Tuesday, December 23, 2008

The Collapse of the Scientific Revolution

Short post, but

We rather take it for granted that the Scientific Revolution can progress and continue indefinitely. But should we take that as a given?

How Our Culture Keeps Students Out of Science - Chronicle.com
Good way for us to kill our own scientific advantage

China will build the Controversial Emdrive.
Radical innovation and risk - we could be losing it

Low-Energy Nuclear Reactions (Cold Fusion)
First the DOE reconsiders and admits there is something to it, and now listed in ArXiv - yet still heresy. Popularity rears its ugly head.

How Politics manipulates Science
- also from Arxiv regarding the paper: Climate Science: Is it Currently Designed to Answer Questions?

LHC (Large Hadron Collider) like the ITER (International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor) are two big scientific endeavors that move the center of scientific progress to Europe. And while I am happy for Europe, that bodes ill news for US.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Govt of the Future

Gov. Rod Blagojevich has been accused of "pay to play" politics. That is, of course, bad. But on the other hand, it is any worse than the "friends and family to play" that so often wins in DC? For instance, we have Hillary's Senate seat up for grabs and it is being contested by Caroline Kennedy and Fran Drescher. Who gets most of the air time and most of the endorsements by big names? Kennedy, by a long shot. There are pictures of her as a child in the Whitehouse all over the news. And now I have Sweet Caroline stuck in my head.

In that vein, the BBC has an interesting article about dynasties in Washington DC.

Ok, so what does this all this have to do with Transhumanism? Much of what distinguishes us from the Animal kingdom is culture and community. If we are to consider trans-human, we must also consider trans-culture, because one will be synonoumous with the other. So what of trans-government? What is the role of government in a post-scarcity society?

Our current balance of governmental power will become unstable, and societies will go one of two ways, depending on the people involved. On one hand, we could have a excess of govt power where there is a either a continual arms race between the government and the people, or the government simply limits the development of technology. When I say 'arms', I mean that in the widest possible context - anything powerful, like the internet, for instance. We see this now in China. But, of the two in the long run, the later is far more probable, and would effectly stifle, if not kill the scientific revolution.

The other solution, is for the people to gain greater and greater power. This is usually what we have in mind in a post-scarcity society. Don't truth the govt what they have? Build it yourself! What would a society capable of that be like? Either it would self-destruct, in which case we default to the our first option of Big Brother, (or are just dead) OR we enter a new golden age. That golden age is reachable... but it requires a certain kind of person.

Thus our options are slavery, destruction, or a new golden age. The status quo is not an option.

The next step in human evolution is the Spirit of the Lord.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Zombies are the way of the future: You can not kill Open Source

Bill has a problem. Zombies. He just can't stop them.

Everything he knows that is essential for life, they just don't seem to need. And this is a problem because they are cutting into his business.

You see, Bill has been selling software for a few years now, and he is pretty decent at it. Successful enough that he would lose money if he took the time to pick up a $100 bill. Other businesses, that stood in his way, are now either dead or of no account to him, like IBM and OS/2 or Digital Research's DR-DOS. Netscape is dead. But it is the (undead) son of Netscape that keeps him awake at night - Firefox. It is a non-profit venture done by people in their spare time. How can he compete with that? Furthermore, it has the audacity to beat him at his own game. Then there is the cousin of Firefox, Chrome, that could be even scarier in a few years.

Other word processors like WordPerfect were crushed by MS-Word, but you can't make things cheaper than OpenOffice, or much better, worries Bil. All you have to do is download it. Apache webservers are doing far more significant damage to business. Do you know how much I have to pay to develop what you develop for free? And operating systems... here you have a veritable army of zombies, reminicent of something from The Black Cauldron, all under the moniker Linux. "Curse you Linus Torvalds! Curse you and your unslayable open-source! You made the only thing I could not kill!" screams the founder of the Microsoft nation.

And that is not all. There is an entire community of new and inventive projects young and talented programmers are developing in their spare time... gratis! It is like his arch-nemesis, Google, but without an income stream to kill.

Of course, at the moment Bill has all the normal business fortification, but many of his strongest fortifications have been made obsolete by zombies finding a way around it.

It isn't like this is the only group to find people adding to the public commons and making money at it to boot. Wired recently had an excellent article on open Source hardware. Seed magazine had an article on DIY biology. The internet has preceded the death of print newspapers and magazines. DIY video publishing has given pause to the great companies of our day. Even astronomy with its great telescopes, has many of its discoveries, like comets, found by backyard, or home computer hobbyists. All this is just a start to what is out there. And this movement is only growing.

Experts, are like the Tyrannosaurus of yesteryear, are facing a competition they can not fight. Imposing and frightful, there is no beast equal to them. And yet, it is little mammals, mice and men, that are the inheritors and conquerors of of their estate. How can a dinosaur fight a mouse? Not very well. But an army of zombies? There is just no stopping an army of of the undead.

Of course, on the other hand, if open-source and amauter movements are so vibrant and are adding so much value to society, then maybe the real zombies are the institutions and companies of the past. They are the ones sleepwalking into the future.

DIY amateurs are the way of the future.

What can we take away from this? The more that individuals have to work with, and with the ability to add value to public commons, the greater the impact on society. More people with more tools is the future.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Trans of Culture

So much of what separates us from the Animal Kingdom, is culture and society - the fact we talk and interact, with each other. Animals do this too, but to a far lesser degree. We talk, we write things down, we are always using technology and sharing what we learn. Animals will do some of these things, but the degree and amount are incredibly larger in humankind.

I don't think it is reasonable to expect that our progression to Singularity will be either smooth or uneventful. It will not be without major upheavals or changes in society. Perhaps some could be avoided if we were all better people, but quite a few are as inherent as the change the automobile, or internet brought to society.

That brings up a crucial and important question. If there is a great crash and from the prophecies of the prophets, we do have every reason to expect this sooner or later, what are we going to build in place of our old society? Just a copy of the old one? This will probably just before we actually do return to build the New Jerusalem.

First, I think intellectual property laws need to be scrapped, or at least vastly vastly weakened. So much of the scientific revolution is simply an exponential increase in the rate of information transfer.

Second, ----- well, there is the problem. I am not a student of sociology. There is so much of our world we simply take for granted, and recoil with horror at other cultures that have done things differently.

One hot button topic would be marriage customs. No one wants to change what we do, but it is clear, what we are doing now isn't working that well.

Others might point to environmental aspects we should improve.

Education would certainly be a good place to start, especially grade school education.

I am not saying this because I think it is hip to criticize all things of my own culture, (because there are an awful lot of great things) but what kind of culture will get us through the next 10,000 years of exponential change?

Monday, November 17, 2008

Information stored in Space-Time

So much of the scientific revolution is simply an increase in the speed at which we gain information. And this is not limited to scientific knowledge either. It must have a corresponding increase in spiritual knowledge, or the scientific part will not be sustainable.

In fact the strongest argument against intellectual property laws, is that they stand in the way of this. If the Singularity is to happen, sooner or later, they will have to come down.

Thus the prophecy that the knowledge of the Lord would cover the Earth as the waters cover the sea, is not a mere byproduct, but a necessary condition of both the Singularity and the Millennium.

Which brings up the concept of the Akashic Record. The idea behind this is, that all of history and all of knowledge is recorded in the akasha, or aether, or simply, Space-time continuum. Yes, for all our vaunted Relativity that does away with the aether, we have replaced with the exact same concept, just we call it space-time now.

So is any of this accessable for information? While many of the promoters of the idea are New Age fringe, the idea has completely good merits. Not to say that I have had any success in using it to come to an understanding of the finer points of, say, the BCS theory of superconductivity.

Still Brigham Young made interesting comments about how, as spirits we could visit any time in history. That sounds pretty akashic to me.

Better for us now, are mechanical means for doing the same thing. And really what is a Liahona or Urim and Thummim other than a mechanical means for gaining knowledge?

Joseph said he could see anything with the one he was given. Actually, seer stones played a significant, if forgotten part of early church history. There was of, course, the incident with Hiram Page, yet, he was not counseled to get rid of it, only that what he got from it was false.

If that was not interesting enough, Brigham recorded:
Dec. 27, 1841: I met with the Twelve at Brother Joseph's. He conversed with us in a familiar manner on a variety of subjects, and explained to us the Urim and Thummim which he found with the plates, called in the Book of Mormon the Interpreters. He said that every man who lived on the earth was entitled to a seer stone, and should have one, but they are kept from them in consequence of their wickedness, and most of those who do find one make an evil use of it; he showed us his seer stone. (Brigham Young, Mill. Star 26:118)
If you wish to delve deeper into this esoteric subject, examine an old blog called The Seer.

Of course, it should be noted, that Satan can deceive by this means as well - hence Hiram Page. It was noted that it was reliable as preaching - which means to me, that if we want sure knowledge, we need to be perfectly able to listen to and receive confirmation from the Holy Ghost.

Alas, I have neither found nor have been given a seer stone, so this information is primarily theory. Still, according to some, we will have them in the New Jerusalem but I can't find the source for that one, so take it with a grain of salt. But the final immortal state of the earth is to be a great Urim and Thummim. Something like a celestial version of what Douglas Adams said the earth was.

All spirit is matter. In theory, could we build one ourselves? Yes, in theory we could. Our theology suggests that something corresponding to an Akashic field exists. The subject in physics is beyond my ken without a bit of research. Still, information is a vital concept even now in physics.

But don't ask me how to make one, or I would have my own spaceship and lightsaber.

Not that I could get into any trouble with either one of those. (I had a better live action example, but it has been lost in the sands of time. Darned Akashic Field!)

Saturday, November 15, 2008

The Purpose of the Singularity part 5: Just what is it good for?

Ok, back to business... Just what is the Singularity good for? The argument could be made that with regard to actual happiness, less advanced societies do a better job. Perhaps something more like ancient Rome, or pre-Victorian England...

So far in this series, we have looked at the effect of Priesthood keys, how scientific revolutions have come and gone, and why, from a gospel perspective, we are having one right now. If societal attitudes have vitiated scientific revolutions before, then there are some trends amongst us now that bear a closer examination. That, however, will be a future post.

Why do we have computers? Or any other scientific advancement? In short, it is to prepare the earth, and its people for the Second Coming of the Savior, and to accomplish the work we need to accomplish before he comes.

For instance, rise of computers have been tied to genealogy and temple work, which as a Latter-day saint, we feel are part of . The current work in genealogy would be impossible without it.

From the Deseret News - Elder Robert D. Hales of the Quorum of the Twelve gave the devotional address at the beginning of Education Week at Brigham Young University recently

In the 1970s, Elder Theodore H. Burton presented the concept of computers being used for family records and research. "He was even bold enough to teach and proclaim that the computer technology was given to man for his use to hasten the day of family history, genealogy and temple work."
His proclamation was met with reservations about the size and expense of computers for personal use and how few Latter-day Saints would be able to afford or operate them. Other concerns were the complexity of how to make them compatible with temple records.
"All seemed to be reasonable reservations for their time," he said, yet "today, we are embarking on a new era of family history computer technology."
I have also heard how the 24 temples of the New Jerusalem would be devoted to gaining information about ancestors we now have no record of, but I can find nothing in writing about that.

Now, like any good theory, we can make testable predictions- because of what will facilitate genealogy.
  1. Computers will continue to increase in memory, both RAM and hard drive as well as speed - Good news for Moore's law.
  2. Their searching capabilities will be expanded as well. - this is a good omen for quantum computers because search and sort are some of the things they will excel at.
  3. Communication around the globe will increase beyond even what we have now - good news for the internet
  4. Contrary to some worries, with very real theoretical concerns behind them, Moore's Law will continue to hold its exponential growth. - Exponential growth is the fastest kind of sustainable growth.
Much of this is not unexpected - perhaps though I missed something.

It is a good time for computer lovers.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Path to the Singularity: AI to IA ?

I have long thought that the unlimited optimism that sufficient computer power would automatically make an intelligence to be unfounded. I do think the difference Vernor Vinge draws between Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Intelligence Amplification (IA). I am doubtful about AI, but IA takes our natural strengths and works with them.

Vernor Vinge's View of the Future - Is Technology That Outthinks Us a Partner or a Master ?

Regardless, I think the final obstacle to the Singularity will be our own intellectual limitations, self-imposed or innate.

Monday, September 08, 2008

Ice Age Cometh..... just maybe

Although much neglected, solar activity plays a major role in the earth's climate. We have just ended a very active solar cycle and most people (myself included) were expecting an even more active cycle about to start anytime now. I had read one suggestion that the cycle after this one could start a solar minimum, such as are associated with ice ages. But it appears that this solar cycle is already late in starting, and the Sun is anomalously quiet, with no sunspots at all. This is as quiet as it has been in a hundred years. Now, this cycle may very well start back up and that would not yet surprise me.

It is just that this is looking similar to how a solar minimum starts.... which are correlated with Global Cooling.

This would/could be a thousand times more devastating than Global Warming would ever be.

On the up-side, (small consolation) we can laugh at Al Gore and his camp...

Sun Makes History
Where have all the Sunspots Gone?

and of course,
Space Weather . com

No need to panic yet, but let's just keep our eyes on the Sun.

EDIT: The best place to keep an eye on the next solar cycle starting, as well as discussions of solar and climate physics about solar cycle 24, is SolarCycle24.com. Great site

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

The Purpose of the Singularity part 4: Why and what that means

As I discussed earlier, a secular basis alone is insufficient to explain why we have had such a successful scientific revolution, in comparison with previous ages.

However, if we will take time to understand God's purposes, it will help us make concrete predictions about how we will progress towards the Singularity. And the value of any theory is directly proportional to the quality of the predictions it makes (as well as explanatory power).

Just why does God care about it at all?

Firstly, there is no division between temporal and spiritual. What affects us temporally, as the potential to affect us spiritually. Much needs to be done and it will not all be done by the Latter-Day Saints. There is just too much to be accomplished. Prophecies about knowledge and "wonders in heaven and in earth" have been fulfilled in such things as planes and radio, but do not suspect for a moment that that means we will not see even greater advances ourselves. Instead of lifting us up in pride, the incredible technological advancements should indicate to us the magnitude of the work the Lord is preparing us for.

In due time, as the church purifies itself, tech will be important to help Zion both succeed and bloom in every way.

Prediction: Technological progression will continue and will raise the bar as to what is considered necessary as well as intelligent and educated.

Second, the kinds of technology that benefit the Lord's work will see tremendous advances. Considering the magnitude of the Millennial and Pre-Millennial work, we need a lot of help.

Prediction: There will be enough resources to perform the Lord's work. This especially includes time, so expect labor saving devices to become more useful and pervasive. Likewise, Malthusian arguments will continue to be invalid. There will be times of poverty, but there is too much to be done for continual poverty. Consider Brigham Young's prophecy that the Saints would be tried a hundred times more with wealth than they ever were with poverty. Consider the folklore prophecy of Brigham also, about vast reserves of oil in Utah. Regardless, if it is not oil, it will be something else.

Prediction: In a similar vein, there will be enough tools (especially those for communication) to perform the Lord's work. Expect the information revolution to continue its exponential growth, (There is no faster sustainable growth mathematically possible) both in quantity and in network speed. The internet has just gotten started. Tools for travel, (cars, planes, etc) will continue to become not only useful, but more useful and wide spread.

Next time,
  • Purpose of computers: Genealogy and temple work and Scriptures
  • The many things that could, or previously have, stopped Scientific Revolutions/Singularity.
What will this foreshadow for us?

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

The Dearth of Superlatitives

We now take a break from our investigation of the Singularity to discuss an approaching problem that gets very little attention.

The problem is Moore's law, or one of its many variations. For instance, consider computer performance. It doubles every 1.5 years. Or hard drive volume, it increases by 1000 times every 5 years. So right now we have can buy hard drives in the Tera-Byte(Tb) range, but 5 years ago, it was the top of the line was Giga-bytes (Gb), and 10 years ago, we were still in the Mega-byte range(Mb).

The system of SI units gives us prefixes for progressive powers of 1000. That means in 5 years, (baring truly major war, or disaster) we will have Peta-bytes (Pb) hard drives, then in 2018, Exa-byte(Eb), then 2023, Zetta-byte (Zb) and by 2028 Yotta-bytes (Yb). And then.... nothing.

The trouble is that math is a language and the venerable SI system of units, (aka metric), does not have any more pre-fixes, or words if you will, for larger numbers.

Borrowing from Wikipedia, we see that the both in terms of large and small, we are limited.
1000m 10n Prefix Symbol Since[1] Short scale Long scale Decimal
10008 1024 yotta- Y 1991 Septillion Quadrillion 1 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000
10007 1021 zetta- Z 1991 Sextillion Trilliard 1 000 000 000 000 000 000 000
10006 1018 exa- E 1975 Quintillion Trillion 1 000 000 000 000 000 000
10005 1015 peta- P 1975 Quadrillion Billiard 1 000 000 000 000 000
10004 1012 tera- T 1960 Trillion Billion 1 000 000 000 000
10003 109 giga- G 1960 Billion Milliard 1 000 000 000
10002 106 mega- M 1960 Million 1 000 000
10001 103 kilo- k 1795 Thousand 1 000
10002/3 102 hecto- h 1795 Hundred 100
10001/3 101 deca- da 1795 Ten 10
10000 100 (none) (none) NA One 1
1000−1/3 10−1 deci- d 1795 Tenth 0.1
1000−2/3 10−2 centi- c 1795 Hundredth 0.01
1000−1 10−3 milli- m 1795 Thousandth 0.001
1000−2 10−6 micro- µ 1960[2] Millionth 0.000 001
1000−3 10−9 nano- n 1960 Billionth Milliardth 0.000 000 001
1000−4 10−12 pico- p 1960 Trillionth Billionth 0.000 000 000 001
1000−5 10−15 femto- f 1964 Quadrillionth Billiardth 0.000 000 000 000 001
1000−6 10−18 atto- a 1964 Quintillionth Trillionth 0.000 000 000 000 000 001
1000−7 10−21 zepto- z 1991 Sextillionth Trilliardth 0.000 000 000 000 000 000 001
1000−8 10−24 yocto- y 1991 Septillionth Quadrillionth 0.000 000 000 000 000 000 000 001

One suggestion would use all the upper and lower case numbers in the English alphabet, but this becomes problematic as the units these prefixes attach to are also English letters. That would lead to confusion (the first sin of any language). For instance, one proposed extension uses all of the English alphabet, starting with xona-, weka-, and vunda- for progressively higher powers of one thousand. So if we have VA, is that Vunda Amperes? or Volts times Amperes? Ambiguity is unacceptable.

Other approaches might be suggested by the mathematics of very large numbers. But this still struggles with the fact that learning more and more names for larger numbers is just putting the problem off. If you disagree, say 1010000000000 is "ten tremilliamilliamilliatrecenttretriginmilliamilliatrecenttretriginmilliatrecentdotrigintillion" ten times fast.

Another solution would be to designate a new unit, like the Tera-Byte, as the BBoT, for lack of a better name. That would run out slower, lasting 4*5*8 = 160 years. That is good, but not perminent. Further, we would have to designate a new unit for every unit used.

If our growth is exponential, then if we should want a system that will scale in the same way. We have that for Earthquakes, for instance. It is called the Richter scale. Similar scales are used in apparent magnitude for astronomy and the decibel scale for sound. These all use base-10 logarithms, so that each time you increase by 1, the magnitude increases by 10 times. For instance, 5.4 on the richter scale is 10 times what 4.4 is. This system would last virtually forever. But implemenation is everything... and that is going to require more work.


Monday, August 25, 2008

The Purpose of the Singularity part 3: Scientific Revolutions

As I suggested in my last post, it has been wondered before why the scientific revolution did not happen in other times and places. Lovers of multiculturalism have, for instance, condemned Thomas Kuhn's Structure of Scientific Revolutions for being Eurocentric, or focused on Western Civilization. The fact is most of what we use in science is Western, with the primary exception being Arabic Sciences, as noted in words like 'algebra' or 'algorithm' or 'azimuth'. And while other civilizations have had tremendous accomplishments, very little of their efforts were a part of the scientific revolution. That is not to suggest they were unintelligent or unaccomplished. Rather we should take it as a warning just how easily we can lose what they lost as well.

Vernor Vinge has an excellent article discussing What If the Singularity Never Happens? He gives us 3 scenarios.

First Scenario - we destroy ourselves - Mutual Assured Destruction - the Suicide of Civilization.

That is why I have stated in posts long gone by that the next necessary step in progress towards the Singularity (or as I love to refer to it, "the Rapture of the Nerds") is moral and spiritual. We are at a point where we are technologically capable of destroying, if not the human race, then most certainly human civilization. Einstein is quoted as having said, "I know not with what weapons World War III will be fought, but World War IV will be fought with sticks and stones."

As our weapons become more and more powerful, this is a greater and greater worry.

Second Possibility, (Golden Age) we actually make it. We clean up our act, repent of our sins, and are ready for the glories the Lord has in mind.

But this picture is a little too simplistic and naively evolutionary. It is a nice idea, but it misses a lot of important complexity.

The third scenario (Wheel of Time) is the the one that best reflects history, though I have great faith and hopes that at least part of the human race will enter the Golden Age scenario this time around. In actual fact, we see that different civilizations have gained and lost scientific understanding through out history.

For instance, for 1400 year, China was more technologically advanced than Europe (Jospeh Needham wrote Why the Scientific Revolution Did Not Take Place in China--Or Did It? - here is a revised version)

Likewise, India was far ahead of the West for a long time. Some thoughts on the Indian half of Needham question by Narasimha explores this puzzle. Here, other scholars address this question, but they don't really come to an answer. Some of their solutions are cultural, but Europe had cultural problems too, like how it dealt with Galileo. Some of the blame is due to invasions and war. But Europe had plenty of that too.

The Arabs had a tremendous opportunity too and flourished for a time, but then lost it all. They are mainly remembered for the few things they introduced into Europe, such as Hindu (so called Arabic) numbers. Here is one slightly bitter record of Islamic scientific history. The main conclusion reached was that there was too little interest and too much insistence on orthodoxy.

Those were similar to the charges against the Indians, and could just as easily be used to accuse us.

Without bringing in theology, I can not answer why this is. But I can say that we can lose what we have just as easily as the Arabs, the Indians, the Chinese, or any other great civilization. It has come and it has gone. We should not take the Scientific Revolution for granted.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

The Purpose of the Singularity part 2: The Key of the Restoration of all things

The Singularity is a period of run-away technological advances. Some people peg it to the creation of a computerized Artificial Intelligence like our own, only computerized, called strong AI. While I am bearish on strong AI, weak AI (like computer programs that are only good at one problem, chess, for instance) will be a significant advance. Ultimately, the reasons for the Singularity happening must be kept in mind, because opportunities for singularity are not inevitable.

Great knowledge has been lost more times in history than we could count. We are only now getting an idea of how the Egyptian pyramids how were built. There are many cases of superior civil engineering technology - Rome and its neighbors, Meso-America, India, China, and so on. We still don't fully understand how Damascus steel was created. Attainments in Medicine have at times been very great, as have attainments in mathematics and astronomy. If we take the Book of Enoch at its word, this is the least of it.

We say, correctly, that the technological advances we are having uniquely in our day and age, are a result of the Gospel being restored. That is true, but we need to be more specific. I wonder if we can say, that it is because of the key of the restoration of all things.

A key consists of power from God to accomplish something. And the truth is scientific advances are revelations who come to those who are prepared scientifically. I could quote Brigham extensively on this, but not today.

The interesting thing about this, is that it was previously held by both Noah (Elias/Gabriel) and Peter, James and John. If I am right then, we could have had the technological marvels we have now, either right after the Flood, or in the days of Rome, except that the Church apostatized. I consider that fascinating, because smarter men than myself have often wondered why the scientific revolution happened when it did, and not earlier. It was certainly not for any lack of intelligence.

What is the purpose of the key of the restoration of all things? Nothing less than building up the kingdom of God. And when men and women have abandoned God, He has withheld the enlightenments they might have otherwise received. Do technological levels directly correlate with righteousness and apostasy? No, not at all, but it will follow it like an errent shadow, with delayed but inexorable effect. And opportunities once lost, may not return for a very long time.

What do the scriptures and prophets tell us about this?

First, there is the well-known and repeated prophecy that someday, we should be as far ahead of the world in Science as we are now in Religion. This prophecy in particular suggests to me that the Singularity will be a LDS phenomena and not the world at large.

Other prophecies closely corrolate the information explosion with the blessings of the Millenium itself.

A time to come when nothing shall be withheld....

...for it is necessary in the ushering in of the dispensation of the fulness of times, which dispensation is now beginning to usher in, that a whole and complete and perfect union, and welding together of dispensations, and keys, and powers, and glories should take place, and be revealed from the days of Adam even to the present time. And not only this, but those things which never have been revealed from the foundation of the world, but have been kept hid from the wise and prudent, shall be revealed unto babes and sucklings in this, the dispensation of the fulness of times.
And for what purpose is all of this? It is to build up Zion - that it might be perfect in knowledge, both secular and spiritual. Both kinds of knowledge are necessary.

God does not violate the agency he has given to man; wherefore let this be in the mouth of every Saint, "The Lord shall have perfect dominion in my heart and affections;" then he will begin to reign in the midst of the people; but he cannot do so now. When we have faith to understand that he must dictate, and that we must be perfectly submissive to him, then we shall begin to rapidly collect the intelligence that is bestowed upon the nations, for all this intelligence belongs to Zion. All the knowledge, wisdom, power, and glory that have been bestowed upon the nations of the earth, from the days of Adam till now, must be gathered home to Zion. The wicked will become more and more weak and ignorant as they increase in wickedness. See the trifling, childish foolishness now among the nations of the earth.

Journal of Discourses Vol. 8, p. 279
And what does that mean for us? It means that God expects us to get to work and learn. He has given us minds and opportunities and if we do not, we will be found wanting. God can not bless us if we do not make use of the gift He has given.

Were I residing in a gathering-place where I knew I could remain for two years, and had fifty thousand dollars to spare, I would expend it in the best improvements I could, and labour to improve until the last day of my remaining. The Lord is gathering his people, and this is a city for the Saints. A great many here are satisfied with a log hut. Some act as though they expected to be driven, and others say—"We will soon go back to the centre Stake of Zion, and this house will answer my purpose till then." Let every mechanic and every scientific man of all classes and occupations, and every woman, improve to the best of their ability, faithfully living their religion, and we shall be none too well qualified to build up Zion when that time arrives. I never saw a stone-mason who thoroughly understood his trade. We have not a quarryman who fully understands getting out rock for the Temple walls. Then how, amid such ignorance, are you going to properly lay the foundation of the New Jerusalem—the Zion of our God? What do you know about building the great Temple that is yet to be built, upon which the glory of God will rest by day and by night? Where is the man that knows how to lay the first rock in that Temple, or to get out the first stick of timber for it? Where is the woman that knows how to make a single part of its interior decorations? That knowledge is not now here; and unless you wisely improve upon your privileges day by day, you will not be prepared, when called upon, to engage to the best advantage in building up Zion.

No nation possesses any wisdom but what it has received from the same God that we worship. He is the best mechanic and the most scientific personage that we have any knowledge of. There is not a principle in astronomy, known by men of science, but what has been revealed from heaven. All true knowledge among men, in relation to agriculture, the arts, science, commerce, and every avocation in life, has been given from our Father in heaven to his children, whether they acknowledge and obey him or not.

Journal of Discourses Vol. 8, p. 278-279
Elsewhere Brigham said,
It is mortifying that the children of this world should know more about these things than the children of light. We know more about the kingdom of God. Take these young men, sixteen or eighteen years old, or these old men, or some who have just come into the Church, and let them go into the world, and, with regard to the kingdom of God, they can teach kings and queens, statesmen and philosophers, for they are ignorant of these things, but in things pertaining to this life the lack of knowledge manifested by us as a people is disgraceful. Your knowledge should be as much more than that of the children of the world, with regard to the things of the world, as it is with regard to the things of the kingdom of God. JD 10:293

We must become ready for what the Lord has planned, spiritually and intellectually.

Put forth your ability to learn as fast as you can, and gather all the strength of mind and principle of faith you possibly can, and then distribute your knowledge to the people. Give them virtue, knowledge, principle, truth, godliness. The Lord is gathering those principles home to Zion from among the wicked nations, and is leaving them in darkness. What a pity it would be for the Lord to gather out all the good, and we be found unworthy of it. We shall be worthy of it, if we live for it; and may the Lord help us so to do! JD 8:146

It is worth repeating - if we do not become ready, it can be given to other nations, without any of the holy prophecies being invalidated in the least.

I have no doubt with regard to the good work of the Lord, referred to by those who have spoken, and it will continue among the nations of the earth. The Lord will bring out the results to his own honour and glory; but are we ready?

The Lord has bestowed great knowledge and wisdom upon the inhabitants of the earth—much truth and knowledge in the arts and sciences. Those nations that deny their God and Saviour will have those principles of intelligence taken from them. Are the Latter-day Saints prepared to receive them, enjoy them, or will those principles have to go to some other kingdom? There is great wisdom in the world; their knowledge in mechanism and the exact sciences is very great. This wisdom will be taken from the wicked. Who will receive it? Is there a people upon the earth prepared to receive this knowledge and this wisdom? There should be. Is it reasonable to suppose that the wisdom God has bestowed upon the nations of the earth should continue upon it? Or should it be taken from the inhabitants of the earth and carried back from whence it came? My faith and my desire are that there should be a people upon the earth prepared to receive this wisdom. It should not be so forfeited as to be taken from the earth, for I question whether it would return again. There should be a people prepared to improve upon their knowledge and wisdom, for all knowledge and wisdom come from God. All true intelligence is the gift of God. He is the true fountain of all knowledge and wisdom. JD 8, p. 319

The Brethren have spoken long and hard about education and reading. I could just as easily quote Pres. Monson as Brother Brigham. We must become ready, if we expect a temporal salvation.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

The Purpose of the Singularity part 1

We can not talk comprehensively about technology, and the tremendous change in technology that the Singularity will bring, without talking about God, and His purposes.

This is not only true from a theological perspective, but also bluntly from a scientific perspective. It has long been pondered why the scientific revolution did not happen in so many other periods of history. The Egyptians were plenty smart, and I don't just mean the pyramids. The Greeks had a level of mathematical and scientific understanding that we only matched in the last hundred years. The Romans were eminently capable... why did it not happen for them?

And why has it happened to us?

I am going to explore the implications this perspective has both spiritually, and technologically in this set of posts.(it was originally going to be one post, but it ballooned fantastically)

  1. Scientific Revolution: Why not earlier? (technologically reason)
  2. Scientific Revolution: Why not earlier? (theological reason)
  3. For what purpose is the Scientific Revolution?
  4. What does this imply about the Nature of the Singularity and future of the Scientific Revolution?
  5. What do the Scriptures have to say about the Singularity?
Exciting times we live in! But just to get you started, I will quote Brigham Young:

I have no doubt with regard to the good work of the Lord, referred to by those who have spoken, and it will continue among the nations of the earth. The Lord will bring out the results to his own honour and glory; but are we ready?
The Lord has bestowed great knowledge and wisdom upon the inhabitants of the earth—much truth and knowledge in the arts and sciences. Those nations that deny their God and Saviour will have those principles of intelligence taken from them. Are the Latter-day Saints prepared to receive them, enjoy them, or will those principles have to go to some other kingdom? There is great wisdom in the world; their knowledge in mechanism and the exact sciences is very great. This wisdom will be taken from the wicked. Who will receive it? Is there a people upon the earth prepared to receive this knowledge and this wisdom? There should be. Is it reasonable to suppose that the wisdom God has bestowed upon the nations of the earth should continue upon it? Or should it be taken from the inhabitants of the earth and carried back from whence it came? My faith and my desire are that there should be a people upon the earth prepared to receive this wisdom. It should not be so forfeited as to be taken from the earth, for I question whether it would return again. There should be a people prepared to improve upon their knowledge and wisdom, for all knowledge and wisdom come from God. All true intelligence is the gift of God. He is the true fountain of all knowledge and wisdom.

Journal of Discourses Vol. 8, p. 319

We have our work cut out for us.

Monday, August 04, 2008

What the Future will bring

Any time a futurist makes a prediction about what will happen, you know he (she) is just asking for trouble. Otherwise, we should have had flying cars a while ago, but curiously, no internet. We would have had the cure for all disease, and not a obesity epidemic.

So, how can we predict correctly? I am going to do so, but working with a number of simple axioms.

First: Civilization's level is defined by the logarithm of data available. There is a significant difference between literate and illiterate tribes. Furthermore, once you can print books instead of longhand copy, and once you have books worth copying, you have a higher more potent civilization. Computers, and particularly the Internet will result in changes we do not yet even see. They are too young; infant technologies.

  • Information availability/transfer speeds will increase exponentally.
  • Moore's Law will continue to hold. Quantum computing likely.
  • Copyright and patent, as well as other forms of "intellectual property" as we know them, will die/transform to accomodate this increase in speed. It may well die completely.
Second: We are reaching a tipping point where we have more knowledge that good sense. We have the power to really destroy ourselves, but do have have the wisdom to save ourselves? The next step in human evolution will be the kind of people we are.

I don't for a moment mean how many arms we have, or wings, or claws. I mean something more internal. It is a question of what do we act like, given greater freedom, or when we think no one is looking.

  • Don't expect for a moment that this kind of change will be popular. It will require greater moral strength, intellectual depth and breadth, and freedom.
  • Civilization will divide into two segments that may be distinguished by the levels of freedom and personal responsibility. One segment will deal with increasing problems in society by increasing govt power. The other segment (and don't expect it to be the majority) will deal with problems by becoming better people.
  • There will be a lot of opposition including new addictions, new recreational drugs, new mind-altering substances. "Escapes" will be popular as people struggle to deal the increasing pace of change and personal demands.
Third: This division will result in a phase change to a completely new level of civilization.

A phase change may be represented by an Ising model. (if I were more evolved I would include the java applet myself, but there you are!) Ising models are used in statistical mechanics to describe the way a phase change acts - like ice changing to water, or water to steam.

  • From this we gather that there will be fluctuations in society, that will increase in frequency and intensity as time goes on. The rate of change will increase non-linearly towards infinity.
  • Fads, fashions, social movements, attitudes, culture, etc. will be in constant upheaval.
  • The Singularity is one aspect of this, but without a change in the spiritual condition of mankind, it will be more trouble, rather than less.

What a future we have in store! How will we be ready for it?

Friday, August 01, 2008

Professor's Little Helper

This topic got tossed up in the blogosphere earlier this year, but all it got was a lukewarm discussion that acknowledge the issue, but had no real answers. Nature had an article entitled, Professor's Little Helper that explored the issue of scientists doping.

Granted, it was not anabolic steroids primarily, but various drugs intended to sharpen mental power. It did gain a reply from the director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse. The gist of his argument was that it might be bad, or you might get addicted.

Now, I have no love of the problems substance abuse causes in our world. It would not hurt my feelings to see far tougher laws on alcohol and tobacco. But if we take the directors logic to the extreme, could we eat chocolate? There are chocolate addicts and it is not always good for us. That is not to say anything goes, or should, but we need a better rule for when it is wise.

And it will increasingly become an issue. It is already difficult, and only getting harder, to compete in athletic sports without doping, because it is an advantage. If it confers an advantage, even an ill-considered short-term one, it will become common among people who are serious about competeing.

From the NY Times,

In his book “Our Posthuman Future: Consequences of the Biotechnology Revolution,” Francis Fukuyama raises the broader issue of performance enhancement: “The original purpose of medicine is to heal the sick, not turn healthy people into gods.” He and others point out that increased use of such drugs could raise the standard of what is considered “normal” performance and widen the gap between those who have access to the medications and those who don’t — and even erode the relationship between struggle and the building of character.

“Even though stimulants and other cognitive enhancers are intended for legitimate clinical use, history predicts that greater availability will lead to an increase in diversion, misuse and abuse,” wrote Dr. Nora Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, and James Swanson of the University of California at Irvine, in a letter to Nature. “Among high school students, abuse of prescription medications is second only to cannabis use.”

It is going to be come an issue, and we would do well to be ready for it. If cosmetic surgery is any indication, it will grow while scorned, until it becomes mainstream. Can we condemn these drugs without condemning all optional plastic surgery?

But does it make a difference? I would call this a side effect -

Jeffrey White, a graduate student in cell biology who has attended several institutions, said that those numbers sounded about right. “You can usually tell who’s using them because they can be angry, testy, hyperfocused, they don’t want to be bothered,” he said.

How much is detrimental, and what defines detrimental? Sure, taking steroids may harm the liver, but it may not. What if taking steroids enables you to put on muscle mass that you would not otherwise be able to do? Contrary to popular opinion, the largest group taking steroids is not athletes, it is WASPs who just don't have time to live in the gym, but want to look like it. Is that necessarily wrong?

What about musicians who use beta-blockers to decrease performance anxiety?

If we need a drug anytime we have a difficult problem, that has crossed the line to being a 'crutch'.

MindHacks, reminds us, that this is not a new issue - whether it was Erdős on amphetamines, or the fact that Francis Crick discovered the structure of DNA while on LSD. Was it worth it? Sometimes it might be.

And just how do we differentiate between enhancing and dealing with natural decline?

For now, I have only tried St. John Wort and Ginkgo, with a melody of other herbs for concentration (depression) and I have to say, it made a difference. Melatonin does wonders for sleep, but also aggravates my arthritis. Exercise (cardio) probably does as much as those herbs, and has been proven to promote neurogenesis.

So for now, I am going to have to stick with "rarely". Because I suspect that there is a time and a place, though I don't think it is as often as others think.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

LILYPAD: colonizing the open ocean

I don't have time to do this justice at the moment, but a Belgian architect drew up this plan for a floating city in the geometry of a LILYPAD.

It makes thousands of times more sense to colonize the oceans, the deserts, even the deep Antarctic before we touch Mars, or even Venus. Earth already has a breatheable atmosphere, plenty of water, surviveable temperatures and worst come to worst, we are not far from somewhere nicer.

Monday, July 28, 2008

The Ice Age cometh

I noticed this over at "The Reference Frame" by the unmistakable Luboš Motl - and fortunately this is something I know little about.

It seems there is a real possibility of another cooling period being imminent - or in less-precise terms, another ice age.

The problem is this. For reasons we don't understand, when the Sun is active (Sunspots, Coronal Mass Ejections, and the like) the Earth gets warmer. We have just finished a very active sunspot cycle. But some years ago there was over a hundred years when there was virtually no sunspots at all. This was called the Maunder Minimum and the Spörer Minimum. Previous to this time, the Earth had been quite warm. The Vikings were colonizing Greenland and grapes and figs were grown quite farther north than they are now. But once the these Minimums started, things got quite cold. The Greenland Vikings died off, the River Thames froze over and so on. The Maunder Minimum was called the Mini-Ice Age.

There is actually very good correlation between solar activity and climate. It is the fact the climate scientists fail to properly acknowledge this that has been my biggest issue with Global Warming.

According to a new analysis, after our next sunspot cycle, there is a good chance we could enter into another sunspot minimum - and have a new Ice Age. But as each sunspot cycle is usually around 11 years, we have a while to wait.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Safety First: A disturbing culture of safety at any cost

In my hometown, which is really little more than a pothole without a stoplight, we know how to celebrate the 24th of July. For those who don't know, that is when we celebrate the Pioneers coming into the Salt Lake Valley. Typically, we would reserve the county fair grounds, gorge and feast on BBQ'ed hambergers and any dessert imaginable. But that is not all... we would top it all off with a rodeo. Sure, there is stuff for the little kids like chicken chases and mutton-busting, but there is more serious rodeo stuff too. In addition to standby's like barrel-racing, there is bullriding. The last time I was there, I got my girls to ride a calf.

(They refused, and were scared, and fell off and got hurt, and cried and swore they would never do it again and then a year later were anxious to try it again.)

But now it is coming to an end. I suppose the feasting part will go on, but no more rodeo. Since it is a church activity, they have to put a stop to it for liability reasons. Oh, I am not going to criticize the church for having to do this. The lawsuits happening these days are truly outragous. Right or wrong, it simply was not affordable.

This same legal atmosphere has reduced the fun of playgrounds of our childhood, with the dull plastic over-safe equiment now present. Nothing allowed unless there is an almost zero chance you could fall and bump your nose. (That is only a very slight exageration) Even if you are in the right, the lawsuits can be impossible to fight.

And we wonder why children don't spend time outside as much these days.

There was a great post over at 1000 Awesome Things about superiority of old playground equiment. Best comment - "You westerners are soft. When I was kid, my playground was broken T64 tank and we play hopscotch around anti personel mines!"

The question we need to ask is, is this over-concern for children doing them more good than harm? Is this part of the reason for the obesity epidemic? - outside is just too dangerous without being sterilized and neutered beyond recognition?

Is a safe world possible? Or are we just picking our poisons? Personally, I would rather have my precious little girls have a few good scrapes and broken bones than be sheltered from every pointy stick on the ground. They will meet those kinds of problems eventually anyway. I would rather that they be ready for them.

Friday, July 25, 2008

In the image of God: just how weird can aliens look?

I believe in aliens. Really, I do.

First from a scriptural standpoint, and secondly from a scientific - once given a foothold, life is just too adaptable. Bacteria, viruses, and even a certain dust mite, can survive deep space, so life is bound to have ended up elsewhere.

But merging those two agreements is giving me grief. On one hand, I want to say, all of God's children are in his image, so they must obviously look like us. There is some UFO evidence to support that (the so-called Nordics). But it strikes me as so fundamentalist and simplistic, I worry that I am over-literalizing the scripture.

Just what does "In the Image of God" mean anyway?

Does a kid with a birth defect life a cleft palette and lip count as still in the image of God?

What about something more severe? Like this from the effect of dioxins in Veitnam-

I was about to show a few more pictures, but I have not gotten around to eating dinner yet, so I am going to forbear. Just a google image search for "birth defects". Might be useful for dieting.

Now, with a case like this, we have two choices - either a child like this is not in the image of God (we can treat him like an animal) or he is in the image of God. I don't think we should treat him as an animal, but the corollary is that outward appearance is, to some degree, irrelevant. (That or God may have really bulging eyes.)

So then, if the worst birth defects, are still children of God, in his image, then what should we say about aliens? (No Senor, not the illegal variety, the extra-terrestrial sort)

Just what is the real criterion for "in the image of God" ?

Sci-fi has some pretty weird aliens.... What about the Giger inspired baddies from the 'Alien' movies? Is anything from Star Trek kosher? What about the Gou'ald parasites in StarGate? Can we keep Yoda?

Just where and how do we draw the line?

Thursday, July 24, 2008

And there shall be a new heaven and a new earth...

I get ideas stuck in my head sometimes.

Sometimes they really get stuck. And the only way to deal with it, is think it through until I realize how patently ridiculous my idea was, or usually is. At the moment, I am considering the terraforming of Venus. There are many reasons Venus has more potential than Mars ever will, but let's save that argument for later.

Really, Venus has all the potential to be a wonderful place to live, even with the puns it would engender. Of course at the moment, it makes hell look comfortable. The atmosphere is carbon dioxide, sulfer dioxide, with a pinch of sulpheric acid. If that is not bad enough, the atmospheric pressure, temperature and pure insane wind speed make mincemeat of the toughest probes sent there.

But the real problem, is that Venus has lost its hydrogen. Venus has no magnetic field of its own, so the solar wind just has its way with Venus, stripping away the lightest gases, namely hydrogen and helium. Hydrogen (and water of course) are the necessary ingredients for any kind of life we know of. Second, any hydrogen introduced would convert the carbon dioxide into elemental carbon or fix into a number of other solid forms. Once a sufficient amount of hydrogen were introduced, we could use Carl Sagan's idea (it was my idea too!) and use extremophile bacteria to fix all that sulferic acid and sulpher dioxide into some form that will not kill us. There are several other problems, but once we have dealt with this first one, those should (mostly) be easier.

Of course, we would need 4×1019 kg of water, which in case your math is rusty, is a whole freakin' lot. We have trouble getting the shuttle up to our 'space station'. How can we get that much water to Venus? This is how...

This is a video gallery of the LASCO telescope on the SOHO solar astronomy satellite. It is used to discover around 100 comets a year, many of them small comets that are called sungrazers. Of course, some of the best videos are watching comets bite the dust when they hit the sun.

Of course, this will increase the surface temperature in the short run, and it will leave craters, and their composition is a wildcard, but they do contain plenty of water and organic compounds.

The only tricky part, is first finding the comets when they are still quite far out, and then finding a way to guide them into an appropriate orbit to hit Venus... and miss Earth. I still like it here. Putting it that way, this sounds almost easy. Well, if not easy, certainly doable, given a bit of time and money.

Just a few pertinent links
Terraforming Venus
Maps of a Terraformed Venus - not the most serious, but what is dreaming if not fun?
Terraformers Society of Canada - I want to delve into this topic more- this site really looks good.
New Mars Society post on Venus
Sungrazer Comets

Finally, now I can stop thinking about it.

For now.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Patent System and the Singularity

The Singularity! the Rapture of the Nerds! The point where exponential growth in technology can begin to advance itself and .... well, life will be as different from now as water is from ice. Of course, we could talk about this for a very long time, but the main point is this - technology increases exponentially. So for a long time, it looks like nothing is happening at all, then the there is a gradual increase and then it simply increases like mad. That is the point we are almost at.

But does it make sense to have a patent office once we reach the Singularity? It is no simple thing to keep up with a exponential increase in technology. Insisting on patents and copyrights would eventually slow us down more than it could ever help us. So called "Intellectual Property: legistlation of any kind, would impose a limit to just how fast technology can develop without it either slowing deployment of technology, or itself becoming utterly obsolete.

In other words, the patent office itself would have to grow exponentially - at the same rate. Sure, it is easy enough when the curve is flat, as it has been. But once the increase is clearly exponential, the patent office would have to hire more people to handle and exponentially increasing demand, and an exponentially increasing amount of prior art to search through. In practical terms, that means a patent is more and more likely to be infringing in some way, on someone else's patent. Finally, we would reach the point that the paperwork and redtape would take more effort than the innovating itself would. This sounds like the absurd and extreme limit, but the whole issue of the singularity is- inventions as fundimental at the internet or the wheel finally happening at monthly, weekly, and finally, even a daily pace.

We are at a unique time in history - but our greed might just stop the whole thing.

Here is a brief discussion of Lawrence Lessig discussing this from the context of copyright.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Blog Resurrection

Just like Dr. Frankenstein in a good lightening storm, this corpse is coming back to life. Hopefully it will last longer than the good Dr. monster did.

Just a few topics to look forward to:
Technology: the coming of the singularity.
Politics: so they are going to revoke the President's ability to declare war... wait, he never had it in the first place.
Politically incorrect: If they want to change the gender mismatch in science, the right place to start is the check book, not that Larry Summers was completely wrong either.

And even a bit about my coming book: 'The Meaning of Virtue' !

You'll laugh, you'll cry, you'll look look at every post with a mixture of disbelief and surprise... because it really is stranger than fiction.