Friday, 12 September 2008

Life is like a Zip file

OK, so you've got this Buddhist mate, right...and you ask him “What’s the secret of life?”, and he replies “All life is an illusion, dude.” So you think WTF does that mean? Life is an illusion? That like doesn’t mean anything! You might as well say life is a banana, or life is a train track, or a seagull, or a molecule. It doesn’t make any sense!

So you go away and you learn about Psychology, and you find out how the world looks to Psychotics and Neurotics, and they like see the world differently, and then you learn about Neuropsychology and you find out about Pattern Recognition and Modelling and Perception and Memory and stuff, and about how the brain actually works.

And then you get into Quantum Physics and you find out how the universe works at the sub-atomic level of particles and stuff, and you learn how everything is like really dependent on probability; and you find out about the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle, like how you can’t really tell where anything in the world is at a certain time, and how everything is really just energy.

And after all that you finally realise that the universe is just illusion, and so you get back to your Buddhist mate and you say “You were right, dude!”, and he sort of nods sagely and says Yeah, because like he’s known this all along.

But you see the problem is that he’s condensed all of that down into…into one short phrase – “Life Is An Illusion” but he’s left all the like baggage out, so without all that background you don’t know what the phrase means. You have to go through all the like science and shit to find it out.

It’s like he’s compressed it all into this one phrase, but he’s used lossy compression, like an mp3 or a jpeg of the whole thing, and he’s used such high compression that most of the stuff has been removed, so you can’t get it all back from the end result, like. Other stuff you can, like E=MC2 which is like a zip file, it’s lossless, and all the stuff is still there. If you put the numbers back in, it like still works. But “Life Is An Illusion”...well it just doesn’t work!

A Glimpse of the Nongod

Big Bang, right? Instant of creation. The entire Universe's complement of fundamental particles (aka "matter") created there and then, from an area of space that less than a pico-second ago had zero volume, infinite energy density...and no Time.

Yup that's the thing. No time. No Prior To, and no Just Before. And with infinite energy density (not infinite energy, mind), there's no room for data either. So no Information.

If you want to comprehend exactly what the situation before the Big Bang was like, think Black Hole in reverse, a Singularity. Only instead of matter compressing into Zero Space, it expands from it.

So putting aside the question of "how" or "when" the Universe decided to be born (there's no time, so you can't use "hows" and "whens" anyway. Re-phrase your question.), what about the fundamental laws of physics? Were they created at the same time? Well, if there's no way that any information can exist during the infinite density period "before" the Big Bang, then surely Laws of Physics count as Information? For the first proton to be constructed according to such Laws, information about these laws must exist prior to the Big Bang, otherwise how the blazes does the Universe know how to build a proton.

Doesn't this mean the only logical choice is that this information was somehow placed into the Zero Space before Creation started? An event that probably caused the Big Bang to "start" anyway? This of course requires the existance of some meta-space and meta-time for this information to come from.

And of course since this meta-Universe must also have started in the same fashion...where did it get its initial jump-start from?

Well it may not be God, but it would appear that there is still "something" out there.

Sunday, 7 September 2008

From Carpenter Bees to Life On Earth

That’s when it all happened you know, back then with the advent of the social insect. One version of the bee went down the Hive mind route, whereas other versions went down the socially “independent” route – carpenter bees for example. At that point I think the carpenter bee evolved to effectively sidestep what must have been the logical conclusion of the entire evolution of the bee species, right back to the beginnings of life itself.

Look at how life has evolved, from simplicity to complexity, and on a cellular level from independence (and vulnerability) to coexistence (and security). Single-celled organisms joined to become multi-cellular organisms (compare, say, Influenza virus, with…a human body). The trend is towards integration, ultimate communism, in which each individual unit (cell/virus/packet of DNA) is bred for a specific purpose and is controlled and directed from life to death, but then is almost certain to live out that life and die a quiet expected death.

However there does exist other “modes of living” than integration. Viruses are essentially small packets of DNA that are not integrated into a communal “body” in the way than a multi-cellular organism such as a human is. And this decision is repeated again and again at increasingly macroscopic levels. A bee (itself a multi-cellular conglomerate) decides to take a more “individual-oriented” direction in life. Animals decide to live in herds, then improve their chances by evolving selfish behavioural strategies. Even up to humans deciding to live in tribes…and then attacking other tribes. Isn’t that a strive towards diversity and individualism as well?

It is, if you look at life on Earth as a whole. But if you take one individual species and only view those changes in relation to the species itself, you get a different picture. Look at homo sapiens. At some point the DNA in all our cells existed inside various scattered uni-cellular organisms. Some time in this distant cellular past the mutation coin was tossed – shall we remain individuals, or become part of a collective. Actually you can probably trace this back to when a single cell replicated and something happened (a mutation in DNA) to change the way the cell behaved during replication. A tendency to “hold on” to the sibling cell that has just been created, rather than allow it to drift off into an individual (and probably short) life. In fact I bet that’s it. If a cell has stayed in a place long enough, that place is probably likely to be “safe”, so therefore any offspring (or clones really) might have a better chance of survival if they stayed in the same vicinity as their parent. Pure weight of statistical chance ensures that if you’ve lived long enough, you’re likely to be living in a place that your offspring would also live long in.

If you look at it at that level, you can see that the simple evolutionary advantage of forming a close bond with the cell that just produced you, is not questionable. It’s blindingly obvious by looking at simple statistics. So at that point in the development in the cell, if that kind of mutation occurs, it will ensure its propagation successfully each time, simply through the numbers.

So the decision is won when you get to that level, by collectivism. Ignore viruses, they just haven’t got to the decision yet. But then when you get further of the evolutionary line that leads to you or me, you get asked the question again, and this time on the “organism” level. That is to say mutation occurs in one of the organism’s cells that is then passed on completely to one or more offspring. We’re dealing with a collective of cells, cells who have lost the right to individualism billions of generations ago, but the decision is now being made at a higher level, and groups of higher cells are involved. The decision is being made by the organism itself (you or me).

Let me straighten that out. The decision is still resulting from a mutation in the DNA of a single cell, but the mutation is not affecting the cell individually, rather the properties, or behaviour of the collective as a whole. In effect evolutionary change is affecting the structure of the organism as a whole, the cells themselves change relatively little. There I go again, it’s still triggered by a mutation in a single cell, and thereby directly affecting that cell’s behaviour. Though of course it’s only random mutations in sex cells that get passed on to the next generation. Although random mutations do occur in single cells, there’s no way the DNA from your relcitrant liver cell is going to be transferred to your gametes...especially if you’re a girl, because your gametes are already formed before you are born.

Anyway, as we can see the decision is a highly successful one for “collectivism” at whatever level you make it. It always works. Unless of course a cell or organism is in a situation which appears safe, but is only so due to a statistical glitch – the apparent decrease in mortality rate of the previous generational line. But ultimately whenever a cell…or an organism…or a herd of organisms…or a tribe of humans...is faced with this decision, it should almost always be the safest course of action. And of course viewed only along the generational line of one species, it is the safest. Multi-cellular organisms cover the planet, so multi-cellularism was a good choice of that particular cell back then. Every species also tends to group together, in a sort of meta-organism, be that a flock, a tribe, a city, or a country. There are exceptions of course at any level, but looked at introspectively, each one is simply the result of a decision that hasn’t been made, because the question has not yet been asked.