Struggling with Meaninglessness

searching meaning in meaninglessness

Archive for August 2008

Understanding Evolution, part II

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Evolution of Optimus Prime.

 

  1. optimus_prime                         2.  csoptimusprime                    16optimus_prime_(powermaster)                      optimus-prime

                           3.                                                                                             4.

 

The pictures above depict the process of ‘Evolution’ of Optimus Prime (1 being the earliest and 4 the latest) over the past …20 years? Optimus Prime 1. is the original model since Generation 1 and as we could see, the graphic design of Optimus Prime evolves over the years, to eventually Optimus Prime 4. which we got to watch in the cinema recently.

Why? Why does the design of Optimus Prime need to ‘Evolve’ over these years? Why can’t the original design remain permanent and still do well?

The reason is simple – in this commercial world, innovation is essential due to the ever-changing demand from the ‘Environment’ around it.  You have to innovate in order to stay up with this Competitive world, doing well and Survive. If you do not innovate, and refuse to adapt to this competitive world, you and your business will not flourish or worse, go Extinct.

Remember the eternal truth – nothing is absolute and remain permanent.

So, imagine if transformers did not change the design of its Autobots and Decepticons robots of the 80’s, and remain sticking with the retro graphics for its latest movie, what will happen? Such animation will surely be steamrolled by more sophisticated advanced 3D-animation, such as Final Fantasy 7 : Advent Children.  Why would people still want to watch a childish-old-school graphic animation when we already capable of producing realistically gorgeous 3D graphics in this new era?

        Transformersgroup1984               finalfantasyviiadventchildrenpic_2

Hence, there’s a form of Selection taking place all the time – a mutual interaction between the producer of the movie with the Environment, mainly the viewers. Optimus Prime simply Evolved because the movie producers will make more money that way as it is appealing to the environment.  If they stick with the old graphics, nobody will be interested to watch, and they will not make any money. Basically, the Fittest idea and execution wins.

In this case, the Generation 1 Optimus Prime has already gone Extinct. Whenever, the name Optimus Prime is mentioned, we will only think of the new uber-cool-design of Optimus Prime because this ‘Mutation’ has already rendered the old Optimus Prime obsolete and outdated.

Many times the producers do not exactly know what the viewers want and can only be hopeful that the viewers will like and accept the movie. I suppose it makes sense that no producer will produce a movie which he already knows will be a massive failure. Yet, as we know, there is no shortage of bad movies out there. And due to this, producers can’t avoid the element of luck and Chances – you never know how things will turn out to be.

I think I have given a pretty good analogy. It is up to you to connect the dots.

Written by elan85

August 27, 2008 at 7:17 am

Posted in Evolution

Understanding Evolution

with one comment

Just came back from Bangkok (5 days trip) few days ago. Well, actually it was already almost a week ago, but i was too exhausted by the too-much-non-stop-walking-around-Bangkok-streets, so i gave myself a little permission to rest and be a little lazy inactive in blogging .

I bought a book from Bangkok’s Kinokuniya – The Making Of The Fittest by Sean B. Carroll .  I was weighing my options on buying between this book and another book on physics, but for some reasons, i chose this.

On the very same night, my friend saw this newly brought book of mine and read the first few chapters of it. He then promptly asked me a question which nobody has asked me before – “Ronn, what is Natural Selection?”

I was blank for several seconds not knowing how to answer the question. It’s not because I do not know what it is about. But rather, I was thinking how should I explain such complex scientific process using layman words while effectively conveying the idea of Natural Selection to him.

I’m a pretty perfectionist when it comes to conveying my thoughts – I always try my best to make sure people fully understand my words and ideas. So, I’m sure I will only confuse people who knows nothing about Evolution if I use terms and sentences like ‘survival of the fittest’ or ‘species keep diverge and descend’ in order to ‘adapt to the environment’.

And so I went on to explain Natural Selections to him by illustrating examples of Darwin’s discovery of finches’ different type of beak due to different type of diet, the shorten elephant’s tusk due to illegal poaching, and also Artificial Selection of domesticated pet like dog, cat, and pigeon. (how human breed colorful patterned fur in these animals).

While on the plane flying back to Malaysia, i recalled back this little experience of mine again, and I was thinking – What’s the best way or method to convey the idea of Evolution to people who knows zero about Evolution? (Just in case if anyone asks me this question in the future, I will not need to go mind-blank for several seconds again).

I realized that giving descriptions and examples (or perhaps analogies) of Evolution alone is never good enough as it is pretty prone to misconception and misinterpretation. It was just like … Survival of the Fittest was innocently linked with Adolf Hitler for no apparent good reasons (genocide is not by any means … natural). Besides that, there’s also reason why not everyone accepts the truth of Evolution – their presuppose thoughts resist any ideas which seem contradictory to their beliefs. They simply can’t see ‘how it could happen’. Hence, the best way to explain Evolution is to ‘awaken’ the mind-set of the people or eliminating certain presupposition pertaining to the reality.

One of the presuppose idea everyone has by default is recognizing things as permanent. I highly suspect this instinctive thought has something to do with Evolutionary Psychology for the sake of humanity survival but I do not know exactly why. (perhaps there is something to do with certainties?) But its true, we always tend to see many things as permanent.

For instance, if I’m born with this look, then I know I will remain with this look for the rest of my life. If this tree produces green leaves, then I know it will only produce green leaves throughout the tree life span. If Shelly passes away, we know she will be gone forever. Most of us are born with 5 fingers, and we know we will not grow another finger without any reasons.

But notice that these ‘permanence’ is just something we could witness in our everyday life. What about things which the duration could stretch beyond our lifetime? Something which takes hundreds, thousands or millions of years to happen?

The truth is, in a bigger scale, impermanence is the reality of life. (Don’t worry if you are confused at this point because Evolution is a pretty counter-intuitive idea to begin with. I will explain why.)

There’s always a reason for any circumstances to take place. Let’s ask a simple question – Why is there such diversity in the Equidae family where we have horse, donkey, zebras and kiangs? Why not the Nature just create one species and fit all? Why does diversity in animal exist?

Same goes for the primates family. There is such a diversity in primates where we have monkey, chimpanzee, baboon, gorilla, orang utan, and *gasp* human, etc. Despite the differences of our looks and features, we do share similar core traits and characteristics. One obvious core trait – we are the only existing animal family which could walk upright.

We always have the tendency to only believe things which go accordance to our ‘common sense’ and perception. Therefore, we tend to think that the mentioned diversity has already exist since the beginning of time because at the back of our head, we always mistakenly think – if indeed the diversity of species was caused by Evolution, then how come I couldn’t see it? If Evolution is true, why couldn’t the crows which lives around my neighbourhood produce non-black colour baby crows? Or perhaps a patterned feathers instead of plain black?

And that’s exactly the mistake of permanence-perception which I’m trying to say. We always believe in permanence by default. To convince ourselves to believe otherwise, we always try to look for drastic changes or mutation in order to believe in Evolution. The subconscious reasoning of us is always – “Evolution says a fish transformed to a land creature many years ago. But the fish in my pond never drastically evolved before! So how could it had happened?”

But the fact is, Evolution works in small and tiny incremental steps which we could hardly notice even if we try to meticulously observe with our eyes.

It is equivalent to yourself spending 15 years standing in front of the mirror 24/7 watching yourself grow. The incremental changes is so tiny that you will barely notice anything. You won’t notice when you grew taller or  when your face structure changed a little.  You can’t observe how your hair grew. You know it happened, but you simply can’t observe it.

However, if you take a picture of yourself when you are 6 years old, another when you are 12 and another when you are 21, compare these pictures and you will then be able to clearly see the differences of your growth stage.

And this is exactly how scientist tries to decode Evolution – by gathering evidence and creating hypothesis.

So why do I say life is impermanent? It is simply because the most fundamental block of our life, our genes, which makes us the way we are, always mutate and changes over time. Mutation does not happen overnight to an individual but only during the process of creating offspring hence the term – diverge and descent.

Another presupposition we have is thinking that we know the reality and environment around us well. But the truth is we know very little about it, at least from historical point of view.

Borrowing Richard Dawkins’ piano analogy, imagine if the piano’s 52 white-note keys, from left to right, is the age of the earth. Human only started to exist right at the last key. And no, it does not occupy the whole key – just half of the last key.

Hence, human being’s existence has only occupied roughly around 0.25% of the entire earth’s history. Which means we do not have a great deal of knowledge knowing what has happened during the earlier 99.75% of the earth history. Thus, scientist could only create hypothesis based on geology and fossils to understand Earth’s history. Perhaps occasionally, there would be an Einsteinien-like scientist proposing outrageous ideas of how the reality works. And this is exactly the function of science.

Once these presupposition and rigid mind-set is replaced with a more precise view of reality, then it would be much easier for people to understand Evolution and comprehend the role of natural selection, mutation, genetic drift and genetic flow in driving the force of Evolution of Life. We would then understand why we are so different from a chimpanzee but yet closely related to each other.

Written by elan85

August 23, 2008 at 6:23 pm

Posted in Evolution, Philosophy

Logical Fallacies : Part II

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Continuation of the 4-part series of Logical Fallacy .. (Part 1)

  • Poisoning The Well

Ronn : Have you read about Evolution before? You will be marveled of how Evolution works.

Nnor : Only an idiot will believe in Evolution. Everyone knows God did it. Don’t you think so?

Ronn : Uh … haha…..

If Ronn insists on believing in Evolution, then in some sense, he acknowledges Nnor’s claim that he is an idiot. Hence, this is a logical ‘trap’ set by Nnor and is fallacious because the claim is only an insult and not constructive enough to be an argument.

Therefore this logical fallacy, Poisoning The Well, is a good smokescreen to make your opponent look foolish with the hope of shifting the attention of people to focus on the insult instead of the validity of the argument. Also, it makes you look witty and confident and perhaps would conceal the fact that you are wrong.

  • The Straw Man

Ronn : There’s a research done which shows that boys generally excel better than girls in designing creative arts.

Nnor : That’s nonsense. I know a girl who is internationally-famed in drawing abstract art, so how can you say boys are better than girls in creative arts?

There is a purpose of saying the word ‘generally’. Therefore, it is invalid to take the point to the extreme and justify your argument by creating a straw man and dismissing the generalized statement. A straw man is made so that when you can’t refute your opponent’s argument, you can knock down the straw man instead.

Even today, applause can be gained for ‘refuting’ the theory of evolution. You can set up a straw man and, by knocking it down, give the impression you have ‘refuted’ the theory of evolution. One common straw man fallacy frequently created against Evolution is dismissing the possibility of macro-evolution.  Deniers often  claimed that although there’s plenty of evidence for micro-evolution, there’s very little fossil evidence for macro-evolution (which hypothesize that a species evolved from one species into another eg. fish evolved to reptile), hence the theory of Evolution must be flawed.

Whether, it’s micro-evolution or macro-evolution, they are the same. Both forms of evolution involves the process of natural selection, genetic drift, genetic flow and mutation. The difference between the two are – one take place in a small but observable scale (few months or years; eg cross-breeding cats or dogs) and another is in large and unobservable scale (which takes perhaps thousand or million of years to observe – eg. microorganism evolved to small fishes ).  That’s why, it is easier for deniers to exploit and create a straw man and attack macro-evolution since it’s pretty impossible for human being to keep observing Evolution for million of years.

  • Shifting The Burden of Proof

Ronn : A flying dragon must have existed before or else it wouldn’t have became a world wide symbol. Look, many previous empires are using it as an icon on their flag and there were many historical tales about it too.

Nnor : No, i think dragon is just a folklore myth. I don’t think you can ever convincingly prove to anyone that dragon is real.

Ronn : Alright, why not you try to prove and convince me instead that dragon do not exist?

Shifting the burden to the opponent is simply a logical fallacy because Ronn is supposed be the one who supply the reasons why his beliefs are right and credible and not the other way round since he initiated the claim first.

In the back of our mind, we often thought that he who says ‘prove it,’ and he who says ‘prove it isn’t’ are on equal ground. But clearly it’s not.  The one who asks for proof is simply declaring an intention not to accept more than the evidence requires. The other is declaring his intent to assume more than that.

This form of logical fallacy – Shifting The Burden of Proof, will enable you to put forward views for which there is not a shred of evidence like mythical creatures, Santa Clause and … God.

  • One Sided Assessment

Ronn : I think marriage is a bad idea. I don’t want to get married.

Nnor : Why not?

Ronn : Because there will be extra responsibilities to my spouse, the loss of my freedom, increasing expenses to purchase new home and car, the cost of rising the children up, and many many more. It’s unbearable!

If marriage is indeed such a horrifying thing to happen, then no one would ever do it. But it happens all the time.

Every single thing we do or event we are involved in always have their pros and cons. Hence, we should judge the overall balance between the pros and cons, not just act according to our personal bias and look only from one side or angle.

Written by elan85

August 12, 2008 at 6:03 am

Posted in Philosophy

Recent Bests ..

with one comment

Below is the list of the best things i’d came across in the past 2-3 weeks….

Best Article.

Even if i have to repeat myself one thousand times, i will do. This is the best article I’ve read in, not only in 1-2 months, but many many months perhaps the entire year. Insightful, critical, creative, counter-intuitive and thought provoking. At my level, i can only dream of writing an essay as compelling and brilliant as this.

To be honest, i’ve been bored to death with the recent science articles i could find at Digg and Reddit. So refreshing to read something as amazing as this.

The most captivating quote in the article is certainly this – The reason for these double standards (moral values) is obvious: people tend to align their moralization with their own lifestyles.

It’s a 7,000+ words article on morality and psychology… and i wish it could be longer…

Best Book.

  • Human : The Science Behind What Makes Us Unique by Michael Gazzaniga

I admit, it was a little gamble buying this book as it was wrapped and i didn’t have a chance to take a sneak peek inside the book. But you know what made me bought this book? It was the testimonial by ….. Steven Pinker! and also V.S. Ramachandran (a famous neuroscientist).

And this book went beyond my expectation. It was brilliant. A book which covers everything about human being from Psychology, Neuroscience to Evolution to Genetics to Philosophy of Mind. I will put this book as one of the top 5 books i have ever read.

Best Blog

  • Overcomingbias.com

This is a blog which i have been following for several months already. Eliezer Yudkowsky, one of the co-bloggers, is a brilliant thinker, enough said. I wish there’s a technology where I could use a USB drive to copy his brain and transfer everything he knows into mine.

Best Song

Bob Sinclar – I Feel For You (Funky Disco House)

I got this song from the album Bargrooves Bar Anthems (unfortunately this album is  just below average). Gosh, i feel like dancing now. Not a big fan of Bob Sinclar’s music though (with the exception of 2 of his songs – World Hold On & Love Generation) but was surprised to learn that this song I Feel For You is already 8 years old … since the year 2000.

I Love Disco House Music!

Best Video @ Youtube

 

I’ve watched countless videos over YouTube recently. But there’s only one video which keeps me playing over and over again. That’s La Caina’s performance at Ibiza with the song Le Vent m’a dit, one of my all time favourite Bossa Nova songs. (4 of my top 10 favourite Bossa Nova songs came from La Caina).

My only tiny dissatisfaction with the performance is the replacement of trumpet with flute. The original version of the song which uses trumpet, sounds much more smoother and mellow compared to this version which uses flute. Nevertheless, brilliant performance.

I Love Live Jazz/Bossa Nova Performance!

Best Quote

  • “What can be asserted without proof can be dismissed without proof.” – Christopher Hitchens on God and Religion.

How I wish I’d came across this little wisdom earlier. It would have certainly prevented me from wasting plenty of digital ink and time denouncing the imaginary friend called God. Thinking about it, it is equivalent to a man spending several months researching and dissecting magic show, arguing and conclude that magic show is not real magic but only tricks and illusions – how meaningless to argue on something so obvious and perhaps self-evident.

Best Trivia

  • Where is the South of South Pole?

I stared at world map for 3 -4minutes like a curious chimpanzee and then only realize that there’s no such thing as the South of South Pole. Oh no, my mind is working so slowww……..

Best Thing I’ve Learned

  • An intelligent alien will bear close resemblance with human being. If intelligent aliens exist, they will have to walk upright like how human being do (instead of remaining four legged like animals) because intelligence needs hands.

I got to learn about this from Eliezer @ overcomingbias.com. Perhaps there’s nothing much amazing with this for you, but personally for me, i find it very interesting of how important our hands are to us and our intelligence. One example would be – Writing. If you have played the game Civilization before (voted as one of the best PC games of all time) you will know the importance of learning Writing as it is the core of every civilization’s technological progress. If we’d remained 4 legged and couldn’t free our hands, Writing will not exist and there will be no alphabets (communication is severed), no transfer of knowledge (no books), no mathematics (no scientific progress), no code of law,  no money currency and all which will lead to .. no Internet.

And Writing is just one of the many important things we can do with our hands.

At the moment, i’m concentrating to read more on Psychology and Evolution (i’ve stopped reading on physics) just to keep up with the flow i’ve been in these days.

Written by elan85

August 11, 2008 at 6:04 am

Posted in Personal

Evolutionary Psychology : Laziness

with 2 comments

Ronn : Why do we get lazy? What does Evolutionary Psychology has anything to do with laziness?

Nnor : Laziness is a way to preserve the body from being overworked and conservation of energy in our body. Our biological body needs preservation and conservation, hence the body has worked hand in hand with our brain to wire laziness in our mind. Human by default, are lazy. The only way to overcome it is motivation or reward and punishment. We need to ‘program’ ourselves with reasons to not become lazy.

Ronn : But wait a minute, conservation of energy? Wouldn’t food production be contradictory with the purpose of laziness? Laziness wants us to eat less food but yet today, we are on the verge of global food shortage.

Nnor : This is a problem with the world culture, not Evolution, but nevertheless i will tell you why. If you watch plenty of Discovery Channel or National Geographic, you will notice that it is not an easy task for carnivore animals to hunt for a meal as it takes plenty of effort to catch a prey. Thus, the brain induce and give pleasure and good feeling plus creating desire as a form of motivation for the hunter to search for food. Due to this, hunting and eating plays a big part in animal’s instinct.

Same goes for human being.

Do you know that before the industrialization age, unless you are really rich, most people eat to live as you will have to spend plenty of effort to rear or hunt animals to eat? However, with the rise of the age of consumerism and commercialization, food has become commercialized and is mass produced. Instead of hunting for cow and chicken which lives naturally and healthily in the jungle, we are eating meat which are chunked out directly from farms. Hence today, human have taken food for granted and strive more on living to eat instead of eating to live.

As i’ve mentioned many times, the subconscious mind and conscious mind interpret things very differently as they speak two different languages. The subconscious mind by default, is still thinking that food is hard to come by, thus still constantly motivating us to eat. However, consciously human being often eat without thinking twice due to the abundance of food, hence obesity became a global issue at the moment. Therefore, what happens in the outside world couldn’t directly affect Evolution.

I do not know, perhaps Evolution is undergoing a way to make us eat less by reducing the pleasure of eating, or perhaps not. I do not know.

Ronn : Why would Evolution will want to reduce the pleasure of eating?

Nnor : The beauty of Evolution is that it always want to strikes the balance. Takr laziness back as example. Evolution wants to preserve the energy in our body hence, discouraging us to overwork our body. But if everyone remains idle and not doing anything, life will not be able to prolong and continue because then, we will be too lazy to eat, socialize and copulate. Remember Buddha’s Middle Way – the balance is the way to life? Therefore, Evolution also introduces boredom, a horrible feeling which most of us dislike (which motivate us to socialize and do activities together) and pleasure, as a form of motivation to get us moving.

Our brain induce pleasure in order to motivate us to eat, socialize, copulate,  getting things which are hard-to-get, and etc. And our mind give out negative pleasure when things are not going the right way. We feel lonely and miserable when we do not have companions around, we feel angry when someone insulted us, we feel dejected when the person we like rejected our love and etc.

Another funny thing about human pleasure and motivation is – there’s a hierarchy. Remember the time when you crave something so badly that you think about it day and night? However once you get it, and after a few days, this craving will slowly fade away and then you will start to crave for something else which is more valuable or hard to get?

Evolution utilizes emotions to guide the survival of life.  Again, it is not by any means perfect at all. Perhaps it is ugly too. But the most important thing is – It Works.

Ronn : So, by your definition, there’s no such thing as laziness but only lack of motivation?

Nnor : No, laziness do exist but from another perspective it is not how the way we think it is. The word lazy we always describe people is something defined by the society and culture, not Evolution or the natural world.

Let’s ask the question – What Is Laziness? How do you define laziness?  Many people will say laziness is the reluctance to do productive work such as studying, doing homework, working, helping people, etc.

When you only play games instead of studying, your parents will call you lazy. When your peers have started working to build up their careers while you remain idle not doing anything, they will call you lazy.

But if you think carefully, this definition of laziness is actually constructed by society. Not everyone is motivated to study. Not everyone is motivated to work. But the society’s structure DEMANDS you to study and work. If you are not contributing to the society, you’re basically lazy.

Think about it, how can you call me lazy when i’m playing games with my computer instead of studying? I’m busy playing PC games! In this sense, i’m not lazy to study, but just lack of motivation to study. However, society has already presuppose and defined that playing PC games is not good while studying is good, and so if you spend more time in front of the computer than with your books, you’re basically lazy.

My point here is simple – we’re always confused and overlap nature’s laziness and human society’s laziness. We tend to have a misconstrued and presuppose view of laziness and always label it as bad but in fact, it is just one of the element which make us the way we are.

Ronn : Don’t you think laziness is bad? Wouldn’t it bad for humanity if everyone is too lazy to study and work?

Nnor : Bad for human civilization but not for humanity. There’s a difference.  As i have said before, Nature do not discriminate what is right and what is wrong. Human society defined all that.

Back to laziness, in order not to be lazy, self-realization is extremely important – to know and define for yourself what’s important and what’s not. When you are pursuing of doing something you’re truly passionate about, you will not feel tired or bored because the mind will give you a burst of energy and constant motivation. You will not see this passion as just another chore or work but something truly important to yourself. This simple human condition had given birth to many psychology and economic model which involves motivation.

Ultimately, it is up to you. Do you want to define laziness by yourself or are you content to let the society to define it for you?

Written by elan85

August 6, 2008 at 7:50 pm