Is evolution of human thought now more important than biological evolution?

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Offline thedoc

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pete steady asked the Naked Scientists:
Has the evolution of the human thought processes become more of a primary importance to our survival than biological selection? There is an interesting scene in my favourite film 'waking life' (about lucid dreaming), where they talk about human evolution. It is mentioned that our 'stages or step up's' -for the need of better words- have become closer together with each 'improvement'. It was suggested that if we stay on this course, in the near future evolution will reach a point where it becomes instantaneous. Possibly to a point we could transcend space and time.
The way that humanity shuns tyranny and applauds democracy. Along with our obsession of equality, having our say and the material representation of the collective subjectivity now existing in the form of the internet. Led me to try to imagine how far it could go.

Due to the continuous acceleration of evolution, we must have left natural biological evolution behind because of time needed. Thus, has now entered the realm of 'self  propelled' evolution, dependant on our transcendental ability to improve on naturalistic biology with cyborgs and cures for ageing, GM and all that jazz. which unlike natural evolution leads to ethical problems and putting us out of balance with nature by harming our environment through over population etc.
It left me thinking that we could evolve or species out of existence in the name of progress. Especially if capitalism is the driving force behind these advances.
 Either that, or, if we don't escape this planet the process of natural selection suppressed by progress, will have to be preformed by human declaration.
But, by this point it's quite possible space would be saved by us not needing our bodies any more, as we would be living as efficient 'brains in jars' neatly stacked that
 never deteriorate or die, meaning reproduction is no longer needed, there for the population size stays constant. The global population size will be one that is determined to be an ideal size for higher collective functioning. Evolution of the internet would be the reality where people live now. Like the matrix, Descartes demon will become our man-made reality, that feeds us pleasure. But unlike the
 matrix, we are not sources of power, we are a collective 'brain' trying to further our evolution. Maybe the evolution of the common good or the shared subjectivity will reach a point were it can transcend matter and bend or control the rules of our universe. Now it would be able to escape the ties of time and wont have a mass or scale. Survival is still a factor for this 'super being' and the easiest way for it to create an infinite existence for its 'self' is to create a paradoxical loop. Manipulating its own coming into existence by having an input in to the creation of life on earth before it naturally occurs, or, even by creating the universe at the point of the big bang.

The biggest obstacle humans have, that I can see, is language. Trying to communicate complex emotions and thoughts through noise and symbols is manipulated and sometimes blocked by perception and interpretation. Once direct thought communication is achieved and we can feel others pain the world will be a harmonious and better place to live.

How far off is 'direct thought communication technology' existing?

Peace Peter Steadman.

What do you think?
« Last Edit: 19/04/2014 21:30:02 by _system »


Offline evan_au

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evolution of the human thought processes vs biological selection?
A new concept can spread around the world via the internet in hours, and be seen by a billion people within a week (and be forgotten just as quickly). It takes longer if it has to cross language and cultural barriers.

With jet flight, a new gene can move to the other side of the world in 24 hours - but it takes 9 months to affect 1 life, and probably hundreds of years to affect a million people (millions of today's Chinese have Ghengis Khan as their ancestor).

If and when GM becomes safe and effective for humans, it will be possible for a new gene to spread at the speed of the internet - but until we can emulate the functioning of the whole genome on a computer, it will take decades to prove that a particular gene variant is safe for use. But we can draw on the billions of gene variants that have already been tried in the human population by the traditional methods.

How far off is 'direct thought communication technology'?
There has been significant progress in moving from the ability to control a cursor on the screen, cochlear implants, being able to control a robotic arm, experimental artificial retina, and working towards a brain-controlled robotic suit.

Much of this brain-machine communication relies on the physical relationship between certain nerves and the outside world. Even then, it requires both learning from the machine and retraining of the brain to achieve a useful result, and the electrical contacts are short-lived.

High-level concepts such as "cup" and "love" do not have a physical representation in accessible nerve cells, and the representation may well differ dramatically between individuals, so turning these concepts into communication to a machine, to be forwarded to another brain is still some way away.
we would be living as efficient 'brains in jars'
Physical brains are awash in chemicals generated by distant parts of the body. Some of these chemical messengers are excluded by the blood-brain barrier, but others provide important signaling to and from the body. It is not clear how well the brain would function without these, and whether they could be simulated by machines.

Emulating a biological brain inside a computer (as imagined in the movie "Transcendence") is likely to consume hundreds of Megawatts using current technology, much larger than the roughly 20-25 Watts that is consumed by our biological brains.

The power consumption of computers typically halves every 18 months - and bigger jumps are possible by allowing increased uncertainty in the processing - but it is far from being "efficient".


Offline cheryl j

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I’ve been thinking about this topic on and off. I agree with the first part – once humans evolved the neural machinery for copying and learning new complex behaviors, and adopting another person’s point of view, human existence changed radically, and much faster than if each individual behavior had been selected for via separate mutations, as with instinctive behaviors.
Some neuroscientists refer to this as the “great leap forward”, when multi-component tools, fire building, cave art, music, full blown language, clothing, permanent dwellings, etc. appeared relatively close together. Cultural evolution doesn’t require every individual to solve a problem or invent something, just a few outliers, whose behavior can then be copied and shared and modified. It continues on today.

I am skeptical, though, that we could ever become brains in a jar, or even brains in a simulated world. I think we underestimate how dependent brains are on bodies and physical interaction for the development and experience of the sense of self.

In “Self Comes to Mind” Antonio Damasio says “The oddest thing about the upper reaches of  the consciousness performance is the conspicuous absence of a conductor before the performance unfolds, although, as the performance unfolds, a conductor comes into being. For all intents and purposes a conductor is now leading the orchestra, although the performance created the conductor- the self- not the other way around. The conductor is cobbled together by feelings and by a narrative brain device, although this doesn’t make the conductor any less real. The conductor undeniably exists in our minds, and nothing is gained by dismissing it as an illusion.”

While the self is not an illusion, neither is it a homunculus in the Cartesian theatre.  We are our experiences, we are our feelings, not simply witnesses to them, and  if we are somehow unable to create a simulated reality as rich and complex as the physical world, perhaps our sense of self will be diminished as well.

It’s possible that simulations could trigger all the same neurological mechanisms to generate qualia and feeling, but again I’m doubtful. Simulations take advantage of similarities to our past interactions with the physical word and all of their associations already mapped to brain. Would it work as well starting from scratch? Would it work as well without intermittent reinforcement of experience in the physical world?

It also raises the question of who decides what goes into the simulation or  what aspects are to be experienced and when. What would happen to a brain in a jar given total choice and control over every aspect of experience and the ability to fast forward through anything unpleasant or confusing or not immediately significant?

Or would the problem actually be some elements of the simulation work too well, and like the direct, high speed connection between addictive chemicals and the pleasure centers of the brain, cause one to neglect all other areas of experience necessary for learning and growth, trapping us in a vicious loop

Reality in the physical world makes a lot of decisions for us and limits our options. Would unlimited choice be psychologically paralyzing? I also wonder if we would stop having anything in common with other brains once we stopped sharing the same reality. What pressure would there be for the kind of cultural evolution mentioned earlier to continue in a virtual world that we had absolute control over?
« Last Edit: 23/04/2014 22:42:16 by cheryl j »


Offline CliffordK

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I'm not sure I really want to live as a brain in a jar, or in a virtual world. 

You could say that knowledge and technology is a form of evolution, which has been building at an astonishing rate for the past 10,000 years or so.  This knowledge and technology is fundamental to our very survival, and perhaps also our eventual doom.

As far as the next step???  Some have speculated that AI will be the next step in human evolution, although that would certainly lead to great debates of humans vs robots place in the world.

Eugenics is possible on a small scale through artificial insemination.  One could choose a "donor" based on intellectual prowess, sports ability, longevity, and etc.  Perhaps one could nudge the population slightly if one made a thousand baby Einsteins, but it is hard to move the 7 billion global population very much.  Perhaps over the next few thousand years, racial distinctions will go away, and we'll move from black and white to a neutral brown

Perhaps saving those individuals that wouldn't have lived in previous eras will weaken the population as a whole slightly.  However, in the past couple of million years, we also evolved the need for midwives, 100% care as an infant, and a long adolescence.  However, perhaps those very changes led us to becoming the dominant species today.