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20170730 From bacteria to Bach and back


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The main idea of this book is to provide summary of philosophical position based on Darwinian approach, but at the same time seriously discussing Cartesian ideas, which put consciousness outside of material world. Probably the most important here is an attempt to trace development of ideas from Theistic Intelligent Design through Darwinist development both biological and cultural and all the way to humanistic Intelligent Design. One of the most important ideas here is the idea of us humans being only an intermediate step in development of more and more comprehensive intelligence and that future contains some complex and unknown development that would lead to such superior intelligence either in form of human – AI symbiotic coexistence or some other form that we cannot even comprehend, but still based on codependency and coevolution of humans and technological environment they create. To put it in other and very brief form: coevolution of genes and memes.


Part I


1.Introduction: Welcome to the jungle; Bird’s-eye view of the journey; The Cartesian wound; Cartesian gravity;

This is an introduction to the book and brief description of how author wants to cover the development of live and human mind. Here are milestones:

1.Darwin’s strange inversion of reasoning

2.Reasons without reasoners

3.Competence without comprehension

4.Turing’s strange inversion of reasoning

5.Information as design worth stealing

6.Darwinism about Darwinism

7.Feral neurons

8.Words striving to reproduce

9.The evolution of the evolution of culture

  1. Hume’s strange inversion of reasoning

11.Consciousness as a user-illusion

  1. The age of post-intelligent design

This follows by discussion of application of Cartesian philosophy and demonstration of dependency of perception on the internal state of perceiver.

2.Before Bacteria and Bach: Why Bach? How investigating the prebiotic world is like playing chess

It starts with reasoning why Bach is a good example of the summit of human intelligence development then somehow meander between feminism, political correctness and usefulness of memes. This follows by discussion of prebiotic world, its non-evolutionary character and a bit of teleology with stress on “Panglossian paradigm”. The most important point is that we still have no clear picture of origin of live that actually started evolution.

3.On the Origin of Reasons: The death or rebirth of teleology? Different senses of “why”; The evolution of “why”: from how come to what for; Go forth and multiply;

This starts with the reasoning of why live exists and develops, going back to Aristotle with his idea of purpose for everything, eventually overthought by Darwin’s rejection of purposes and meaningful ends. It follows by discussion of deep meaning of asking “why”. Eventually author points to two districting meanings” “how come” and “what for”, the first one pretty much reasoning for specific results of interactions between time and objects, while the second one assumes some purposeful intentionality. Actually author stresses not just difference between these meanings, but evolutionary character of their relation: “what for” is product of evolution of “how come”. From here author goes into discussion of evolution as algorithm with details of meaning of algorithms and how they work using non-live processes like development of stone circles.

4.Two Strange Inversions of Reasoning: How Darwin and Turing broke a spell; Ontology and the manifest image; Automating the elevator; The intelligent designers of Oak Ridge and GOFAI;

The inversion here is kind of change of paradigm of understanding of the world. Darwin moved it away from believe that every complex system, including humans, had to be consciously put together by some creator to the notion that complex systems are developed via evolutionary mechanism. Correspondingly Turing come up with idea that computer could solve computational problem without having any consciousness whatsoever by just following some algorithm. From here author moves into the brief discussion of ontology and then to automation of elevator as example of substitution of complex set of rules for smart humans by relatively simple algorithms for ignorant machines. The final part is discussion of actually existing intelligent design, which is done by humans designing everything by using GOFAI (Good Old Fashioned AI)

5.The Evolution of Understanding: Animals designed to deal with affordances; Higher animals as intentional systems: the emergence of comprehension; Comprehension comes in degrees

This is discussion of how different creatures deal with environment and survival. The first author looks in parallel at animals and computer’s development. It is complicated with animals because of the long process of evolutionary development when lots of intermediate steps occurred to fit to environment that we really not familiar with, which makes reverse engineering of animal all but impossible. As example of much more simple development of computer code demonstrates that even in this case when everything is recent and transparent, it still practically impossible to untangle some piece of “spaghetti code”. After that author moves to the problem of comprehension and how it comes into existence.

Part II


6.What is Information? Welcome to the Information Age; How can we characterize semantic information? Trade secrets, patents, copyright, and Bird’s influence on bebop

This is discussion about nature of information starting with Shannon definition that was agnostic of content and then following into semantic information that is content only, eventually ending with a bunch of examples such as patents, secrets, and such.

7.Darwinian Spaces: An Interlude: A new tool for thinking about evolution; Cultural evolution: inverting a Darwinian Space

Here author first looks at spatial representation of Darwinian evolution:

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He then reviews a couple of applications such as Darwinian space for bottleneck development and Darwinian space for origin of live. How core idea is to present inverted Darwinian space that linked two generally contradictory approaches to understanding the world: Darwinian and Intelligent Design:

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This link per author is used not just to demonstrate connection, but rather represents progress of human existence going from random evolutionary (Darwinian) development to Human controlled and conducted Intelligent design of human existence.

8.Brains Made of Brains: Top-down computers and bottom-up brains; Competition and coalition in the brain; Neurons, mules, and termites; How do brains pick up affordances? Feral neurons?

This is discussion of nature of human brain vs. computers with probably the most important statement that author understand analog nature of human brain and its profound difference from digital nature of computers.

9.The Role of Words in Cultural Evolution: The evolution of words

Looking more closely at words; How do words reproduce?

Here author moves to nature and use of words as key part of cultural evolution. He provides a nice tree of language evolution demonstrating that the development and evolution of languages is not that different from the similar process for species:

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10.The Meme’s-Eye Point of View: Words and other memes; What’s good about memes?

This is quite detailed discussion of memes and ideas of memetic evolution occurring similarly to genetic evolution. Here author goes back to one of the core ideas of this book that competence and comprehension are two separated notions and it is not just conceivable, but actually typical development for development to be independent in both areas.

11.What’s Wrong with Memes? Objections and Replies: Memes don’t exist! Memes are described as “discrete” and “faithfully transmitted,” but much in cultural change is neither Memes, unlike genes, don’t have competing alleles at a locus; Memes add nothing to what we already know about culture; The would-be science of memetics is not predictive; Memes can’t explain cultural features, while traditional social sciences can; Cultural evolution is Lamarckian

This is look at critics of memetic ideas starting with non-existence of memes, then following with their easy changeability that makes them radically different from genes, and finally ending with doubt in memes usability as explanatory tool for cultural evolution and lack of explanatory power.

  1. The Origins of Language: The chicken-egg problem; Winding paths to human language

This is about complexity of figuring out origin of language. The first author discusses usability of language: Communicative utility, Productivity, Digitablity or in other words – ability to correct to the norm, Displaced Reference, and Ease of acquisition. Finally author discusses here path from pre-linguistic utterances to fully blown and comprehensive human language.

13.The Evolution of Cultural Evolution: Darwinian beginnings; The free-floating rationales of human communication; Using our tools to think; The age of intelligent design; Pinker, Wilde, Edison, and Frankenstein; Bach as a landmark of intelligent design; The evolution of the selective environment for human culture

The final chapter of this part is going into the nature of Cultural evolution, how it started with Darwinian approach postulating improvement in evolutionary fitness via development of more and more sophisticated communications, eventually moving humanity from left bottom point of Inverted Darwinian space where everything happens randomly to upper right side of our space where everything happens intelligently and were Bach resides.


Part III


14.Consciousness as an Evolved User-Illusion: Keeping an open mind about minds; How do human brains achieve “global” comprehension using “local” competences? How did our manifest image become manifest to us? Why do we experience things the way we do? Hume’s strange inversion of reasoning; A red stripe as an intentional object; What is Cartesian gravity and why does it persist?

This chapter is about consciousness, work of human mind, and its similarity and/or uniqueness comparatively to minds of other animals. The main point here is that we are conscious about ourselves because we talk about it all the time, which no other animal does. The second point is that conscious seems to develop necessarily from communication needs. It is not possible communicate and cooperate effectively without conscious separation of self from others and from environment. Actually other organisms also have some rudimentary notion of self, but none other develops and uses it so extensively. Finally author discusses phenomenon of free will and our limited access to reasons for our own thinking and acting.

15.The Age of Post-Intelligent Design: What are the limits of our comprehension? “Look Ma, no hands!” The structure of an intelligent agent; What will happen to us? Home at last

This is a look at language and human ability to pose questions, find answers, and consequently comprehend reality. It is a bit of polemic with Chomsky’s argument from Cognitive Closure and conclusion that so far no limits were found or even postulated believably. This follows by discussion on technological enhancement of our abilities to comprehend existing material world and/or theoretical speculative construction of the world of ideas. Obviously it is a good place to discuss AI and all these potential consequences of its development. At the end author is trying to look in the future that author thankfully understand is not really possible concluding with very wise statement: “Evolution is smarter than you”.


Being a very simple man I do not see a lot of complexity in all these ideas. It is obvious for me that Darwinian algorithm of Intergenerational transmission of information either in form of Genes or Memes with modification and consequent filtering by environment is probably the most general natural process of diminishing entropy and proving inapplicability of the second law of thermodynamics to complex systems. As far as current implementations of AI and dramatic changes in humanity both biologically and culturally, I do not think that humans would ever move to creation of superior Intelligence that would substitute them. I believe that humans will try to play with it, but will be deeply disappointed because they will find out that to get consciousness one need to provide experience and, while it is possible, all that one would get will be another human even if it will be based not on proteins, but rather on silicon. More important is that not everything that can be done, will be done and while it is quite possible that AI pretty soon would sing Annie Oakley song to humans: “Everything you can do I can do better” one thing that humans do will never be transferred to machines: deciding what to do, what goals to set, and what objectives to achieve in pursuit of human happiness – one and only one objective that makes at least some sense.

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