Monday, 30 January 2012

Memes: The Survival of Ideas

By Luke Kristopher Davis


GENES

Genes are sets of codes of instructions which make up the DNA molecule. Each gene consists of about 250 "rungs" on the DNA helix, the ordering of these "rungs" are different therefore different codes can be generated. These genes dictate a large percentage of an organisms life, from what they will look like to how they live, how they breathe and how they digest. Genes are the molecules of inheritance, the carriers of biological information.

The process which tends to sieve out those not-so-good genes is natural selection of the Darwinian kind. In an environment there is food to consume, dangers to avoid, tasks to complete and mating to be done. An organisms genes provide most of its tools to complete these, if an organism fails it is normally due to a deficiency in its genes. This organism either reproduces less or doesn't at all, over time this deficient gene eventually dies away and the more dominant genes survive. This is a very tenuous and complicated process but evolution is basically the survival of more adapted genes for certain organisms in specific environments.

Nature has created it's very own game. Genes are the players, wanting to prolong and play for the longest and the game is survival. The only way they can win is to possess the most useful and successful biological information.

In Richard Dawkin's 'The Selfish Gene'   he explains with clarity and scientific depth the phenomenon of evolution and the 'selfish' character that genes seem to play.

IDEAS


We are still joyrides for genes in their huge complicated game. However we have ourselves, due to our genes and social infrastructure, evolved to become very complicated and intelligent creatures. We have surpassed our cousins and those of other branches of the animal kingdom to become creatures who reason, imagine, debate, question our own nature and our own universe and invent.

Our language and our brain cognition have helped us as a species rise in front, but we have had to install another huge tool to help accelerate our intelligence and our social world. This tool is culture. I do not just mean culture in the traditional sense i.e. art, classical music, poetry and Latin. I mean culture in all of its social glory; recorded language, organised politics, religion (in its infancy), music, fiction, art and of course science, invention and capitalism.

Culture itself has become an emergent organism. I say this not in the meta-physical sense: culture is not a floating system of invisible human connections it is very much grounded physically. Through recorded language, systematized information (video, music.. everything) and the education of people have helped keep culture alive... keep it breathing. Like us as organisms evolving from an ape-like ancestor to a more efficient human, our culture is evolving too and it could be said it is doing so at a faster rate.

Each biological organism as we know has the gene playing the game of evolution. What molecule is playing the game for the complicated organism of culture? Ideas. Ideas. Ideas. They are the key to the adaptation of culture.

Ideas are very hard to define. I mean they could be defined as specific neuron firings from reading language... but that doesn't tell us much at the moment. We could say ideas are specific, they are communicated through language and they represent actions, explanations, emotions, processes and plans.

What we know about ideas is that they are units, they stand on there own in a certain sense. For example the idea of the light bulb or the idea of Inception stand apart but like genes they carry trails of history behind them, not genetic history but social and cultural history. The analogy between the c-organism and the bio-organism at times is amazingly interesting.

THE C-GAME


Richard Dawkins originated the idea (haha yes an idea!) of the meme. A unit of cultural information which in a sense is any idea which exists in a culture. He argued that the meme acts like the gene in the sense that it wants to survive and thrive.

The meme does not die out due to certain physical environmental pressures, the memes survival depends collectively on humans. A meme develops overtime from other memes or it arises spontaneously and chaotically e.g.  Einsteins special relativity (it was not predictable but it has rough links to Galileo and other intellectual work). Developing memes sometimes die out due to it being initially rejected by a collection of people, this meme may have not fitted the fashion of the day, it may have been too contentious, not useful enough or just plain destructive.

In the past the meme of equality of race began developing, it was rejected by some majorities in american culture and other cultures. It still gradually became more prominent and then went into a frenzy (taking over culture). This meme succeeds because it is 1) reasonable  2) represses a destructive meme (racism and discrimination)  3)  gives physical freedom to those in ethnic minorities. These three reasons gave the meme enough time and dedication to spread, develop and ingrain itself in our moral identities.

Another meme that has had a famous and quite difficult past is evolution. Evolution was proposed by many biologists but it began to fully develop as a theory when Charles Darwin began to carry this meme. He himself  adapted the meme using observation and reason. He then published it (a great tool for a memes survival). This meme however contradicted another meme which was then at the top of its game:  Religion. It contradicted religion as it states that the creation is a myth and that humans are not special creatures. Evolution became rejected. Although many scientists took to it and began fighting for it. After time, research and increased debate and literature evolution has become scientific fact in most western cultures. It has succeeded because it agrees with nature, it works and it is useful. Still in the American culture the evolution meme is still battling with  religion and fundamentalism.

An example of an everyday meme could be that you propose to your friends that you should go bowling one night. You develop this meme by finding out how much it costs etc. and you back this meme up by saying how fun it will be. Some friends reject it and replace it with another meme entirely, some do not wish to partake and others mould your original meme to a different destination or they add a night clubbing meme to it . This shows how memes start and how they try to survive, sometimes they get rejected in total and other times they are slightly adapted to fit the group. This sounds like evolution right? It is but on a more complicated console, the game is everywhere.

There are some memes which we will call super-memes. Super-memes are those ideas which hold a big share of the culture market. They literally have the ability to change the game itself. In the past and in parts still in the future a great example of a super-meme is fundamentalism. Fundamentalism is the idea that one should believe in something forever without denial.

It literally changed the game for memes, if a meme went against another meme which was believed fundamentally by a big majority then it had no chance. So only memes which fitted the super-meme kept surviving. Religion is the son of the fundamentalism meme, so is terrorism and sexism. However there are always gaps in the game for small players to try and develop. Science and the idea of logic and evidence developed greatly and began growing, it has battled the super-meme of fundamentalism for centuries. Now it is itself a super-meme in the c-organism. Science has become a successful meme not because of power, indoctrination, threat of eternal punishment or the illusion of infallibility. It has become successful because it works, it helps us live healthier, longer and allows us to become more intelligent about the universe around us.
Science has changed the game so that a meme that proposes nonsense becomes discarded, a meme that proposes a rational plan or idea to help science itself or to help humankind will win.

It is an interesting meme. Will the theory of memes survive? Will it  adapt the c-organism?

It really is up to us.

Just remember that nature is one big game and we are playing in it. We may think we write the rules but never forget we are always playing.

Tuesday, 17 January 2012

The secrets behind Sherlock Holmes


By Luke Kristopher Davis


So you have stumbled upon this blog... accident? I think not. From the fact that you're reading this tells me three things, you have become slightly obsessed with the BBC series Sherlock Holmes, you have developed this obsession from your amazement of the main protagonist and this is due to his eccentricity, his intelligence and his ability to out boast and wit any mortal being on earth.

This tells me one more thing about you; you have thought about being like Sherlock and adopting his methods of 'deduction' and his ability to solve the most tangled mysteries.

Well, I am not Sherlock so my efforts just then might have been some degree less impressive than the Holmes himself. He may be a legendary fictional detective but are his methods explicable, employable and can they be  honed to surpass that of ordinary humans?

Here we shall explore and try to explain using modern science, rules of day-to-day experience and good old logic and common sense Sherlock's methods of investigation.

METHOD 1: OBSERVATION


In our everyday life we travel to places, common and uncommon, to fulfill some sort of purpose or to gain some sort of enjoyment. Now, to get to each place we must travel and this can be done using many means of transport, private or public. So every time we go to a place something along the way or at the place might be recurring or slightly different, it is these continuities and differences that Sherlock observes and systematically records so that they can be used as information or evidence in a key clue to an investigation or to a general fact. 

For example in the first BBC episode of the new series Sherlock is able to input the code into the safe. He is able to do this from an observation: he observed Irene Adler's body measurements (chest size, waist, legs). You may wonder that just from pure sight one cannot infer precise measurements of a figure, but if you are shown lots of measurements of bodies and people over time then your brain will be able to predict from experience what measurements a body has, well only if you tell your brain to store it. Sherlock in 'The Reichenbach Fall' encounters Moriarty in his own living quarters, Moriarty whilst talking begins to tap on his knee, this Sherlock (consciously or unconsciously) observes and then uses this to solve what a particular (ending up meaningless) code is.

You may wonder why such an expertise in observation is necessary then your right it isn't. It does help in making you more competent about people (through observing mannerisms and gestures and fitting that with certain personality traits etc.), it helps with your navigation when your sat nav dies or when you are in a new obscure place (observations of key objects or structures help make a path).

This trait definitely helps in academia where observing patterns, disruptions and then systematically memorizing them then applying this memory to problems or cases etc. As you guessed, this definitely will up your game in the field of law and crime. Observation will make you more aware and hence will encourage your brain to learn more and faster. It is all fun though.

So:  1. Take notice of regular patterns and/or differences in environment. 2. Observe traits in people 3. Try to remember certain aspects of your observation to ease recall. 4. Don't go crazy observing like a paranoid man suspicious of anything outside of himself. 

METHOD 2: REASON

"When you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth"

Observation on its own is like a bicycle without wheels: useless. In order to make use of your newly acquired skills of observation you must have a system which will organize them (tends to be your brain) and system which relates pictures to assumptions to facts. This is called empirical induction or more commonly called science.

This method requires you to use past experience(s) and apply them to the problem at hand taking general assumptions into account. A simple example is this:  You observe that all the swans you have seen are white and that when someone shows you 5 birds of different colours and says that they are swans you say they are wrong for that reason and for other reasons. Pretty basic reasoning.

In the 'Reichenbach Fall' episode we see Sherlock at the scene of a kidnapping, he first observes that the boy kidnapped reads spy novels and uses an assumption about human behaviour (one based on prior experience and factual literature) that the boy will try and employ similar spy techniques in the novels. So Sherlock looks for hidden messages of some sort which could have been done in a certain amount of time. He sees Linseed oil (i think it is linseed) and recalls it's ultraviolet reflecting properties and hence discovers the message.

His technique seems to be so unique and outside of the box, but he is (quite sharply and efficiently mind) using his very well recorded past experience and facts and applying them rigorously to the problem at hand. Using the logic in the quote above... if you rule out that which could not have happened, you are left with only that which could have happened. 

This technique is used in modern science but it could also make everyday life much more easier and efficient, try to make decisions rationally. It may sound trivial but most of us are led astray by emotions, short term pleasures, incorrectly applied logic etc. (we are human)  but sticking to fact will pay off.

1. Be as objective as you can 2. Be prepared to encounter an anomaly (moriarty). 3. If there's no evidence then there's no conviction. 4. It doesn't matter who says it, if it's wrong it's wrong.

METHOD 3: PRODUCTIVITY

Mr. Holmes may have an addiction to solving cases and this addiction may have something to do with his slightly autistic love for puzzles in any form. Despite this, Sherlock is extremely productive. He is always feeding his brain with new information, new challenges and new places. This will ultimately make him better at methods 1 and 2 but also it will keep training his brain to become sharper, smarter and subtler. Without any case on the go he roams around his quarters like a bored child on sugar after finishing every game he owns.

If you keep yourself occupied with articles to read, puzzles to solve (less so in our age), writing, exercise, societies, making films, inventing, drawing..... anything that stimulates your brain and challenges you.

You have to live and breathe for productivity and be prepared to push yourself to the max.

1. Do lot's of challenging and fun stuff!  2. Employ your newly acquired skills and knowledge as much as you want (any skill and knowledge you acquire) 3. Repeat  steps 1 & 2 till death. 

METHOD 4: GET A 'WATSON'

Just when you might have become too eccentric/ crazy/ intelligent you might need a laid back doctor with a blog to bring you back to the real world!



Monday, 16 January 2012

Science Vs. Fundamentalism

By Luke Kristopher Davis 

Originally written in 2011, July 

“A man should look for what is, and not for what he thinks should be.” – Albert Einstein


 In the ancient battle between science and religion, evidence versus revelation and reason versus faith, many intellectuals and writers may have not explicitly highlighted who the mastermind behind religion and totalitarianism (dictatorships) really is. In this article I will introduce each position, explain its nature and effects on humans. I will also determine which position is more useful, less harmful, and more productive and most importantly… gauge which position is true. I will not merely show my opinion and say that such and such is true because I feel like it, but I will be as objective as I can, using evidence from research and surveys which are legitimate (readers can correct me).

  Fundamentalism

“I would never die for my beliefs because I might be wrong.” - Bertrand Russell 


Fundamentalism consists of believing, using and protecting an ideology without questioning it or supporting it with evidence. For example, if I never stop believing that walking under a ladder brings me bad luck even when there is evidence against this, then I am taking part in fundamentalism (There is no physical link between you walking under a ladder and say you getting fired from your job. You got fired because of what you did on the job). This type of belief system, one that is absolute and superstitious, has many different appearances. It wears the cloak ofreligion, indulges in the dress of superstition and dresses in the attire of dictatorship and monarchy.

In genesis, we witness the creation of Adam and then subsequently Eve. God tells Adam that he is not to eat an apple from the tree of knowledge which would give him reason (An analogy for learning about the world), Eve becomes tempted to do so and eats an apple from the tree. God banishes Adam and Eve and all their descendants from the garden of life. This story is at the start of the christian holy bible. It promotes ignorance of anything other than Gods word. This story is sending a message to Christians: If you; Learn science, question God, challenge preachers etc. you will go to hell (or something disastrous will happen). This is an example of fundamentalism in a religion. The whole bible, Koran and pretty much every religious scripture or text is said to be the words of a divine prophet or of God. To question any commandments or teachings is a sin. This again is fundamentalism. Believers and preachers do not accept people questioning their religion because their religion is infallible (always right).
What about superstition? Well firstly a superstition is a prejudice, that is, it is not based on use or logic but based upon an instinct or emotional reaction to something. The prejudice could also just be a random guess.
Here is a list of random common supersitions:
·                  Friday the thirteenth is an unlucky day
·                  A rabbit’s foot brings good luck
·                  An apple a day keeps the doctor away
·                  To find a four-leaf clover is to find good luck
·                  If you walk under a ladder, you will have bad luck
·                  If a black cat crosses your path you will have bad luck
·                  To break a mirror will bring you seven years bad luck
·                  To open an umbrella in the house is to bring bad luck
·                  To find a horseshoe brings good luck
·                  Step on a crack, break your mother’s back
·                  You can break a bad luck spell by turning seven times in a clockwise circle
·                  Garlic protects from evil spirits and vampires
·                  Our fate is written in the stars
·                  At the end of a rainbow is a pot of gold

I do not believe or make use (if there is one) of these sorts of superstitions. The reasons for this is that these superstitions have not been empirically verified. You could conduct an experiment… have 200 different sorts of people who live a set distance away from the other participants, have each person ‘step on a crack’ or ‘open an umbrella inside’ and test whether those who stepped on the crack have had their mothers backs broken or in the case of umbrellas whether they have had bad luck. The former is easy to test… see whether their mother's backs break. However… there is no specific allotted time for this to happen. Also how do we make clear the relationship between opening an umbrella and something bad happening… it is hard to rid the experiment of other possible causes. So it is non-demonstrable. Also it is more likely that a mother breaks her back due to a slippery floor or a prior slipped disk and a minor fall (at what point does luck play its part?). Yet people believe in superstitions. I tell my friends that this is nonsense and that no evidence supports it, yet some fundamentally believe in it.
Colonel Qaddafi, Adolf Hitler, Stalin, Mussolini and King Jon Il  are labelled as dictators. They ruled there territory through force and they dismissed any political opposition through force and fear. In North Korea there is a concerning concentration camp named No. 22. This camp is the size of small British town. It was designed to correct North Koreans who disagreed with King Jon Il and his establishment. King Jon Il believes that he is infallible and believes he is right without question… even his governmental advisers say he does not listen to any advice… even theirs. Hitler believed that he had found the perfect race and that his perfect race was absolute and unquestionable. Bin Laden believed that the Western secular establishment was spreading evil around the world, he believed this without giving it a second thought, without thinking ‘oh guys, let’s just check what the western world has achieved, lets make a poll and see if they really want the Middle East obliterated…  lets conduct tests before we enter into terrorism’.
Fundamentalism which has caused dictatorships has also bought lots of death and violence with it. Violence that can be avoided because bombing or shooting anyone doesn't solve problems… it only destroys. If dictators thought themselves fallible, if they were critical of their own beliefs and if they had used scientific judgement and evidence then their dictatorships would not have formed. They would have reasoned that a society full of questioning, inquiring, intelligent and politically active humans would be the most useful and efficient society to date (I do not fundamentally believe democracy is the best, we may, in the future, construct a more efficient political infrastructure). Fundamentalism in Religion has caused a lot of harm and unnecessary conflict. It has caused conflict over who gets to live in the holy land in Jerusalem, it has caused anti-homo-sexual, anti-black and anti-women attitudes which have caused grief and violence around the western and still in the Eastern hemispheres. Religion also continues to restrain scientific development as many believers may not vote in favor of science funding or a real scientific policy.
Fundamentalism does not work with how we as humans decide what is true. We decide what is true based on mathematical logic or through observation (yes, there can be no such thing as a vague moral truth based on feeling). Fundamental beliefs are not justified by observation or logic (which is quite trivial anyway). So it seems logically improbable to verify any fundamental beliefs, even it one has been verified over time science may prove it false yet he fundamental believer won’t accept the evidence against it.
Fundamentalism above all hasn’t brought us much good, it has briefly brought us reassurance when we where primitive beings who feared nature and the universe around us. However fundamentalism has bought us religion, which in this modern world brings us prejudice against humans who are ethnically and sexually different. The overall effect of Religion is bad. The overall effect of dictatorship is horrifically bad. Fundamentalism just isn’t good. Can science do better?
Science
“It doesn’t matter how beautiful your theory is, it doesn’t matter how smart you are. If it doesn’t agree with experiment, it’s wrong”- Richard Feynman



Science is very different from Fundamentalism. Scientists do not believe in absolute notions or principles, they are willing to change or discard certain beliefs about the universe we observe. They do not just pick and choose however, they have a criterion which establishes which laws and models of nature hold true. This criterion is experiment, technically it is called empirical verification. A theory is false or incomplete if it does not explain natural phenomena detected by experiment. For example Newtons (classical physics) failed to explain the probabilistic nature of the subatomic world.  Quantum mechanics had to take its place for those sorts of problems. Evolution to this date has evidence for it, but more importantly has no scientific evidence against it so therefore it is a legitimate scientific theory. Researchers often delve into a new problem or area with certain predispositions and preconceptions about what will happen, which could be based on prior experiment or just intuition. Sometimes they get it wrong, experiment disagrees with their model. They must accept this and move on, if they ignore the experiment they will not make progress… they will not make good scientists.
Probing the atomic and quantum world through the physical and chemical sciences has given us the Godlike ability to manipulate our surroundings to prolong our lives and to increase our life quality. Through the curious inquiry into electrons and certain mechanical devices the television was invented. Through Edison’s practical science, the light bulb, telegraph and many more useful gizmos came into existence. Physics has also enabled minuscule things such as sunglasses (polarized lenses), remote controls, doors, locks and electrical wiring. Physics has changed how humans transport ourselves through airplanes, cars, rail and….. skateboard. Physics has landed man on the moon and it has enabled us to probe the vast cosmos that envelopes our small existence. Chemistry has revolutionized pharmaceuticals, steering away from useless and empirical falsified herds and weird ointments. Biology has helped humans progress in sport, in health and in medicine. Science has pushed humans away from what we used to be… a confused, superstitious and slow homo-sapien. Science has bought us the internet and the glories of digital entertainment. I could go on listing great achievements.
Some argue that science has bought us nuclear weapons and other hazardous equipment that humans would be better off without. The fact is, science has bought us the knowledge and humans have put this knowledge to erroneous use. Science is merely innocent and so are most scientists.
If we apply our scientific knowledge ethically, that is, to the best of the health of all humans, then we will get rid of any harm science could bring. However science itself is not at fault.
We also use scientific reasoning in our legal systems. Barristers accumulate empirical evidence for their case, they infer what happened in the crime scene or point towards a certain conclusion. You would not here a barrister say ‘My client is appealing for an ‘intervention of God’, that is, my client did not commit this crime but God intervened with my client during this crime and therefore… because God is the causation of everything my client cannot be guilty.’ judge- ‘Case closed’. It just wouldn’t happen. You need good evidence.
Many still think that science cannot answer moral questions… such as: how should we live? What is good? However such questions can be answered by science… we should live in such a way as to increase the chemical endorphin in our bodies, increase health and the health of other animals and to increase scientific progress. To fulfill each of these to the best of our ability, we make use of biology, medicine and the knowledge of other great sciences.
We do not need religion for our morals. We should live according to fact not fiction. To live critically and without superstition.
One must realize that fundamentalism and science clash on the practical level and the abstract level. They contradict one another and contradictions are not useful, they are a sign that one or both positions are false. From the evidence presented and from the utility and progress of science we should present science with the winning trophy. Science at present is the best method to explain the universe and everything inside it. Fundamentalism is not.  Fundamentalism has had its time in the spotlight for over 2000 years. It has been demonstrated as an idealistic and false belief system, that is, that no one human can be infallible about the universe and that not accepting this causes devastating consequences. 
It will take years for humans to collectively digest this. One cannot quickly eradicate a belief system, especially one as big as fundamentalism.
Let’s hope for the sake of curiosity, courage for discovery and for simple rational thinking that we will never hear someone say ” I am 100% correct” even on some mathematics problems (as Godel has proven).
Saying this… I am not 100% correct, evidence may go my way but I could be wrong. But the fact is… I can live with that.

Friday, 13 January 2012

Brain Food: Week Dos!




Hope you're hungry this week as there is a lot of intellectual food to digest!

'A brief history of mathematics' BBC podcast series


 For starters we have http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b00srz5b/episodes/player 'A brief history of Mathematics' constructed by Marcus Du Sautoy which introduces some of the greatest mathematicians in human history. Those included are Euler, Bernoulli, Einstein and the mathematicians behind his theory of relativity.

A great listen for those who 'nom' (An onomatopoetic word denoting the sound of eating) delights of a mathematical kind.


'The Oxford Book of Modern Science Writing' - Richard Dawkins


This is a collection of papers, articles and essays written by prominent scientists. It is extremely insightful especially to those who enjoy tackling the fundamental and difficult ideas in science. Generally enjoyable and each article is on a different topic written in a different way. 

A definitely filling main course of intellectual dining.  WH SMITHS: £9.99


Free Audiobooks from the University State Florida on ITUNES U!!

This is a pretty big collection of classic literature, mathematical papers and scientific books in audio form that are free and easily downloadable for your I(pod + pad + touch + phone)  I is a common factor obviously!

The audiobook of Sherlock Holmes and his adventures are all very entertaining and if you are currently watching the bbc series (Sherlock Holmes addict) then they make a great addition.

'The Quark and Jaguar' Adventures in the simple and the complex - by Murray Gell-Mann


I stumbled upon this book in Oxfam, it was only £1.99! It's price does not fit the content however as this book is very valuable. It is written by physicist Nobel prize winner Murray Gell-Mann who spent most of his professional life studying the fundamental laws of nature. He was a pioneer of the great standard model which the Cern LHC is trying to empirically finalize today.

The book is written in sections with mini sections, each discussing interesting points in physics, particles, biology, the relation of all three and his all and beloved 'complex adaptive systems'.

Delve into this a few times... pick random pages and you will always leave more scientifically wiser and more generally competent about that all great entity.... nature.

Enjoy! I am!