to be continued…

In the river out of Eden replicated and survived the first pieces of matter that could, unleashing a long sequence of ever complex adaptations and phenotypes, leading to self-contained danger-avoidant,  preferentially-optimising safe-deposit boxes that lumbered around carrying these vials of replicators with instructions on how to make more of such vial+box combinations.

In the arms race of the safe-deposit boxes, genotypes  made trees taller, giraffes longer necked, and chimps hierarchical. The extended levers of the genotype eventually reached around to designing safe-deposits with self-contained simulation units powerful enough to avoid dangers and preferentially optimise more than any safe-deposit box had ever done before (in the neighborhood).

“Minds” could remember the past, and anticipate the future, model other minds and game-theoretically anticipate the actions of other safe-deposit boxes. Holism came first, and then subsequently came reductionism, and yet later, the understanding of the tangled interplay between them.

From the 2% of the genes that formed the divergence from our ancestor chimps, man emerged gloriously after his Great Leap Forward with the shines of culture, and the Frankenstein monster-child of the gene, the meme. There was now an avalanche of tools, language, mathematics, music, literature, sadness, happiness, poetry, dance and humour, ideas of war, peace, colonization, racism, sexism, liberalism, beauty, progress and enlightenment, civilization and… morality.

The tiny blue planet was now teemingly populated with ‘valuers’. Matter had strange-looped around, carrying within itself messages about itself. For the first time in the known  parts of the universe, entities found meaning in “meaning”. Initial jubilation upon the discovery of the ability to reason gave way to an awareness of its shortcomings and limitations. With visceral and atavistic typicality, humans compared against their own towering fantasies, and dolefully discovered a cocktail of cognitive biases barfed up by their blind safe-deposit-box-maker. Physical abilities drag baggages of primate ancestories, and mental makeup and brains throwback to our ancestors from reptilian times to our hunter-gatherer Dunbar tribe ESSes, to current postindustrial post-postmodern ethos.

Amidst the victories and falls from grace, the chimp within the man grows smaller, as he spreads for that gigantic sprawl, and in him burns the flicker of the flame that the universe accidentally but inexorably lit to shine some light on itself. Through man-made “words” such as “economics”, “peace”, “love”, “future”, “nuclear”, “environmental-danger”, “evolving to extinction”, “Drake’s equation“: man makes “sense” of the human condition to effectively try extend beyond it, as we “teme” up to dream of creating our own Frankenstein monster and other dreams to come.

The flicker may be headed for a wimpy extinction. Or an inglorious explosive annihilation. Or perhaps the seeds have been sown for a long eventful march all the way toward the heat death of the u.

Meanwhile, oblivious or regardless of the ambiguity of the understanding of understanding of uncertain futures and false certainties of what will be written in its blank pages; and incomplete grasps of incompletenesses in “frameworks” that only make sense to a colony of cells that have a human-evolutionary history, another “revolution” of the blue-orb is complete on its dutiful sojourn around this rather unremarkable much-larger-but-yet-insignificantly-tiny yellow-orb, thereabouts where the embers were lit through evolutionary-kisses-of-death from our parent-stardust, and this colony of cells in front of “my” monitor tells this tale to other colonies of cells in front of other monitors, changing their simulation architectures by a wee bit, influencing their futures by a wee-er bit. In characteristically defiant, intrepid, raucous dignity – the.man.burns.

*Apologize for the gender-specific-language. Man=man&woman.

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86 comments
  1. Justuju said:

    Nice! Interesting post with lots of links that I have to read through. But it reads well and I’m glad you have started writing again. Not sure if I understand everything but I think that how we humans have evolved from inorganic matter is by itself quite remarkable. Our quest to understand ourselves and our place in the universe, however confusing and incomplete, makes it so unique. I see the burning man reference and fits very well.

  2. Mohit said:

    This is beautiful! Poetic almost. The guru status stands justified!

    I like the new theme. Please don’t change it for some time!

    The question I have for you is this: Given all this information about how we came to be, why we are the way we are and where we might be headed as an ecosystem, how do you go about making your individual decisions?

  3. unawoken said:

    > This is beautiful! Poetic almost. The guru status stands justified!

    Thank you 🙂

    > I like the new theme. Please don’t change it for some time!

    Will do

    >The question I have for you is this: Given all this information about how we came to be, why we are the way we are and where we might be headed as an ecosystem, how do you go about making your individual decisions?

    This is a very difficult question to answer, partly because its scope is massive. I can’t possibly answer it as asked in its general form. Perhaps you could break that Q down?

    But ok, let me see, tell me if I am answering it like you intended:

    – Tradition and common-sense are good default paths. In general stick to them and start with those default positions.
    – When absolutely clueless, go with the flow i.e. do what other peeps do.
    – Always actively seek to debias and understand myself as well as understand other people and all else, but prioritise
    – Try to change my mind as easily and quickly as possible upon encountering counter-evidence (possibly this is the hardest to do, so success rate is low)
    – Break with tradition whenever the counterevidence is strong
    – Think true, even if I do not/cannot always speak true
    – No-feathers-in-the-cap i.e. do not collect accomplishments of any sort
    – Whenever I catch myself status-seeking, nip it (behavior) in the bud and try to internalise it to not do it again (also v hard to do, low success rate)

    Ok, tell me if I am interpreting your Q right. Anyhoo, that is the beginning of the list. Will have to keep going quite a bit to list more and more guidelines but that is the start of it…

    • mohit said:

      Great list. It deserves a post of its own. Yep, yep, what I was looking for is this. Gracias.

      • unawoken said:

        Thanks 🙂

        Another one:

        – Try to push in several dimensions to check potential and experience and grow, but prioritise again. Once a worthy cause, activity is found, do not hesitate to delve deep

    • Justuju said:

      Adding to ‘Always actively seek to debias and understand myself’, (rephrased from chats with Unawoken),
      – Continually question, understand your own positions and have arguments ready to defend them while being open to counter arguments.

      Great list Unawoken, just added the above for my own benefit but thought I’d share it here.

  4. rendezvous said:

    Hats off on this one Unawoken! well written. Makes me read and re-read – I do not want to write my own thoughts or debate upon any of it in this post to give it the due honor!

    Very nice!

    • thanks rendezvous, glad you enjoyed it!

  5. Carpe Diem said:

    Amazing.

    Philippe Starck puts some context around where this story is playing out… about halfway between then Big Bang, and the impending engulfment of earth by the sun.

    Happy New Year.
    -t

    • Thanks, and indeed Philippe Starck does talk about exactly what I attempted to say…, thanks for sharing!

      And happy new year to you too!

  6. Great post, almost musical, flowing through the birth of this universe and existence of whatever that is there today.

    Whatever happened to the safety deposit box and the box maker?

    Matter flowing in a loop is interesting. Does it mean there are distinct boundaries and that matter hasnt changed much, it has been feeding itself on various behaviours of nature in changing generations and evolved?
    If its a loop then whatever we see today as existing, existed in some other form centuries ago in the chimp or pre-chimp era, eh? Evolution is a fact and thats what we have been seeing. But the existence of the same seed and the same information that nurtured from it, some billion years ago, is alarming. It would be interesting to dig around how the generation then exploited this seed and the gorgeous strength that contained in its information.
    Alas, today, eventually, we make a MAN out out of it on a sandy desert and BURN it!

    • Thanks wordsfromyonder!

      The safe-deposit boxes are around, but have transcended their purpose. The safe-deposit-box-makers are around, but are sometimes cooperating with and sometimes fighting to survive their creations — the memes.

      “If its a loop then whatever we see today as existing, existed in some other form centuries ago in the chimp or pre-chimp era, eh?”

      Umm, not exactly. For example, quoting that ecology study we are doing elsewhere:
      “As components combine to produce larger functional wholes in hierarchical series, new properties emerge. That is, one cannot explain all the properties at one level from an understanding of the components at the one below.”
      In other words, the property of “life” emerges from “lifelessness”, and is not present in that earlier level per se.

      “Alas, today, eventually, we make a MAN out out of it on a sandy desert and BURN it!”

      — why alas? And why is this more rueful than any of the other things we do with the “gift of life”?

      • “their creations — the memes.”

        –> their secondary creations, if you will

  7. Shreesh Taskar said:

    Beautiful lyrical post. This chimp++ and his associated memeplex and ecosystem host , or the descendant of Rohoboam who begat Jeroboham, who begat who begat who begat, appreciates it!

    Does every moment encapsulate all those that came before it, or is it an brand new slate to write on as we please?

    • Thanks Shreesh, I am glad you like it!

      “Does every moment encapsulate all those that came before it, or is it an brand new slate to write on as we please?”

      — Borgesesque question. I think I am going to largely go with “every moment encapsulates all those that came before it”

      1. Illusoriness of free-will (compatibilist version of absent free will)
      2. Genes and memes make us what we are
      3. Creativity and novelty are results of Dennetian “cranes” based on existing memes.

      However, we do have limited “evitability” control over our future, and this is best explained (to me, so far) by Haidt’s elephant and rider metaphor: https://thingsundone.wordpress.com/2009/10/16/rider-1-0-and-the-elephant-in-the-room/

  8. gn said:

    I thought I had commented on this before.
    Awesomely written. Hope to see, more of this kind

  9. unawoken said:

    We live in a vast and awesome universe in which, daily, suns are made and worlds destroyed, where humanity clings to an obscure clod of rock. The significance of our lives and our fragile realm derives from our own wisdom and courage. We are the custodians of life’s meaning.

    — Carl Sagan

  10. unawoken said:

    Some additional material as “key” to this post, in a private email discussion with a friend:

    ***********************************************************************
    We evolved from apes. The apes are all different from one another in
    some significant ways, but for the purposes of this discussion, I am
    going to say that their similarities are rather large, and this is
    where we will focus (For primatological insights, I recommend Frans de
    Waal)

    Apes exist within hierarchical structures. Each ape an understanding
    of its hierarchical status, and other apes are aware of its position
    in the pecking order.

    These hierarchical structures are constructed based on, for example,
    if the ape is related to the top apes (for example, the son of the
    chief ape), and also on the popularity and prowess of the ape. Apes
    tend to be “conservative”, i.e. the status hierarchies shift, but they
    shift very gradually. It is quite common for the chief ape to remain
    chief ape until it is really old and even incapable of taking on
    challengers, because it may have the support of other high-status apes
    based on tradition.

    Status is very tangible and important in an ape hierarchy. High ranked
    apes get priority in food, sex, and other perks.

    A low-ranked ape has to display some outstanding signal of ability in
    order to rise up the hierarchy. For example, it has to show it can
    hunt better, or gain popularity among the society, or defeat a
    higher-ranked ape in a showdown etc. If it succeeds, then it gets more
    goodies, and hence the motivation.

    The ranking is constantly demonstrated through grooming rituals that
    show that both top rankers and low rankers are comfortable with their
    current social ranks.

    This structure sets up the drive for apes to try to up their status in
    the ape tribe.
    —————————————————————————————————————–

    The above is the background from primatology. Human societies are
    developed out of primitive primate societies, and have grown much more
    complex because of culture. One key difference is that humans can
    articulate through abstract nouns what they feel. (A feeling is an
    adaptation execution of a fitness maximizing program i.e. primates
    have feelings that cause them to behave in ways that maximizes their
    fitness, such as by motivating them to get out of harms way,
    demonstrate aggression to establish status, form bonds etc.) So while
    the feelings are common, the symbolism of “fear”, “anger”, “love” etc.
    is unique to the humans (i.e. we can talk about them through
    language).

    Human children are born extremely helpless among all creatures of the
    animal kingdom. Hence they need to be protected, and they cannot be
    given complex tasks until much later in life (17-18 years). Hence
    human societies, as they became more and more culturally complex, left
    children in protected subsystems where they could basically not
    interfere with adult life, and then set about adult businesses.

    However, just like apes, humans are very excruciatingly aware of their
    status positions in any given situation. Insult-giving and taking is a
    mechanism by which humans keep bean counting records of status at very
    low granular levels.

    Kids are aware of their low status, as soon as their cognitive
    structures start maturing i.e. they understand the world enough to
    understand that adults have rights that they do not. As they grow
    older, they also become aware that they have some of the capabilities
    that adults do. Hence they start participating in demonstrations of
    ability that will enable them to rise in status in the sub-tribe that
    they hang out with. This includes the people at home, the peer groups
    of the kids and any other group (such as music class etc.) that the
    kid identifies with.

    Then grooming as well as challenge rituals and constant updates of new
    petitions for status and deservingness of status takes over their
    motivations and they rebel to try claim or upstage high status from
    adults.

    • Justuju said:

      Nice video. I like the messages on celebrating life and our connection to the cosmos.

  11. unawoken said:

    Idealists of all schools, aristocrats and bourgeois, theologians and physicians, politicians and moralists, religionists, philosophers, or poets, not forgetting the liberal economists – unbounded worshippers of the ideal, as we know – are much offended when told that man, with his magnificent intelligence, his sublime ideas, and his boundless aspirations, is, like all else existing in the world, nothing but matter, only a product of vile matter.

    We may answer that the matter of which materialists speak, matter spontaneously and eternally mobile, active, productive, matter chemically or organically determined and manifested by the properties or forces, mechanical, physical, animal, and intelligent, which necessarily belong to it – that this matter has nothing in common with the vile matter of the idealists. The latter, a product of their false abstraction, is indeed a stupid, inanimate, immobile thing, incapable of giving birth to the smallest product, a caput mortuum, an ugly fancy in contrast to the beautiful fancy which they call God; as the opposite of this supreme being, matter, their matter, stripped by that constitutes its real nature, necessarily represents supreme nothingness.

    –Mikhail Bakunin, God and the State

  12. unawoken said:

    There are the rushing waves
    mountains of molecules
    each stupidly minding its own business
    trillions apart
    yet forming white surf in unison.
    Ages on ages
    before any eyes could see
    year after year
    thunderously pounding the shore as now.
    For whom, or what?
    On a dead planet
    with no life to entertain.
    Never at rest
    tortured by energy
    wasted prodigiously by the sun
    poured into space.
    A mite makes the sea roar.
    Deep in the sea
    all molecules repeat
    the patterns of one another
    till complexnew ones are formed.
    They make others like themselves
    and a new dance starts.
    Growing in size and complexity
    living things
    masses of atoms
    DNA, protein
    dancing a pattern ever more intricate.
    Out of the cradle
    onto dry land
    here it is
    standing:
    atoms with consciousness;
    matter with curiosity.
    Stands at the sea,
    wonders at wondering: I
    a universe of atoms
    an atom in the universe.
    From a public address given by Richard Feynman to the 1955
    autumnmeeting of the National Academy of Sciences, entitled
    “The Value of Science”.

  13. Carl Jung : As far as we can discern, the sole purpose of human existence is to kindle a light in the darkness of mere being.

    • Justuju said:

      The best answer I heard for why live was, ‘because I’m curious’.

      Even though what this lady is saying is true, I think it is coming from a fairly happy, optimistic person. For such a person, looking at life as a wonderful opportunity is natural. I think slightly depressive personalities or under-confident personalities would view life as a burden and having a theistic viewpoint might give them a sense of purpose and a way to cope with life. I don’t mean to say that all believers in God are depressive but for those sitting on the fence and are in need of creating meaning for life, the idea of God might provide a direction and a community and rituals to live by. I think atheists frequently undermine this need and focus solely on rational question of the existence of God when arguing with theists.

      I wonder if most firm atheists have more positive personalities.

      • true, some of us do not care for comforting lies at all.

      • “Uncertainty, in the presence of vivid hopes and fears, is painful, but must be endured if we wish to live without the support of comforting fairy tales”

        — Bertrand Russell

  14. Justuju said:

    I can’t seem to reply back on that particular thread, so I have to put it down here:
    ‘true, some of us do not care for comforting lies at all’.
    I’m surprised by this response. Here, it indicates the superiority that most atheists show and even the offhandedness of not caring what draws them towards God. But I know from discussions elsewhere that you do indeed want to engage these theists in debates or discussions and understand what drives them. You dedicate significant time and energy towards that purpose. What gives?
    Personally, setting aside my mostly pessimistic outlook, I think since majority of humans are theists and their political or economic power heavily influences most everything in our life, paying attention to it is worth it. If comforting lies are the only thing theists are telling themselves, then we should let them be but we know it doesn’t stop there.

  15. Justuju said:

    I want a like button next to these links! 🙂

  16. ‎”Our species needs, and deserves, a citizenry with minds wide awake and a basic understanding of how the world works.” –Carl Sagan

    • ‎”I worry that, especially as the Millennium edges nearer, pseudo-science and superstition will seem year by year more tempting, the siren song of unreason more sonorous and attractive. Where have we heard it before? Whenever our ethnic or national prejudices are aroused, in times of scarcity, during challenges to national self-esteem or nerve, when we agonize about our diminished cosmic place and purpose, or when fanaticism is bubbling up around us-then, habits of thought familiar from ages past reach for the controls. The candle flame gutters. Its little pool of light trembles. Darkness gathers. The demons begin to stir.”–Carl Sagan

    • Justuju said:

      Ain’t scientific advancements amazing? This reminded me of Gattaca, the movie. At the time of watching, I was like the rest of the crowd, mourning the loss of natural birth and a regular, ordinary human being reduced to being a slave, but now, I’m not so sure. We’ve been mucking with genetic selection for a long time and humans will continue to do that. That’s just how we are.

  17. now for something completely different 🙂

  18. “Humans need fantasy to be human. To be the place where the falling angel meets the rising ape.”
    ― Terry Pratchett, Hogfather

  19. I am a physical object sitting in a physical world. Some of the forces of this physical world impinge on my surfaces. Light rays strike my retinas; molecules bombard my eardrums and fingertips. I strike back, emanating concentic air waves. These waves take the form of torrents of discourses about tables, people, molecules, light rays, retinas, air waves, prime numbers, infinite classes, joy and sorrow, good and evil.

    –W. V. O. Quine

  20. “Human beings must have an epic, a sublime account of how the world was created and how humanity became part of it … Religious epics satisfy another primal need. They confirm we are part of something greater than ourselves (…) The way to achieve our epic that unites human spirituality, instead of cleave it, it is to compose it from the best empirical knowledge that science and history can provide.” — E.O.Wilson

    • Justuju said:

      Here’s a question. With so many human beings on this planet characterized as social beings, why is there so much loneliness in people? Why aren’t there more people that feel connected to others? We’re all our own islands of emotions and thoughts that most can’t express or be understood by others. When we do try, we compete to get our own views heard or completely fail to listen. This, in my opinion, is the main reason for religions to exist because there’s a need for humans to want to feel connected to something, someone. This is why atheism will not be ubiquitous ever. Do you agree?

      • In fact, “loneliness” is a characteristic of a social species. “Loneliness” is a drive that prompts people to connect, and this is an adaptation of a social species. Also, large-scale loneliness is a first-world, post-industrial thing. I would put it down to disintegration of extended/joint families, lesser participation in community, disintegration of the village.

        Religion and atheism are not opposites. Atheism and theism are opposites. Atheism is an epistemological position (like theism). It is a statement of belief regarding the truth/untruth of a proposition. Comparing “atheism” with “religion” is not comparing apples and apples. Religion is a large-scale institution which also includes religious institutions and communities. There are several secular institutions that fulfill communitarian needs as well. Such as sports, clubs of various sorts, nations, organizations etc. The need to belong may be met by both religious and secular institutions. One could be an atheist and belong to several secular clubs (as well as to inclusive religious clubs).

        Now, I would like to ask you. Why do you think atheists cannot connect or belong to clubs/organizations/in-groups? Why do you think their epistemological belief stops them from belonging to say, “save the dolphins” club that they spend a whole lot of time/energy/life on?

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