Friday, July 15, 2011

Collective excitement

I woke up this morning to find my twitter account hacked, distributing spam. I'm currently reading Michael Chorost's new book “World Wide Mind” and if his vision comes true the day might be near when your praise of the frozen pizza leaves me wondering if your brain has been hacked. Book review will follow when I'm done reading. If the babies let me that is. Here, I just want to share an interesting extract.

On the risk of oversimplifying 150 pages, a “clique” is something like an element of the basis of your thoughts. Might be a thing, a motion, an emotion, a color, a number, and so on, like e.g. black, dog, running, scary... It's presumably encoded in some particular pattern of neurons firing in your brain, patterns that however are different from person to person. The idea is that instead of attempting brain-to-brain communication by directly linking neurons, you identify the pattern for these “cliques.” Once you've done that, a software can identify them from your neuronal activity and submit them to somebody else where they get translated into their respective neuronal activity.

In Chapter 10 on “The Future of Individuality,” Chorost speculates on the enhanced cognitive abilities of an interconnected World Wide Mind:
“[I]magine a far-flung group of physicists thinking about how to unify quantum mechanics and general relativity (the most important unsolved problem in physics). One of them has the germ of an "aha" idea, but it's just a teasing sensation rather than a verbally articulated thought. It evokes a sense of excitement that her [brain implant] can pick up. Many cliques in her brain would be activated, many of them subconsciously. The sensation of excitement alerts other physicists that something is up: they suddenly feel that sense of aha-ness themselves. The same cliques in their brains are activated, say these: unification problem, cosmological constant, black holes, Hawking radiation.

An apparent random assortment, but brains are good at finding patterns in randomness. New ideas often come from a fresh conjunction of old ones. In a group intimately familiar with a problem, the members don't need to do a whole lot of talking to understand each other. A few words are all that are needed to trigger an assortment of meaningful associations. Another physicist pushes those associations a little further in his own head, evoking more cliques in the group. Another goes to his keyboard and types out a few sentences that capture it, which go out to the group; perhaps they are shared on a communally visible scratch pad. The original physicist adds a few more sentences. Fairly rapidly, the new idea is sketched out in a symbology of words and equations. If it holds up, the collective excitement draws in more physicists. If it doesn't, the group falls apart and everyone goes back to what they were doing. This is brainstorming, but it's facilitated by the direct exchange of emotions and associations within the group, and it can happen at any time or place.”

Well, I'm prone to like Chorost's book as you can guess if you've read my last year's post It comes soon enough in which I wrote “The obvious step to take seems to me not trying to get a computer to decipher somebody's brain activity, but to take the output and connect it as input to somebody else. If that technique becomes doable and is successful, it will dramatically change our lives.”

Little did I know how far technology has come already, as I now learned from Chorost's book. In any case, the above example sounds like right out of my nightmare. I'm imagining, whenever one of my quantum gravity friends has an aha-moment we're all getting a remote-triggered adrenaline peak and jump all over it. We'd never sleep, brains would start fuming, we'd all go crazy in about no time. Even if you'd manage to dampen this out, the over-sharing of premature ideas is not good for progress (as I've argued many times before). Preemies need intensive care, they need it warm and quiet. A crowd's attention is the last thing they need. Sometimes it's not experience and knowledge of all the problems that helps one move forward, but lack thereof. Arthur C. Clarke put it very well in his First Law:
“When a distinguished but elderly scientist states that something is possible, he is almost certainly right. When he states that something is impossible, he is very probably wrong.”

The distinguished scientist may be wrong, but he certainly will be able to state his opinion very clearly and indeed have a lot of good reasons for it. He still may be wrong in the end, but by then you might have given up thinking through the details. Skepticism and debunking is a central element of research. Unfortunately, one sometimes throws out the baby with the bathwater of bad ideas. “Collective excitement” based on a sharing of emotions doesn't seem like the best approach to science.

29 comments:

Phil Warnell said...

Hi Bee,

You have me coming and going with this piece, as I can’t distinguish if you think the linking of minds would be a good development or not. I feel what is missing within your initial analysis, is that the connecting of minds would also have it necessary to create a super consciousness , which would be attributed to by all as a whole yet not recognized by any one individual. So this would have this incubation you speak of happen in a place which in of itself resides in exclusion. This would also require an individual’s ego being surrendered to the super ego of this super consciousness. One thing for certain I think it would be best to have but one of these, as we have already witnessed what having smaller ones coming into conflict brings as consequence.

Best,

Phil

Steven Colyer said...

I disagree with his definition of "Brainstorming." That's not brainstorming, that's "groupthink." Brainstorming has a specific definition, and people use the word incorrectly 99 % of the time. I would like to share with you exACTly what brainstorming is, but I have to get ready for a job interview so later today then, cya and be well.

Bee said...

Hi Phil,

I do think it's a good idea in principle, but the example Chorost provides with quantum gravity out of all things is very unfortunate. I think you have to be very careful what you link how for we know our brains have issues: We are prone to a lot of biases that we should be careful to protect ourselves from. One of them is that we have a herd instinct and tend to go along with others. Another one is that we listen to authorities, or people who have more experience than we do. It is easy to say "but not me," less easy to actually overcome such biases for they have their use, and even less so when forced with an environment that triggers these excessively, like the one Chorost was envisioning. It would be amplifying problems and I'm not sure the advantages would be large enough to result in a net benefit.

In summary: I like his vision but for what science is concerned, he should have given it more thought for what the protocol of idea sharing should look like. Best,

B.

Christine said...

Humpf. Science is made with methodology, hard work and 1% inspiration. Brain connections might be possible in the future, but when it happens it will be so different from we can possibly imagine, that speculation is futile. I wouldn't waste my time.

Best.

Christine

Ulla said...

Superorganisms are already created by Nature. In fact, the human consciousness may partly be due to superorganism-charachters created by our mitochondrias and other inherent bacterias with a mass of about 2 kg.

Mitochondrias are more important for the intelligence than anything else, incl. genome.

But this discussion resembles much the discussion of the qualias, one (bad?) example, the experience of colors, which forced TGD to use primes.

Uncle Al said...

Interconnect brains to brains and all you will hear is beige screams. Discovery is insubordination. You cannot manage discovery, you can only manage to end it (e.g., Lucent Technologies).

The Krell machine was 8000 cubic miles of klystron relays powered by the energy of an exploding star system, capable of projecting solid matter with volition anywhere on the planet, by mere thought. How well did that work out? Forbidden Planet, 1956.

http://2010.conjecture.org/wp-content/uploads/Morbius.jpg
Quis custodiet ipsos custodes? Monsters from the id.

Robert L. Oldershaw said...

Let's try it!

I'm thinking of a way to extend the symmetry group for the Einstein-Maxwell equations in hopes of unifying GR and QM.

Let's see: Poincare Group [11param.] to Conformal Group [15 param.]?

Hmm, but masses are invariant, right? A hydrogen atom or a proton has a well-defined mass that does not vary. So that does not appear to work.

Oh, oh, wait! What if the conformal invariance is a broken symmetry?

Why would the conformal invariance be broken?

Getting anything yet?

Bee said...

Hi Ulla,

Yes, Chorost also writes about superorganisms, ants in particular. However, his analogies are a very vague and I found them not particularly insightful. Best,

B.

Bee said...

Hi Robert,

I suspect not even a brain implant would let you realize the lack of excitement about your ideas. Best,

B.

Bee said...

Hi Christine,

Well, maybe you should read the book. I don't think it's as implausible or as far in the future as you make it sound, and Chorost makes a quite convincing case at least on the point of what is doable. I meanwhile finished reading the book though and I find he hasn't given a lot of thought to the implementation, consequences and problems, which is somewhat disappointing. Best,

B.

Jochen said...

Hmm, I'm not sure this particular kind of sharing ideas can work -- it seems to rely on representationalist accounts of consciousness (loosely, there is an 'idea' and an 'observer' who has that idea, or who perceives it in a 'Cartesian theater', as Daniel Dennett calls it), which I think is naive -- I don't think there really is a sharp divide between 'observed' and 'observer' in the mind, rather, the two emerge inextricably together from a self-referential process (think Hofstadter's strange loops, perhaps).

So you can't just share your ideas without sharing your self, too -- and really, who wants to be the Borg...

Bee said...

Hi Jochen,

Yes, Chorost explains very well that a lot of what we think is 'observation' is actually a creation based on the observer's expectations. And yes, of course you'd share something of yourself. The book dedicates some pages to the Borg-myth, and I'm actually with him on it. It's a dystopia of forceful assimilation that's undesirable but also unlikely to come true. To me, it's somewhat like Orwell's 1984. People have used it, and are still using it, to point towards dangers of certain trends, but it always was and still is a negative extreme and not something that is likely to become reality. It is a warning maybe, of risks on the way. Best,

B.

Phil Warnell said...

Hi Bee,

Good points, however this leaves me curious about what can have us distinguish between a herding instinct over that of collective purposefulness. That is for instance like the difference between when buffalo acting in unified fear have themselves driven off cliffs to their deaths compared to the collective act of farming conducted by leaf cutter ants.

That is I think its safe to say that in either case the individual is unaware of the end results of its actions just the stimulus are different. That to recognize with the buffalo it is a externally perceived irrational fear, while with the ants it is the signalling between both themselves and their symbiotic crop. This might suggest both that the method of connection and the type of excitement (emotion) could be significant factors.

Further, reflective of the human side of things I find a loose semblance with my generation’s hippie movement with respect to their staging of a “love-in” with their ultimate failure connected with one thing; that being the motive was more for individual freedom than the collective seeking of solution. Unfortunately I see this confusion has been carried forward by the majority these days with only a small minority to realize the emphasis must be on the solutions as to have achieved either a individual or a collective freedom which is sustainable.

Best,

Phil

Jochen said...

Hi Bee,

thanks for your reply. The Borg comment was somewhat facetious -- I don't actually think that's a real danger; the 1984 comparison (perhaps a warning example, but not a realistic prediction) is a good one, I think.

Anyway, I can neither criticize argumentation I'm not familiar with, nor am I going to spam my personal pet theories on your blog; but I think if one follows Dennett, there's a problem with sharing one's 'mental content', in the sense that there really is no such thing independently from the context of one's own observation thereof (all that stuff which is bullshit in quantum mechanics may not be wrt consciousness: there, it actually is the case that 'observation creates reality' -- if you observe yourself having a migraine, you actually do have a migraine; the reason you cannot be deceived about your own mental content is that what you consider to be true about it is then true by fiat). In a sense, the experience of observation gives rise to the impression of an observer (the 'self'), while at the same time, the experience of (having? being?) a self creates the impression of observation. Your mental states appear transparent because they are what you are -- there's nothing behind, 'looking through' into the outside world. Circular, yes, but not vicious -- at least according to Dennett.

But anyway, you've certainly made me curious about the book; I'll throw it on the 'too read' pile, which unfortunately is in perpetual danger of collapsing under its own gravity...

Bis denn,
Jochen

Robert L. Oldershaw said...

Your assessment is both true and false.

The general topics of fractals, conformal modeling, renormalization and self-similarity are actually reasonably popular topics.

On the other hand, it is demonstrably true that almost no one has any sustained interest in my ideas.

For example, no one pointed out that the Poincare group is a 10-parameter group, not an 11-parameter group.

No one pointed out that it is the Weyl group (aka the Relativistic group) that is the 11-parameter group.

And no one asked what 1-parameter symmetry needs to be added to the Poincare group to get the Weyl group.

On the other hand, one lonely soul did a Google search on the "scale invariance properties of Einstein's vacuum equations", but that could have been a coincidence.

Uncle Al said...

@Oldershaw, on your own off-topic ground: Conformal invariance must be broken to describe empirical reality.

Chiral algebras yield conformal field theory. How does non-linear dynamical symmetry chirality have linear algebraic consequences? Conformal field theory is typically explored in 2-D. In higher physical dimensions (e.g., Calabi-Yau, AdS/CFT correspondence, supersymmetric gauge theories, Sasaki-Einstein - all with explicit/implicit mirror-symmetry) it yields string theories having no empirical relevance. The vacuum has an intrinsic chiral background active only toward massed fermions (matter). Chiral weak interactions are fundamental and diagnostic; strong interactions are racemic blurs. The universe is exactly as it appears to be, chiral all the way down.

Physics demands isotropic mirror-symmetric vacuum given zero photon vacuum refraction, dispersion, dichroism, and gyrotropy (arxiv:0912.5057, 0905.1929, 0706.2031, 1106.1068). Photons are massless bosons not massed fermions, so no contradiction. Matter vs. antimatter abundance and neutrino-antineutrino reaction channel divergence are a vacuum left foot fitted by left and right shoes – of course they diverge. Chiral beta-, positron- (Na-22), and electron capture-decay (Co-57) rates are vacuum anisotropy sensitive; achiral alpha-decay is inert. MOND vs. dark matter is resolved because trace anisotropic vacuum toward fermionic mass means angular momentum is not conserved, for Noether's theorems do not act on absolute discontinuous symmetry parity (chirality in all directions). Biological homochirality is the universal default. SUSY and quantum gravitations arising from vacuum mirror symmetries are defective at the founding postulate level. General relativity (Einstein, 1916) is a subset of teleparallel gravitation (Einstein, et al., 1931); no problem there.

It isn't about mass. It is about trace anisotropic vacuum interactions specific to massed fermions. All fundamental physical theory arises from symmetries chosen for mathematical ease not empirical correspondence. Euclid is a simple case, and wrong on a sphere. Newton is a simple case, except c, h, and k_B are not zero. A thrown ball is not parabolic flight, it is in elliptical orbit, etc. Application can be profitably approximate. Theory must be exact.

Unlike hectares of published theory, a chiral vacuum background can be validated in existing apparatus in 90 days,

http://www.mazepath.com/uncleal/erotor1.jpg
Two geometric parity Eotvos experiments.

Economics, psychology, and physics demand defective theory never be challenged by good observation within existing apparatus. The emperor might be naked.

Giotis said...

This can't work. Human psyche lies behind a horizon which prevent us from interacting this way.

Bee said...

Hi Giotis,

What makes you think so? Best,

B.

Giotis said...

Well, we are unique, we are alone and incomprehensible to others (in the deep sense). We can't escape ourselves much like a light ray can' escape the horizon:)

Christine said...

Hi Bee,

I value your recommendation, but I think I won't read it, at least for the moment. Yes, maybe it's not too far in the future to reach the technology to have a twitter in our minds, but I still think it can't work the way we expect today. Maybe I am just too old and already from a past generation, but in any case, I don't think such a connection, in whatever forms it realizes, is such a great deal, specially for scientific progress. In fact, I see it as a drawback for the human condition. The loneliness of the brain is what makes us humans.

I do prefer the real, dramatic form of an Archimedes-like running naked in the city shouting out "Eureka!" than a twitter-mind trending topic utopia.

Best,

Christine

Phil Warnell said...

Hi Christine,

“see it as a drawback for the human condition. The loneliness of the brain is what makes us humans.”

I find this as almost being a homocentric religious perspective, as to contend that both the human condition and it capacities representing being a preferred or perfect state. Not only does this lend an aspect of futility to existence respective of the future, yet denies evolution can have things to improve. To the contrary I would simply propose, that for thinking beings to choose to steer their own course respective of taking advantage of increasing complexity should simply be considered as consistent with evolution.

However when it comes to visions of running naked through the streets I would admit if communally shared would draw our collective attentions and for some perhaps even provoke excitement. ;-)

"A key difference between a dialogue and an ordinary discussion is that, within the latter people usually hold relatively fixed positions and argue in favor of their views as they try to convince others to change. At best this may produce agreement or compromise, but it does not give rise to anything creative."

-David Bohm & David Peat, _Science Order, and Creativity_, p. 241

Best,

Phil

Christine said...

Phil,

That is your interpretation, not mine. (And if that didn't come from you, I'd take it as an insult).

Just simply do this exercise: think of all philosophy, literature and historical actions. Would have they come out the same if not for lonely minds?

Why connecting minds is equal to evolution? Do you know in advance exactly what this would bring? Would we still be humans? If you are so certain of that, I congratulate for you wisdom and genius, I for myself will shut up for now in my homocentric religious futility.

Best,

Christine

Christine said...

Would have they come out the same if not for lonely minds?

Correct to:

Would have they come out the same as they did if not for lonely minds?

Phil Warnell said...

Hi Christine,

I’m truly sorry if you were taken back by my assessment and happy to learn you’ve given me some latitude. I guess where we differ is that you find such a link could have us lose our humanity, while I drew the analogy previously with leaf cutter ants and thus would ask if finding them capable of being more linked than any others of their species has them to be lesser ants; or rather simply greater ones, yet only in the context of the collective.

This is all sounds a little farfetched I would admit, yet I still wonder if this is not to be our destiny. As for the value in having lonely minds, to the contrary I find this as motivation to explain our longing to have our thoughts to be shared, rather than have them preferred to remain to be restricted. Thus I find us still being creatures evolving with this perhaps as a selectively preferred trait in terms of our evolutionary branch’s continued survival.

So once again, allow me to apologise if you think my intention was to offend and yet be certain if anything the reason I was so direct as knowing you're not the type of person I need to mince my words to make a point.

Best,

Phil

Bee said...

Hi Giotis,

Well, we're so unique not. Our brains might all be different in the structural details by they are the same in the functionality and to a large extend also in the concepts they are able to encode. We do share a common language for example, which is very nontrivial. I am reasonably sure we'd also both be able to hear and understand recordings, figure out what's on a photograph, and understand what somebody means when he says he's scared.

Now many of these brain functions happen in specific regions of the brain. These have a large overlap between different people (there's a part of the brain for processing of visual input, one for audio, one for motions etc), but for the more complex things it's more difficult. However, as I wrote above, the idea isn't to match parts of one person's brain to that of another, but to identify a certain common basis that however might have a different expression for different people. It's like we're agreeing to speak English, no matter that your brain stores the words differently than mine does, we can still communicate. Written language however lacks a lot of details and there are also things you can't communicate by written word at all. Not to mention, and that's certainly one of the motivation for research of this sort, that there's people who can't speak, can't move, or can't see, and they would get a chance to escape the boundaries of their own head. Best,

B.

Plato said...

Communicating with Intelligent Aliens

Yes you "sparked" my interest Bee.

Lakoff and Johnson explain that as bipedal beings living in a gravity field, we tend to speak of good things as being high and bad things as being low. (Among other things, that may come from knowing that adding to a pile of supplies makes its level go up, and that being low is often the result of falling.) So happiness is up, sadness is down. Consciousness is up, unconsciousness is down. "I woke up. I fell asleep." Health and life are up; sickness and death are down.

Another example is the "center-periphery" schema, which comes from the fact that the most essential human organs are in the center, while the less essential ones are at the periphery. One can lose a leg, but not a stomach or heart. So we speak of core principles and peripheral details, and insiders and onlookers. All of these phrases are metaphors, and they only make sense if you understand how the human body is put together and oriented in space.

Lakoff and Johnson argue that such metaphors, far from being the disposable incidentals of human language, are in fact at its center. They can't be stripped away.
World Wide Mind

It wasn't to long ago that such distinction "as sound" were quietly being integrated with the way we may see science progress as to know there is a equatorial basis to this expression and that it allowed one to look at science differently.

But up until this point there are those that resisted....thought why waste time....why people were using a "secondary feature" metaphorically explaining the features of nature in context of.

So the "equatorial solution" was really quite simple and it helped to expand our thinking? So what did it take for communication to finally get the connection and go "aha" why did we not think of this way before?

Lack of communication perhaps....walls built that were not easily changed by an attitude?

In the case of connecting technologies which help to illicit a response to a world that was not previously used, yet now it's capabilities spawned another way of thinking that was "centrist" until that view could be expanded?

In a way such a collective mind may mean "providing a method" for neurons to synapse, crackle and pop?:)

So, now eating Rice Krispes will never be the same again:)Not so Boorish is it when you"ve tasted a metallic spoon?

Best,

Plato said...

Collective Intelligence......thanks Steven for reminding:)

So you can now add a "new category" to this image

One might of course wonder about such application in relation to Cern and it's history, since it's a birth place of something else as well? :)

We can't be so naive can we that such development may be constraint by how encapsulated brains can be contained to them self while there is a larger understanding at work?:)

Best,

Bee said...

Hi Phil,

Well, Chorost in his book brings up the analogy to superorganisms and says that these go along with an increase of specialization rather than just being a collective with a herd instinct. I think he has a point there. It makes sense that once there is enough connectivity not everybody has to do everything. Think about how living in cities has allowed people to specialize in one profession and call somebody for the plumbing. If you're on your own, you're forced to do a little bit of everything. Not so if you can rely on somebody else who can do it for you, and better than you. Best,

B.

Bee said...

Hi Jochen,

Yes, I think I know what you mean.

But Chorost is not saying that it might be possible to actually know how it is to 'be' someone else. What he is envisioning is far more mundane, he is basically suggesting to skip the detour that today's communication makes through a keyboard, and so comes with it the limitations that a keyboard has, limitations that even an audio/video channel can't quite get rid of. In fact, he says, we'll come to a point when we can do better, not worse, than face-to-face communication. Best,

B.