Saturday, December 29, 2007

Old Year Resolutions

This year was a bust. I tried and failed. I put myself in a bad environment and got stuck trying to do the impossible. I lost confidence in my own abilities as a productive individual and as a team player. So much for illusions of grandeur, it's time to get back to the basics.

Do or do not there is no try.

You'll have to forgive the very cheesy line, but it describes very much the solution to my number one problem of thinking and not doing. Call it indecisiveness, choice paralysis, procrastination, or even apathy but it's a problem that needs fixing.

(And also an explanation for why this hasn't been updated in two months.)

There are distractions no doubt, but if distractions are getting in the way of my goals then these distractions are poor excuse for not planning properly or not being committed to the goal. This I can reverse by adapting my plan to accommodate or mitigate these distractions.

< insert wise quote from some dead/fictional person about how admitting to your mistakes and failures is the first step in moving on >

And of course, I need to admit that there is a problem with meeting a goal as well. I hate the idea of giving up and moving on from a failure is necessary if I am ever to accomplish any future goals. This is not saying that I should throw in the towel every time I hit a roadblock, but I definitely need to put more thought into how I reevaluate things. On top of this I need to loosen the filter on my own though process. I crave criticism at work yet my own criticism comes in two types nonexistent or overly sarcastic. Got to work on that constructive criticism.

It's all common sense, but then again most things are with hindsight.

Friday, October 5, 2007

Santa Clause, Fate, and Purpose

Let me get this out of the way first. 42.

So in doing some research for work I rediscovered a website by the Washington Post that proposes to be a forum for some of the more public members of the community in regards to religious topics.

And somehow this lead me to draw the comparison of religious bickering to the belief in Santa Clause. Think back to the days when the question was alive in your head, "Is he real?" and all of the rationalizations that came about. Attempts at justifying how it would be possible for a single man to distribute gifts to (some of) the world. There are just so many holes in the myth that we don't see as a child. In the end what changed? The presents we received didn't magically disappear, simply our understanding of the origin of them changed. It's almost amusing to think about kids on the playground going 'Nu-uh' to claims of family members being responsible. Yet somehow that skepticism eventually wins out.

Granted it's a bit different with religion. There's still many people going 'Nu-uh' (and in much more dramatic ways), but there is no authority figure to go to and ask directly. Or more to the point, no person to fess up to being the cause of the events that occur in our lives (people giving presents).

But there is science. It shows the how of things happening, but for some reason we consistently ask 'why?'. Some would argue that there is an ultimate design (purpose) to the universe and there may very well be, however, the universe is an awfully HUGE and complex thing and as such any purpose that incorporates the entire universe is going to be HUGE and complex as well.

There are some theories that our brains are hard wired to see all things as having 'intentionality' and we can certainly see the merits to it from an evolutionary (science) stand point as from a primitive level we weren't so much at odds with nature as we were other animals who had intentions (mainly surviving by an means necessary).

You can start making arguments that by the universe evolving intentionality it has intentionality, but it's entirely possible that the universe evolved two very different intentions and so the 'Purpose of Life' could, essentially, have two answers. Not really the point I want to address, but lots of fun thought experiments there.

Back to the whole religion vs. science thing. Questions like 'Why do bad things happen?' become irrelevant in science as 'bad' is a label that is assigned on individual basis. The question in science is, 'How did X happen?'. You can do some averaging over all people to come up with a 'collectively bad' label, but in the end the label still isn't universally applicable.

We are told that present giving is done by Santa and until we start to learn about the world, we are none the wiser. We start to ask questions like 'How does Santa fit down the chimney?' or 'Why doesn't Jack or Jill have a Christmas tree and presents?' and we discover that Santa Clause is not a universally applicable thing.

It's the scientific method and it works. Sure the facts get jumbled sometimes and there's conflicting figures, but the universe is a HUGE and complex thing. In fact the universe could very well be as infinitely small as well as infinitely large. In either case, there's a logical contradiction that you can't know everything possible in the universe. That being the case, we will always have a chance to get things wrong. More interestingly though, we will always have a frontier to explore and that ultimately means we will always have a purpose to find and that we can never prove one universally applicable purpose.

Shifting topics, there is a great book by Scott Adams (freely available online I believe), called 'God's Debris' that is a very nice thought experiment into the nature of "God" (generically not Christian/Buddhist/etc...). Mainly, asking the question 'What purpose or reason does "God'"have for existing if he/she/it can accomplish any task possible and know any result of a task? We see the question of purpose becomes void when there are no questions to be answered. It is by asserting a single question that suddenly the proposed deity does anything. And that simply is, 'What if "God's" ominpotence didn't extend to the results of his/her/its own destruction?'

I highly suggest it for reading, but the question itself brings into question humanity's ultimate fate. What if we somehow came to learn everything? What then? Do we run across the same question and destroy ourselves? If you look deeper you eventually see this is a very similar question as 'If a tree falls in the woods and no one is around to hear it, does it still make a sound?' aka 'Can you answer a question that you have no way of verifying?'

Logically we say no, but something burns in us to want to answer that question anyways.

Sunday, September 30, 2007

Hypothetical Itch - Evolution

In my random Internet wanderings I came across some quotes from Greg Graffin (lead singer of the band Bad Religion).
"Notions of progress, purpose, emergent properties, optimality, and increasing complexity in evolution all contain vague hints of dualism, and are debated in symposia and published in books and journals by today's most active evolutionists."

Greg's one of my favorite people, punk rock singer turned geologist turned phd in zoology. What's not to love?

This reminded me of a conversation I had earlier in the week about evolution. I don't remember what exactly I was trying to argue about evolution or what the conclusion of that conversation was. But I was trying to make the point that evolution isn't so much a process as it is an observation.

What I think I was trying to get at in that conversation was more or less that evolution had no 'purpose'. It's simply the observation of the effects of Natural Selection, the obvious truth that the most fit for an environment will surivive (and thus favor genetic mutations in that direction).

I was about to go try and re-argue some points here, but then got lost in the fascinating questions of what defines a species and the implications of man's up and coming ability to tinker with genetic code.

So here's a few hypothetical questions and thoughts:

If we clone a squirrel from six or seven thousand years ago and mate it with a modern day squirrel and the offspring reproduce does that then qualify the two original squirrels as the same species etc...?
Is it possible to manufacture a 'multi-purpose' species that is capable of reproducing species x when mated with species x and species y when mated with species y?.

A 'Species' is itself simply a human categorization of groups of organisms that are highly compatible reproductively which up to this point has also meant DNA compatible (Ligers and other hybrids being the extreme case). Can these 'rules' be broken?

Take the ability to reproduce twins. It skips a generation, could we manufacture a 'species' that would alternate radically in form/structure/behavior between generations.

This has wild implications if there was a predator/prey relationship between the two as any ability of one to survive further ensures the ability of the other. Would the 'arms race' of genetic mutation continue? Or would one species become an evolutionary 'dud' in the sense that it no longer needs to evolve (Provided we did no more tinkering)

Natural selection is driven by the idea that a particular generation is better fit to survive and reproduce a (near) copy of itself. However, this 'paradox species' has the odd ability that making itself vulnerable to its reciprocal species increases the ability of the species to proliferate. It does not in fact favor passing on 'copies' of the vulnerable species, so we need to rethink this.

What would make a particular family line best fit? Generally we would think a line that generates a more capable predatory species would then be able to generate the most prey species -> higher probability of a prey species reproducing. However, the inverse is true. A more capable prey species would produce more 'predator species' - > higher probability of predators reproducing. So in fact, the 'dud' evolution would ensure a less fit family line and the 'optimal' family would have highly capable predators and prey. The arms race continues. We could also assert, that it would be to a family's benefit to not eat its own prey offspring as this would also hamper the ability of a family line to survive.

This also answers the question of, 'what if they are both predatory'?.... and then realization, this is essentially a cannibalistic species. However, a cannibalistic species is capable of eating itself out of existence. If there is a 'prey' generation, the food supply is in theory self-sustaining as any other predator/prey relationship.

Even weirder behavior is possible if we consider the possibility that the predator and prey could mate. The species then essentially has simply increased the number of genders. Is there a species with more than two genders (excluding hermaphroditic genders)? Would our paradox species form a 'shepherd' model, a praying mantis/black widow behavior, or a sort of 'colony' structure?

Just can't keep from scratching.