[Paleopsych] Widsom of crowds
HowlBloom at aol.com
HowlBloom at aol.com
Sat Sep 18 06:23:07 UTC 2004
Re: Meaning-Based Natural Intelligence Vs. Information-Based Artificial
Eshel—As so often, we’re on the same track…this time the track of context
and competition, context and survival. On natural meaning versus machine
intelligence, way down below is the start of an unfinished essay I wrote for the
writer and counterculture phenomenon RU Sirius. It approaches a key mystery
raised by both your work and mine. Meaning comes from context. Meaning comes
from the company you keep. It comes from what you produce of value for those
But what is that value? How does it come to be? At what point do we go from
mouse-trap like micromechanisms doing their own thing for no good reason
whatsoever to a collection of these micromechanisms large enough to make the
automatic snaps of its citizens into music, to make the obsessive actions of an
atom or a molecule into something “valuable” and “meaningful”.
This leads to another thought, the connection between economics and all other
systems of meaning that emerge from massive social interaction. Is there
really a difference between “meaning” and “value”? Or do the same principles
apply to information exchange, information creation, and value creation? Are
mass intellects and mass economies slightly different manifestations of the
same thing? We do have markets for ideas. You come up against that fact every
time you go for a grant, try to recruit grad students, or fight to get your
ideas into major physics journals. You hit the blunt facts of that market even
more when you try to move your research beyond physics journals and into the
places where they really belong--into microbiology and neurobiology
publications. I take a safari into the market of ideas every time I write a book.
Why was Van Gogh’s art meaningless and valueless in the late 19th Century but
as valuable and meaningful as gold in the 20th? The answer lies in the
rearrangement of large-scale social arrangements. But that is an awfully vague
statement. I’d like more details.
Why was the attraction between hydrogen and oxygen that led to water
initially meaningless and valueless in clouds of interstellar gas and in comets. Why
did that mousetrap-snapping-like combination take on a first hint of value and
meaning on spicules of amorphous ice when those spicules contained carbon
molecules that responded to the insults of ultraviolet light by combining with
water in primitive biomolecules? Why did that meaning and value become even
greater when water and its biomolecules hit the face of a planet where they could
liquify, puddle, and form membrane-like envelopes? What contribution came
from another participant in this growing social structure: moderate heat—a
cushioned slam of movement that came from trapped solar energy, solar energy
softened by clouds and atmosphere, then held tight by the stony cheekbones of the
How did these societies of complex, sustained social interactions gain the
ability to protect themselves from disruption and chaotic change? Could the
proto-membranes have helped bubble-baby these elaborate dances? At what point
did these webs of interaction get ambitious and go out to impose their dance
steps on others? How did they pull off the mega-alliances of atoms that we call
life? At what point did they cross the boundary from machine-like
information-exchange to meaning?
Let’s take a step backward to another word you’ve wisely injected into a
scientific conversation that for too many centuries has shunned it: creativity.
Creativity has manifested itself since the big bang, an act of creation almost
beyond description. The precipitation of forces, quanta, neutrons, protons,
atoms, molecules, galaxies, and stars—all of these were huge creative leaps.
And ambition we can trace to the first manifestations of gravity. What is a
galaxy or a star but an extraordinarily ambitious and greedy mass, one that has
come out on top in an almost endless series of competitive bouts?
So where does meaning and value enter this driven, obsessive-compulsive,
manically self-creating cosmos? What peculiar mesh of social interaction finally
turns a simple, machine-like game of toss-and-catch with phosphorus atoms into
the Krebs Cycle? What sort of mesh does the Krebs cycle have to be embedded
in to give it value and meaning? How did a cycle so dependent on trillions of
interactions, interactions choreographed in just the right manner, ever
manage to evolve?
This cosmos has an amazing habit of coughing out radically new forces. Until
roughly 300,000 abb (after the big bang) there was no such thing as an
electro-magnetic grip that held protons to electrons. Until roughly 380,000 abb,
there was no grab between things that you could call gravity. In fact, early in
the cosmos’ history, there were no “things”.
Each of these objects and forces was something more than a mere emergent
property. Each awaited a new echelon of social complexity before it revealed
itself. But each was far, far more than the sum of its parts. In the days of
their first emergence, the electromagnetic grip and the grapple of gravity were
radically new and were NOT simply a new form of social arrangement.
Is life another new force like gravity and electromagnetism…a force that was
implicit all along but took it’s own sweet time to become explicit? Is
consciousness another of these new forces? Is conscious will a new force too?
Are meaning and value vital aspects of these newnesses? Meaning and value
are the sums of majestic, massively repetitive, xerox-effected, copy-catted and
dopplegangered webs of social interaction. But are meaning and value greater
than mere social complexity come to life in new ways? Are they a newness as
gripping as the gravity of a black hole or of a sun squeezed into a blaze?
Now for the fragment belched forth for RU Sirius:
In a message dated 9/2/2004 11:44:33 PM Eastern Standard Time,
rusirius at well.com writes:
Let me start simply. What is the Global Brain?
hb: You're right. On the one hand, the Global Brain is as easy to
understand as can be. Put one gigantic microprocessor to work and you have a pretty
potent computer. But put 60 together in parallel and you have something only
governments and a few top universities can afford, a supercomputer. The earth
is a mesh of processors working in parallel. It's been that since a single
chemical family rose and started a land-grab for the planet 3.85 billion years
ago. That family is an imperialistic intermesh that specializes in
transformation, invention-swapping, and collective smarts. The territorially greedy
chemical family I'm talking about is the clan of life, the clan of cells, and the
clan of DNA.
For 3.85 billion years biomass has worked full tilt on the greedy,
imperialistic, yet astonishingly creative enterprise of transforming the inanimate atoms
of this huge hunk of stone--the earth--into biomass. That's a big job. And
biomass has pulled this off by lacing masses of micro-intellects into
It sounds like a goofy and exaggerated notion. But think for a second. To
kick off this thinking process, let's start with Richard Dawkins' idea of The
Selfish Gene. Dawkins is a brilliant thinker. And his "let's turn this upside
down and see what new insights appear" approach was great a quarter of a
But the gene-worship that's taken over since then misses a basic point. No
gene is an island. No gene can afford to be totally selfish.
First off, the gene itself is a pretty big collective intelligence. Atoms
talk together with yeses and nos. Offer to give me an extra electron when my
outer shell is aching to be filled and I'll say yes and pull you toward me.
Offer to give me an extra electron when my outer shell is pleasantly full and
I'll whiffle by you without paying attention. I'll give you a no.
This is the start of intelligence--its basic unit. And I've dumbed down the
nuances of this atomic language considerably. Why? So you and I, two
intelligent humans, can understand it quickly.
Genes are smart collectives of atoms, collectives rigged to give them a
primitive intelligence. They're wired a bit like spring-loaded mouse traps.
They're set to sense things in their surroundings and to respond in a way that gets
Back in the 1950s and 1960s when BF Skinner ruled psychology he said that all
of the science of the emotions and of the mind could be reduced to stimulus
and response. By that definition, atoms and smart atom collectives have an
equivalent to a mind. In fact, smart atom collectives have no such thing. But
if you put enough of them together, interesting things start happening.
Let's go back to mousetraps. A mousetrap is meaningless unless there's a
human who wants to get rid of a mouse or a mouse that wants to avoid having her
neck snapped. The same thing applies to smart collectives of atoms. They're
only useful if they have neighbors that get something of value from what they
Intelligence isn't just something inside of you. It takes its meaning from
its context, from the crowd it runs with. But I'm getting ahead of myself.
Now put the electron yeses and noes, the complex chemical conversations of
roughly 89,900 atoms together in just the right way and you have a gene. Well,
Genes live in only one state--as members of teams. Not just small teams, big
ones. The smallest string of genes we've ever seen that works--the smallest
string that can produce life--is 400 genes or so. That's the size of the
genome of the most skimpily-genomed bacteria we've ever taken apart.
Your genomes make the bacterial gene-strings look laughably primitive. Your
gene-teams are mega-cables, mega-masses of parallel-wired intelligences. Every
one of your gene-ropes, every one of your genomes has roughly 35,000 genes.
And it takes a hundred trillion of those genomes working simultaneously to
keep you going from one second to the next.
No gene is an island! Actually genes are so dependent on the crowds they run
with that they have no separate existence at all. They're segments of a
gigantic, unbroken strand of atoms. Yes, a genome is one single giant molecule.
A gene is only a segment of this molecule, a segment able to program the
building of a few proteins, and a segment that's far more variable than the
mousetrap. Hit it with one regulatory signal and it will do one thing. Hit it with
a different signal and it will do something else. Some genes can do four
things or more.
If a mousetrap is a very dumb smart device, a gene is quite a bit smarter.
Now let's dig away a little further at Dawkins' very useful, very clever idea
that genes are selfish. In fact, let's toss a challenge at today's hot
streak of DNA-centrism. No gene is an island. And DNA is not an island either.
It's a citizen of a larger body...a cell. Cells were as basic to life 3.5
billion years ago when life was just getting started as were genomes. No cell, no
life. It was as simple as that. So it may be time to digest what we've
learned from the Human Genome Initiative and move up a few steps.
and this is as far as I got. Howard
Author of The Lucifer Principle: A Scientific Expedition Into the Forces of
History and Global Brain: The Evolution of Mass Mind From The Big Bang to the
Visiting Scholar-Graduate Psychology Department, New York University; Faculty
Member, The Graduate Institute
Founder: International Paleopsychology Project; founding board member: Epic
of Evolution Society; founding board member, The Darwin Project; founder: The
Big Bang Tango Media Lab; member: New York Academy of Sciences, American
Association for the Advancement of Science, American Psychological Society, Academy
of Political Science, Human Behavior and Evolution Society, International
Society for Human Ethology; advisory board member: Youthactivism.org; executive
editor -- New Paradigm book series.
For information on The International Paleopsychology Project, see:
for two chapters from
The Lucifer Principle: A Scientific Expedition Into the Forces of History,
For information on Global Brain: The Evolution of Mass Mind from the Big Bang
to the 21st Century, see www.howardbloom.net
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