FUN Science, Art Gallery Time Machine

Did you know science could be fun?  Yes, science.

Seems a bit spotty, doesn't it?

Archimedes did it.  Einstein did it.  Now it’s our turn.  Lets do a thought experiment.

In this experiment, we’re going to transport one of the best paintings from the impressionist era back a hundred years (give or take) so that it lands smack dab in the middle of one of the best art galleries of the romantic era.

 

See what we’re doing there?  We’re sticking a little bit of the future into the past, and then figuring out what would happen.

What do YOU think will happen?  Go ahead, write down your answer.  I’ll wait.

(Insert girl from Ipanema here.)

Finished?  Great.  Now, here’s my take.

It won’t sell.  No one’s going to buy it.  Everyone will think a deranged teenager did it, and will tell the dealer to throw it away.  Since it appeared mysteriously from the future, he won’t know who to give it to.  Being a profit-minded guy, he’ll probably paint it over with gesso and sell the canvas to some poor artist who will put a proper painting over it.

Crazy?  Not really.  Consider going to an art gallery today.  What do you see?  Are there crazy pieces in there that drive you bonkers?  Could it be that one of those will sell for millions of dollars in a hundred years?

How can we know?

Right now, we can’t.  There’s this whole thing about fads and fashions that seems to be beyond anything reason will fathom, ever.  Why do women prefer certain hairstyles through the ages.  What about men and their beards, or hats?  What about architecture, writing styles, music, and just about anything else you can imagine.

Until the day comes when we can at least start to describe a fashion and do it in an organized, scientific manner, there will be no hope of understanding, let alone predicting.

Until the day comes when we have a theory of behavior that contains fads and fashions within it, then even with the best descriptions in the world, we still aren’t going to make any progress.

Until then, hang onto that ridiculous object of art your Aunt Sally got you from that yard sale.  It could be worth something.  Someday.

 

Tuning the Turing Test

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Let’s begin with the world’s greatest sci-fi movie: 2001.  This is from Piers Bizony‘s book on the making of 2001 A Space OdysseyIt's Eye-Conic.  Sorry.

Marvin Minsky had no problem understanding that the emptiness of 2001’s dialogue was intentional:

” … And after the momentous statement that the monolith must have been deliberately buried, one of the astronauts says, “Well, how about a little coffee?”  Kubrick’s idea is that the universe is too majestic for short sighted people.”

Trying to understand an “intelligence” that is much greater than our own is going to be a tough job.  Drinking a cup of java while pondering that gulf might be appropriate.

Which brings us to Alan Turing, the godfather of the modern computer.  He suggested a simple test to determine “intelligence.”  He didn’t define the term either, by the way.  What he said was put a person in a room and let them interact with a human, or machine, in a limited way (like through text only) and let them ask questions.

Today, this remains the best test we have of machine intelligence.

Here’s the problem.  What kind of person are you going to put in that room.  For instance, if you put my mother in law, she’s likely to think that the navigator voice in the GPS is already intelligent.  You should see the conversations they have while we drive along.

If you put some genius, like Doug Hofstadter or Doug Lenat in that room, chances are they can ask one question and game over.

So, next time you think of the Turing Test, also consider who you are going to put in that room.  If you’re scientifically oriented, then you want a “standard” human.  Good luck!

In the meantime, I’m going to get some coffee.

Is This All You Got?

If you look closely enough, you can see grandpa.Not canvas, stone, but close enough.

Not really grandpa, but our distant cousins.  Very distant.

In fact, if every generation is good for 25 years, then we’re talking almost 3000 generations ago.  That’s a lot of cousins.

Turns out that we have found some of their earliest artworks.

This is important because, well, it was important to them.

You see, this art wasn’t something that was assigned as a class assignment.  It wasn’t even something that a few crazy teens decided to do in order to assert their independence.

This art took time in every aspect of the word, and of the work.  Time to make the materials.  Time to make fires in order to see the work.  Time to make torches that you took into the cave.  Time to find the cave.  And perhaps most important of all, time to figure out what they were going to represent, artistically.

Here’s the fun part.

Today, we see art everywhere.  It’s all around us.  There is so much art that our appreciation of it has gone pretty much down to zero.

Why should it have been different back then?  Why couldn’t they have scratched art into the sand, the trees, even into themselves?

Chances are that they did.  We can’t see it because of a couple of things.

The first, big thing is that all those other techniques they used are much less permanent than cave painting.

But there’s a second, almost-as-big a thing as the first.

Our minds aren’t quite open to the possibility that they did it.  “Scientists” are still arguing whether or not Neanderthals could have created artwork.  Well, now we know.  The answer is YES.  Only 5,000 years old.Getting them to admit that they made art in any other place than a cave?  They’ll never go for it.

It will be up to some young, up-and-coming young student of behavior to take that bull by the horns and prove it to all the old teachers that yes, Neanderthals liked to express themselves in many ways.

That’s why they need a good theory of behavior.  We do it.  Our ancestors did it.  Why not our distant cousins?

And if not, why not?

In the meantime, I’m going to go make some art that’ll last at least as long.

First, I need a cave.

 

Greatest Challenge For AI

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A great book on the making of Stanley Kubrick’s and Arthur C Clarke’s 2001 A Space Odyssesy is fantastic.  I recommend seeing Stanley’s movie, getting Arthur’s book, and reading Bizony’s book as well.

Now, one prediction talked about in Bizony’s book was that we would have “Artificial Intelligence” by the year 2001.

It hasn’t happened.  Not in the way we want, anyway.

The reason is that the brilliant minds who are tackling the problem start from the basis of natural sciences.  They use math, engineering, biology, physics, all sorts of cool backgrounds.

It’s the wrong place to start.

Intelligence, whatever it may be, is a fundamental behavior.

Everything that it’s based upon, everything that we ask it to do for us, is also behavior.

In fact, the only thing “natural” about intelligence is the body we give it.

What our brightest minds must do is figure out what it is they want to achieve.  Here’s an example using today’s subject; intelligence.  However, as you’ll soon see, one small question quickly blossoms into lots of prickly questions, each of which must also be addressed.

Yes, they have to be answered.  If you don’t, then you’re in danger of falling into one of those loopy traps that never let you out.

Here’s simple question number one, Q1: Define Intelligence.

Go ahead.  Define it any way you want.  Now, for the prickly parts.

No single image summarizes our dread of Artificial Intelligence more than this.Q2:  You started as a baby, and before that you were less than a baby.  At what point in your lifetime did you become, “intelligent?”

Be careful with Q2, because if you’re defining something that is truly natural and scientifically rigorous, it shouldn’t change quickly, and should have specific characteristics that remain stable no matter what form YOU take.

Q3: You are related to other animals on this planet.  Are any of THEM “intelligent?”  This one is not only prickly, but also tricky, because it ties into the next question.

Q4: Even if your species is the only intelligence on the planet, it still came from the primordial swamp a few billion years ago.  Assuming the ooze was not intelligent, and that you are, at what point in the development of life did “intelligence” arise?

There you have it.  Only four (or so) questions to answer before anyone can truly create artificial intelligence.  Except that this is only for intelligence itself.  Of course, we still have to define all sorts of other things, but that’s for another day.

Knowing when to quit?

That’s intelligence.

 

 

Story Time: Animal Sperm

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Stories are ways of playing in our behavior sandbox.  This one’s risque, but based on natural fact.  Humans are built to have sex for fun.  Most humans.

They always get their egg.

=============

Two men sat at the bar, very late.  They’re strangers, but Carol, the friendly young bartender chatted with them and served them the same drink on the house.  So they talk.

Alan was an older doctor, with insane work hours.  His much younger second wife must have missed him terribly, because he’d discovered her in bed with two other men.

Ben was younger, rugged, larger, and reluctant.  Alan insisted, looking for anything amusing, refusing to believe that Ben’s story was sadder than his.

Ben glanced at the bartender.  She smiled back from the other end of the bar.  “I have to move again,” he said sadly, “because of her.”

“I knew you knew her.  Girlfriend?”

“No, and I don’t know her,” said Ben.  “I only see her here, for months.  But I know women, and she wants to take me home tonight.”

“Why is that a bad thing?”

“Because I want to go with her.  I haven’t been with a woman since the last city.  Months.”

“That’s crazy.  Why should you have to move?”

“I know it’s crazy, but it’s the way it is.  Look, I’m not smart like you.  I get a grunt job where I can make a half-decent living and settle in.  Eventually I need a woman, I just do.  I find one, or she finds me, we hit it off, and we end up in bed.”

“Still not a problem.”

“She gets pregnant.  Carol will get pregnant tonight.”

“Now you’re crazy.”

“Maybe.” Ben downed his whiskey.  “But it happens every time.  Seems most animals have sperm that works, first time, every time.  People don’t, so they can have sex a lot.  I got animal sperm.”

“What about contraceptives, birth control, diaphragms, off-period?”

“Doesn’t matter.  My sperm even figures out how to break through a condom.”

“Vasectomy?”

“Done twice already.  Somehow the tubes fix themselves.  Doc wanted to write it up but I bugged out.”

“Pulling out?”

“Can’t do it fast enough.  Somehow the sperm knows.”

Alan sipped, thinking.  Carol chatted them up, poured Ben another, stroked his hand, and went to work the other side.  Alan looked up at Ben.

“Have you thought about going gay?  I mean, it’s kind of fashionable nowadays.”

“Yeah, thought about it, but not my style.  No, I love women, but I can’t have em.  I go as long as I can and then, wham, bam, here’s your baby ma’am, moving on.”

Alan slapped down a c-note, told Ben the drinking was on him, and that he appreciated the story.  He left, found a hotel room, and slept well.

He kept visiting that bar for several months afterwards, and Carol did indeed get larger in the tummy.  He never saw Ben again.

 

 

Story Time: Small Wives Tales

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Studying behavior is fun.  We can do thought experiments based on real-life observations of fact.

and a short story.

Consider this fact: women are smaller than men.  This is sexual dimorphism, the genders are splitting apart.  Most species have males and females about the same size.  When they are different, it means something’s going on.  Something having to do with natural selection.  Here’s a thought experiment story that takes the phenomenon to the extreme.

=====  A booth in a shabby diner, late morning.  =====

Yo, Joh, why so late?

The third wife was upset, and the other two said I had to help calm her down.  She’s got some bug up her butt about the kid, so I had to listen to her whine before I could leave.

You’re such a nice hubby.  Why don’t you get another one?

Are you kidding?  Three’s the limit for me.  What about you, you stopping at two?

No, I could use a third one.  Having two means they fight among themselves, and I have to break it up all the time.  I hear having a third, and maybe even a fourth keeps them mixed up enough so it takes a lot of pressure off.

You’re both crazy.  Why not just stick with the one and train her the way you want?

Like in the olden times?  What are you, a Neanderthal?  You know how many of those marriages went bust?  No, what those biologists figured out was perfect.  This way each wife has less of a man to make her crazy, she has more women friends to hang with keeping the pressure off him, and he ends up with more sex, while each of them ends up with less.  Win win win win win.

Still, I’m pretty happy with my one.  She’s got everything I need, and we seem to work well together.

Sure, youngster, keep telling yourself that.  It’s also a heck of a lot cheaper, isn’t it?  But it takes all types.

Why do you think women were smaller than men anyway?  There was a time they were only 10% smaller, now they are 25% smaller.

Perfect for carrying under your arm.

Or stuffing in your pants!  (Everyone laughs.)

Look, a long time ago the women were almost the same as men.  About the same size, about the same brain, small breasts, just as hairy.

Then something changed.

Yeah, we don’t know what.  Some eggheads think it was the women that did it to themselves, but maybe the men did it.  Anyway, the women got smaller, got boobs, and started painting themselves all over.

Don’t forget the sex part.

Right, then something happened to both genders so that having sex hardly ever makes a baby.  So it’s fun to do.

Very fun.

How much fun you having with the one?

Well…

I thought so.

C’mon.  After breakfast, we’ll do some shopping for you.  Then we’ll fix that ancient Camaro of yours.

Thanks.  So how about that game last night?

Physics and English

This site is all about understanding behavior.

Learning is a form of behavior.

And some of the most daunting learning to be done in the “natural” world is staring physicists right in the face.

Physicists.  The same guys who brought you transistors, fractal antennae, MRI and Voyagers 1 and 2.

I saw this excellent video by Brady Haran, with a most excellent professor of physics ranting about someone who PRETENDS to understand physics enough to make outlandish propositions about what it means.

That’s not the point for this post.  The points comes later in his video (3:15 and 6:40) in response to an excellent question from Brady.  Perhaps it’s the language that physicists use to try and communicate the strange phenomena to themselves, and the rest of the world.

Here’s where the behavior comes in.

Physicists talk to each other, and rarely to the public, and even more rarely to academics in other disciplines.  Almost never ever to someone in the English department.

Here’s a list of some of the incredibly weird phenomena they have measured.

  • Entanglement (spooky action at a distance)
  • Spin
  • Momentum
  • Inflation
  • Big Bang
  • CP Violation
  • Dark Matter and Dark Energy
  • Unified Theories containing all the known forces
  • Wave Functions
  • Atomic Orbitals

All of these are extremely strange things that happen in reality, things we use every day without realizing it.

Yet they don’t make sense in our big classical world.

Here’s where the English department comes in.

Physicists need a whole new language that removes all the connections these phenomena make with the classical world.  Using words like orbital, wave, even matter and energy for the quantum world is going to put physicists at a disadvantage.

The person who’s going to figure out how to make sense of the quantum world is going to have to release themselves from the classical world.  When you grow up in a classical world that has orbits and waves, you’re automatically making the job harder.

So, to all you physicists out there who want to confront the greatest natural challenges of our time, take a moment to understand behavior.  Talk to an English major, and change your language.  Shed your classical skin and enter the quantum world.

It’s weird, it’s wacky, it’s beyond classical belief systems.

Yet, it’s all behavior.

Is it a particle, is it a wave?  It's neither.

PS – Who says we can’t have Fun with Fiziks?  By the way, for those who have their own wacky ideas about the quantum world, save them for later.  I have my own, but they will have to wait for the right cocktail party.

PPS – By the way, Math is the proper language of physics, of Nature for that matter.  However, this post is about talking to people who DON’T do math.  Thanks for reading.

Learning Yoga From Dad

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Other than modified tree pose, he’s never done yoga.

So HOW could he teach me?

First off, Dad was born in 1929, and he’s got a long list of maladies, any one of which could kill him.  Tomorrow.

But he’s pushing himself, living as if he’ll make it to 90.

He might.

He also tries new things to improve his body.  This means being able to go to the potty more easily.  But it’s his goal, and who am I to quibble?

He’s probably in this mess because of medical advice from 50 years ago for his bad back: Rest, avoid exercise, wear a brace, and take pills.  He did all that.

Today, doctors would probably recommend continuous exercise, working through pain, and avoiding pills is a better way to live.

However, the most important thing of all that I’ve learnt is incredible.

I was with Dad through all of this latest battle, starting with a broken vertebrae (L2), the ER, Hospice House, then a recovery room, and finally back home.  There were two times when nurses told me, this is it.  If he’d died, they would have said it was his time.

Except it wasn’t.  First off, I was able to be there and help him stave off poor medical practices.  Not malpractice, only poor quality.  Second, I was there as cheerleader, boosting morale, encouraging his WILL TO LIVE.  I gave him traditional football game locker room pep talks.

I could see the young athlete come alive.  He was a two-year all state football player in his day.  He was ripped.

That’s the key.  The will to live.

The greatest yogi of the 20th century was Tirumalai Krishnamacharya.  If you do yoga today, he probably invented it.  If he didn’t, you can bet your bippy he influenced it.

Many times, the guy who invents something doesn’t get to cash in on the great idea.  Same was true for TK.  He was dirt poor most of the time.  As advertising, he’d put on demonstrations of stopping his heart.

What?  Impossible!  How?

That’s what we say, knowing modern medicine.

But modern medicine also said my Dad was finished.  And then Dad applied his willpower.

That’s what TK did with his heart.  Willpower.

Both TK and my Dad have shown me that yoga can help us harness our own willpower as a way to become one with every part of our bodies.  Not only the voluntary nervous system, but even the autonomic nervous system that influences our heart.  All of it.  Our WHOLE body.

And that’s how Dad taught me about my own yoga.

  1. Push yourself.
  2. Set your own, small, goals.
  3. Adhere to it as a better way to live.
  4. Willpower is an integral part of our practice.

Thanks Dad.  Love, your son.

Aum…

 

A Tale of Two Yogas

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My wife and I attend a small studio up the street.  She has deep knowledge of musculature.  The poses are gentle, our progress slow, in a cozy, comfortable environment.

Across the street is a bustling studio with 4 large rooms, the coolest one being 30 degrees centigrade (85F).  Some classes go up as high as 40C (105F).  That’s hot.

When I say bustling, I mean bustling.  Not like wearing a bustle, but like being super busy.  Which is pretty good for our small town.  There’s over 15 classes a day!  And the classes have all the latest trends, bikram, barre, and whatever.

Not only that, but the classes are an hour long.  Perfect for scheduling into your busy day.

Meanwhile, in our little space, you spend the first half hour getting warmed up, the next getting into the practice, and another one figuring it all out and cooling down.

Cooling down.  That’s important.  You can’t do that in heat.  In order to listen to your body properly, you have to let it speak to you.  That’s not going to happen in an extreme environment.  Your body is working to keep you cool, and that throws all your inner workings out of wack.  Sure, you feel better, for the moment, but what did you learn?

A good yoga class is a true class.  You will come away with a nugget of knowledge, a new insight into yourself.

The trend towards fast, hot, trendy yoga is surely a money maker for the studio.  But what does it lead towards?

Students who want hotter, faster, trendier solutions to their problems.

The ultimate?

I see a drive-thru studio that offers a quick yoga drink and a semi-mystic experience while you sit in your car.  Perhaps like the drive-in diners of the 1950s.  Scantily clad roller skating yogis will bring everything to you and your friends as you sit in the comfort of your SUV.

Or you could slow down, and get to know yourself.  Not trendy, not hot, not even hard.  Just right.  Just perfect.

But if you’re planning to make it to 70, 80, or 90, you’ll appreciate it.

Otherwise, you’ll be taking plenty of pills.

Ommm.

 

Dream a Little Dream

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Dreams.  I can’t get them out of my head.

Dad’s dying.  Did I mention that?  Sure, everyone dies, but he’s taking his time.  He’s smart, tough, tenacious, and still has the capacity to dream.

His dreams are a bit modest nowadays.  Going to the potty.  Getting back to his old apartment.

The size of the dreams aren’t important.  It’s the fact that he has them.

He fights to make them real.  If I’ve learned nothing from Dad during the last few months, it’s how to keep fighting.  And hanging onto those dreams is critical.

I used to dream, back in my day.  All us kids dreamt of superfast trains and living on the moon.  There would be hotels under the ocean and everyone would live to be 150.

So much for those dreams.

Here’s the problem today.  I had those dreams way back when.  I wasn’t the only one.

Today, I don’t hear anyone’s dreams of the future.  The term I hear most often is “dystopia.”  People are depressed about the future.  They don’t have dreams.

They have nightmares.

If someone does dream, it’s for something next month, or next year.  A new phone.  A better snowboard.

Have you tried dreaming?  Really dreaming, long term?

I have this super smart cousin, and I asked him what he thought humanity will look like in 100 years.  His first reaction?

He’ll be dead.

Yes, but your daughters might be around.  It’s more likely that their daughters will be alive then.  What kind of world will they live in?

He didn’t like my question.  He’s been having nightmares about humanity.

I encouraged him to dream.

By the way, dreaming does not mean wishing for free money from the government.  That’s another story.

The best dreams are big dreams that you have to work for.

Don’t believe me?  You don’t have to.

Ask my Dad.