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Monday, February 23, 2009

Once Science Eliminates Pain ...

The bored or overly curious may check out my latest neurological dysfunction (aka work of fiction) "The Last Aphrodisiac", at

What happened was, I was driving late at night listening to a Morphine CD in the car, then got home, lay in bed and fell asleep with the song "Cure for Pain" in my head.

I had a number of dreams on the theme (what if pain were really eliminated, in some interesting sense? what would life be like? what if it were rediscovered?) and woke up plagued by this story. On a cross-country flight to a weekend workshop on "Evaluation and Metrics for Human-level AI", I decided to write it down...

At first I thought it would take a single page to write down, but it wound up 15 pages, and the punchline doesn't start to unfold till page 7 or 8.

This is the first story I've written in a long time that doesn't involve AI in any serious way. Rather, it uses future tech like uploading-to-superhuman-form and cranial jacks to enlarge upon certain aspects of human relationships, especially romantic ones. It's probably the closest thing to a maudlin love story I'll ever write (well, I hope so).

Ahh, the things that can transpire between a man, a woman, and an illicit cranial jack modification device... ;-)

Friday, February 13, 2009

Freaky Russian Paranormal Biology (plus irrelevant personal-history rambling)

A friend pointed me to this paper

which I found provoking and interesting, though nowhere near fully convincing....

The authors argue that much "junk DNA" actually serves as an interface to some sort of energy-informational field reminiscent of Sheldrake's "morphogenetic field"...

Their comments on traditional biology are a bit naive: in the last 5 years a lot of functions of formerly-known-as-junk-DNA have been found. So it's no longer true that ordinary biology says 95%+ of DNA is useless. We're finding this DNA serves a lot of regulatory functions, even though it doesn't code for proteins.

On the other hand, that oversight doesn't make their theory wrong; it just makes them out of date regarding traditional biology.

The experimental results they describe are certainly compelling and intriguing. Fraud is always a possibility, yet, I'm wary to dismiss results as likely fraud just because they violate currently standard scientific theories. (After all, every scientific paradigm prior to the current ones has been overthrown, right?)

As an aside in their discussion, they mention some old results involving Kirlian photography. I tried to build a Kirlian camera in my basement once, in Randolph NJ in the late 1990s, with a view toward trying to replicate the "phantom leaf effect" (see link below) ... but wound up setting fire to part of the basement instead. (I did build a Tesla coil from a neon sign transformer, and it worked a few times, but eventually it caught fire before I finished making it into a Kirlian camera apparatus.)

A recent attempt to replicate the phantom leaf effect, with intriguing results, is described here:

It's hard to be anywhere near certain, but I'm intuitively inclined to feel there might be some truth somewhere in the vicinity of these guys' wacky theory.

Obviously it's close to my own "glocal theory of psi" ... in the language of my "glocal memory theory" what they're saying is that living organisms have "keys" (the observed physical substance) and "maps" (the correlated energy-information field).

I'm hesitant to use the word "energy" in this context as these Russian authors do, because "energy" has a specific meaning in physics, and this (even if real) may be something different. I have thought of their energy-informational field as a kind of "pattern space", more like Sheldrake's idea of a morphogenetic field....

But, without some hypothesis regarding the dynamical laws of this posited morphogenetic field, their theory remains more philosophical than even "speculatively scientific."

It seems that conceivably -- if there's any reality here -- one could learn something about the laws of this field via systematically varying parameters in Kirlian photography experiments.

Yet another line of research I'd probably fund if I were super-wealthy ;-p


(warning: loosely related personal-history rambling below...)

Wow, I remember now that when I was 18 years old and in my senior year of college (at Simon's Rock, in western Massachusetts) and visited CalTech, where I was hoping/considering to go to grad school, I mentioned to one of the math profs there that I was interested in doing a PhD thesis on using partial differential equations to model bioelectromagnetic fields as had been discovered in some strange Russian experiments.

His reply was something like "Well, you certainly know a lot of big words, but do you know any math?" We talked a bit and he discovered that I did; but I didn't get admitted to CalTech anyway.... It was obvious that the math department there did not like that potential thesis topic!!

On that same visit to California I visited Berkeley's Logic and Methodology PhD program, where I expressed my interest in writing a thesis on using hypersets (non-well-founded sets) to model consciousness (which now is one of the themes of one of the handful of half-finished books on my hard drive). This was better received, and they were likely to admit me with funding (or so they said verbally) but I wound up not completing my application because the students there told me that the department inevitably made its students take 7-9 years to finish their PhDs. I didn't want to be in school that long, so I wound up at NYU's Courant Institute instead, which I liked because it combined math, theoretical physics and computer science in one department...

On that trip I also visited a girl at UCSD whom I had a crush on (from when she'd attended college with me in Massachusetts), and was disturbed to find she'd become a fundamentalist Christian, handing out Jesus brochures on the street. (I saw her 11 years ago and she seemed to have gotten over that phase long ago, fortunately... though it was a bad visit as I'd been up nearly the entire night, insomniac due to too much arguing with my wife-at-the-time Gwen, and was completely bleary-eyed and -minded for the whole visit ... that was a few days before the birth of my daughter Scheherazade and Gwen was mad at me for repeatedly getting stoned out of my mind with one of my friends at a time when the baby might pop out at any minute ... well, at least being totally stoned helped the fighting go down easier!!)

In hindsight, that was a rather entrepreneurial trip for a college senior to make (esp. an 18 year old one): I basically invited myself on interviews to grad schools I was interested in, prior to even completing my formal applications to the places ... to go talk to the profs and students there, sit in on classes, and get a feel for the departments. I didn't realize at the time that this was a fairly eccentric thing to do. But it was a good idea.... Although I had only one set of clothes for the whole trip, because People Express Airlines (which featured a great $99 cross country flight) sent my luggage to Europe by mistake.

(Unfortunately that trip caused me to get fired from my job as a math homework grader, because I just took off from college for a week and flew to California without giving any notice to my boss, so all the papers went ungraded while I was gone. I wasn't too conscientious back then. I'm still a slob with paying bills for the house and such, but I try not to be a mess like that in professional life anymore! Still it's hard to focus on reality and not be an absent-minded professor sometimes ;-)

All that probably has something to do with Kirlian photography, auras and Russian theories of morphogenetic fields ... but since I don't get stoned hardly ever these days, I'm not in the right state of mind to find the connecting thread; and I'll go cook dinner instead and then get down to some useful work (oh yeah, and Scheherazade and I are going to watch the film Baghead tonight... which unfortunately has nothing to do with Buckethead...)

Hmmm... that reminds me of the Timothy Leary Family Reunion I attended in San Francisco last week ... what a wonderful assortment of old hippies with cosmic looks in their eyes and wild ideas in their brains; along with various sympathetically resonating youngsters like me ... but, I won't go there right now...

Monday, February 02, 2009

Nietzschean Nonlinear Economics?

I was thinking a little more about the current economic situation and why it seems so confusing to people, including experts.

Part of the problem is just that the systems involved are so complex, of course -- the economy has complexified and the human brain has not kept up.

Another part of the problem, though, is that none of the traditional economic theories (neither the mathematical ones or the qualitative ones) embrace this complexity in principle.

I.e., the very fact of the increased complexity of the economy has direct implications, which seem to require introduction of new approaches for economic analysis.

One way to look at this is in terms of what I semi-seriously call "Nietzschean economics," where a more abstract notion of economic power replaces the traditional notion of money.

Put simply: it seems that the modern economy has somewhat obsoleted the concept of money, which has economists (and many others) confused...

For instance, China has a lot of US dollars right now, in principle ... but they can't really spend most of it, because if they traded their dollars for goods on the open international market, then the dollar would collapse in the international currency markets, the US economy would tank, demand for Chinese goods would collapse, and China would risk massive internal unrest etc.

It's not exactly that the Chinese government has money they can't use; but they have money that comes with severe restrictions on the ways it can be used. Having this money confers great economic power on them; but, this economic power can't necessarily be used in the traditional manner of buying stuff.

In general: with the world so interconnected, the notion of a unit of currency as being something that can be exchanged for a certain amount of stuff, anywhere, doesn't really apply...

More complexly, the same sorta phenomenon applies among and within investment banks and other financial institutions. E.g. a large bank holds some portfolio of financial instruments ... but if they sell a lot of one kind of instrument, this impacts the markets in a way that affects the value of the others, etc. So one can hardly assign each instrument they hold a value independently of the others.... The values of their various portfolio items are interdependent in the manner of a system of simultaneous nonlinear equations.

What this growing, rampant interdependence means is that the traditional concepts and tools of economics don't closely apply to the international biz/finance world anymore...

A lot of this was foreseen, on a qualitative level, in Galbraith's book "Economics and the Public Purpose" from the 1970s ... he talked about the "market economy" versus the "technostructure" and pointed out that the latter (being a complex of large corporations, governments and other institutions) follows quite different rules.

Well, now the nonlinear dynamics of the technostructure is running rampant -- but economists are still mainly studying it with tools designed for studying markets.

One step I think that needs to be taken, on the theory level, is to view actual buying power as Level 1 of a hierarchy of types of economic power. I'm thinking of:
  • Level 1 = power to buy goods or services [right now, or at some future point(s) in time]
  • Level 2 = power to influence others' Level 1 power
  • Level 3 = power to influence others' Level 2 power
  • .. etc. ...
In principle, one could boil down Level k power into Level 1 power. But in practice, with the economy so complex, this involves calculations that are infeasible to do. So, economic agents are in effect seeking Level k power without a clear picture of how it will in the future boil down into Level 1 power. This might be thought of as Nietzschean economics (as Nietzsche viewed the "will to power" as the essential dynamic of the universe).

The ultimate extreme of all this of course would be

  • Level infinity = power to influence others' Level infinity power

which was basically Nietzsche's view of the driving force of the universe ... and I do think that international economics and politics boils down to this sometimes: power for it's own sake, rather than being tied to ultimately influencing the acquisition of goods and services.

Traditional economics is based on the notion that everything boils down to buying power ... but in a world where no one is smart enough to calculate what their decisions will imply in terms of buying power, this sort of economics seems to have limited applicability...

What we need is a nice, elegant, pragmatically applicable theory of the nonlinear dynamics of Level k economic power under conditions where

  • the computational complexity of recognizing important high-level patterns in an economy

vastly exceeds

  • the computational capability of even the smartest individual participants in the economy

This might be a fun thing to work on, but I've got a thinking machine to build, so hopefully somebody else will do it ... or we'll have to wait for the AI to solve the problem. (Of course, an appropriately constructed AI could also palliate the problem, due to having increased capability to recognize economic patterns, either due to possessing greater-than-human general intelligence, or due to combining human-level general intelligence with specialized capabilities for economic analysis.)