Friday, November 3, 2017

Determinism, Randomness, and Free Will

 Random with sophisticated feedback can produce quite meaningful results. Think random error in gene duplication with the feedback of selection and one gets a meaningful result of a new successful species, or a meaningful result of a lethal mutation.

 Cause and effect have very little to do with mind/brain function. Essentially the sensory stimulus is random or at least so voluminous that the first cut by the mind can be thought of as eliminating data points that do not conform to an existing pattern in the nerve cells feeding data to the brain, in other words eliminating worthless random stimuli. Apparently the first cut in the retina is an edge. The first feedback loop is that an edge might be useful and the brain 'requests' data from around the edge. If the data around the edge form the capital 'I' the mind says 'Pay attention this is critical data!' Another feedback loop may say forget it it is just a bridge girder, and the mind moves on, and the cause bridge girder resembling an 'I' has no lasting effect.

The important functions of the brain/mind are these feedback loops that correlate fresh input with existing data to reinforce or weaken the data points. Trying to identify cause and effect is an endless chase through the feedback loops unless one reasonably shortstops the process as the mind does and says this stimulus reproducibly is associated with this response and is a cause and effect relationship.

 Random is not an either/or condition. In fact rationality might be defined as reasonable responses to random events that occur both internally to the brain and externally as in spilled cumin in the curry. (Should I eat it or spit it out?) The brain has sophisticated feedback that evaluates odd inputs either internal or external to see if it is important to current events in the mind.  Many millions of years of separating out dangerous random signals from similar random signals that are normal patterns in the environment make dealing with the randomness of the environment a critical survival trait.

The brain's internal random juxtapositions of thought patterns is the essence of human creativity and free will. A vaguely remembered dream of a snake biting its tail juxtaposed to a vexing structural chemical problem may be responsible for modern organic chemistry. One can play the determinism game all night long and say August KekulĂ© had the dream because of a logical train of subconscious thought on his problem, but the waking correlation of the dream to the problem at hand seems to be deterministically improbable to the point of ridiculousness. The mind might be envisioned as random thought processes that reinforce to produce meaningful and useful concepts that can be used to manage one's gestalt of self and manage one's living purposefully.  Thought processes that do not fit into that matrix are either rejected outright or if deemed to be possibly significant by the mind are relegated to the memory for future use as needed, (don't ask me how the mind knows they are useful I am not that smart.) But I do know that the mind is extremely versatile in processing that endless stream of data. In the western world any activity that takes one out of the mainstream of living, a walk in the woods, creating a poem, or a haiku, artistic activities, thoughtful writing, etc. all have the effect of freeing the mind from managing a purposeful life. 

 Free will is simply sampling those thought processes that do not immediately fit into the matrix, figuring out why they seemed to be important and see if somehow they can modify the matrix to make it more robust and/or useful.  This is the purpose of meditative techniques that take one out of the life that the matrix controls, in effect setting it aside and trying to construct an alternative from the stored data. The Buddhists have this process as a main focus of their religion and by focusing on an essentially meaningless existence temporarily let all these meaningful and useful concepts jumble around to see if a more useful gestalt can be constructed.

  The downside of this feedback is that the current events in the mind can be conditioned to reject odd inputs that contradict certain thought patterns that may control behavior. This conditioning is started by caregivers in children to enable them to behave correctly in their principle social milieu. "All I really need to know I learned in Kindergarten" Robert Fulghum.  As kindergartens are embedded in the society of the child's parents it merely continues the conditioning started by the parents.  This early conditioning is almost impossible to ignore, but fortunately human teens and young adults are open to other social structures and tend to question their early conditioning and some can pick and choose which behaviors are useful and which might be modified.  Much of this exploration is done through reading and visual media, which is why those with a vested interest in the childhood conditioning like churches discourage undirected reading and manage visual media for their own ends.

In many social situations the conditioning becomes so strong, that random inputs that are contrary to the conditioning are rejected before they can even make into the consciousness.  Both political beliefs and religious beliefs can fall into this category.   

 I am quite comfortable with the randomness of living.  I think causality is the exception rather than the rule.  In my view free will is expressed by how we react to the random events that color our lives including that huge one of our inevitable death. Our lives began with the random meeting of gametes, and random events like finding and losing friends, and lovers define how we choose to live. I live my life intentionally, in that I choose which random events I wish to react to and how I do so. Free will is not even an issue; there is no compulsion to do anything I choose not to do. Although things may happen that I must choose to react to. But there is always a choice. When the green car came flying over the center barrier into my lane, I could choose to do nothing and experience the fun of a high speed head on, or I could choose to steer as close to the barrier as I could. One might say the choice was forced, but it was still a choice. Making good choices is the essence of living in a random world.

Saturday, September 16, 2017


 Monogamy is not a description of a relationship. It is a description of a reproductive strategy. 

 Polyamory is default for prepubescent children and non-adults and should be encouraged with the usual precautions for STDs.   In societies where women breed shortly after puberty other standards apply but given modern contraception strategies for men and women polyamory should be the rule until parenting is contemplated.  I am not talking hetero only here especially prepubescent and early teen sexuality.  Sow your wild oats to your hearts content on any infertile ground of either gender to determine what kind of sexuality makes sense for ones settled years which may end up to be childless polyamory.  

 If no children are planned monoamory may well be toxic. My generation gave the world the conceopt of going steady as early as high school, that is, dating only a single partner as long as the relationship lasts. The strain this puts on relationship building is overwhelming as sexuality, having fun on a date, and commitment to a single other who initially you may not know well does not work well.  Even more pressure is on the relationship if pregnancy before marriage is a violation of the norm as it was when contraception was limited to condoms.  Even with reliable contraception for women trying to combine sexuality, companionship, fun, and mental stimulation into a single relationship seems to put too much strain on both partners.   

 Most people contemplating children hetero or homo are monogamous as a tried and proven stable environment for raising children. It is not the only way. Polygamy as usually practiced one male several females seems to work in some cultures as the women share the child raising with the male as a resource provider and impregnator.  Single parenting is outrageously difficult, but possible.  An absent partner providing resources does help. 

Sunday, August 27, 2017

Autonomous Cars and the Future of Cities

(Mary Sperling) claimed her car from the robopark, guided it up the ramp and set the controls for the North Shore. The car waited for a break in the traffic, then dived into the high-speed stream and hurried north. Mary settled back for a nap….awakened by the jangle of the emergency alarm and by the speedster slowing to a stop… “All cars resume local control….” Methuselah's Children, Robert A Heinlein, (1941) or 1958.  
 With autonomous or even semi-autonomous cars in 120mph+ pelotons on existing freeways and Musk 120mph skates in tunnels in LA, whole metro areas are sprawlsville.  The American life style will not be changed to urban living.  Ford, General Motors, and all the rest will still be around in 2100 promoting sprawl. 

 The car is the most important surviving public status symbol, and Americans at least are not going to give that up.  They will drive less especially locally but providing rides between urban nodes will still be an important status indicator.  Cities, especially new cities, will evolve out of the suburbs with high density urban nodes around regional amenities with complete urban services, restaurants, service establishments and high density housing at all price points for those who choose to live and possibly work in an urban node.  

 The majority of the population will still be economically and ethnically segregated in single family homes and low density apartments in the suburbs, exurbs and now dead rural towns. The current pattern for office commercial segregated in suburban campuses will continue for the foreseeable future. Even working class cars will be high speed semi-autonomous and urban nodes will still require high density autonomous parking for residents and visitors.     

 Freeways will evolve to narrower lanes restricted to autonomous vehicles, with high speed lanes running in pelotons for efficiency and throughput.  Current freeways of three lanes or more with a breakdown lane in the center will in the near future convert to two or more high speed lanes, one transition lane and leave one wide lane with a breakdown lane for non-autonomous cars at existing speed limits and entrance and exit. 

 Autonomous cars will park in high density parking lots on floors limited to small SUVs by floor spacing, served by elevators.  Garages for autonomous vehicles only will be constructed over a major intersection with an existing freeway which is already served by transit and close to developed commercial or urban centers.  The garage may be built over the freeway.  Pedestrian and bicycle access is over the existing sidewalk space on the cross street and transit access over a lane of the cross street.  Cars will enter from freeway access ramps to car lanes inside the garage next to the pedestrian/bikeway.  Driverless autonomous cabs would be available at the freeway nodes for those needing them. 

 See also