Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Seed 2(7): Part IV

This is the fourth of a five-part series of reviews of Volume 2, Number 7 of Seed magazine.

I must be some sort of horrible weird OCD nerd to have decided to review a 96-page magazine with FIVE blog posts. Oh well, it's not like I started with many readers to lose.

Part I is here.
Part II is here.
Part III is here.

Part IV Mistakes and other Weirdness

Let's start with the cover. On the cover, there's a blurb at the bottom left for "Intelligent Design on the Arab street". It's refering to the short article on page 18, "Not in Kansas Anymore", in which IDiocy in Turkey is discussed. Turkey is not an Arab country - it's Turkic, with the majority of the citizens ethnically derived from semi-nomads of Central Asia, not Arabia. Yes, they're also mostly Muslim - but so are the people of Indonesia. Are Indonesians to be considered Arab?

Some minor stuff inside: There's a picture, putatively of a bee, on page 25 with two wings. Dipteran insects (flies) have two wings - all other insects with wings have four (yes, I count the armored elytra of beetles as "wings"). On page 33, Pharyngula author PZ Myers gets his name misspelled "Meyers", a mistake common among frothing-at-the-mouth-stark-raving-stupid creationists. His name is spelled correctly in the other two mentions in the magazine.

There are probably others I missed; let's assume there are and that I've not hopelessly gone down the nerditude road.

The article on page 39, "On My Mind" by Frank Wilczek (a physicist) has a weird oversight in it. Dr. Wilczek discusses the possibility that artificial intelligences, based on microelectronics, could relive their (happy) memories with perfect fidelity, thereby effectively actually re-experiencing them. This sounds pretty cool, especially within the context Dr. Wilczek builds around the idea of reliving pleasant memories, what he calls "magic moments". However (begin pendantry!), the second paragraph demonstrates that Dr. Wilczek has probably never read Richard Dawkins' The Selfish Gene, in which the power of replication and replicators is described.

Dr. Wilczek:
I can envision the emergence of new kinds of minds that are radically different in these respects [flawed human self-awareness and self-control]. They would be designed rather than selected for; based on microelectronics, they could accurately monitor their internal state, and precisely control it; and their primary goal needn't, and presumably wouldn't, be to survive and replicate.

Information about the future will always be imperfect, thus the probability of eventual death of any individual is never zero. Any sentient, thinking being, be it based on Carbon or Silicon or Something Else, therefore will eventually cease to exist given a long enough time line (see Fight Club, musings therein). Any population that fails to reproduce at a rate exceeding mortality is thus guaranteed to eventually become extinct. But avoiding extinction is just the low end of the replicator's scale of fates - most of the interesting action happens when population sizes are expanding. Assuming *sufficient* time, the replicator will completely overwhelm the non-replicator, all else being equal, or even pretty much nothing else being equal, with the replicator inferior in most or all respects save reproduction.

Following Dr. Wilczek's train of thought well past the end of the line, I can imagine his magic-moment-forever intelligences existing as rare timeless artifacts in a universe filled with sentient replicators, who don't bother to eliminate the non-replicators out of either respect or a lack of need for the resources they represent. There's a place for his universal thinkers in many a sci-fi story, I suspect.

So, that's the mistakes and weirdness I found in the magazine - next update, I'll review Dr. Myer's review of Dr. Dawkins' The God Delusion. There are things within that review I consider somewhat weird, and his musings (Dr. Myers, I haven't read TGD yet) led me to an idea. Meta-reviews ahoy!

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