Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Things That Require Gods

Throughout my life -- which in the very early years involved believing pretty much everything adults told me -- I could not help but assign all causes for everything to mysterious, unknown forces despite my education in the ways of science. I always heard people claim that God did this or God did that, but every time I looked into the underlying aspects of all those this-and-thats I could not find a mechanism that would require anything more than natural forces, chemistry and physics. That is except for one this-or-that -- my own inner world.

Consciousness itself seemed inexplicable, and in most cases still seems that way to me. All the mechanical pieces to life, including the complexity of life molecules and their utterly chaotic interactions, still seem to be a bunch of space-time coordinates, electrical charges and other atomic forces that move molecules around. They all had rules and symbols and could be computed to some degree.

Recently computers have been able to model a single, relatively simple bacterium. This is an astounding feat so far as computer science is concerned, even though some of the model is constructed by arbitration -- by human intervention -- just to make the computation simple enough to work on machines of an economically sound kind. To actually start from a DNA molecule and a bucket of construction atoms to divide into two bacteria via the chemical interactions implied by the sequence of base pairs -- that still seems beyond computation. The sheer number of interacting parts is too great to be digitally processed without planet sized computers. How many atoms exist in a single bacteria and the minimal environmental soup required for it to survive?
It does seem that given a complicated enough computer which has the power and capacity to carry out every single atomic interaction necessary to make an entire bacterium work and reproduce, it should be possible to do. But one must be willing to throw enough money at the problem. Whether that would be worth the money I don't know.

To construct the awareness that any life form has of itself as well (which seemingly comes automatically to living things with their biochemical processes) seems far more difficult. I cannot list the steps required, nor even know what the elements are. What is a single molecule of consciousness? Is it the regular atom itself? Is it just an illusion that I feel things and think of myself as being separate from the atoms I swim in?

In animals, even those with very complex brains, consciousness seems to be present but does not seem very flexible. I often wonder if a lizard actually knows that it is awake. Does it merely react to the environment like a machine? A dinosaur might be able to stomp my entire house to the ground with great ease, but I doubt that it could understand the concept of any symbol. 

Dinosaurs had no need for symbolic thinking, they merely needed good senses to locate the source of the next meal, huge muscles and teeth for rendering it to swallow sized chunks, and needed social skills for the ability to mate and care for its offspring.

Some animals can somehow give birth to offspring which can survive in a brutal world without protective parents, but those animals must still somehow mate, even if in a kind of haphazard manner.

The oceans are a kind of modern dinosaur world. Fish and even marine mammals can sometimes be very cunning. Dolphins and whales certainly have larger brains than we do. Yet so much of their physical and mental efforts are dedicated to survival in a world of such big teeth that any symbolic consciousness is not very noticeable. The whales do sing, and they understand the songs, so something is going on in those big skulls -- just not high technology. 

However harsh the environment for animals might be, though, each animal must have at least some modicum of intelligence and consciousness, at least in the form of basic awareness if not self-awareness. An unconscious sort of "sleepwalking" may comprise many animals' minds. It is hard to know those things without being that animal and seeing for yourself.

A bacterium is a very complicated thing to model, for sure, but it pales in significance compared to the complexity of human beings and our utterly insane and unpredictable habits. What computer program could ever hope to physically and mentally capture the essence of human consciousness, with all our pains and pleasures, fears and wishes, delusions and inspirations. It may someday be possible to model that -- perhaps with quantum computing or whatever. It is not possible now, nor will it be for decades to come in all likelihood. The most complex androids are barely more conscious than a toaster, although some are very cleverly constructed, much like the Mechanical Turk in the 1800s, and thereby can fool a human for a few seconds. I suppose some are made pretty enough for some desperadoes to actually fall in love with them.

The only thing that is for sure is that the Universe (of all universes), however it works, has modeled such processes perfectly. Those laws of physics are keeping us all conscious, at least for the time being. It has happened on one planet, Earth, which may be a very rare place. But with so many trillions of other places to try life out, I can't imagine that this planet is the only one to sprout living things.

Of course I cannot prove that life exists anywhere else since I cannot travel anywhere else. The same is true of trying to prove that a single God created all this stuff just for the sake of one ape-like being with nasty habits. Who can prove such a thing when one must always resort to faith only, never presenting evidence.

It is not really necessary to drag Gods (however many might exist) into these arguments should any disagreement ensue. These words are only the concerns some nasty ape-like beings who live on this Earth, wondering how anything at all can exist. If we are wrong, so be it. No other animals on the Earth seem to ever ask such questions let alone come up with any possible explanations. And God is not even on speaking terms with us, except possibly with those suffering from mental illness.

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