Friday, July 31, 2009

Another Life Emerges From The Goop

There is a war going on between humans, and since it involves a subject so profoundly bound with our existence and our place within the Universe, naturally there will be heated disagreement and even deaths resulting. You guessed it -- religion and philosophy cause wars.

First of all, even without a discussion about the nature of life, or even the nature of the non-biological processes all around us, there are many arguments over whose "holy book" is the holiest. It seems to always depend on where you were born, and therefore which culture had its effects imprinted on you first. I don't like arguing about things that are essentially arbitrary. In fact I don't like arguing at all. It is quite tiresome, and I have little of my life remaining to waste on such endless blithering.

I am not an Atheist, although I don't necessarily disagree with many of their arguments. Yet I am definitely not a Theist, because both of those labels imply that I believe something. I don't believe in either premise -- that there is NO god, or that there IS a god. Who knows?

I don't "believe" anything on that level. There are many things that I suspect, and there are many things that seem to be true -- the fact that I am alive right now, typing these words into a computer -- how can I argue against such a fact. I can't. But that is not something that requires "belief". I don't have to actively force my brain to believe in such an immediate reality. I just exist, whether I believe it or not.

"Belief" is something that is required whenever there is a possible doubt. And for scientists, the doubt must be overcome with logical facts which can be proven (or at least not collide against things which are already proven.) I am more like a scientist in that regard. The other kind of belief is "Faith", in which one believes something for the sake of believing it, regardless of any facts, for or against. I have no "faith".

I used to joke about believing things, such as "I will now believe in Aliens." I certainly had no reason or knowledge regarding Aliens that could prompt such a decision. It was just an arbitrary thing to believe -- something which many people have strong feelings about. I just liked to see how people would react to such a statement. It is silly, yet no more silly than believing in the Big Bang or something like that.

However, when I look at the most fundamental aspects of existence, such as the substrate of atomic interactions known as chemistry, with all the electrons and atomic weights somehow producing a vast array of properties in so many different combinations -- I see an endless complexity. It is not necessary to drag "life chemistry" into the problem in order to see the complexity. It exists in the simplest chemical, e.g. hydrogen. The existence of hydrogen is a mystery all in its own. The relationship of the single proton with its single electron has a built in unpredictability, and behaviors which depend greatly upon the temperature of the environment (and thus of other hydrogen or other atoms) around it.

Looking even closer, one finds that a proton is collection of quarks, with different properties within, thereby making the hydrogen atom far more complicated than a stone with a littler stone orbiting it. Even an electron, so tiny compared to the proton, is a lepton particle/wave contraption with little rules of its own within. It also depends on the temperature of the environment to behave whichever way it does.

When we back out to the level of human life, and pick up a stone from the ground, we don't see the vast interactions of countless specks of atoms and their electrons. We just feel the weight, the hardness, the solidness of the stone in our hand. If we could live a billion years, and held the rock in our hands the entire time, it would have changed very little. Possibly the acids in our skin might effect it, or bacteria, gasses and so forth in the environment might discolor the thing, but it would mostly just be that same old stone.

Yet, internally, the atoms may have all changed places in their matrices, and certainly the electrons would have all been replaced. If one could watch atoms through a microscope, which is rarely possible, there would be an endless dance of molecules, vibrating, bouncing about, changing partners as in a minuet. Yet, seen from the distance of our eyes to our hands, the stone's atoms seem to be as completely solid as solids can possibly be.

Still, if you could make a tiny drill with a drill bit as sharp as a single atom of titanium, and drill the tiniest possible hole into that matrix of atoms, the hole would disappear nearly instantly once the drill bit was removed. Atoms won't tolerate such an artificial structure as a hole without some other factor, such as a minimum size for the hole, or a junction layer of differing atoms that hold back the tide of other atoms from filling in the hole. Yet, even the junction layer would have rules governing the minimum size of a hole that it could tolerate.

So, are these atoms alive? Are they like teeny tiny bacteria or viruses? I doubt that they alive in the sense that formal life forms are alive. Certainly they are not organic molecules, at least not in a common stone -- perhaps made only from silicon dioxide, quartz, or feldspar, without a single carbon atom to be seen in the whole matrix (except possibly as an impurity.)

But, even if the rock was merely a solid crystal of hydrogen (not very likely on the Earth), it would have extremely unpredictable behavior at the molecular level. The only thing that can be predicted is that it will be chaotic. This is the law of entropy. Things will become increasingly disordered with time, releasing their energy in lesser and lesser levels of infra-red radiation as entropy progresses.

Not until all matter has been stripped of its latent heat, frozen beyond any conception of the word "freeze", will there be a cessation of the progress of entropy. Where will all that heat have gone? It will have been dissipated into infinite space, radiated beyond the reach of every atom. The "heat" will have been stretched out until it is flattened and cold, and then to disappear from existence entirely.

But until that far distant time, which could a quintillion years from now, or longer, there will be the ceaseless dance of molecules. Ever changing shapes and configurations, shuffled and reshuffled again as if in infinite atomic poker games. Atoms will accidentally form shapes and designs of nearly limitless kinds. Only their "death" at that future heat death at "absolute zero" (a sort of comical expression, really, any other kind of "zero" would not really be "zero" at all...) could ever stop the endless dancing of atoms and particles of matter.

Certainly, as the temperature reduces, the freedom of movement of each atom is reduced. The crystal forms will be less and less able to be altered. The atoms will be forced to dance in smaller and smaller arenas, as in the crystalline methane snow of Pluto. It is unlikely that hydrogen will become anything more complicated than methane in such an environment, yet it is even there, frozen as solid as solid can be, the most minute organic molecule, like a tiny frozen biscuit, food for bacteria that might come along someday.

Of course, with the addition of "dark matter" and other exotic formats of energy and space, there may be other completely separate complexities of which I know nothing, and can only just pretend to imagine, but even so, the meaning of "existence" must include those things as well, even though nothing is known about them. But rather than subtracting from the complexity of simple matter, it can only add more.

Anyway, this is what I tend to "believe", if I must use such a word -- that atoms and energy ARE life. They have always been alive, at the most basic level, and always will be. As ever increasingly complex "life forms" such as ourselves come into existence, certainly far more complex than basic atoms, they are able to look upon these little bricks of super-simple life and wonder -- how did these little things get created? Was there an intelligent maker? Or did these things just emerge from the infinite goop of nothingness?

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Wallpaper Images

I have written some software based on 3D rendering algorithms for generating somewhat surreal scenes of massive floating chrome balls floating over a multicolored terrain made from boulder sized cubes and even more massive reflecting pools and blocks. The pixels of background images are used for coloring each block, in various "secret ways" which cause the most aesthetically pleasing effects.

I must thank "SuperJer" for some of the original ideas and algorithms, however I extensively rewrote them to handle very large mapping objects with the eventual goal of individual pixels instead of each "large block" that currently is rendered. That kind of detail takes a very large amount of memory even with more efficient storage methods, and will also require massive processing, which is currently being done on an Alienware computer using an Intel Core i7 CPU with 8 processing cores and very fast memory, etc.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Self-chosen Man.

For a million years or so, Mankind has been poking and scraping at things on this planet, sometimes eating them, sometimes just making shapes to amuse themselves, sometimes just destroying things accidentally. We are good at that.

And ever since then, when Mankind ate of the "fruit" of the tree of knowledge, the world has not been so innocent ever again. Before we came along there could never be Pekingese dogs. There could never be Texas longhorns. There could never be Siamese cats. There could never be popcorn. And there could not even be modern humans unless there were proto-humans who made the initial qualitative choices that led to our genetic form.

We made all of those things appear on the Earth, quite unnaturally. There was the time before when natural selection purely laid the foundations of life. If a life form was weak or unsuited for a particular niche, too bad. It was gone. And the same thing applied to early hominids. It is not clear, exactly, what the environment held against us in those days, but certainly large wild animals, very bad weather, and even very savage fellow hominids all had a hand in their doom. Some kinds of human habitats are similarly savage even today, such as in grizzly bear country, or in places where tigers or leopards still roam.

It is somewhat harder to follow the next phase of logic, which was that as hominids became ever so slightly more intelligent, even though barely above the intelligence of a baboon, their mental processes became part of the "natural selection" process as well.

Although I'm certain we did not consciously create ourselves from the raw material of lesser apes, I am sure that we made choices about who we mated with, who we slaughtered, who we befriended and so forth, on increasingly more arbitrary, qualitative criteria. I call this "augmented" natural selection.

Of course the hominids had already inherited many traits from their ape ancestors, just as we can observe in modern versions of apes. Still, there are no "human-like" apes except for humans. Chimpanzees and gorillas may share many traits, but they are clearly not performing the same kind of "augmented" natural selection which is the hallmark of human genealogy. If they did, they would have become sentient beings like ourselves. They did not.

Let's make a cruel but plausible scenario in which early man might have made decisions that effected evolution. For instance, let's assume that, for whatever reason, there was some bad weather, some limited food stuffs, and few food animals to hunt. It is also most likely that males were the dominate ones of our species in most (but not all) aspects of life. They still seem to be the most dominate today, although not in quite so pronounced a manner.

So, if the alpha male has to make choices of who gets to eat and who doesn't, what criteria might there be? The male, being as shallow as modern males, perhaps, might choose more sexually appealing females to keep and drive away the others. (I'm not sure what "appealing" meant for the earlier hominids, maybe odor, maybe looks, who knows?)

The males in the group might either have been held at "spear tip" distance, or at least allowed to remain in the group on a strict value basis, such as whether they were essential for hunting, excelled at tool making, or even if they were merely good friends with the head honcho.

Males that encroached on the alpha male's gang of females might not be so appreciated, but there may be room for sharing some of the females so long as there is a benefit to the group in the opinion of the alpha male. No matter how prodigious an alpha male might be, he still can only service so many females in a given time. So it is unlikely that an alpha male could successfully keep every single female to himself, because even if he's the meanest, most selfish hulk on the hill, he has to sleep sometime and the females could be very sneaky in their own quests.

Still, some kind of understanding about that would effect who mates with the females and who doesn't. This is another area for qualitative selection to be enforced.

Certainly, at some point along the way, the sexual habits of the humans began to reflect their intelligence, both in the conscious selection of mates and in the choices which females themselves could make amongst the children they bore. Even the shapes and functions of the sex organs became selected for.

In purely aesthetic areas, if a child was somehow too ugly, or had something "unappealing" about it, the females might neglect it, allowing the unfortunate mutants to wither away. In some animal species the females actively seek out and kill babies for many reasons, including jealousy, anger, mutation and perhaps even "having slightly the wrong odor."

Humans react to babies in predictable ways in modern times, however even the most mutated human babies might be sheltered by parents now and then. There are many cases of idiot savants, the Elephant Man, paraplegics and so forth, who would probably just die if subjected to a more natural setting. On the other hand, just as many of the same conditions would spell certain doom to those poor children, from either stark neglect or outright infanticide by frustrated, disappointed parents.

I wonder how many infants where "drawn and quartered" in the courts of ancient kings, such as with the stories of Solomon. It is not so much that Solomon actually did such things, but the fact that the women in the story about "who the real mother was" actually believed Solomon would and could do such a thing was telling.

But infant killings are rare enough and specialized enough that they are usually understandable, and usually out of necessity. One cannot keep a baby alive if it has no brain, or if the skin cannot form around its internal organs, or if its bones grow together in a knot, etc. Whether human or animal, those cases are hopeless. Yet in human society, those cases can lead to greater knowledge about the mechanics of genetics.

It could be a side effect of modern medicine, whereby keeping alive babies which were deemed hopeless in earlier times, that we will ruin our genetic heritage. But I think we have already ruined it, many eons ago. We can never be "naturally selected" again. If conditions on this planet become so terrible that only the "most fit" can survive, then the greatest majority of us are certainly doomed. I cannot even imagine what kind of person it would take, because I don't know what the conditions really will be. Many past extinctions occurred with animals which were far more adapted to harsh conditions that we are.

But, technology being a kind of "ace in the hole", it may be that it will not be the most brutish of the brutes that survive, but the geekiest of the geeks, instead. As for the females? I have no clue. But, if you notice, geekiness knows no sexual boundaries.