Democracy’s Renaissance Online

Posted on 29th November 2004 by Ryan Somma in Enlightenment Warrior

The invention of the printing press dramatically enhanced the average human being’s intelligence. Suddenly all the great written works of time were made accessible to any literate person regardless of income. Now the World Wide Web brings us all of this and more almost instantaneously. Instead of having to run to a bookstore or contact some bureaucratic institution for a Government report, they are made available free to the public for download.

IRS Statistics, Commission Reports, and transcripts are just some of the resources now just a few clicks away. The same is true of just about any statistical or scientific research by any organization or thinktank. We all now have the ability to check one another’s references. As a result on the blogs or in their comments sections, the most compelling posts are those that allow their readers to read what the author has read. Yet another dimension of openness is revealed.

Bloggers and Freepers and Watchdogs Oh My!

While one dimension of the Internet’s effect on discourse is the reader’s access to authors, the other is the access of authors to readers. Anyone can start a blog, join a discussion group, or volunteer mouse-clicks for an organization of their choosing. Becoming a voice to hundreds or thousands of readers has never been easier, if you have something to say that people want to read.

This populist medium has led the charge for breaking stories such as the Monika Lewinsky scandal and CBS’ forged documents. It has also propagated fabricated stories such as John Kerry’s alleged affair with an intern and organized readers to skew online polls in favor of their position. Partisan Media Watchdogs simultaneously present valid criticisms of popular media coverage and misrepresent the facts themselves.

All of these things, the good and the bad, are good for Democracy because they force us to become aware.

Karassi and Grandfalloons

In his book “Cat’s Cradle,” author Kurt Vonnegut describes a fictional religion called Bokononism, which describes a theory concerning social relations. In this worldview, there are two types of organizations, granfalloons, which are artificially constructed relationships, such as corporations, and karass, which are naturally occurring gatherings of people who work well together. A karass tends to be much more effective at whatever it sets its mind to, something the Corporate world has begun to explore through social-network mapping.

Democrats, Republicans, and our entire Federal Government are examples of granfalloons. They are bureaucratic bodies that force large groups of people together under one ideological roof. Members of these institutions are forced to either fit or rationalize their beliefs with the uberparadigm of the party. These individuals are like square pegs forced into round holes; their personal needs are lost, along with their identity, in the one-size fits all ideology presented by the party or institution.

There are other types of granfalloons, less obvious institutions that are coalitions of what I consider the “willingly manipulated.” These are people who have fallen prey to demagogues, been sucked into a pundit’s paradigm through emotive appeals and easy scapegoating. These people seldom recognize how these ideologies victimize them or engage in denial over how much the demagogues have influenced their ideas. Some of them, when regurgitating a pundit’s arguments, actually think the thoughts are their own and original.

Maintaining such a mental state requires a great deal of aversion behavior on the part of the victim. When confronted with a book filled with ideas that contradict what they have been told, they don’t open it. When they encounter a contrary voice on the radio or television, they turn the channel. If they do allow these alternative perspectives in, they do not listen to them, but quickly and defensively rationalize them away. A diagram of the book-buying habits of liberals and conservatives starkly illustrates the exclusionary mindsets of our political spectrum (The story complimenting this graphic here).

The most important characteristic of the granfalloons is their artificial nature. Television, radio, and print media are far more natural than Political Parties, but they artificially restrict the scope of the Idea Marketplace to only profitable perspectives, often the most controversial. Without the willingness to provide all ideological products to consumers, a true karass will never emerge from the traditional mediums.

On the Internet there are no limits to the spectrum of ideas. Anyone may throw their voice into the ocean of competing memes with a modicum of effort. We are no longer confined to media and party dictated left/right false dichotomy, but may now peruse a smorgasborg of possibilities. More importantly, through the expansion of blogging, ideas are being forced to confront one another through links and cross-references.

Clusters naturally coalesce out of this chaos of information to form karassi. Blogs link to other blogs, communities are formed, but most mimic the structure of ideas already established. Like-minded clusters of liberals and conservatives still try to maintain the old paradigms; yet, this is slowly changing. Clusters are emerging comprised of eclectic individuals, truth seekers. With discourse no longer confined to sound bytes and one-sided commentaries, substantial exploration of ideological nuances are occurring. People of differing viewpoints have come together in the spirit of debate and respect for opposing ideas.

There are dangers along the way, of which we must make ourselves aware.

Mind-Narrowing

The Internet provides its audience a level of customization yet unrealized in any other form of media. Cell phones, laptops, and other IT-age toys remove us from our immediate surroundings, and prevent us from engaging the reality surrounding us.

If liberals and conservatives do not read each others books, then what about blogs? If democracy harvests the power of disputation, then this power dissolves when followers of ideologies are prevented from challenging their ideas in confrontations with others.

The attitudes of the ideological shelters are magnified, through perpetual reinforcement and the lack of confrontational dynamics to temper them. We say things online we would never say in civil face-to-face discourse.

Xenophobic enclaves of like-minded thinkers emerge. These are ideological support groups, where members gather around and engage in “feel-good” rants that contribute nothing to world-debate. In fact, these individuals are often detrimental to world debate. Online discussion boards are very familiar with the “Troll,” an individual who makes one angry, ranting post irrelevant to the current discussion and then vanishes into thin air without reading any responses.

These are serious problems that can seriously harm the emotional growth and cognitive health of an entire generation of web-surfers, namely my own Generation X, who has born the brunt of this emergent technology. Today’s web-surfers are both the benefactors of the Information Revolution’s flood of information and victims of it’s deluge of disinformation.

Engagement is the key to solving this problem. We must engage those who think differently than us. How we accomplish this is by including the feedback dynamic in our online communities that is currently lacking from so many of them.

The Wonks, the Cranks, and the Lurkers

The Web’s free-for-all style of discourse gives equal share to all opinions regardless of quality; however, it usually completely ignores the overwhelming majority of web-surfers who provide very important feedback in real-life discourse. Think of a dinner-party where two of the participants are engaged in a lively discussion over some topic. The other participants are merely watching, but they are also providing positive and negative reactions to the statements being made with their body language. Also consider the audience of a town hall meeting, who is not participating in the debate, but provides sounds of approval or disapproval.

Internet discussion boards, feedbacks, and comments sections chronicle the discussions of our modern day issues. Many people who post to these forums are taking a very thoughtful approach to persuasion. They come from all sides of the debate and are seriously committed to informing their opponents of the facts, providing sources and demonstrating their knowledge of the issue at hand. These are the Wonks, the persuasive posters.

Often holding equal or greater share of the posting content are individuals oblivious to the debate at hand. These are posters often characterized as conspiracy theorists, one theory to explain everything idealists, or “trolls.” Their posts are often irrelevant to the discussion at hand or they will, through spurious logic, try to bend the debate to their singular paradigm. These are the Cranks, and their instances of persuasiveness are remarkably similar to that of blind squirrels finding acorns.

Wonks and Cranks garner equal time on the Internet, but the Wonks are persuasive and truth seeking, while the Cranks are merely looking for a convenient soapbox. Cranks cannot be persuaded online, because they are not listening, but merely waiting to speak. While Wonks are attempting to articulate a finely nuanced issue into an Ideal Mean, their discourse is derailed by the Cranks, whose ignorance must be addressed lest it go unpunished. This is where the real-world community of the unrepresented silent-majority requires taking into consideration.

For every Wonk or Crank there are five to ten Lurkers. In the real world, they are known as the audience, but online they are absolutely nothing, completely absent from the equation. They read the threads, formulate opinions, and move on without any affect on the debate; yet, they are so important to democratic discourse.

Amazon.com is one of many sites to create a system inclusive to the Lurkers. Products listed on their site are provided with user reviews, users are then allowed to review the reviews with a simple yes/no response to each one’s helpfulness. Such a system of simple feedback gives even the Lurkers a voice, and one they obviously exercise effectively observing Amazon, where the most comprehensive and persuasive reviews take center stage based on overall user responses to them. Users who consistently garner high overall approval ratings are given primary listings in the results.

The World Wide Web is quite egalitarian; however, it must factor in the audience who does not choose to broadcast their opinions for all to criticize–which is most of us. It’s easy to add this majority to the equation with a little bit of extra coding and some columns added to the database.

Adopt this meme my fellow Lurkers, and demand your anonymous voice.

Beyond…

My Generation X grew up in a world of established news networks and raised with a faith in the integrity of the written word, but these are issues easily overcome through adapting our minds to the new environment. These problems with the system are the result of the obsolete nature of the minds inhabiting it.

We are adapting more quickly than my skepticism in the human race allowed. I was amazed at how quickly people became aware of e-mail urban legends and learned to fact-check before forwarding them to others. I don’t get urban legends in my inbox anymore. People are growing more and more skilled at detecting scams. We are checking every single thing that comes out of our politician’s mouths against the more trusted watchdogs. We are confronting one another in debates that I have watched evolve in their sophistication. We, as a species and culture, are growing more aware.

I envy the children born today, who will inherit the healthy skepticism of all the information instantly at their fingertips from those of us who first explored it. They will be so incredibly savvy, so familiar with the technologies being pioneered today that they will inevitably amaze me with skills they take for granted. Once the minds inhabiting the system have fully adapted to it, we will begin to see the real potential of the Internet.

Then I think about their children, and how incomprehensible their accomplishments will seem to me in my rocking chair at the old-folk’s home. They will befuddle me with words and concepts I know nothing about except through their enthusiasm for them. I will nod politely and listen patiently.

I won’t need to tell them about my times, because they are all preserved here, waiting to be discovered again and again.


Note: For a much more sophisticated user-feedback system, explore Slashdot’s complex forum system. This site’s discussion boards allow users to filter the discussions to only those posts with high ratings. Even those who rate are given programmatically-determined ratings based on how many users concur with their opinions and are allowed more rating-power as a result.

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Rights for Brights

Posted on 25th November 2004 by Ryan Somma in Enlightenment Warrior

I don’t know that atheists should be considered as citizens, nor should they be considered patriots. This is one nation under God.” – George Bush Sr. August 27, 1987

British Prime Minister Tony Blair’s statement on military action in Afghanistan contained a sentence that struck me like a bolt from the blue on October 7, 2001. He said, “This atrocity was an attack on us all, on people of all faiths and people of none.”

I was astounded at the Prime Minister’s inclusiveness. I realized that never before had I heard a public official acknowledge this segment of the public, the “people of none,” as part of the whole. Could this be, I wondered, a symptom of a shifting paradigm?

Then, on June 27, 2002, a federal appeals court ruled the words “under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance were unconstitutional. My perception was that one of our society’s “eternal stupidities” was finally struck down. The Government referencing “God” was in direct contradiction with the doctrine of Separating Church and State. The two concepts could not coexist and someone had finally recognized this.

Then George Bush Jr. referred to the ruling as “ridiculous.” Senate Majority Leader, Tom Daschle, characterized the ruling as “just nuts.” Politicians across the political spectrum erupted in outrage, even making a bipartisan public demonstration of reciting the Pledge on the steps of the Capitol building in protest.

The case was never resolved. The Supreme Court sidestepped having to rule on the issue due to the Plaintiff lacking proper custody of his daughter, whom was the center of the case. The dispute quickly faded from public memory, but this is an issue that concerns civil rights and the oppression of a minority in America.

15% of Americans chose the “None/No religion” option in the National Survey of Religious Identification. An estimated 27 million Americans doubt the existence of god. These people comprise a minority that no one cares about, perhaps because they are such a small and non-vocal minority. They do not march door to door through our neighborhoods seeking to convert believers to non-belief. They do not have organizations active in the community or politics.

These are the Brights. They are not atheists; they are a branch of Secular Humanism. Their only real organization is their ideology, which is founded on reason, scientific inquiry, egalitarianism, and freedom. They are academics, intellectuals, and they deserve respect.

I do hold a bias in this issue. I am not a Bright, for the same reasons I am not a Christian, a Jew, Muslim, Buddhist, or other religion. I am a Devout Agnostic. I firmly believe that we cannot rationally reach any conclusions concerning the hereafter. Because of this firmly held belief in non-belief, I am heavily biased toward moderation and respect for all faiths, including non-faith.

America has a long and inspiring history of tackling the issue of equal rights and protecting freedoms. In the last century we have seen demographic groups of diminishing proportions go through the process of gaining equal status in our society. From the 50% population of women, to African Americans, to Homosexuals, we have refined our inclusiveness admirably.

The federal appeals court ruling the Pledge unconstitutional has placed a spark in the minds of Americans and the dialogue will not end with this first case. I’ve observed its effect in my own locality of Tidewater, where the “United We Stand” bumper stickers now plainly outnumber the “God Bless America” ones. If women’s continuing fight for equality through legal skirmishes in the modern day is any indicator, the non-religious have a long way to go. The Pledge of Allegiance would make a great start, but the battle will continue, as it should, to tackle the “common sense” of Judge’s swearing oaths and the country’s slogan, “In God we Trust.”

Perhaps the progress is most apparent in one of George Bush Jr’s statements in the third 2004 Presidential Debate, where he said, “You’re equally an American if you choose to worship an almighty and if you choose not to.”

The tide is turning.

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E=mc^2: The Universe Condenses from Energy to Mass Over Time

Posted on 22nd November 2004 by Ryan Somma in Enlightenment Warrior

There is something very Zen about Einstein’s most famous equation. E=mc2. mc2=E. Energy and matter are related through the equal sign. They are like Yin and Yang, opposites that are different presentations of the same stuff.

Keeping this equation in mind, which direction is our Cosmos moving? Observing the history of our Cosmos from the beginning of time, we see all existence channeling from the big “E” to the “mc2.”

Let’s see this play out:

We begin with a tiny ball of infinite mass and energy. Pop. The Big Bang occurs. At 10-43 seconds the universe has diffused enough energy for the force of gravity to condense out of the other forces. From 10-33 seconds to 10-5 seconds quarks and anti-quarks are able to condense out. These sub-atomic particles condense into protons and neutrons at 10-5 seconds.

Three minutes after the Big Bang, protons and neutrons have condensed to form 75% hydrogen and 25% helium nuclei. 300,000 years later, the universe has cooled enough for hydrogen to begin capturing electrons, forming the first atoms.

600 million years after the Big Bang, the first galaxies condense out of the clouds of hydrogen. Clumps of hydrogen condense into greater and greater densities, until hydrogen nuclei fuse together to form helium atoms. The difference in atomic mass is released as energy and stars are “hatched” out of the hydrogen clouds.

As the stars grow older, they will fuse heavier and heavier elements until all of the atoms we are familiar with today fill the universe. These will form our planets, precious metals, and, most importantly to us, will produce ample quantities of carbon, the element crucial to our form of life.

So from the beginning of time, our universe has gone from a state of infinite energy to an ever-expanding state of cooling, where matter condenses out of the light. Our universe grows ever denser, heavier stars forging heavier elements. Energy and matter are two states of the same stuff, and it comprises everything in the known existence.

We are truly stardust, forged in the centers of stars far more massive than our own. We are coalesced atoms that have traveled millions, possibly billions of light years. We are also more than this. We are condensed light. Everything around us is concentrated energy, massive quantities. We are, each of us, the concentrated force of a hundred atomic bombs.

What will happen to all of this? The original theory was that the universe would slow its expansion and eventually collapse back in upon itself. Now we are observing a universe that may expand forever until it freezes into absolute zero. As far as I am concerned, all bets are off. Finding out what the universe has in store for us is part of the fun.

What we know for now is that the Universe is all we know, and we are inextricably part of it.

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Synchronicity: Meaningful Coincidences in Everyday Life

Posted on 15th November 2004 by Ryan Somma in Enlightenment Warrior

I used to enjoy reading Tarot Cards. These are a deck of cards that a person draws from randomly, placing them into various positions. Each card has a meaning and each position modifies that meaning. The idea is to think on an aspect of your life and the cards drawn into their various positions will advise you on how to approach the issue in question. The cards were very effective, the advice seemingly supernatural in its appropriateness.

Tarot cards are relegated to that realm of New Age mysticism that includes runes, crystals, remote viewing, astrology, and other occult practices; but the tarot cards’ apparent ability to speak to those who read them is not a supernatural phenomenon, but a psychological one. It involves exercising the pattern-recognition talents harbored in the brain’s Right hemisphere, allowing us to create relationships between abstract concepts. Our mind relates the generalized advice given by the cards to various aspects of the complex situation in our life, creating apparent “coincidences.”

Coincidences occur all of the time in life. The traffic lights were all green or all red on your ride to work. You got an unexpected income when your bank account was about to go negative or you incurred an unexpected expense that made you put off a large purchase. You and a friend simultaneously say the same thing.

Carl Jung called this phenomenon Synchronicity, and he theorized that it was possible for an individual to become intuitively aware of and act in harmony with the forces of co-incidence, a state he called “individuation.” As we are incapable of Scientifically testing synchronicity, due to its complex and personal nature, I will leave this seemingly supernatural theory aside and focus on fact of coincidences and what they mean for us in everyday life.

Nature and the Mind

Nature reveals nothing to us about whether the Universe loves or hates us. Some argue that nature works against us. Lions and sharks, viruses and bacteria, spiders and snakes, starvation, disease, disasters, and all of the other terrible things that can happen to us seemingly at nature’s whim are indisputable proof that the natural world is at odds with our welfare.

The flipside of this argument is observing all of the wonderful things nature provides for us. Beneficial bacteria thrive in our digestive tract, helping to process food. We harvest far more from lions, sharks, and other predators than they harvest from preying on us. All of the detrimental effects of the natural world are nothing in comparison to the fact that these same mechanisms brought the human race to its present status.

Good, bad, and indifferent aspects to the Cosmos exist simultaneously, with only our mind’s talent for pattern-recognition emphasizing one aspect above the other two. Emphasizing one by choice according to our personal needs is fine, so long as we remain mindful of the other two’s existence.

Reading tarot cards is an exercise in mindfulness, a form of guided meditation on a topic. Each position represents another way of looking at our situation and each card represents a variable to consider in the equation. The powerful insights that often arise are the result of the process. The exercise is certainly metaphysical, but any supernatural aspect remains wholly debatable.

Understanding all of these dimensions to our thought-processes provide a clearer understanding of existence and our place in it.

Characterizing Coincidence

There are two types of coincidences, good and bad. Murphy’s Laws are examples of bad coincidences. Miracles are examples of good ones. It’s no coincidence that the type of coincidence occurring more often in a person’s life usually reflects their attitude.

People who focus on the deleterious happenings in their lives will find more of these hindrances. They will come to expect them. People who focus on the advantageous happenings will also come to expect them. It’s like Omar’s observation on one of Principa Discordia’s rules, “I find the Law of Fives more manifest the harder I look.” Either of these expectations, good or bad, will affect the individual’s characterization of the Cosmos.

Whether we believe in a benign, pernicious, or indifferent Cosmos, we are making a characterization of it. None of these characterizations are Scientifically testable, and arguments can be made any which way based on Empirical observations. If we keep in mind that conceptualization is an art where we are the artists, how should we conceptualize the Cosmos?

The first answer, of course, is that we are free to conceptualize any way we desire. The second answer is, because of the personal nature of conceptualization, we must each characterize the Cosmos in a way most pleasing to our psyches.

For people living in an indifferent Cosmos there are no good or bad aspects to events. Things simply happen and life continues. There are also no meanings to events, which contradicts the purpose of the left hemisphere–to find meaning. Finding a pattern of indifference in our lives is still a pattern. If a human mind is the Cosmos observing itself, then the Cosmos’ indifference relies on our own. Does this make the belief in an indifferent Cosmos a paradox?

That one makes my head hurt, so I’ll move on.

Believing in a Cosmos that works against us may provide some comfort as a means of deflecting blame from our shortcomings. The problem with this perception is when we encounter a fortuitous coincidence. In a Cosmos that works contrary to our ends, good fortune must be viewed as a trick meant to bring disaster upon us at a later date. There is nothing comforting about living in an existence where we must strive for infinite skepticism of all things.

Believing in a Cosmos that works with us provides the comfort that there is a reason for all things, even the bad. Every misfortune becomes a lesson with a light at the end of the tunnel called wisdom. The exersise of finding a positive meaning in all situations, whether in something to rise above or something reaffirming a good characterization of nature, provides an incentive for personal improvement.

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I is Mensafied

Posted on 12th November 2004 by Ryan Somma in Geeking Out

I got the acceptance letter a month ago. I am officially in the top 2% of IQ’s, qualifying me to join Mensa. This week my Membership Package came in, complete with a Newsletter, decoder-ring, and instructions for the secret handshake.

I realize that I have been somewhat critical of Mensa in the past. I have pointed out that their intelligence measures wrongly emphasize verbal and mathematical intelligences over kinesthetic, musical, emotional, or other manifestations of smartiness. Membership in Mensa, I have argued, does not make someone more intelligent than the rest of us; it only means that someone was better test-taker than the rest of us.

I would like to retract these arguments and admit my error. People in Mensa, like myself, truly are smarter than the rest of you, lesser expressions of species Homo Sapiens. I cannot scientifically measure this yet, but I am certain that we are also better people qualitatively as well.

“Amor Tu Ipse Imprimis,” is now my personal slogan. People like me, who are members of Mensa, use Latin expressions like this, which baffle you poor, little people of muddled thinking. The above expression means, “Love Yourself First,” for all of you non-Latin-understanding leptons in that lower 98th percentile.

As one who has often criticized Mensanites as “Snobby Self-Absorbed Elitists,” I can understand that many people will feel this same characterization now applies to myself, who is also a member of Mensa. I can accept this, because people who are better than the common stock don’t take things personally. It’s called “Emotional Maturity.” People like me, who are card-carrying Mensa-Members, know about concepts like that, it’s one of those qualitative-type things that make us better than you.

We members of Mensa, which includes myself, do comprise a type of Intellectual Elite. When you qualify our Superiority with pejoratives like “pompous,” “chrome-dome,” “egg-head,” or “shmuck” you are merely demonstrating your jealousy. It’s our big-brains that help us recognize these things about you that you are probably not cognitively mature enough to realize about yourselves, being the bottom-feeding 98th-percentile nimrods that you are.

While I have not yet achieved omniscience, and cannot therefore bless all you reading this with my magnificent presence. I can provide this idol of worship that you may have the slightest sliver of knowing what it is like to bask in my glory:


Ryan Somma is a dork.

Member of Mensa

Please feel free to reproduce and distribute this picture as you wish. No need to thank me, giving back to the community is just one of those things us Superior people do.


PS – I hope everyone I knew in High School reads this, and I hope
you wish you were nicer to me.

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Programming Existence

Posted on 8th November 2004 by Ryan Somma in Ionian Enchantment

All existence can be defined through mathematics. All forms of Science, from Physics to Psychology, rely heavily on measurements of reality to communicate their discoveries. Without the capability to quantify our world through the concrete language of math, we would have no common foundation of reality to agree upon.

The emergence of society depended on the mutual understanding of mathematics. Individuals trading goods will come to a more equitable exchange when both parties are able to mentally quantify the amounts in question. Currency required the development of abstract quantification. Consider the child who readily trades a dime for the larger nickel. Individuals incapable of abstract quantification were put at a disadvantage and were less successful.

Through the advancing development of Cognitive Prostheses we have refined our mathematical understanding of the Cosmos. From written equations preserving the endless strings of numbers we could not hope to memorize, to the abacus and the calculator, and now exponentially increasing computer power, we are taking billions of variables into account in our models of existence. We are predicting the weather, the movement of galaxies, and other macro-systems with ever-increasing accuracy; however, the rules of chaos are still in effect, making it yet impossible to quantify everything.

Still, we try.

Computer Programming

For six years I have developed Web applications to handle various aspects of business. Computer programs may be thought of as mathematical constructs designed to account for all of the conditions that occur in the real world. These programs cannot dictate business rules, but allow everything in the real world to occur within the program; therefore, we must always program to the exception, not the rule.

There are three stages to programming, the development, production, and maintenance phases. In the development phase, we attempt to account for all variables found in the business model, even the exceptions. As many perspectives are sought from those working in the real world as possible, but problems will always arise when the application goes to the Production phase and thousands of users are unleashed upon it.

Users are chaotic; they will use the application in unpredictable ways. They will discover unintended short cuts, ways to work around the business rules, and ways to break the system. Many application enhancements emerged from the user-chaos, but the majority of user-chaos results in application malfunctions, similar to biological mutations. Each malfunction requires us programmers to refine our code even further. A process of user-feedback and application-refinement begins, which is the Maintenance phase.

Games

Games attempt to imitate certain aspects of real life. Monopoly imitates the capitalist market system. Chess and Risk imitate war strategies. Board games, such as these require a great deal of abstraction in order to see how the games relate to their real-life counterparts.

Games have evolved with the improvements to our Cognitive Prostheses. From the board game’s finite dimensions, video games have taken on potentially infinite expressions of variables. Entire worlds are constructed, populated with artificial beings, and furnished with natural laws.

Video games fall prey to the same problems as Web Applications when they go into production. Even though the game is constructed from the ground up, absent external dictates, players will find ways to take advantage of the system. Game rules are combined in ways the designers did not intend, giving players infinite lives, money, or other resources. Gaming magazines call these “cheats,” but they are actually the user working the system.

Another problem with most games is that they only have two absolute outcomes: win or lose. One player wins, one loses, or in the case of multiple players, one players wins, many lose. Even the award-winning game Civilization III requires the player’s civilization to conquer all other civilizations to win–in complete contradiction to our real-world experience.

Game Theory

In real life there is not the one ultimate outcome of win-lose, but three. There is win-win, win-lose, and lose-lose. These three results exist in market systems, warfare, the environment, politics, and any other complex macrosystem. Bring two competing sides to an issue and there are endless degrees of these three outcomes that may result.

Simulation games are one popular challenge that lacks a definitive winning scenario. Sim City, Sim Life, and The Sims are never-ending, like the old Atari 2600 games, they lack conclusion. Unlike the old Atari Games, the player cannot fail out of them. When the situation gets bad, like when our simulated city falls into a chaos of poverty and crime, we must either climb out of it or start over of our own accord.

Simulation games are modern expressions of the ant farm or chemistry set. They are virtual laboratories, where the scientist may experiment boldly without fear. The observations taken from the game environment are not proofs for the real world, because the game exists within the laws set down by its programmer, but games do allow us to draw hypotheses for the real world. What are weather and astronomy simulations but glorified games?

In order to draw stronger proofs from simulations about society, our application must include the complexity of human minds as variables within their equation. Games are emerging that emulate this reality. The Sims, Everquest, and Ultima are online communities without definitive criteria for winning. Players join the community, develop their character, and attempt to achieve some degree of success in relation to others in the community. Psychologists and Social Engineers are just now beginning to realize the potential for experimentation in these virtual worlds.

Beyond…

It’s hard to think of the World Wide Web as still being in its infancy. More difficult is to imagine where it will go from here. We are dealing with technologies and programming architectures that will certainly be obsolete in ten years and perhaps viewed as primitive in fifty.

Perhaps intelligence will emerge naturally from the Web, like in Robert A. Heinlein’s 1966 novel “The Moon is a Harsh Mistress.” Such an event is not difficult to imagine. One species of single-celled organism naturally evolved to congregate into a community resembling a multi-celled organism, the slime mold. Is it inconceivable that, with the trillions and trillions of lines of code and processes running around out there on the Internet, that an array of programming components could cluster to form a simple intelligence?

Program Gardening

As computer programs become increasingly complex, the raw programming code slowly becomes incomprehensible to the human mind. User interfaces are developed, such as Microsoft’s Visual Basic, to make development easier, but these are ultimately only a temporary cognitive crutch. Eventually a new way of programming must emerge.

Computer Scientists are increasingly learning to exploit the best programmer we have at our disposal, the computer. Supercomputing legend Danny Hillis used a process of randomly generating programming logic to design number-sorting algorithms. The majority of these were completely non-functional, but those that did work were allowed to compete and crossbreed with one another and he selected the most successful again. Through this emergent process, he developed the most efficient number-sorting algorithm known. The process of natural selection took longer than a human mind writing the program, but the emergent end result was far superior to the designed one.

Emergent programming harnesses the process of natural selection to evolve programs that suit our needs out of a “primordial soup” of programming code. While the simultaneously pragmatic and random process of natural selection weeds the less effective biological expressions out of our environment, the programmer’s needs become the criteria for selecting which programs may continue to reproduce and which are erased to free up resources for the successful code to mutate into new expressions.

Artificial Intelligence

Without Emergent Computer Programming, the development of AI remains an impossibility. The current approach to AI, the process of systematically adding variables to some massive equation meant to mimic human intelligence, will never achieve real intelligence.

Intelligence requires the ability to learn, to combine existing data in new ways, to encounter mistakes and account for them in the future. With Artificial Intelligence we are attempting to construct a cognitive prosthesis far more intuitive and adaptable to our needs than a simple accounting program or word processor. At present, using our current programming methods, it is the programmer who serves as the cognitive prosthesis for the AI.

Futurist Stanislaw Lem hypothesized that all biological life would eventually give way to mechanical. When the human race has figured out enough of the cosmic equation to harness the power of emergent design, this hypothesis may become theory.

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2004 Election Cheer

Posted on 2nd November 2004 by Ryan Somma in Enlightenment Warrior

Today was the big day. The endless polling, debates, rising passions, gotchas, issues, demographics, character battles, competing versions of the truth, water-cooler discussions, and plethora of other spectacular performances playing out in that tired old “circus” cliche have all come down to this… and I’m pretty sure this won’t be the end of it. While there’s been a great deal of focus on the negativity of this election season, I thought I’d note the multitude of positive things I experienced on this wonderful day:

1. People Care – I arrived at the polls early this morning and the line was out the door and crossing well out of the “No Campaigning Zone.”

“Goodness,” an older woman standing behind me in the line said, “I come here every election at this time and there’s never been anyone else here before!”

We are expecting record voter-turnout this election season, possibly 60%. For all of its stressfulness, the 2000 election taught people that their vote counts. Everyone who takes the time out of their day to come out and stand in line to be counted is showing their concern for our great republic, no matter how they cast their ballot.

That is sooooo cool. Way to go America!

2. Respectfulness Abounds – The Republican and Democrat campaigners standing outside the chalk-lined boundary of the “No Campaigning Zone” were models of respectful stoicism. They each wished me good morning, but did not otherwise assail me. My wife sought their assistance in understanding some issues on the ballot and they provided explanations without advising her on how to vote on them. We are a nation of citizens who are respectful toward one another’s boundaries.

We know how to disagree with class.

3. The Truth Emerges – Four years after the Florida contest, I finally got to learn this morning how so many dead people managed to vote in 2000 and why so many will vote today. It’s not some horrible political conspiracy to steal the election, but easily explained through statistics. If 425 people die each day in Florida, mostly the elderly who vote via mail-in ballots, then thousands of people who send in their ballots will die before the election. These votes are not legal in most states, but that does not mean they are the result of people intentionally trying to cheat the system.

Well, maybe if someone changes their mind about their vote and commits suicide to invalidate… Never mind. The point is:

The Truth Wins!

Urban Legend Dissolved!

I will never believe this talking point again!

Hooray for the Truth!!!

4. Always a Step Up – One of the most pleasant surprises of this election is seeing all the things that were done wrong in the last now being done right. Blacks who felt disenfranchised in Florida are swamping the polls, lawyers are everywhere scrutinizing the process, “No Campaigning Zones” are maintaining order, and these are all positive developments.

Here in Virginia, I was greeted with a very cool proposed amendment to our Constitution. After the 2000 consensus, the majority party used the power of redistricting to try and squeeze a representative from the other party out of office. Virginians were in bipartisan agreement that this was a pretty jerky thing to do, and the proposed amendment would allow a representative to hold their office until the next election.

I’m betting it will pass.

“I have to admit it’s getting better all the time.” – The Beatles

5. I AM LOVED!!! – November 2nd may be the moment of truth, but November 1st is the day we get inundated with phone calls. My mother got calls from the NRA, Republican, and Democrat campaigns. My answering machine had messages from similar well-wishers, all asking me to get out and vote. Being a registered voter means people care about me! They want me to be safe and healthy and make it to the polls to successfully cast my vote… after that I can drop dead.

Just kidding! After the election I will still be loved for adding another voice to the post-election disputes that will surely follow! Not to mention another four years of alternately criticizing and approving our politicians’ every move in any forum that will allow me a voice.

It’s all good. In fact, it’s all great. Have the band strike up a round of “Happy Days are Here Again!”

You know what? I’m not going to turn on the news tonight. I don’t want the selective and sensationalist presentation of events across America to dispel the warm fuzzies I got from participating in my local Democratic process.

Instead I think maybe I’ll kick back with a glass of warm milk and watch Jimmy Stewart in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington – great film highly recommended.

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