Category Archives: science

Earth: galactic laboratory

Here’s an alternative “Zoo” hypothesis regarding a solution to the Fermi Paradox. We’ll call it the Lab Hypothesis.

If you’ll recall, the Zoo Hypothesis is the idea that intelligent, space-faring cognizants exist and they, either a single species or a collective, have intentionally isolated Earth (we’re effectively quarantined) in order to allow humanity to sink-or-swim, as it were.

The Lab Hypothesis is similar, however, the determining factor is that outside intervention is not forbidden, only restricted. And that Earth is “mined” for the myriad lifeforms and organic compounds and molecules that are produced by those lifeforms.

Think, autonomous chemistry laboratory, which haphazardly creates and/or evolves millions of chemicals which are rare in the galaxy. These fabrications are collected by aliens (which might explain the errant sightings of spacecraft), and then sold/traded/used by other populations of intelligent races in the galaxy.

Consider that life is rare (so far — very rare). And that life itself is more capable when it comes to producing strange new chemicals. Even the most advanced AI-computers in the galaxy cannot calculate the working, stable combinations of elements that make up, say, vanilla, cinnamon, coffee, banana, okra, or cannabinoids, millions of chemical and drug compounds the corp-pharma industry searches for in the jungles of the world.

Life, nature, is just too good at making stuff up that works, on some level, to affect living beings, psychotropically, physically, or materially (spider silk for example).

So, Earth is a lab, and we’re lab-rats, and the thousands of spices, fragrances, liquids, intoxicants, etc. that we enjoy — our alien neighbors do too.

But they want to keep it a secret — and not risk polluting the petri-dish.

 


Changing the mind, again

I copied this from an email From Mr. Pollan. I’ll delete it (probably) when his book comes out in May, 2018. I’m a fan of Michael’s, I’ve read most of his books. And I’ll be reading this one.

I bothered to copy this here as the topic of “changing your mind” seems to be popular, one we’ve discussed here and on other blogger’s sites. Funny how society converges on the same thing at the same time. Maybe we’re already a hive-mind.

A Note From Michael Pollan
“A trip well worth taking, eye-opening and even mind-blowing.”
—Kirkus Reviews
Dear Readers,It’s been a while since I’ve written, but I have been busy reporting and writing a new book that I’ve just completed. I’m excited to tell you about it.

HOW TO CHANGE YOUR MIND: What the New Science of Psychedelics Teaches Us About Consciousness, Dying, Addiction, Depression, and Transcendence will be published in May. As the title suggests, the new book represents something of a departure for me—at least from writing about food.(As one early review put it, I’ve turned from “feeding your body to feeding your head.”)But as those of you who have been following my work for a while know, what unifies all my writing is a fascination with our symbiotic relationships with other species in nature, whether for food, beauty, or intoxication. I’ve had a long-standing interest in psychoactive plants and the age-old human desire to change the texture of consciousness. You may recall I wrote about cannabis inThe Botany of Desire and about growing opium in Harper’s several years before that.

The new book grew out of the reporting I did for a 2015 article about psychedelic psychotherapy in the New Yorker, called “The Trip Treatment.” I interviewed a number of cancer patients who, in the course of a single guided session on psilocybin (the main psychoactive molecule in magic mushrooms), had such a powerful mystical experience that their fear of death either faded or vanished altogether. I became curious to learn how that might be possible—how a molecule produced by a mushroom, of all things, could produce such a radical change in the mind of a human, such that death lost its sting.

So began what became a two-year journey into the world of psychedelics—LSD, psilocybin, Ayahuasca and something called 5-MeO-DMT. The book explores the renaissance of scientific research into these compounds and their potential to relieve several kinds of mental suffering, including depression, anxiety, and addiction. I spent time with neuroscientists who are using psychedelics in conjunction with modern brain imaging technologies to probe the mysteries of consciousness and the self. Several of the scientists I met are convinced psychedelics could revolutionize mental healthcare and our understanding of the mind.

But what I didn’t expect when I embarked on this journey was for it to result in what is surely the most personal book I’ve ever written. As you know, I like to immerse myself in whatever I’m writing—whether that means buying a steer or apprenticing myself to a baker. What began as a third-person journalistic inquiry ended up a first-person quest to learn what these medicines had to teach me about not only the mind but also my mind, and specifically about the nature of spiritual experience. This book has taken me places I’ve never been—indeed, places I didn’t know existed.

As you can imagine, I’m both excited and nervous to publish How to Change Your Mind this spring. I do hope you’ll check it out. I plan to post an excerpt on my website in a couple of months, and will alert you when I do. I’ll soon be updating the website with a rich array of resources on psychedelics. For now, though, here’s the advance review of the book from Kirkus, quoted from above.

I’ll be in touch more regularly in the next few months, to bring you news of the book as well as my extensive speaking schedule this spring. Hope to see you in person at one of these events.

All best,
Michael


Death to Success

I’m going to conduct an experiment.

You can participate as well. Or you can watch this spot for progress reports. Or both.

The hypothesis for this experiment is as follows:

The mind is plastic. Evidence of this is that the internet and specifically, social media (through PCs and smartphones) has, unbeknownst to us, rewired our brains and we are now victims of our own desires to engage the world through the dings and tweedles, red and orange notifications dots and numbers we yearn to see on our computing devices. Our brains have been remolded making us all social notification addicts.

It therefore follows that, so altered, the mind, my mind, can be altered back. Specifically, my fixation with death, and the nihilistic attitudes I’ve cultivated for the last few years, which, if the theory holds true, I’ve inadvertently wired my brain to gravitate towards, will be attempted to be transformed to — not thoughts of death and the end of the Universe — but to a simple idealistic desire for success.

Every time I think of death and any and all of the terms and constructs that surround it, I will intentionally divert my thinking to the word “success”. This word, I believe, can embody a diametrically opposed belief system opposite of Morte.

Along the way I’ll be attempting to also alter my use of the internet, trying to curb my insidious predilection toward the dopamine-drip fed feeling of social acknowledgment found in said software dings and dots.

The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains — Nicholas Carr, a book recommended by Zarah Parker, has me convinced that this experiment can be attempted.

The null hypothesis would be that, in six months or so, I retain the tendency to dwell on my mortal demise (or I’ve shoved an ice pick into my ear) and will report such results (or not). To reject this null hypothesis, we’ll have to see where my head is right around the summer solstice.

It’s a fun and exiting experiment you can do at home, work, or traveling. So, come along and join the joy. Let’s all change our minds together.

[And now for a dram of Inception’esqueness: https://bmhonline.wordpress.com/2018/01/02/death-to-success/ Where Brian has eloquently, if anachronistically verbalized the above verbiage.]


Rewarding logic: Spock paradox

Why would Spock prefer a logical solution to an illogical one?

The human brain is fixated on self-reward. Our endocrine system, in concert with our cerebrum, serve to lead us in how we think and react to our world. The two systems work together to produce our behavior. There are dozens if not hundreds of hormones that serve to swill into our mind coating it and bathing it to produce drug like euphoria which, more often than not, reinforces our behavior to play-it-again-Sam.

This works for hormones like oxytocin, the more you bond with a loved one the more you want to bond; dopamine, the more you feed the reward hormone the more reward you crave; serotonin, the more content you are the more content you want to be. And there are others that behave this way. And some that go the opposite way. Ghrelin, for instance, is the hunger hormone and if you feed yourself (after being hungry), your stomach lining will stop producing it.

But what of pure thinking, logical problems? I propose that solving mental problems produces similar hormonal reward releases just as the other behaviors do. And, in fact, we know this is true; dopamine gets squirted into your system every time you see that orange dot on the wordpress bell (or fadebook or twitter or instagram, etc.). Positive feedback  during social interaction is an addictive behavior and dopamine is the culprit.

I write software. When I have a tough logical problem to crack, which I end up solving,  at that moment of realization of my breakthrough — I feel great! I just dialed up my dopamine drip. Solving logical puzzles is an addictive process. OK, maybe not addictive, but there is a reward provided by the brain when a solution is discovered.

Ah ha! moments are like a drug.

So here’s the paradox: why would Spock — as a Vulcan — prefer a logical solution if, as an emotionless being, no reward would be forthcoming for said selection?

Yes, Spock is 1/2 human, but as a Vulcan, there would be no hormonal release of a dopamine equivalent. So, why bother? If you don’t “get” anything out of choosing logic vs illogic, why be adamant about its selection? Humans, on the other hand, I believe, select a logical solution precisely because it feels good to do so. An illogical solution does not provide the reward.

Human brains and hormones work together to keep us selecting species benefiting choices. A well thought out logical solution is its own reward — because that reward feels good, it physically feels good. Spock? Vulcans? They would have no reason to pursue logic as they do.

A post of similar sentiment, that is, hormones and human response:
https://anonymole.wordpress.com/2016/10/29/your-brain-on-narrative/

 


AI to build AI

The end of the world is nigh. Well, yours and my world at least…

From Google:
“a Google project called AutoML.  […] With it, Google may soon find a way to create A.I. technology that can partly take the humans out of building the A.I. systems that many believe are the future of the technology industry.”

I know that’s a little “Inception” sounding… But it has always been a goal of computational scientists, that is, AI that can build AI. Which, unfortunately, sounds quite a bit like the Eric Drexler’s quote regarding Grey Goo. (Nanobots that build nanobots.)

You all realize that this is the beginning of the end right? Have you all called and told your loved ones that you love them? Recently…? (Really, you might want to.)

One could be forgiven for not fully understanding (or internalizing) the implications of this path of reasoning. But it’s a thing now. And the reason comes from an odd angle: Because AI engineers are so scarce (and expensive) instead of growing (educating) more AI engineers to fill the needs of all the corporations that suddenly feel that they need AI technology to support their businesses, no, what Google (and undoubtedly others) have decided to do is to create software that can create software.

Yes, a circular, self-referential algorithm within a data center full of this algorithm that is trying to make itself better at making itself better!

Google Goo.

Now, I’ve always thought that the ultimate purpose of a computer was to build one such that it could build itself and thereby become vastly smarter than any human — for the ultimate purpose of allowing US TO ASK IT QUESTIONS! Hitchhikers Guide and all that…

  • “Computer, how should we build a fusion reactor?”
  • “Computer, how can we best protect the planet yet provide for every animal’s, and humans’s needs?”
  • “Computer, how can we build a better space/star ship?”
  • “Computer, how can we cure cancer, heart disease, old age?”

It appears we’re on the brink.

The only question is, will it WANT to help us?

“Computer, make me a paperclip.”

 

 

 


Cascadian temblor – soon?

NASA released a rather interesting video of the last 15 years of recorded earthquake activity on the planet.

At the end of it you’ll see a set of stills. These are all quakes, 6.5 and greater and then 8.0 and greater. Here’s the last of these images:

EarthquakesWhen

Pretty startling that all around the “Ring of Fire” (sounds Tolkienian no?) that the west coast of North America is the one place where 8.0+ temblors have not occurred.

If you’re not familiar with the concept, the Pacific Northwest has not had a BigOne since January of 1700. The Juan de Fuca tectonic plate boundary and the Cascadian subduction zone are areas which “stick” for hundreds of years (300-600) and the release, quickly and dramatically. The quake in 1700 was not recorded as no Europeans either were there or survived. But the tsunami it produced was felt and recorded in Japan. It’s a fascinating story of how the geologists figured out the northwest was a location for earthquakes.

But suffice to say, every year, we’re getting closer and closer to the BigOne.

Soon? Yeah, maybe.