Sunday, September 12, 2010

The song remains the same!

Although it is evident that in the modern world, there are huge differences in science and/or technology compared with any preterit time, I will, in this post, claim that these only represent changes in form, whilst humanness remains the same. I believe I have mentioned my position in previous posts, but in any case, it is based in the lack of changes in what I will call the "human hardware". In other words, amazing changes can be developed in technology: thus my son plays with a little Nintendo, whilst at the same time, people browse the Internet and in a sigh can be connected with a friend in China, and in another, reading the news in the New York Times. On the other hand, the human brain hasn't changed at the same speed than everything else, thus it is always, in the first place, dysfunctional, always craving to catch up with the modern reality. Going to my point: the human brain is limited, processing the overwhelming information that comes through the wire. In practical terms, with potentially infinite more sources to search that a Victorian scholar, the fundamental aspect of the human condition is in essence the same: there is no time to process all of that information! It is fair to argue that in this modern world, somebody who lives in Morocco can be aware of the style of life of a fisherman in the Chilean Patagonia, knowledge that was forbidden to him before. But the fundamental question regarding humanness is: does the modern variety on the information truly change the understanding in a human brain or merely change the flavour of such understanding? Towards the end of a human life the essential aspects of how such life was lived are probably the same than a life from medieval times. God has been replaced by other deities and the Catholic Church now has a different name. The Bible has been rewritten in a digital media but still carries the same amount of information than the illuminations of the Book of Kells. On a more vain aspect; we would watch a football game with the same fervour than the Romans were watching gladiators in the colosseum. Therefore, perhaps with all the information widely available now, still the time is short, the length of a human life far too short to read and grasp everything available.

So a curious insight regarding virtual money, those "numbers" used to buy goods in Amazon or iTunes. There is nothing new here! moving funds from one pot to another using a media like a credit card in a virtual transaction was invented many years ago when money was introduced as a media in bartering. Paper money was a promise to pay to the holder in services of goods, so the actual funds are virtually transferred from owner to owner in exactly the same way than the digits stored in the hard disks of two different banks. I'm afraid.... there are not conceptual differences here!

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

optical ilusions and other conundrums

It is quite cool how I never end on getting amazed by simple things that have deeper meanings! Last week I bought a second hand little book with pictures of optical illusions as a present for my daughter. We ended quite enjoying it, looking the pictures together. One of the simpler ones depicted a circle in which several curved lines were drawn so the actual image resembled the typical representation of an sphere in two dimensions i.e. a page in a book. The figure had also a couple of points located more or less in the centre and below a single question: "what dot is exactly in the centre of the circle?"

As probably it is expected, the illusion was the fact that the dot located on the centre was the one that didn't look there, whilst the correct one seemed to be misplaced. So, my brain was playing tricks on me, even rationally knowing the fact that the drawing was in 2D! A sudden realization came to my mind, noticing that it is not enough knowing "rationally" what is the trick (the fact that the drawing of a 3D object in a surface involve the perspective distortion)... because some other area of the brain will still play a trick in our grasp of the reality! This issue, obviously provoked quite a bit of thinking (plus this article) and perhaps other ideas that I am still sorting for future posts. The main subject I want to mention in today's post is the amazing fact that even knowing that there is a trick and have a complete intellectual understanding of it, still we are deluded with the optical illusion. From there it occurred to me that this "decoupling" might explain why sometimes it seems that there are two sides, the rational one and the visceral one, that normally come in certain arguments, which involve politics of religion. It is amazing that no matter how good is an argument, at the end of the day the conclusion are always the same. It is therefore plausible that there is a genetic basis behind this behaviour, a mental constrain that forbid certain operation, even when some areas of the brain acknowledge the change. Thus, for example, you can forgive the behaviour of a scientist who believe in God... it is perhaps only a limitation of his/her human brain!

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Panem et circenses?

Panem et circenses? ....not really!

The thought came as a realization the first time I went to watch a hockey game with my kids; I wasn't sure of my exact pathway of thinking at the time, but then I understood the meaning when later I went to a couple of basketball games with no relation whatsoever with the first hockey game. The actual insight is very simple when you have time to think about it... but that is, of course, something that never happens, I believe related with the main conundrum: no time to think about it, every single second filled with information or distraction. This is particualrly interesting in a basketball. Pauses are very short and there is no time to almost anything between segments of the game. No matter how short, several things happen simultaneously involving cheer leaders or a band playing or some raffle or something else. The idea is actually spooky, no time to think when there is a pause!

Now, broaden this to some other leisure activities, it is easy to notice (if you have time to pause) that modern americans are driven to spend their time without to have any pauses in their lives. For instance, television now has got remote control for swapping channels or can show simultaneously two channels in the screen. Cable or satellite can show any kind of programs 24 hours a day as a solid stream of information. Take for example an average american news broadcast. The signal will have a main screen with a permanent main history, a written transcription of the spoken script and an additionally endless text with the highlights of other news, overdose of stimuli. And for the computer realm, many people browse the internet while they are listening their mp3 players and texting with their mobile phones... again endless solid stream of information, no time for a pause.

And this obsesive compulsion is also introduced as a very tender age: it is fairly normal that school children are scheduled to have "activities" after (and sometimes) before school; on top of the activities, they have to do their homework and get up early every morning, usually before 6 am.

So why is that? the conspiration model would suggest that invisible thinking forces are behind the phenomenon for controlling purposes (sort of X-file approach) but there are good reasons to disregard such posibility:

In the first place knowledge and information are not really hidden but rather highly exposed, so everybody get a taste of it in a permanent overdose, what is the point of that? the "hidden" forces are not actually hidden and controling does not fulfill any reason since there is no secret! ....unless it is the "Purloined Letter", which would be exposed for the very few that hypothetically the hidden forces need to control!

In the second place, a "black & white" scenario with naive goodies and baddies with intentional strong will seems to be an oversimplification. There seems to be a vast amount of gullible people, but not clear people with real power but rather blind systems that are self-organized. This structure is a clear consequence of complexity and the synergy of the systems, which is probably the product of the dissipative structure that comes from the chaos of a blind society... oh well, this seems to be plausible; in fact the belief of "somebody" trying to control is like believing in God... who would bother to control us? who would bother to create us?

I think the truth is actually even more scary: we are affraid of true spare time because we are afraid of truly think on ourselves and truly look back to us. We are affraid of the madness that comes when a man is able to position himself in his true circunstance in the space-time continuum... i.e. with no God or control, left to our own freewill to take control of our lives in the context of being a grain of sand in the middle of tidal forces.