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Comment Society as a neural network (Score 1) 609

I watched a documentary about bees (I think it was a "Nova Science Now" segment). A guy set up a bee colony on an island. The bees were going to need a new hive, so he set up 2 possible locations nearby, one was deliberately made to be better than the other. Bee scouts went out looking for a new location, some found the good hive, others the less good hive and came back to tell the colony. They communicate by pointing and shaking their bodies. The bees who found the good colony were more vigorous. Also, when scouts for one location encountered scouts from the other, telling the hive to go to the other place, they would try to suppress them. Eventually the colony made a decision to go to the better location. But the comment was made that this was very similar to how neurons stimulate and suppress each other to reach a decision in an individual brain. so it's a kind of neural network.

After watching the documentary, I was struck by the idea that this is how a human society ought to work. Different people from different walks of life and temperament debating each other, disagreeing with and maybe trying to suppress those they disagree with. But in a healthy society nobody gets to dominate! When some faction gets the upper hand too much, everything goes bad.

Anyway, I think the neural network model is better than the 'rational' one. I've read where sometimes artificial neural networks design stuff better than usual logical engineering methods, and nobody can figure out why they work so well. Human society might be like that.

Comment Interesting, but not conclusive. Also orchestras (Score 1) 499

It's an interesting experiment. But experiments need to be corroborated by being duplicated with independent researchers. So, take it with a grain of salt.

I've read that it used to be, female musicians applying for jobs in symphony orchestras were usually rejected, until they started auditioning behind a screen so that the judges couldn't tell the sex. Once the audition was 'blind', the women fared as well as the men. The blind auditioning had an advantage over the case described here because there was no disguising of voices or worrying about choosing the right words to express oneself. Just pure musicianship and skill on the instrument.

So, with music, it would appear the sexes are 'equal'. It doesn't mean they are equal in other things. For a long time, no one knew how to tell a female brain in an anatomy class from a male one, but eventually distinctive differences were found. So it shouldn't be a surprise that men and women are different. But I'd say there's still a lot of room for debate on exactly what is different, and what is 'better'. In many cases, even if there's some statistical difference, there's probably enough overlap in skill that one should frequently give the person a chance, and try to be objective about evaluating whether or not they have chops to do the job they're applying for.

Comment I consider myself an agnostic and ... (Score 1) 951

Yes, we could be in a simulation. In fact, maybe none of you exist. I might have been created 5 minutes ago complete with false memories in a virtual world where I am the only conscious entity. The folks running the simulation would also be conscious entities. I might be one of their experiments.

The operative words in the above paragraph are 'could', 'maybe' and 'might'. In fact most the time I don't think about it; I just assume that other people exist and my memories and sensory input have a rough correlation to some sort of reality because that seems like the practical thing to do. But I acknowledge that I can't know for sure that that's the case. So, the rest of this post, I'm going to assume that you other people exist and this is not just for the amusement and edification of some AI students observing me in yet another run of their simulation software.

Back in the 1600s, philosopher Rene Descartes considered the matter and decided that the only thing he could know for sure was that he existed, because he was thinking about it. Everything else might have been false. (His famous line, in Latin, was Cogito ergo sum, I think therefore I am.) Older than DesCartes is the idea that life is a dream, or we are living in the dream of some god, who is himself living in the dream of a god, etc.

Presumably, we (or at least I) might be in a simulation nested in another simulation. But working up through the levels, one would expect to get to the original. The creators of that first simulation don't have to be gods. They might have evolved up from a primeval universe formed in a big bang. They wouldn't necessarily know the answers to the really fundamental questions like how did it all get started? Why is there something instead of nothing?

I don't know the answers to the fundamental questions and I don't think anyone else knows. (If I thought somebody else knew, I'd ask them, and then I'd know, right?) This is what being an agnostic (from ancient Greek for not knowing) is all about.

Comment Re:Elvis? Seriously? (Score 1) 38

Size doesn't necessarily reflect popularity, or importance for that matter. How much documentation still exists for the Maya Civilization for instance? Their writing system was only recently deciphered, and tomb raiders have destroyed or disturbed a lot of archeological material.

Elvis Presley is well documented and a lot of people liked Elvis Presley and may have wanted to contribute. (I haven't read the article, maybe it was only one person who wrote it all out. Ditto for Poland.)

The Polish wikipedia may have a longer article about Poland than about Elvis Presley. (I haven't checked that either. This reply is, to be honest, rather casual on my part.)

Also some writers are just more verbose than others. Being longer doesn't mean more information is conveyed, or that it is conveyed as well.

Comment The 'light' from a red dwarf (Score 1) 122

As I understand it, red dwarfs are the most numerous stars in the galaxy. (Also much longer lived, if the difference between 5 billion and 100 billion years matters to you.) Although they are smaller, cooler, and redder, if a planet is close enough, it will be in the temperature comfort zone for humans. But what kind of light would one see? Would it be perpetual sunset/sunrise? Would chlorophyll driven photosynthesis work?

I'm also thinking it's all very academic because by the time humanity has the technology to get there (if it ever does), things will be very different with us or our descendants (Who may not be biological descendants.)

Comment what'll be the unintended/unexpected consequences (Score 5, Insightful) 158

...of sexbots when they become uh significantly functional?

Will there be a Darwininan selection process where only people who really want children will have them, so eventually everybody wants to have children and is a competent family man/woman?

Will women be relieved that all the jerks have gone off with their sexbots and aren't bothering them anymore?

How many of men and boys that start out wanting a sexbot will grow out of it and learn to appreciate the real thing and how many will be permanently spoiled and never be able to adjust to the give and take of a relationship with another real human?

How many older men, who have had relationships with women, even relatively successful ones, will just decide it ain't worth the work anymore and go for a sexbot?

How many women will want sexbots?

Comment Re:What Happened to Slashdot? (Score 1) 165

I've been reading slashdot for quite awhile (notice "cough cough" my 5 digit Id, and I was an AC for awhile before I signed up.)
The changes in slashdot are to some extent part of changes in the internet itself. More people are interacting now, and younger people, certain tropes or memes or whatever have gotten established, and in some cases become old hat and shrunk away.
Things change, period. I'm nostalgic for the hey day of Usenet, the late 80s. But if I went back and looked at old usenet posts in google groups I'd probably be underwhelmed, partly because the topics from then are dated (flame wars in rec.audio over tubes vs solid state or digital vs analog), or otherwise thrashed over so often that everything got said thrice over. Part of it would be that I've changed too. If I went back and looked at an archive of early slashdot posts (is such a thing possible?) I'd probably get the same feeling of being underwhelmed that I do with usenet. (But slashdot hasn't degraded nearly as much as Usenet has. In fact, I'm not sure I'd say it's degraded much at all, just changed.)

Comment Function of Consciousness from Documentary (Score 2) 121

I recently watch a Documentary TV series on PBS called "The Brain WIth David Edelman" which I thought was excellent. There was a place where the series talked about consciousness. First, it pointed out how most of the activity in the brain is unconscious. When people are learning a skill, they are doing things consciously and badly, but later, it becomes an unconscious activity and is done more efficiently.

I was going to call this Edelman's definition of consciousness, but decided that it's really his description of the function. Still worth considering I think. According to the documentary, the function of consciousness is to deal with unexpected and novel events. Edelman compared it to the CEO of a big corporation, and there was a scene of him in a power suit on the top floor of some building. This executive doesn't know about all the goings on on the floors below, maintenance, processing sales orders, etc. The executive is there to handle the unusual matters. In the same way, consciousness doesn't usually involve itself much with breathing or walking. A person might not remember anything about going to the kitchen to get a drink of water unless something unusual happened on the way for example.

So, thinking about the function of consciousness might shed light on what it is exactly.

Comment Re:Protection from Cosmic Rays? (Score 2) 43

I visited that link. From what I read, the "no bigger than a large desk" solution is for solar wind, not cosmic rays, which are more energetic. In fact, reading farther down, there was a reply, 'let me rain on this parade' about the strength and power requirements of a field strong enough to deflect cosmic rays. It also gave a link to an article that seems similar to the one I remember reading except that it's gloomier https://engineering.dartmouth.edu/~d76205x/research/Shielding/docs/Parker_06.pdf as in 5 meters, not 3 feet of water. It also talks about the possibly negative effects of such a strong magnetic field.

Two things that I wonder about wrt a magnetic field. I'm not an electrical engineer or a physicist, but, do you need to constantly supply power to such a field? Permanent magnets maintain a field without using power. Also, could the astronauts protect themselves from the field by being in something like a faraday cage?

The article mentions that the 'poles' of the magnetic field would not be shielding from the field. How about the astronauts live in the poles and just protect that patch of space with a water shield? (Ooh, Ooh, where's the patent office?)

Comment Protection from Cosmic Rays? (Score 4, Interesting) 43

Years ago I read an article somewhere about protection from Cosmic Rays. It made an impression, and what's also made an impression is that I don't think I've ever come across anything else about it in the discussions about plans to send people to Mars. I gather though, that cumulative damage from Cosmic Rays are a serious enough issue that it would be criminally negligent of the powers to be if they didn't offer protection. So, what to do about Cosmic Rays? This is from memory about what the article said and may not be quite right but:
1. 3 feet of water offers as much protection from Cosmic Rays as the earth's atmosphere (maybe it was the atmosphere as it is in Denver, Colo.) So a ship going to Mars could be sheathed in a water jacket. That's a lot of mass, but, the bigger the ship, the less the total percentage of mass would be dedicated to the water jacket. Also, the water could be used for drinking, then purified and recycled. (Also, since the article came out, I've read about water being found on the Moon. Getting water from the Moon for the water jacket might be more practical as it has less of a gravity well to be hauled up from.)
2. Alternatively, a very strong magnetic field around the ship would deflect the cosmic rays. This would be less massive. Methinks it would have to be a very powerful field and I'm wondering a bit at the technology to do it.

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