Sunday, 28 August 2011

Shine On You Scarabeusque Diamond

Stars, Diamonds and cockroaches. Who is the most brilliant? I'm afraid for the ladies, but stars and diamonds can only dream of the cockroaches' shining and I know that, very wisely said by Beyoncè, "if you like it, put a ring on it", won't work with a beetle. And saying to your lover that her father is a thief, because he has stolen stars to put in her eyes, will definitely sound different with our Blattaria friends instead of celestial bodies. Nonetheless the cucarachas are luminous: they are living beings, so they are intelligent.

Ok, stars: do you now how much energy they produce? Joule, joule, joule...A lot (Harvey Keitel in Reservoir Dogs). But they don't have the slightest control over the process. It simply goes. Stars are not inventive in their job: pile up enough weight and you'll light as well.
Diamonds. Are they reliable? Oh yes, they are very well organized. Very hard joint. But they don't move at all. No dynamics.

Cockroaches? They run like hell. And they adjust their actions constantly. Try to catch them: they'll escape. Do think this is trivial? No my friend. It' genius. Because only matter that is alive can change its path, not because of a collision, but because the forecast of that collision. Still not impress?

Ok, I'll spell it out: living beings manipulate the causal chain, without necessity of touching everything. They are oracles. I give you an example: your hand is in front of a fly. You make a small jerking. Microscopic waves of air and tiny packages of photons are running like demons to antennae and eyes of our small winged friends and they whisper their demoniac mantra: "Buzz off". My hand was far from start the movement. But the fly read telepathically my intention. Seriously, what was it? Don't you buy the demons parade?
Ok. Information. Disappointed? Why? Living beings are superimposing on physical properties a semiotic environment of information.

Information is evoked by organism with their being there. In the universe, nothing needs information. Photons don't carry it: they carry themselves. Bodies are not exchanging information: they exchange energy. But if you are alive, it makes a difference exchanging less or more energy. So you need to be careful. Moreover you need to have a plan. Otherwise entropy will crash you, so you need to escape. And energy alone doesn't have a clue: you need to rely first of all on the normative procedures encoded in the self-organizing application that is your genetic code, the story of your execution. There is always time to elaborate non-linear plans like in self-conscious intelligence. But first, you need to come out with something. This something is the information processing that a living being represents with its own being there: primeval intelligence is procedural.

I love when a plan comes together, especially when the very existance of being a plan happens to be for pure chance of energy permutations.

Monday, 22 August 2011

Rat intelligence: A Rodent Road to Knowledge

Where there is a possibility, there is a rat. Life can find many ways to spread, from space bacteria to billions of insects. This is a strategy of numbers. Bacteria are simple, so simple that they don’t need strictly a planet to survive. Insects are many, so many that the swarm intelligence of an organized bunch of them, an anthill or a beehive, is by far more than the sum of the individuals. But rats are different. They are mammals. In mammals, individuals count.
Rats are cognitively simpler than us, but their intelligence is quite sophisticated in problem solving (comparing to bacteria and insects. Well, to individual insects…An anthill is pretty good compared to ourselves). Rats are so epistemically hot, that I want to found our best euristic strategy with them.
Every sentient being has a cognition, so even an amoeba is endowed with a minimum degree of intelligence. An ant a bit more. Dolphins, a huge lot more. Humans? We hit the zillion swankiest score in town. Rats: they are ok.

It’s true that rats are many, but much lesser than the billions of insects. Many rodents can behave like a swarm, but a single rat is able to earn his living alone. What do they do?
They investigate. They are curious. They check their own environment. Constantly. They don’t particularly like to die, but they go the closest as it is possible to elements in their habitat. They try, they push their cognitive knowledge to the limit, to the maximum limit allowed for a living being: they push it to the very limit of their own existence. They rarely sit in their comfort zone, especially because to one extent they are comfortable in extreme situation, to other because their curiosity is restless. The cognitive life of our rodent friend consists in checking his environment, in re-adjusting constantly the cognitive map of his world. The world is born every new day for an investigative rat, because he questions the new limits. Nothing is the same of yesterday.
What are rats doing? They are understanding. This is old, pure, Hegelian understanding. A bit mixed up with the disgrace of the sewage, but Idealism is materialistic at its conceptual heart.
Hang on a minute, I sensed it from the beginning, but I was suspecting “a coupe de theatre”, a paradox, a metaphor. Where is it? From rat intelligence to a hyper-sophisticated German “verstehen”? Nothing in between???

I’m afraid not. I’ve been surprised by the epistemic resilience of rodents and I start to ask to myself, to which extent our understanding was similar to them. Then I realized that the question needed to be rephrased: to which they are not similar! What we have more? Sure, we have a very complex technology to deal with a semiotic environment. Powerful, marvelous, gigastic. But we have a much bigger brain. And we started 35 000 years ago to manufacture environment able to shape our capacity of manipulating the symbolism of our cognition. This is quite a thing, I don’t deny it. But in essence, the cognitive agents that are travelling in our semiotic sewages, the many of them, are not that dissimilar to the rats exploring their environment. “We are intentionally building our own environment, they are more parasitically inhibiting it. We are intentionally exploring and shaping future configuration of this environment, they are locked in a constant present search ”. When you start to use intentionality to make a difference, in my experience it’s a good sign that there is no difference.

Rats are "commensals" of our societies: kind of parasites, but not (directly) harmful. Basically a commensal is living on the leftover of his guest. Like a rat! Well, you can see our minds as commensals of the semiotic production of all the human brains. A brain is polluting the environment with information, that a mind picks up and cognitively digest as conscious artifacts (that's proper food for thought). Don't think that there is a big, underlying difference between our minds and rats: true we are associated more closely with our brains, but don't expect too much from ownership or responsibility. I know our society has a great esteem for both, but I'm not so sure about brain ownership or mind responsibility. It's a rethoric that is working (badly) in our times.

In comparison to rats, our brains are not less locked in the constant present of our mind horizon. I can easily project myself in the future and I can do that also with products and procedures of my intelligence. But my cognitive life is still anchored in the present search that is my self-conscious awareness of being here. The exploration of our own limits is pretty much the same corner-turning and switch-actions of lab mice. We are forced by our own cognition to engage in epistemic activities: our need to know is very much rodent-like.

I’m not suggesting that we are the guinea pigs of a superior intelligence (though, it could be possible). But simply that we are more similar to rats than we think. At the end of day the only thing I wouldn’t expect from a mouse in a lab, would be to stop, to sit down and bursting in to a big laugh, patting his lap with his paw. This is the difference between human and rat intelligence, but I rarely see it every day in humans as well.

Thursday, 18 August 2011

A Flourishing, Pandemic Laugh of Immortality

The Turritopsis nutricula, is a particular kind of hydrozoan (a jellyfish). Hydrozoans in the adult sexually mature stage are jellyfishes; they produce eggs and sperm, which spawn embryos, growing into larvae, which subsequently form a colony of polyps. The colony grows as a stolon, let’s say image a coral. The polyps produce asexually the medusa, which when adult will start again the cycle. Medusas normally have a very short life-span. Not so for our Turritopsis. Our hero is able to grow into the adult stage. And back! Yes, under specific (adverse) circumstances, the Turritopsis can reverse, “un-age” from the medusa status to the polyps. And it has been observed that it can do it many, many times. So, even if the mortality is still present for predatory or disease, the Turritopsis won’t die of senescence. This is pure, 100 % biological immortality, on the rocks.

From species to individuals, now our delirious parade will come to Pando. Pando is…how to definite him( he is a male…of course)? Pando is a joyful, enthusiastic, rascal of his kind. He is, give it or take it, 80 000 years old, but some estimate he could be even 1 million years old. I don’t dare to image the birth candles. Especially because Pando is a tree. Ok, I’m not a botanist, so they will definitely prefer to call it: Quaking Aspen (Populus tremuloides). Our friend as a system of roots that can be dated as back as 80 000, though the average age of his trunk is 130 years. Pando could live so long for a coincidence of lucky (clearly…) events: frequent forest fires have prevented its main competitor, conifers, from colonizing the area, and climate change, transitioning from a wet and humid weather pattern to semi-arid, has obstructed widespread seedling establishment and the accompanying rivalry from younger aspens. Now just a pinch to the most zealots of the Darwinians: this is fitness for what? When your individual survives one or maybe more or even all the glacial period of the quaternary??? You’re clearly quite fit if you are 1 million, but in these case is the environment adapting to fit the longevity of Pando!

After the flourishing, the pandemic. Epidemics are infectious diseases are the resulting infection for the presence and growth of pathogenic biological agentis in an individual organism.

Buddhism occurred for the first time in India, around, say 5th century BCE. It then spread to the whole sub-continent and from there, to the South-East. For many reasons, the benign epidemic gradually disappeared from India. But before that, many blessed vectors made it to China. Around say the 1st century BCE or even a hundred years before. Then, around say the 7th century CE, China truly “liberated” Tibet ( Time is a toy of a tinker boy, as uncle Heraclitus always said) bringing the golden breeze of enlightenment to the mountains.

I suppose you are ready for the morale now. I’ll try my best, so it goes: you’ve seen that immortality is a strange fish in the pod and that sometimes is easy to bark to the wrong tree of longevity. You also observed that not necessarily every contagion is pathogen (and that not everything that is coming from China to Tibet has bad intentions).We talked about medusa going back to polyps, that is to say an old granny coming back as a child; we entertained ourselves with the story of how roots can deploy themselves underground for thousands of years here and there, and we DIDN’T bother us with too many philosophical questions (is it the same tree? Are they clones of the same individual, identical, but distinctive? A conceptual colony can still be referred under one name?). We didn’t.

I hope you enjoyed this Carnivalesque parade of concepts…because clearly you got that there is symbolism going here. I mean... one thing is winking to the other, you got the subtleties…

Ah ah ah, I’m joking, I’m not German enough, I’m not Colonel Landa, there is no symbolism at all. There is just a jellyfish, a tree, a sneeze. And China as usual invading Tibet (I know that time was for good…). There is nothing else. As usual, there is nothing else. There is nothing!

Thursday, 11 August 2011

Dwelling at the end of the world

The mind is the technology of representing to the brain his own complexity. A mind is the own representation of representativity. If we chase the mechanisms of representation, going up stream the cognitive architecture of consciousness, will we be able to understand the mind? Fortunately, this is not necessary (though it’s very interesting!). The easy aspect is that being a consciousness means your brain is able to understand himself. The hard one is that this is meaningless. Or to put it with philosophical class: representativity is meaninglessness. Philosophers worship grammars. And they are blessed with blindness from grammatical clarity.The curse is when they claim to see better.

Your consciousness can align herself with the pure representativity. This is the peak of a long cognitive tradition, started (initiated) by the very first sentient beings. All along the living beings’ history of cognition it's about mastering the capacity to differentiate. The edge of this development is the deployment of representation in front of the representational engine. A mind can see her own projections as herself. What for??? The non-philosophical answer is that you don’t ask the why to rose as well as you save your life tasting a cherry. Or smiling at the lotus.
My philosophical mind is so shadowed that I know the answers and still being unable to see. Or to rest the mind's eyes.

If you realize consciousness is the deployment of cognition in sentient beings, you’ll get that a mind is just the limit of representation. If you want to cross the line you’ll travel through the many mirrors of representations, fooling yourself with reflections of reflections. Or you can throw away the ladders after you climb to very same place you started. This is nothing more than the narrative grip of your representations. It’s ok. Calm down your paranoid, you’re just a sojourner on the limit of representation, that is the end of the world as consciousness sees her own reflection. But is it good or evil? It’s simply beyond the good and the evil, the conflict of negative and positive ceases in the emptyness, like a small kids fight.

We should (or not!) simply learn how to live in proximity of the end of the world, that is, living at the edge of representativity. If you know of any community that dwells at the end of the world, they are probably minds realizing the meaninglessness of consciousness. I’m so stoned by the grammatical clarity that I’m still struggling to find that place. But believe me, if you find dwellers at the end of the world, they are probably smiling.