In the middle of the desert you can say anything you want

18 Nov 2016

Three tales about the Universe

Now playing: o/` эта осень еще сильнее грузит меня o/`

A couple of articles I especially liked the past week or so, which are too awesome not to share (and too awesome not to internalize by rephrasing them).

1. The Strange Inevitability of Evolution

A beautiful article about how Darwin’s theory of evolution, even after the synthesis with modern genetics, does not explain where does all the creativity around us come from (though explaining how the better survive).

As the biologist Hugo de Vries wrote in 1905, “natural selection may explain the survival of the fittest, but it cannot explain the arrival of the fittest.”

The problem is that individual traits are not encoded by individual genes but by gene circuits, and useful ones are much harder to stumble upon randomly.

Apparently, there are many possible variants to get the same result (which makes a certain trait easier to come across) and the various possibilities are interconnected (the example of a multi-dimensional field with paths is used). Which makes stumbling upon a certain trait/protein structure/RNA sequence not a random search, but a navigation through an interconnected space through quasi-neutral changes.

This suggests that evolvability, and the corollary of creativity or innovability, is a fundamental feature of complex networks like those found in biology.

These findings uncover a property of biological systems even deeper than the evolutionary processes that shape them

(emphasis mine).

And apparently only structures complex enough have this property, simpler ones tend to be rendered dysfunctional by the small changes needed.

These ideas suggest that evolvability and openness to innovation are features not just of life but of information itself. That is a view long championed by Schuster’s sometime collaborator, Nobel laureate chemist Manfred Eigen, who insists that Darwinian evolution is not merely the organizing principle of biology but a “law of physics,” an inevitable result of how information is organized in complex systems

The article is fascinating (and much better written then my short explanation here), and it reminds me a bit of the things I learned about systems theory.

The take-away message for me would be that another area that’s interesting to look at would be evolutionary algorithms and their possible uses, and in general that I can inspire myself from biology. Complex self-replicating self-healing systems would be fascinating to study/build. + Again, how interesting the Universe is, and what nice things can happen with radical paradigm shifts (seeing evolution as a result of an underlying principle of information itself).

2. Are you as old as you feel?

People in their 70s for one week lived in circumstances similar to their youth  (Marilyn Monroe and King, yay!) and at the end were much healthier and looked younger that the control group. + various ways to measure the biological age + the mind-body relationship.

So Langer began asking if subjective mental states could influence something as objective as the levels of blood sugar in patients with Type 2 diabetes. The 46 subjects in her study, all suffering from Type 2 diabetes, were asked to play computer games for 90 minutes. On their desk was a clock. They were asked to switch games every 15 minutes. The twist in the study was that for one-third of the subjects, the clock was ticking slower than real time, for one-third it was going faster, and for the last third, the clock was keeping real time.

“The question we were asking was would blood sugar level follow real or perceived time,” says Langer. “And the answer is perceived time.”

And that’s a bit about how the mind’s age can influence purely physical phenomena.

Most of us are slaves to our chronological age, behaving “age-appropriately.”

Terracciano and colleagues have found that subjective age correlates with certain physiological markers of aging, such as grip strength, walking speed, lung capacity, and even the levels of C-reactive protein in the blood, an indication of inflammation in the body. The younger you feel you are, the better are these indicators of age and health: You walk faster, have better grip strength and lung capacity, and less inflammation.

Message: chronological age seems just a number. + Я МОГУ ВСЁ

3. Is Physical Law an Alien Intelligence?

“Any sufficiently advanced technology is going to be indistinguishable from magic” –> “Alien life could be so advanced it becomes indistinguishable from physics.”

Presumably life doesn’t have to be made of atoms and molecules, but could be assembled from any set of building blocks with the requisite complexity. If so, a civilization could then transcribe itself and its entire physical realm into new forms. Indeed, perhaps our universe is one of the new forms into which some other civilization transcribed its world.

Also the article touches dark matter and it’s unprovable internal complexity, the mysterious expansion suddenly started 5 billion years ago, and the ways a hypothetical life could transcribe itself in the physical laws we have evolved to find unchangeable.

In other words, life might not just be in the equations. It might be the equations.

Message: Pretty interesting how physics -> technology -> magic -> physics, when it gets too complex to comprehend it at something unnatural. As a bonus, here’s a small little poem by Lorca.

As another bonus, here’s a fascinating account on how smileys/emoticons were born from the same awesome magazine. We have to thank people with autistic traits trying to convey emotions to each other. (Traits which, apparently, are needed for success in programming/engineering, which means I’m on the right track.)

It would be interesting to write an essay/short story on how modifying the available emoticons for a couple of generations could limit the emotions people are able to express and maybe later, to feel. Basically shaping the language to change the things possible to convey, which in turn would shape the minds of the people subjected to that language. (Hello, Orwell). But actually it’s that age-old problem of the influence of language on world-view.

La lumaca sospira \ e stordita s’allontana \ tutta confusa \ circa l’eternità. “Il sentiero \ non ha fine”, esclama. \ “Forse di qui \ si arriva alle stelle. \ Ma questa gran pigrizia \ mi impedirà di giungerci. \ E’ bene non pensarci più”. (Y)

Nel mezzo del deserto posso dire tutto quello che voglio.