Saturday, April 16, 2005

Long Time, No Blog

Wow, it's been a while. I was waiting to finish the academic style book (i.e., 15 papers with the 1st third of each about who said what when, and why so and so is a dorkweed) I was reading, and I finally did finish slogging through it. The book was "Evolution and Learning: The Baldwin Effect Reconsidered". Dennett talked about the Baldwin in "Darwin's Dangerous Idea" and it seemed kind of fuzzy to me. Apparently that is a common perception. Basically, the Baldwin Effect (1896), aka Organic Selection, says that intelligent, cultural behavior can make its way into the genome. I guess it makes some sense. As language started to evolve culturally and became an important survival feature of human existence, this would create evolutionary pressure such that mutations helping to implement the feature in hardware would be selected for. Two other related concepts apparently well known in evolutionary biology:
  1. Genetic assimilation (1950s): same as the Baldwin Effect, but rather than reinforcement by mutation, the reinforcement is via the expression of existing but dormant genes.
  2. Niche construction: organisms are not purely passive in evolving to fill their ecological niche. They also can actively change the niche. For example, beaver dams, which have coevolved with the beavers' aquatic features. I guess humans may evolve a liking for breathing smog ;->
The general concensus was that the Baldwin Effect was a weak concept that didn't add much to evolutionary theory. The stuff I liked the best in there was by Terrance Deacon, a UC Berkley anthropologist. I ordered his book "The Symbolic Species", it just came today (in an odd wedge-shaped box???). He talks about an "arms race" between language and the brain, the software and hardware pushing each other in an upward spiral. He also had an article on emergent behavior where defines 3 levels of emergence:
  1. Superconvenience (???) -- like fluid properties emerging from the individual molecules.
  2. Self-organizing behavior -- like snowflakes, maybe ant colonies.
  3. Evolutionary systems -- the above, but with memory such that evolution can occur.
He posits, no higher levels needed. Level 3 you have your basic Turing machine, you can build anything from there you want.

He scared me tho, talking about biosemiotics. Semiotics, like memetics, strikes me as a science in search of a discipline. I read Eco's seminal book "Semiotics" in around 2000. Semiotics is the level between bits and information -- signs and signification in all forms. Given that I work with this stuff for a living, I would figure there would be some concepts there that I could use -- but nothing. Europeans seem to like it tho -- 'nuf said.

Two follow-ups to previously blogged items:

  1. Errata? I read somewhere recently that dog DNA diverged from wolf 15,000 years ago, not 150,000. Still a good number for conversation, but which is right?
  2. I had landsickness for 15 days. Uggh. Definitely makes me leery about extended times on ships/boats in the future.
Also read the 2nd Mark Budz book, "Crache". This one was a little more edgy than the 1st, "Clade", more Gibsonesque. The tech environment of these two books has some good neologisms, reminiscent of Gibson and "Neuromancer" (cyberspace, the Turing police). It is post ecocaust, so all ecologies are articially designed (ecotecture). The ecotecture is maintained by artificial pheromones (pherions). The ecologies are much more brittle and micro than mother nature's, so people get locked to a given ecotecture (clade) by the pherions unless they take antipher drugs -- also a social control mechanism, you have a violent allergic reaction if you go somewhere you're not allowed. Finally, the ecotecture's are all completely digitally modeled in the ribozone, where pherions show as insects and people as flowers.

The 2nd one also had more on their IAs (Intelligent Agents, or AIs). Since they are based on quantum computers, they are inviduals, but are also a single entity. And, so as not to miss anything, he threw in artificial matter, which can be totally programmed at the quantum level to emulate any type of matter.

Musically, got the new Moby and Beck from iTunes, they're OK. I'm frustrated, after I listen to music for a while on my PC, it refuses to play. So I listen to the iPod on its mini-speakers or our main stereo setup.

Two weekends ago we went to E-town see Tommy Emmanual, cgp (certified guitar player). He's in his 50's, Australian, Chet Atkins' heir apparent, a showman, and one hell of a guitar player. Ben Lacy in 15 years.

Also went this last Thursday to see Bela Fleck, world's greatest banjo player and former Lexington resident, here in Lexington at the Kentucky Theatre. He had a fiddle and a guitar player with him, damn are those guys fast. Very enjoyable.

Movie-wise, liked "The Station Agent", it had a good heart. Also really liked "Being Julia", can't particularly figure out why?!?!? I will rewatch sometime and see if I can figure out what I liked about it so much. Maybe it was that her approach discounted emotion so much, seemingly viewing it like clothes to wear or a performance to give.

First bike ride last weekend: 1h 45m, 23 miles. May try going through Wilmore to High Bridge tomorrow, we are having a beautiful spring. We are all really ready for it.

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