is here, so of course they’re not going to. They’re going to fight to the last breath to keep that money rolling. But they’ll lose eventually. Whoever’s running the US government needs to figure that out and hasten their demise instead of making it a protracted and difficult death. I can conceive of few legislative insanities quite as insidious as using American taxpayers to burden American consumers. The problem with government is that impossible, insane things can be decreed, and cause countless cascading fantastic effects. Take a lesson from Mao Zedong and don’t decree that “steel production shall be tripled in five years”- it’ll be done in the technical sense, but every conceivable aspect of every facet of every nook and cranny of your country’s people, economy, and society will be destroyed to meet an imaginary technicality. Millions starved, technology was shot, and all the money evaporated.

Government can easily, in a breath, do that. It is critically important that we avoid that type of policy, and follow a rational, sensible, and flexible mode of thinking, particularly about such matters of import. We need to be a force for change, pressuring companies to continue to work for us, to press them to change with the times. It’s a war; they want to take advantage of us, and we want to take advantage of them. If all goes well, we’ll be evenly matched and meet in the middle, each getting a fair deal.

Objectivism, Your Mind, & Reality

Ayn Rand is, in my opinion, one of the most levelheaded thinkers out there. However, she’s also wrong on a number of counts. Of course, I say that about pretty much every major thinker because I agree with them on some points and disagree on others. Yet Objectivism is virtually perfect. Look it up if you don’t know what Objectivism is- wikipedia shall serve ye well.

Firstly is the concept of an objective reality with objective facts that exist irrespective of perception. This is utterly true. If you are referring to “reality.” But that’s actually rather harder to do than you would think. When you hold an apple in your hand and say “this is an apple” you are drawing those conclusions based on sensory data, constructing a world completely in your own mind that you can then abstract into concepts such as “apple.” In reality, an “apple” cannot exist, only a set of atoms arranged in such a way that your mind gets the idea that it is an apple. As such, the perspective of the conscious agent is inseparable from the reality it perceives.

This is going to seem like a massive tangent, and perhaps it will end up that way. But for now, trust me- I’m on track. As a sentient entity, humans use self-conceptualizing thinking mechanisms. That is, when you think something, you think you are thinking it. For a squirrel (me, apples, squirrels, they work) it has no idea what it is thinking at the time. It is merely a bunch of chemical and neurological reactions that produce survival behavior. There is no conscious mind being informed “this is what we are now doing, what next?” The squirrel is an automaton. However, since I always unify things in unexpected ways, I would go so far as to say that all purely biological lifeforms must be automatons. They can be very complex automatons, even to the point of taking inputs and modulating outputs, but there is no sentience being served and being told that it’s running the show. That is a meme. A meme-less brain is actually impossible, since any “hard-coded” information pattern created by genes would be replicated genetically. In this case the memes that fill the brain and evolve would be best-geared for the survival of the species (given competition) because the survival of the species is a prerequisite for the survival of the meme. We evolved learning mechanisms, memory, emotions, language centers, etc. etc. to aid our survival. However, when you add what I will call code communication to the mix it becomes possible for memes to move around in non-genetic ways. Speech was the first code-communication, enabling two humans to manipulate semantic agents in the same way they were expressed in the brain. As a result, memes could put themselves into a speech-form which can pass to another human, ready to be passed to another human. Note that the faculty for speech itself is a genetic meme- languages are learned through baser, non-code communication like body language. You don’t think in body language, but you can acquire memes through it.

I should reduce that convoluted paragraph to its essence. But I’m not going to cut it because there may be some people who follow my mind like locomotives on railroad tracks and would get a lot out of it. Basically, you think differently than you can communicate. As we develop more explicit modes of communication, the ability for memes to spread increases. Secondly, there exists a threshold I call code communication- the point at which it is possible to reliably communicate thinking patterns. Body language through the development of spoken language was the crossover into code communication. Someone who thinks in English and is told something in English is going to automatically integrate what was heard in a manner similar to their thoughts. When communicating in body language, you have a communication buffer that gets in the way. This insulates the mind and stops memes from being contagious under their own power. To get a better picture of this barrier, imagine trying to explain Christianity, or physics, to someone who did not speak any language at all, who literally never learned about language. It’s impossible in the purest sense because you’re trying to explain a semantic concept to someone who can’t handle semantic concepts, doesn’t even know they exist. The idea that “physics” exists just would not work for them. By the same token, “apple” would not exist for them. The object, apple, they would recognize, and they would understand they could eat it. But the idea that there is a concept derived from a number of similar objects all called apples would never penetrate their mind. And if you tried to explain that the thing is red and edible, you aren’t helping because they don’t understand the property of redness or edibleness.

So we can agree that a mind adds greatly to the depth of reality, introducing the existence of new things like redness or edibleness, or “apple”. Pure Objectivism would say that nothing exists that isn’t “real”. I’m getting self-conscious about my use of quotes. In case you hadn’t noticed, I use them to indicate that the word is not being used in the conventional sense. Somewhat like a ‘ from Lisp… Anyway! I would say that something doesn’t have to be real to exist, but it must exist to be considered. A couple other stipulations: all things that are real, exist, and (therefore, for logical people) all things that do not exist are not real. I am not saying that unicorns exist. Unicorns are neither real nor existent. However, the idea of a unicorn certainly exists, although it certainly is not real. “Real.” Damn I hate English. Give me a truly logical language and a lever long enough, and I will move the world. And all the little slave gnomes straining away in the Labor Furnace of Evan’s Brain scream “Oh NO! Here we go again!” I’m hoping you’re understanding the distinction between reality and existence. “Real” would mean that it has corporeal existence in the physical sense, while existence means only that there exists a pattern of information that would be adequately represented by that label. In reality, “an apple” doesn’t exist. However, there exist a large number of objects that we would say exhibit the form and properties of an apple, so semantically we take a shortcut and say that any one of them could be referred to. This is a lot of wrangling just to make a fairly rudimentary distinction. Still more fun, there are also things in reality that do not exist in our perceptual worlds. What is the color of ultraviolet? It doesn’t exist in our perception, so we have to tag it with some other color already used by another spectrum in order to “see” it. This is rather like the position of the languageless human, who doesn’t know what a semantic object is because it hasn’t been created in their perceptual world. Who knows what idea-inventions of equal magnitude we haven’t even begun to consider.

Comic relief time. Buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo. (Weeehoooo!) It’s a real, grammatically valid sentence. Look it up.

OK, reality and existence established, we now arrive at existence of paradigms. The world we perceive as real has a certain set of physical laws that don’t change. This we probably know. However, we clearly know that the idea of a unicorn is bound by none of these laws. In effect, the idea-world is operating with different laws. I don’t actually like Plato’s philosophy but he was the first philosopher to take a stab at abstraction so I must give him credit. A unicorn exists in a paradigm world defined only by the properties of the unicorn, with no other restrictions. Effectively, we can say whatever we want about the situation the unicorn is in, the laws of its world, none of those are defined. In fact, many of the properties of the unicorn are also not defined. Are all unicorns white? Must they have only two genders? Basically you get a horselike thing with a horn, everything else is negotiable. We could place the unicorn in a world with one law: very powerful antigravity. Or maybe where all organisms spontaneously explode seconds after being created (maybe they’re the same world)- whatever!

Remarkably, we can even conceive of paradigms that are not logically consistent, or even remotely sane. Consider a square circle. Right off, you’ll tell me that it’s logically impossible. A square’s definition logically precludes it from being a circle. For the most part, you’re right. However, you are using those definitions in a natural-world context using “real” laws you are familiar with. Let’s envision a paradigm in which a shape has two attributes which, depending on its environment, can cause it to “appear” as a square or as a circle when in fact it is both and neither. This example is weak because actually what we’re doing is rendering the natural definition of “square” and “circle” null and void by changing the laws of the universe and then converting those definitions into analogues for the new paradigm in whatever form we want- truly an impressive feat in algorithmic terms. The essence of the last sentence is that we are no longer talking about a square and a circle by our real-world definition, because those couldn’t exist in such a world- they would be logically impossible.

I am not saying that there actually exists a “world of ideas” that we all come from. Instead I am saying that we all have powerful minds capable of more or less unlimited manipulation of information within their sphere of influence, and that we can create any paradigms or concepts that we wish within that. This is the reason why many people become addicted to things like computers. A computer is a tool to aid your mind in the same way that a hammer is an aid to the hand. The major distinction is that adding power to your mind is a highly addicting process because it gives you that much more outlet power. I imagine if we were able to represent a massive virtual world with nothing but our brains, we would be doing it all the time because that creative outlet, that power, is highly addictive. People can also become addicted to content, which is a similar process, except that it is input instead of output. In a way, input is the first resource for the creation of output so all couch potatoes are information packrat zombies who store and store and store and never use any of it. Worse, they aren’t particularly selective about what they choose to learn or keep, so it’s invariably complete junk. On the other hand, you get people who never accept information input. This produces an ivory-tower pure reason thinker. Philosophers who choose to consider the sensory world and the assertions of others unreliable a la Descartes tend to exhibit this sort of mentality, in their philosophy at least.

How am I going to draw all this together? The universe is more complicated than we know, not because its laws are sophisticated, but because it actually contains an extra world for each sentient being in it. And each of those worlds exhibits N-dimensional, code undefined, plastic behavior that can even use impossible logical system as their foundation. Now let’s say, just for fun, that our minds were powerful enough to conceive of a large enough quantity of information to define all the atoms necessary to make, say, Earth, it’s ecosystem, and 6 billion human inhabitants. We can throw in the rest of the universe and its paradigm laws just for the hell of it. Each of those human inhabitants could exhibit the same property of consciousness, N-dimensional mind-worlds derived purely from their (mind-virtual) atomic information. This is where it gets really trippy. So you have within your mind enough computational power to simulate the universe (with generalizations and abstraction, otherwise it would take 1 bit to represent 1 bit and you would need to be the universe to simulate it- which is impossible). You have run this simulation and arrived at Earth with humans on it. Do you hear all their thoughts? I’m going to leave you with that one and get onto the truly trippy stuff- let’s say these humans develop computers, they learn to augment their brains, and grow their own brainpower. Now you have billions of humans who are also able to simulate the entire Earth plus 6 billion people. And they are inside your head. Though by that point calling it your “head” is probably inaccurate.

How could this possibly work, you ask. Well, like I said, abstraction and generalization all the way. Provided that no entity is consciously observing the subatomic particles you can fairly confidently just use some accurate heuristic to represent their behavior. And as for the positions of stars and galaxies and suchlike, you don’t really need to represent every particle in every star, and it may be more efficient to skimp on representing all the stars in a galaxy and just go to whatever resolution is sufficiently accurate without consuming too much processor power. So you get a big universe for a relatively small processor drain. As for the quantity of information being “created” by life- you only need to represent the locations of the particles- all the other information is just *there* if you want to “read” it. This would be using your exact knowledge of every particle and every motion through every second of someone’s brain to figure out what they’re thinking. By “reading” it and deriving information such as thoughts, you are performing an identical action to looking at the positions of atoms and concluding “apple”, and you have actually created additional information, only in your higher-level “reality”. Though I am long-winded, I touch on far too many deep ideas not to be. I have a link to a powerful short story that you really must read if you’re still here. Or perhaps you’re more interested in Isaac Asimov’s interpretation. These stories each do a great job of clearly highlighting the idea behind and within this post. However, just like the difference between my ideas and Ayn Rand’s, they’re both a little different from mine.

In short, the Objectivist metaphysics is missing a critical element. Though I had wanted to touch on all the other aspects of Objectivism, they’re going to have to wait because this post is already far too long, just like all the others. If you’re still reading, thanks for the attention. I hope one day to read or perhaps hear your thoughts- perfectly fair exchange.

The Integration of Technology

Technology is a wonderful thing- but it has a serious problem. The only prerequisite to the access of technology’s power is knowledge. Or money with which to pay for the use of others’ knowledge. However in either case you can’t take advantage of knowledge that nobody has (yet) so it reduces to the same case either way. Knowledge is power in the most direct sense, in the same way that a lever is power- force times distance. For thinking, the equation is processing power times time. Knowledge applied over time produces results. While this is evidently true, few people notice it. When you get a job you are being paid to apply knowledge over time in the production of value. If you had less knowledge then you would be paid less because you would be less able to produce value. In the same sense as a lever with less force on the active end will not be able to lift as much mass. Hence the idea of property is inherently a part of being conscious; your thought and your time (freedom to use that time as you wish) belong to you exclusively. If you trade that time and thought, you can expect to receive something of equal value, at the very least, in return. However, it turns out that our minds are not just information floating in the void, and that they come prepackaged with some very sophisticated hardware we call a “body” including an advanced computer called a “brain”. So we can easily say you own your mind, therefore you own your body and therefore you own the products of time and the use of your mind and body.

So we arrive at efficiency. Two essentially identical people are told to move a hundred sacks of grain across the street. You give one a wheelbarrow. Who finishes first? They are identical, save one used a more efficient method to do their work. Technology is the exploitation of natural laws to maximum advantage relative to the human perspective. We need food, so we make agricultural technology to maximize the production of food per land area. If we ate rocks instead, we wouldn’t have agricultural technology. Rather, our mining technology would probably be significantly more advanced due to the agricultural time and thought being redirected into mining advances. Finding the tastiest rocks, if you would. Why I am saying all this? Now, we find my point. We usually consider such tricks as the physics behind a wheelbarrow as part of the natural sciences, but the design of the wheelbarrow itself is an act of engineering. Our bodies are very complex machines, but we consider their maintenance to be “medicine”, not mechanics or engineering. Philosophy is the answering of questions we can’t answer authoritatively, and science is the answering of those we can. Our minds are very powerful computers running a fascinating piece of software called Man V. 1.4 but psychology is distinct from computer science why, exactly? Where’s the boundary? These distinctions are imaginary. There is a small difference which I will get into in a bit, but right now I want to get the point across that the boundaries are like those between nations. Drawn on a map, but not actually there. Why do we split our knowledge into exclusive sections? Because that’s how we teach people, since job specialization is such a fundamental part of our economy and knowledge base. Why do we teach people that way? Because that’s how we define the different fields. “Can you say circular?” “I can say circular. Can you say circular?”… No, seriously, why is this the ideal model?

I did mention that there was a difference. If that corrupted your perception of my point as a whole, shame on you. Though there’s probably nothing you could do about it. Very few people put any serious effort into improving their thinking, despite the fact that they’re using it all the time. They’ll try to learn how to do things but use cobbled-together and terrifically random and useless methods to do so. Imagine that you are faced with a massive library full of great books to read, but you have only a rudimentary knowledge of reading. Which is the better course- to try to grind through them all at 10 words per minute, or first perfect your reading skills and then start reading? Sure it’s a down payment of time and energy, but the result is that from then on you’ll go many times faster. As another important point, it is always critical to include the method with the result because it is logically possible to have any conceivable process and get any result. I’m not saying it will always get a right result since they’ll probably be wrong under all other circumstances. For example, 16 x 4. You swap the 1 and the 6, and then swap the 1 and the 4. You get 64. Yeah? Well, you can’t prove that false without using another example because the conclusion is in fact true 16 x 4 = 64 is a true statement. So we actually just proved that the mind that thinks is inseparable from that which is thought. We are forced to conclude that an awareness of your own process is necessary irrespective of what you actually do with it. Engineer yourself a better mind. I need to do a post on just this topic. Some other time.

New paragraph for the difference. It’s called suspense. Not rambling. Certainly not. Medicine is different from engineering in the same way that constructive engineering is different from retroactive engineering. However since we haven’t been faced with a large need for retroactive engineering, that is not its own discipline. What do I mean by retroactive engineering? If we found a device buried in the earth that performed magical acts like making it rain when you pressed a button, that would be a perfect occasion for retroactive engineering. One field of it might be called “reverse engineering” or the decomposition of a complex machine or system into its functions and parts to figure out how it works. Under the conventional definition of engineering, we start from nothing and build a machine upwards from laws we understand. Reverse engineering is taking a machine we don’t understand and figuring it out.

To broaden this idea to knowledge in general, all fields reduce to one of two stances regarding a single contiguous mass called knowledge, or Truth; constructive or reductive. Natural sciences are reduction on the universe, the world around us. Conversely, if we start building virtual worlds by experimenting with fictitious natural laws, we start on the constructive side. The same principle applies to all knowledge. The intent of knowledge being, as stated above, to improve on our own power to get things done that we want done. As an important note, never is only one stance used. Whenever you construct something you then have to figure out if it works, how well it works, or why it doesn’t work and these are reductive in nature. Conversely, whenever you figure out how something works you have to construct something to prove it. The most common method is to construct an experiment which will produce specific results which can then be analyzed in reduction. Can you say circular?… But that’s the point! Knowledge is a constant circular feedback loop in the same way that consciousness is. Construction and reduction can even be reduced to the simple perspective of action and reaction, respectively. You do something, analyze the results, do something based on the results, etc. etc. And as you advance on the circular loop you are continuously increasing your knowledge, your power, your leverage. So we see the exponential increase of life proceeds clearly and continuously into technology. Where does biology end and technology begin? Biology is the study of already-evolved life and technology could be the creation of life from scratch such as self-replicating, evolving robots. Or genetically modified crops and animals.

The objective of learning should be to learn everything, not only to earn a living. This thought is a necessary corollary of my very Stoic ideal that Truth = virtue, the pair representing the only prerequisite to happiness. Of course, this also turns out to be a very profitable strategy because someone who knows… a LOT… is going to earn a large amount of money. I am not saying that I want to go to law school and medical school and get every degree known to man, though I must say that would be damned cool. No, I expect that in a short while we’ll crack the secret of encoding information in a human brain and be able to convert between our binary computer language and analog neural language. When that happens, omniscience is fair game. Any knowledge that anyone, anywhere, has is up for sale. This removes the time factor from learning and reduces the cost of transmission, shall we say, dramatically? When this happens, then I’ll just buy the knowledge I did not gain through schooling, using my vast fortune I used my limited schooling to obtain. Though that may not even be necessary because such a system would automatically drive the prices to zero. Whenever you sell it, by definition you just increased supply by one and decreased the demand by one. All you have to do is wait- before too long the knowledge will be “worthless” anyway since everyone will have it. As a matter of fact, I would be willing to bet that an engineering career in bringing this situation about would be about as lucrative as they get. “I can offer you immortality, omniscience, and omnipotence (over perfectly realistic virtual worlds anyway) for $100 million.” And the price drops as the rich phase out and the technology gets cheaper. By the very nature of industry, you will be making the most money exactly when you have the most capacity to capitalize on it, sufficiently soon before critical mass when nobody cares about money anymore because anything they want they can just make.

We began with an integrated field of knowledge, we specialized into ever-more-advanced subfields until eventually our technology becomes advanced enough that we can increase our own capacities to understand it. Can you say circular?…

Human I/O

The essential purpose of having a mind is to manipulate information. All minds do it incessantly. Input from the senses is filtered, perceived, categorized, and filed away in memory. Processing memory is updated, scanned, and stripped of significant thoughts to be processed in the next cycle. A combination of select sensory data, accessed long term memory, and the products of short-term memory’s routines is used to actually make decisions- this element of our minds is called our consciousness. Is there something that makes consciousness special in terms of processing of information? Is there some reason why it is impossible to get human-level thought out of a computer we built ourselves?

Here’s a thought. Imagine that you were a computer. What would that be like? Many would say that it would be inhuman. You would be forever occupied with minute and nonsensical computer actions like Windows 95 printing bytecode. However, I suspect you’re drawing that conclusion from stereotypes of our day. In the early days of computers they thought computers would never exceed [insert tiny statistic of choice here]. Now we know computers can be powerful, but we’re still biased against their complexity, thinking they can only do mechanical things, can only live as a linear binary mind. The human brain is different in several significant ways, the first being that it runs on neurons instead of fixed silicon circuits. This much can be simulated with either analog neural network hardware, or emulated entirely within a Turing computer, endowed with a couple times more processor power. Also, the human brain is divided into specialized cortices with separate functions and limited communication between them. You just gave me consciousness as a form; limitation of computational perception. In your computer brain, “you”- the part that makes you human- is the higher-order information and the higher-order information only. If you include the lower-level information such as the neurochemical reactions within the brain, you can’t really conclude that that’s “you.” I would argue that you can derive all the higher-order information from that raw data, but whether it’s additional information or derived information isn’t really relevant. What is relevant is that above a certain unknown threshold of abstraction you have “you,” and below that you have data and simple processes and functions. If you’re a programmer you might have figured out where I’m going with this. Human thought is a very high-level programming language. Higher than English (or any other spoken or written language), lower than paradigms, or systems/frameworks of constructing human thought. More interestingly, the constant tendency for computer languages has been a generalized increase in abstraction in proportion to the processing power available. Yet more interestingly, it appears that above a specific threshold of abstraction we see an emergent property; the ability to understand and manipulate itself. Consciousness.

Well obviously we could build a computer that has just as much processing power as our brains do. So the question is instead- how do we program such a computer so it will be human, instead of a machine? The existence of humans means that it can be done because we are composed completely of inorganic matter organized into organic forms. So, what does it really mean to be “human”? Do we mean a human body, or do we mean a human spirit? It is possible we may conclude that a prerequisite of being human is to have a human structure and eliminate all except natural-born, carbon-based, earth-bound, and above all “normal” humans as being truly human. I, of course, utterly disagree with this assessment. We should be asking better questions. For example; is there some property of a human that you could subtract and leave something that is a non-human? I would say no, that any “property” that you could name would be a vague abstraction of something esoteric you simply couldn’t define. Such a dilemma means that we’re approaching this problem in the wrong way. Rather than asking what it means to be human, we should be asking what is the most significant property of life information that humans demonstrate? This is an immensely deep point, but I’ll reduce it as far as it will go here. Basically, if we were to transfer completely over to silicon-based consciousness or some other form and then discovered an alien race that had already made that shift, what would distinguish the human variety from the alien variety? Human and alien would be on the same substrate, but would clearly be different. Bear in mind that this situation is flawed as an example because there will be very clearly delineated cultural differences simply because the two species/races were not in the same geocultural area- both would have their own but they must by necessity (the improbability of parallel evolution) be different, though it doesn’t mark a significant difference between the two. To prove this point, any property that would be different between two human civilizations on different planets separated by that amount of time cannot be considered between a human and alien civilization because it cannot define a “human” property.

Life as a class is an example of self-organizing, self-reproducing, self-refining adaptive information. I have already covered my basic concept of what life as information is at some length, and this paragraph might not make sense if you haven’t read it, you have been warned. Life is a pattern of exponential growth, due to constant and improving refinement to improve growth and improve further refinement, etc. etc. ad infinitum. Humans are merely the bleeding edge of evolution, we are causing change faster than change has ever been caused before, and technology is the new font of evolution where our brains once were. We see a clear, direct, and unimpeded curve of the evolution from microbes to humans, the human mind, and the exponential increase of technology from a hammer to augment the hand to a computer to augment the mind. So to say that it is a human trait to expand and to push new horizons is not really accurate- that would be a property of any and all life. Our alien civilization will have been programmed by evolution with a similar drive due to the sum effects of competition, limited space/resources/whatever, and the ease of access to new untapped resources. By the same token we can disqualify traits such as drive to survive, perseverance, competition, cooperation, communication, and a bevy of other decidedly “human” abilities and traits. The truth is, there isn’t a hell of a lot left after that, none of it good. So we are left with no value to our “human” identity. So we are forced to conclude we should associate more with life than with being a particular species. Which makes sense because what it means to be “human” has evolved dramatically, and will evolve in the future, while the human status as living will not. I am not a citizen of the USA, I am a citizen of the world. Neither am I a human, I am a citizen of the great ecology of Life.

My position is that after we grew accustomed to having a trillion times as much brainpower as we do now, and having worked out any irksome little psychological issues and base drives and refined our own processes sufficiently- it would be a never-ending process, but there comes a point where it’s close enough- we would be indistinguishable from an alien race which made the same transformation independently. The reason is that we live in the same universe with the same physical laws and the same mathematics. The same logic and reason governs any and all possible alien species. If A then B, if B then C. A, therefore, C. I don’t care how many where you are in the universe, what level of technology you have, or how many eyes, limbs, or sets of genitalia you have, reason will hold. The differences between aliens would rise from the differences of their physical forms, their environments’ conditioning, and the unique and strange specialization, expansion, and limitation of their functioning. So irrespective of alienness, were you liberated from such a state and given time to sort yourself out you would end up more or less the same as another on the same path. I can hear the cries of “But I don’t wanna be the same!” Well of course, you shmuck. Why would you think that? This is where those previously discarded details come back. The cultural differences, those unique attributes that cannot be created artificially and can never evolve the same way due to a field of countless compounding infinities, make up your memory. There is no way to have a “more perfect” culture-memory in the same way a memory of an apple isn’t more perfect than a memory of an orange, provided both are pristinely accurate. Not a problem for entities such as these. Each would be incredibly unique, but would have arrived at an internal perceptual set and (comparatively) basic functional set that was highly idealized and comparable to the others’.

If you were one of these superbeings, you would probably dedicate your time to the creation of more of such material. Why do people write books, create movies, pursue their passions? Because it’s the quintessential human pursuit- the taking in of sensory data and other stimuli, the unique reinterpretation of it with our own minds in our own way. And then, lo and behold, our minds create from the ether a work that has never before been seen and could never exist in any other way had we neglected to create it. Every second not spent in its creation is wasted. The creation of better tools with which to create “cultural” (damn that word is poor) information is both its creation and the use of that knowledge to accelerate the rate at which it can be produced. The reason? Because that cultural information is alive in every sense of the word! Memes are the expansion of life into a substrate we can’t even comprehend, and we have the power to expand that substrate by making more humans, inventing ways to write them down and communicate them, making computers, and countless other inventions to come. The day we have sentient memes, things start getting truly interesting. (I suppose we already do in that one person is one meme bound to a specific brain- we don’t currently have the means to communicate a complete person-meme). And the day that another as yet unimagined and incomprehensible substrate as expansive as the mental/informational is uncovered, life will expand into that too.