Category Archives: Video

Construction of the “I”

I was feeling rather glum yesterday afternoon, but then I had a lemon square, fresh and warm from the oven, and life was much better. In addition, I feel oddly cheered that other random people on the Internet also found this video frightening when they were small children:

In fact, hey, I’ve got one of those in my ceiling right now. . . I’m not sure I’m going to be able to sleep at night.

And with John Armstrong deconstructing xkcd, I’m tempted to flex my own Critical Theory organs and dissertate on how Sesame Street‘s “I Beam” segment indicates the construction of personal identity is a violent process.

A Bill Hicks Interlude

Mister DNA worries that he has lost a couple million brain cells after watching a video clip of horrid and ignorant “Christian comedy,” so I figured that in the interests of science, we should see if a little Bill Hicks can promote neurogenesis. Sit back in your fMRI machine, wire up your cortical electrodes and enjoy. Yes, the language is roughly as coarse as what you’d hear in any middle-school cafeteria on an average day.

The joke about Jackie Onassis and the sniper-rifle pendant may have to be updated for a younger audience. A variation on the following might work:
Continue reading A Bill Hicks Interlude

Kurzweil’s Predictions for 2009

Apropos an announcement from the AAAS annual meeting, Steve Novella ponders the task of reverse-engineering the human brain. For those of us who share a materialistic view of the brain — i.e., for people who subscribe to actual science instead of woo — this task is likely to seem possible in principle, although daunting in practice. If the mind is the activity of the brain, and a finite number of genes can direct the growth of a brain in a finite amount of time, and the molecules which make up the brain are being exchanged in and out all the time anyway, it’s reasonable to speculate that we’ll be able to mimic the process in another medium. Novella argues that the “software” part of this task will be harder than the “hardware” side:

Sure, we may run into unexpected technological hurdles, but so far we have been able to develop new approaches to computing technology to keep blasting through all hurdles and keep Moore’s Law on track. So while there is always uncertainty in predicting future technology, predicting this level of computer advancement at the least can be considered highly probable.

The software extrapolation I think is more difficult to do, as conceptual hurdles may be more difficult to solve and may stall progress for a undetermined amount of time.

Broadly speaking, I agree. The exact amount of processing power needed to implement the brain in a Linux box is as yet unknown; it depends on things like the complexity of an individual synapse, and how much data is required to represent the state of a neuron. Then, too, for every hardware advance on Moore’s side of the ledger, Gates is there to bloat the software by a corresponding amount, and the applications of computer technology which have most radically affected life in recent years have depended not on raw cycles-per-second, but on networking and mass storage, neither of which necessarily improves at the same rate as processor speed.

Ray Kurzweil may be the most famous evangelist of the view that explosive increases in computer power will give us artificial intelligence on a par with our own in the near future. He has elaborated upon this idea in several books, a couple of which I used to have on my shelf; a commenter at NeuroLogica, Sciolist, still has The Age of Spiritual Machines (1999) close at hand.

Kurzweil claims that man’s merger with machine is inevitable, because the pace of evolution has been increasing exponentially — when we reach the edge of biological evolution, we must transition into artificial substrates so that can continue traveling up that exponential curve into binary godliness. This, he predicts, is inevitable. That’s at least a misreading of the theory of evolution; I’d argue it’s also a bit kooky.

Indeed, Kurzweil’s attempts to anchor his “Law of Accelerating Returns” in geological deep time are singularly silly, to steal PZ Myers’ phrase. They rely upon condensing multiple historical events into single data points to get a pretty curve, and instead of reflecting any deep truth about evolutionary processes, the curve you get reveals a recentist bias — the “proximity of the familiar.”

I recall that bothering me when I read the book, eight or so years ago, but eight years have gone by since then, making my memory only slightly more reliable than that of a HAL 9000 unit being fed a tapeworm. Thus it was with surprise and glee that I read Sciolist’s recounting of the predictions Kurzweil makes for one decade after the book’s publication, 2009:
Continue reading Kurzweil’s Predictions for 2009

Randi’s Coda

It’s Sunday morning where I am right now, the traditional time for stumbling about, cradling the head and asking, “What happened last night?” In my culture, this day is set aside to commemorate the occasion when Yahweh Elohim woke up with a strange woman in His bed and, His head splitting like that of His buddy Zeus, inquired of the heavenly host, “In the name of Me, why did I make tequila so damn strong?”

(That’s how Yahweh and Asherah got together, and why He was so eager to deny the relationship later on.)

In the spirit of contemplative reflection, then, I offer the concluding segment of James Randi’s NOVA programme, Secrets of the Psychics (1993).

I’m told he still has that cloak.

Additional Weekend Fluff: Sauron

I dropped by a friend’s place while he, his girlfriend and a couple others were watching the last Lord of the Rings movie, which I’d never seen before, and somebody pointed out that many shots would be perfect for commercials. We spent the next ~40 minutes giving the movie an ad-themed MST3k treatment. It didn’t exactly inspire me to see the rest of the series.

However, there was one advertisement in particular which I really wanted to see implemented. And what with current happenings in science-blogging territory, one element of the parody was uppermost in my mind.

Curse you, Internet, for retroactively stealing my joke before I could tell it! Curse you, I say!

Phil Plait on 2007 TU24

I haven’t posted a video in a while. So, in honor of today being Friday, here goes:

This is the formidable Phil Plait, explaining why the doomsayers are wrong about asteroid 2007 TU24. Four days from now, when we’re still here, I wonder how those people will react: will they just slink back into the shadows of the Net, or will we be treated to absurd stories about, say, website hit counters acting like prayer wheels and saving us from the Terrible Rock of Doom?

Physics from Open Yale Courses

Yale has started putting course material online in a systematic way, following in the grand tradition of MIT’s OpenCourseWare. Among the handful they’ve uploaded so far, the two which catch my eye the most strongly are Fundamentals of Physics and Frontiers and Controversies in Astrophysics. These classes come with Quicktime video of the lectures, and all material is licensed under Creative Commons BY-NC-SA.

Hat tip: Peter Suber.

Blake Says

One night, at a party deep into a Boston winter, a young woman heard my name and asked me if I was the one “that Dresden Dolls song” was about. She was beautiful, so I said yes.

The song, so it happens, has been rather hard to come by.