Sunday, February 26, 2006

Introducing Icon Books

Last night I was raving about a book I had just read, Introducing Artificial Intelligence by Henry Brighton, 2004. This book is illustrated with cartoons on each page depicting caricatures of the scientists and philosophers in the field. It covers the entire history of the field from "classic" A.I. to the "New A.I." including the terminology, debates, and the connection to philosophy of mind. It reminded me just how much this topic interests me.

It turns out that Icon Books (a.k.a. Totem Books) was also the publisher of another of my recent favorites, Dawkins and the Selfish Gene by Ed Sexton, 2001. They have a whole collection of science titles. The four that are going on my wish list right now are Introducing Mind and Brain, Introducing Consciousness, Introducing Learning and Memory, and Introducing Genetics.

Roundaboutness

I uploaded my sermon Evolutionary Humanism and Roundaboutness. In this sermon, I proposed, among other things, that the progress of evolution toward ever greater complexity and the inevitable increase in intelligence, as described in the 1953 essay “Evolutionary Humanism” by Julian Huxley, is related to the economic theory of roundabout methods of production.

I first learned of "roundaboutness" from the book Economics for Real People: An Introduction to the Austrian School.


Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Replicator Unit

I enjoyed reading Dawkins and the Selfish Gene by Ed Sexton (2001). It provides a concise summary of the selfish gene theory and the related debates. At just 80 pages, it is perfect for those who have already read The Selfish Gene some time ago and are looking for a quick review with a bit of historical perspective.

One the debates is on what is the fundamental unit of replication. Is it the gene, the phenotype, the individual human, or the community? It reminded me of my recent sermon The Virtue of Selfish Genes in which I asked whether the individual unit of survival was the gene, the person, or all DNA-based life on Earth. I think that in my next update to the Optihumanist Principles, I might add a paragraph that states something to the effect that "Survival is the absolute good. Persistence persists. We survive through the legacy of our children and our culture."

I think that in the future, we will not need to rely exclusively on genetic or memetic means of reproduction for survival. In looking for a word describing a third alternative, I found this definition of Patternism.

Monday, February 13, 2006

Animal Intelligence

I just finished reading The Octopus and the Orangutan: More True Tales of Animal Intrigue, Intelligence, and Ingenuity. People who enjoy thinking about evolution, artificial and natural intelligence, and consciousness will want to read this book. It is a quick read worth the price.

It reminded me of my own anecdote about animal intelligence. My Siamese cat Dodo (a.k.a. Scratch) used to try to get out by repeatedly jumping up and pawing at the front door handle. We had become accustomed to hearing the repeated twack and thump in the middle of the night as the cat tried over and over again. One night the twack-thump sequence was interrupted by the creak of the door. This aroused our curiosity. Sure enough, the door was open and the cat was gone.

The cat got in the habit of doing this on following nights. This posed a security problem for us as he consistently failed to close and lock the door behind him. We described the problem to our landlord and asked him to replace the lever handle with a twist handle or add a lock. Our landlord was incredulous and asked for a demonstration. We all turned and stared at the cat but it failed to perform.