Many folks would like to see us back on the Moon and developing its resources.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Figments of Reality - The Evolution of the Curious Mind

I am still watching the work on the new additions to the International Space Station while the astronauts work on installing the Canadian Special Purpose Dexterous Manipulator, (SPDM) Dextre robotics system to the station.

Is this for real?
We are just up there going around mother Earth with a sunrise about every 92 minutes.

Not long ago we were beating animals over the head with clubs, well maybe a few years back.
Would the early cave man ever have thought he might be flying higher than the birds?

How did we get here from there?

I have been talking with David Robertson in England about trying to make software neurons that would work like our brain does.
To get my gray matter working, have been reading a number of books about nerves, brains and what it means to be human.
I just finished "Out of Control" by Kevin Kelly and "Figments of Reality - The Evolution of The Curious Mind" by Ian Stewart and Jack Cohen.

We are going to be going back to the Moon soon and it might be a good exercise to open our minds to new ways of thinking.
Take a look at some of the clips below and check out some of the links and if you are in for a mind blowing expansion, check out the book.

I bought my copy from, used, Hard Back, for $3.72 plus $3.99 shipping.
I now have a lot more ideas of what I might do with large number of software neurons that work in mysterious ways.

Our 14 month old granddaughter is walking, crawling through my chair barricades, kicking a ball back to me, and directing me to many new items in her field of view. She already lets you know what she wants and smiles when she pulls my coat off the chair to make it through the tunnel.

What might she do on the Moon and will your intelligent cybernetic assistant be there to help as well?
[28 page pdf from Technical University in KoŇ°ice - ]
Department of Cybernetics and Artificial Intelligence
TUKE caters for a wide range of educational needs not only in the East-Slovak region, but throughout Slovakia and Central Europe, as in many specializations it is the only centre of education and research in this area. TUKE closely co-operates with other universities and with industrial organizations throughout the region and the Slovak Republic.

Now to Figments of Reality.
- LRK -

Figments of Reality: The Evolution of the Curious Mind (Paperback)
by Ian Stewart (Author), Jack Cohen (Author) "that this matter is organised in a
different manner. Most of the interesting features of our personal universes are
people and their activities - friends..."


Figments of Reality: The Evolution of the Curious Mind (1997) is a book about
the evolution of the intelligent and conscious human mind by biologist Jack Cohen
and mathematician Ian Stewart.

In this book Cohen and Stewart give their ideas on how the sentient human being evolved. Various chapters discuss scientific and philosophical ideas such as emergence and chaos, free will, perception versus reality, objectivity versus subjectivity, self-awareness, the ego and id, groupthink, and extelligence. A theme is that intelligence is an inevitable result of letting evolution progress for long enough.

Topics are illustrated with humorous science fiction snippets dealing with a hypothetical alien intelligence, the Zarathustrians, whom Cohen and Stewart use as metaphors of the human mind itself, an alternative evolution story, and various philosophical concepts.


Dextre has arms. :-)

Thanks for looking up with me.

Larry Kellogg

Web Site:
RSS link:


Fifteen thousand million years ago the universe was no bigger than the dot at the end of this sentence.
A tiny, tiny, tiny fraction of a second before that - but there was no fraction of a second before that. There was no time before the universe began, and without time, there can be no 'before'. (As well to ask what lies north of the North Pole.) There was no space, no time, and no matter. But when the space that was coextensive with the universe had grown to the size of a dot, time had already begun to tick. The temperature within the dot was far too high for matter to exist, but there was plenty of what was required to create matter: radiation. The primal dot seethed with radiant energy.
During time's first duodecillionth (10-39) of a second of existence, the universe was a 'false vacuum', a state of negative pressure in which every fragment of space repelled every other fragment. Space exploded exponentially, and in that near-infinitesimal instant the universe inflated from a tiny dot to a ball many light-years across as its negative pressure literally blew it apart. As the temperature dropped the false vacuum gave way to a true vacuum, a state of zero pressure, and the era of inflation ceased. The universe, now large enough to be interesting, continued to expand under its own momentum - but more sedately, at a rate of a few thousand kilometres per second.
When time was one ten thousandth of a second old, the temperature of the universe dropped to a trillion degrees. Pairs of particles, one of matter, one of antimatter, were winking into existence and out again, born in and dying as fluctuations of radiant energy. Matter and radiation were in perfect balance. However, the balance between matter and antimatter was imperfect. For every 999,999,999 antiprotons there were 1,000,000,000 protons. From that imbalance came everything that we know.
When time attained the grand old age of one second, the temperature of the nascent universe had fallen to a mere ten billion degrees. Electrons and antielectrons, colliding in pairs, filled the universe with bursts of neutrinos and antineutrinos. Neutrons, no longer stable, decayed into protons and electrons.
Two minutes after time began (some say one and a half minutes, others three) the universe had cooled to one billion degrees, and matter as we know it began to assemble. Neutrons paired incestuously with their proton offspring to form creation's first atoms - heavy hydrogen, otherwise known as deuterium. Deuterium fused into helium and matter began to diversify.

[If you have not read the book, then do take a look at the clips from the book as noted by
Melanie Mitchell who heads the Adaptive Computation Program at the Santa Fe Institute in California - from New Scientist - 8 November 1997 - LRK]

The Evolution of Body, Mind and Culture
Review of Figments of Reality by Ian Stewart and Jack Cohen

Alwyn Scott
Department of Mathematics
University of Arizona
Tucson, AZ 85721

Considering the dozens of books on the nature of consciousness that
have descended upon us over the past decade or so, I opened Figments
of Reality with some hesitation. Would this study of mind really
"break new ground and develop profoundly thought-provoking and novel
insights into the nature of evolution, science and humanity" (as
promised on the dust-jacket)? Or should it be expected to sink - like
Roderick Usher's castle - into the tarn of conflicting claims and
counterclaims, leaving no trace on the surface?

Happily, mathematician Ian Stewart and biologist Jack Cohen live up to
the claims of their promoters. They have given us a book that presents
novel ideas in a lively style, which the general scientific reader
will be able to appreciate. Focussing attention on a few key issues,
the authors dismiss much of the intellectual trivia that confuses
current discussions of consciousness, showing little patience with
theoretical arguments based on fictitious zombies and attempts to
relate studies of consciousness to the vagaries of quantum theory.
This book begins at the beginning, recognizing the obvious fact that
mind emerged from living organisms and asking the readers to consider
how intelligent life developed. Interestingly, almost half of the book
is devoted to describing the biological context in which our brains

Figments opens with complementary critiques of the related concepts of
reductionism and a theory of everything, pointing out that both are
problematic in the real world of experimental science. Diligently
applied to the biological realm, a theory of everything runs afoul of
a practically unlimited number of possibilities at higher levels of
description. Similarly, current research in high energy physics - for
all its intellectual brilliance and excitement - is unlikely to modify
the facts of chemistry, upon which biology is based. Thus the
biochemist, the cytologist and the physiologist have no professional
stake in becoming knowledgeable about (say) quarks or Higgs bosons or
string theory or whatever. Such fundamental concepts, as every
bioscientist knows in his or her gut, are simply irrelevant to the
development of meaningful models of living organisms.

These rather obvious caveats - often blithely ignored by theorists in
the physical sciences - are brought home to the readers of this book
through an informative and entertaining discussion of game theory.
Although some games (uninteresting ones) can be well played using
simple strategies, all of the interesting games (chess, bridge, go,
and so on) offer so very many possibilities that sure-fire
generalizations about strategy are practically impossible. The course
of evolution, Stewart and Cohen suggest, is of the second sort, where
the rules of the game change over time and the aim is to stay in play.
No argument there, but how has nature managed to discern and implement
winning strategies in this most interesting of games?

The answer is a phenomenon that the authors call complicity, a complex
sort of positive feedback threading through interacting levels of the
biosphere, and allowing unexpected causal loops to arise. As a
striking example of how intricate complicit phenomena can be, the
authors cite a parasitic flatworm that spends part of its life inside
an ant, while its reproductive stage is inside a cow. The technique
that nature has evolved to allow the worm to transfer from one animal
to the other is described as follows.

The parasite infects the ant, and presses on a particular part of its
brain. This interferes with the normal behavior of the brain, which
causes the ant to climb a grass stem, grasp it with its jaws, and hang
there, permanently attached. So when a cow comes along and eats the
grass, the parasite enters the cow.

This three-way complicity (among worm, ant and cow) thus generates an
emergent phenomenon (the clever reproductive strategy of the flatworm)
which hardly seems amenable to reductive analysis.

Why does Figments work so well? In part, of course, because both of
the authors are skilled and thoughtful writers, but that is not alone
sufficient as several recent books on the nature of mind by science
journalists have clearly shown. In addition to demonstrating the
necessary writing ability, the authors stem from appropriate
professional backgrounds. One (Stewart) is a respected mathematician
with a deep knowledge of current physical science, and the other
(Cohen) is a biologist with wide appreciation for the varieties of
living creatures. As one learns from this book, a thorough familiarity
with both of these scientific realms is necessary for achieving an
understanding of the nature of consciousness.

If you are seriously interested in the scientific study of
consciousness, buy Figments of Reality. And read it!




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