Monday, May 14, 2007

Kurzweil - Law of Accelerating returns and Evolution

Thanks to Stumble Upon, I finally found my way into reading one of Ray Kurzweils essays a couple of weeks ago, and I can honestly say it is by far the most compelling essay I have ever read in my entire life. I have never been so compelled to just keep reading ever before. So, needless to say, I highly highly highly recommend reading this paper:
The Law of Accelerating Returns by Ray Kurzweil
There are so many interesting insights in it, and far more incredibly interesting exponential graphs (better than that, the exponential logarithmic graphs) all demosntrating the accelerating rate of improvements that we are undergoing.

One of the points made in this essay, which isn't in anyway particularly new, but which struck me at the time as a lesson worth repeating, is the idea of how technological advance is constantly building on its predecessor technology. That is, no new peice of technology ever comes out of a vacuum, it is usually made possible because of other pieces of technology which were created before it. Penicillin probably wouldn't have ever been invented if it wasn't for microscopes. Microscopes probably would never have been invented if it wasn't for teh technology to smelt metal ores and create fine glass. Smelting and glass making wouldn't be possible without the invention of fire... etc. Each step up doesn't just happen, it builds ON TOP OF all of the technologies which preceeeded it.

I think that this is quite self evident.

The paper makes another connection as part of its flow (it doesn't make a big deal out of this, it is just assumed to be a natural progression), and that is of the progress from biological evolution, through single celled organisms, to multicellular organisms, to tool using organisms, to intelligent conscious organisms, to extensive tool innovation and upwards throughout the numerous technological innovations that we have seen leading to today.

Whether you agree with biological evolution being another phase of the same progress which we now see in technological innovation or not is irrelevent to what i want to say: i think the 'building on top of' idea of technology, the concept which seems incredibly self apparent to most of us, is indeed identical to the same sort of thing we see in evolution.

Let me explain...

When a cell 2 billion years ago, one in trillion trillion trillion cells perhaps...just one is all that is needed, when that one cell randomly finds itself mutated so as to produce a particular protein which say, provides a better digestive method of nutrition, then that protein is done. It is MADE. Unless killed by accident, that protein will last forever and serve as the scaffolding upon which every single following biological innovation after it will be built upon.

We can see the results of this early period of development in life all around us. There are some genes which are ubiquitous - that is they are in every life form on earth. Heat shock proteins, Polymerase, histones(?)...I don't know all of the proteins/genes which are completely ubiquitous in biology, but there is no doubt a huge collection of genes which are present in every single life form on earth in one form or another, and they all show a common descendency in their code (as opposed to convergent evolution where the same thing (EG the eye) has independently evovled many times over with no common descendency).

I'm having a great deal of trouble explaining this easily. It all works so clearly in my head but I think I need to dedicate a number of days studying some topics in order to find good practical examples of what I am saying so that i can tell the 'story' of this idea.

So i'll just leave it with these closing comments: Just as technology has reached the sophistication that we now have because every step of the way builds upon foundations which have been developed for several thousand years, so too does evolution acheive the incredible sophistication that we see in biology simply because it has built upon foundations which were developed several billion years ago.

polymerase is like fire. Without that gene/protein forming, life would never have got anywhere.
The first heat shock protein is like developing an understanding of engineering. Without it cells wouldn't have had half as good a chance at surviving in diverse environments, jsut as humans wouldn't have been nearly so good at expanding into cold/hot climates through building climate controlled dwellings...

Each step of the way makes 'life' easier, and as life gets easier, more innovation is made possible.

And eventually you end up with monstrously complex entities like humans and the internet.


Thursday, May 10, 2007

Challenge to YE Creationists : Recreating the Ark

I want to see someone organise a demonstration, in real life, of the possibility of Noahs Ark actually happening. This is no easy feat to organise, but the organisation required is nothing compare to the fact that the realisation of it would simply be impossible, and I think that that is the main reason it hasn't been done. (infact, what does the discovery institute do with all of its money and people anyway? They should be doing these sorts of experiments to prove their theories correct!)

But seriously, we have had people try to recreate the Pyramids (or at least miniaturised versions of them), and they did that with like 50 people or something instead of the hypothesised hundreds of thousands of people used to create the real ones. So I think it shouldn't be hard to demonstrate that if 1 man can build a boat, and then get all of the 'kinds' of animals on earth onto that boat, and then keep them alive for a year afloat on the ocean...then surely a squad of 50 or 100 fundamentalist christians can acheive the same feat in a few years?

All they need is a Zoo with a strong christian association (they have a Dino park, and fundamentalists are in over-abundance in the USA, surely there is a Zoo with STRONG christian associations somewhere in the USA). In fact, it would probably be necessary that the Zoo take care of most of the stuff to do with the last stages of this project. (highlighting yet another problem for the Flood story, how one family could possibly take care of all the animals which a zoo requires hundreds of caretakes to do) But the Zoo takes on this challenge. A team of 50 people or more are assembled to build this boat. hell, they can even all be professional boat builders. They can use modern technology if they want, but then, for their own sake, they should probably do with technology available at the time of Noah. but whatever. Use all tools available, but the boat MUST be wooden.

Now, they should be allowed as much time as they need to build the boat. Once it is built though, 8 must be selected to then load the boat, organise the animals and ensure all of the animals are safe and secure and fit into this boat they have made, and they have to do it all in 1 week. THEN, they have to keep those animals in that boat, alive, unharmed, for 1 year. 8 People, all of the 'kinds' of animals just found in one Zoo (guaranteed to not be close to all of the kinds found on Earth) , 1 boat, and 1 year.

And of course, no supplies to be loaded on or off. They have to all be loaded ahead of time. Maybe Water can be allowed to be taken on, on the premise that it rained a lot, and we should assume they captured that rain in tanks...

I guarantee it can't be done, and I guarantee the Zoo will pull the plug before the first week of loading is completed as they start watching the animals get sick and injured.

And yet fundamentalists continue to believe that 1 man built this boat 4,000 years ago by himself, herded all of these animals onto this boat by himself, and then cared for them all, with the help of his family for 1 year without resupplies.


Maybe the Discovery Institute isn't the best organisation to make this happen. They support Intelligent Design, not Young Earth Creationism (YEC). So we need a large, well funded organisation which believes in YEC, and we need to request that this experiment be done! Any suggestions on who might be able to do it?

Thursday, May 03, 2007

LibriVox Volunteering

I have finally started participating in LibriVox. I meant to start months ago, but I have been very busy (not that that has changed...) . I'm going to start by assisting with the reading of The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius, a collection of philosophical works which I have enjoyed in the past, and definitely a collection which we want in Papers Aloud.

I'm really impressed with the layout of LibriVox. I hope to really get to know the members there very well and collaborate closely with LibriVox as Papers Aloud grows in its influence.

Oh yeah, the Papers Aloud forum has been setup, although SubJunk is still adding extensions and other features. Plus of course, the whole look will be redesigned once the infrastructure is set up.