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  •  inductive, and genes vs. memes. (1+ / 0-)
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    Your instance of "he's having an affair" is an example of the influence of positive feedback systems in human emotion.  The neurochemistry of anxiety and anger are very very similar: either can turn into the other easily, depending on small inputs.  The wife starts with anxiety, this rises to reach a limit, and then turns into anger, and at each step, emotion leads and "reason" follows with an explanation.  All it takes to stop this is a little bit of insight into the underlying causes, plus a bit of Buddhist detachment, at least to the degree needed to avoid premature conclusions.


    Re. your item about broadcasting DNA to other planets:  It assumes that what is most important about human life is our genes; but the case can be made that our "memes" (ideas, knowledge) are more important and more unique.  In the latter case it would make more sense to embody as much of human knowledge and culture as possible into some kind of artifact that can be duplicated easily, and then to broadcast these artifacts widely.  They might also be made to contain samples of human DNA sufficient to enable an intelligent civilization to reconstitute us later.  

    However, the case "we know that Earth will be destroyed in 20 years", is an artificial constraint that is vanishingly improbable.  What we do know is that the Sun will go nova in some number of billions of years, and we also know that continued increase in Earth's population and ecological impacts will produce resource overshoot and population collapse that probably includes the regression of civilization into a dark age.  We also know by inference, that if we don't recover from the dark age, we will never regain the technical means to go offworld to other stars thereby avoiding destruction when the Sun goes nova.  

    Thus the choices we make in the near-term future will in fact affect the probabilities as regards long-term survival of humanity and other Earth species.  And thus far we have failed to come to terms with the moral implications of that.  

    •  One thing I do know... (0+ / 0-)

      is that speculation on what things will look like in the future is often wildly off the mark.

      There is a fractal-like quality to progress when measuring it for nearly any time period. Every generation can remark that mankind has advanced more during their time than any other.

      Our perception of time does not scale well, and that is very unfortunate. We would have a different perspective of many things if we felt time in something other than the relatively hear and now.

      We (collectively) can't even get our heads around global warming. People act as though it is an event that will eventually arrive. We are seeing the event. 400,000 people trapped at a rail platform in China is the event. Strange storms at an ever increasing rate and with more destruction is the event.

      We congratulate ourselves because we are finally doing something. We are instituting carbon taxes so that companies can pass along the cost increase of the tax to the consumer without reducing one BTU of consumption because they are so addicted to profits that not even the destruction of habitat or humanity will slow them down.

      Capitalism is the wheel, and we are the hamsters. We need more shit because industry demands it. We are all ready to get a kicker for the express purpose of going out and buying more shit that we need about as much as Kennedy needed a parade in Dallas.

      The only man-made things that remains from 20,000 years ago are a couple of small carvings of a fat woman with big tits. They are probably on a pace to beat the survival of anything made in the 20 or 21st century by about 17,000 years.

      Remember all those "experts" predicting the course of events before the invasion of Iraq? Even if the dissent was fully suppressed, I doubt any of the cheerleaders would have foreseen the reality of us most likely delivering the oil-rich country of Iraq into the hands of Iran. Avoiding this most likely would entail some nasty things. Iran has us by the balls right now, but nobody even mentions it.

      We are talking about very short term predictions here.

      Now, I still think that a very profound development along the lines of what I alluded to with genetic engineering may be in store for us in the future. Maybe it will even take 1000 years, but that is just a blip. Any speculation on our path to the stars I have to believe is just not perceptible to us right now. I'm not saying this in some kind of God-like, break the laws of physics type way, I just mean that our values and everything about our essence may be completely alien by then.

      I want to continue, but my girlfriend just went to the kitchen to get a knife.

      I was happiest as a heathen.

      by MouseOfSuburbia on Sat Feb 09, 2008 at 10:11:02 PM PST

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    •  Your mention of neurochemistry (1+ / 0-)
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      Brings to mind something that I'd love to have an answer to.

      The phenomena of instinct is something that I find nearly supernatural. In a way, instinct can be viewed as a substitute for experience.

      One question that comes to mind is, what are the limits of behavior that can be coded as instinct? Most of the literature I've read that is accessible to a layman gives brief mention of instinct as being a function of the hind-brain, and that makes a good deal of sense when you consider that some of the most flamboyant examples of instinctual behavior occur in lower species.

      If viewed as a black box, instinct, when triggered, generates impulses that create actions in much the same way as willful thoughts do. To me, that begs the question of whether these impulses are derived from neurons that are essentially hard-wired together. If that is the case, then the next logical thought is that these pre-configured paths must be coded for in DNA. If there is any truth in this, then it is fairly incredible that DNA also encodes for not just the bootstrap functions of the brain stem (breathing, etc.) but can also code for fairly high level subroutines that generate intricate behavior such as the creation of a spiderweb. Again, what are the limits?

      Now, for the really interesting mystery:

      If things like flight patterns, migration, and spawning are truly instinctive behavior that is ultimately encoded in DNA to be passed on to the next generation, does that imply there is somehow a recording mechanism that can transcribe a behavior in ACGT?

      I ask that because somehow a view of the physical world has found its way into the DNA of such things as Arctic terns, who circumnavigate the globe when migrating.

      I was happiest as a heathen.

      by MouseOfSuburbia on Sun Feb 10, 2008 at 06:24:11 PM PST

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      •  very interesting! (1+ / 0-)
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        The way you describe it, we should be experimenting on instinct with the same degree of skeptically-designed methodology that is used for experiments on remote viewing and so on.  

        I'd never thought of it that way, and I wonder about this: to what degree is "instinct" taken as a "black box" and not operationalized?  That is, has anyone ever bothered to operationalize this: what type of information is stored, how it's stored, how it's embodied in physical structures, how those structures operate, and so on.  

        I'm going to take a wild guess and say...

        Instincts consist of hardwired behaviors that arise in response to specific stimuli.  Probably the rules that govern instinctive behaviors are very few and very simple, as per the principles, "nature builds with few and simple rules," and "simple rules can generate complex behaviors."  

        Birds are smarter than we normally give them credit for.  Migration (for example southward in the winter) could be driven by a perception of seasonally falling temperatures, combined with the perception that the Sun appears to be "going that way" (e.g. getting lower in the sky as per the change in the inclination of the Earth's axis relative to the Sun as winter approaches.  

        Birds seeking warmer temperatures would just follow the visual cues of the Sun and correlate with changes in perceived magnetic inputs (some birds can detect Earth's magnetic field directly), thus being able to continue in the desired direction during times when the Sun was not visible.  Upon reaching a satisfactorily warm location they simply stop and then go looking for food and so on.  

        Sex is simply a matter of mutual itch-scratching, following the trail of physical sensations that leads ultimately toward reproduction (with same-sex behaviors in a fraction of the population as a consistent genetic variation).  

        Generally I'd bet that a lot of "instinct behavior" is simple response to sensory stimuli in the same manner: follow the trail of sensations, with emotional state feedback to reinforce successful behavior.  

        In that case, the "information" that has to be stored is very limited, and could be nothing more than varioud degrees of pleasure/displeasure in response to various stimuli.  

        Anyway, this is an interesting topic that deserves follow-up.  

        •  Info is tough to come by (1+ / 0-)
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          on the actual coding mechanism. It's either cursory or... you need to be a brain surgeon to understand it. I wish I was one just for the knowledge, because the brain is a fascinating thing. It blows my mind (it blows itself? That doesn't sound right).

          It's interesting that you would hit upon the very same thing I thought too about salmon. The trip back up the river is not the first time on the river, so normal memory may record markers of some sort that are later looked for on the return trip. All that is needed is the trigger.

          Same with the birds; migration is not a solitary affair, so the actual flight plan could be something learned, and as you say, all that is needed is the trigger for when.

          If some of the actual navigation is helped by instinct, I wonder if they feel sort of disembodied when doing it, or it's more a sense of Deja Vu. :)

          What is undeniable is the efficiency of instinct. The brain in a small spider is the size of a speck, yet it manages to weave intricate webs without being taught.

          Actually, how much learning does a spider do? It's all instinct - it's an automaton.

          I can drive up here on the Columbia river and think how audacious man is by building dams across it to put the river to work for us. But then I think of a simple fly: for the cost of a few grains of sugar and a microgram of water, a fly can navigate all day in 3-D space, avoid my comparatively massive energy expenditure trying to swat it, hang upside-down on the ceiling, mate, eat, kill, and probably laugh.

          We are a long way from building something as smart, versatile, and efficient as a fly, especially one (or two) that can keep making copies of itself.

          The array of talents in the animal kingdom is staggering. With the exception of brain power, nearly every ability that we possess is put to shame by some species or another, and many species have abilities that we can only dream of. Electric eels!

          They (and we) are all made of carbon. If we ever learn to program in DNA...

          I was happiest as a heathen.

          by MouseOfSuburbia on Mon Feb 11, 2008 at 06:46:09 AM PST

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