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Selected Materials from Book - Three Scientists and Their Gods by Robert Wright

Three Scientists and Their Gods by Robert Wright August 06 2007

First of all, this was not a smooth reading. The first part was interesting, since I can related to the technical of computer, the bio-sociology was somewhat informative with study of ants and its colony, but the last part with Boulding was difficult for me to read. The book as whole contains a good amount of information and offers different perspectives to the meanings of information, sociology, human beings and such.


This book describes the lives and the studies of three prominent scientists. You see different aspects of the world through the eyes of Ed Fredkin, Ed Wilson, and Boulding, in their respective areas of digital physics, bio-sociology, and economic with a twist of socialist.

Fredkin studies in the field of digital physics, and believes information, not matter or energy, is the fundamental basic for everything in existence. Like in image processing, each pixel’s behavior is based on the past behavior of its neighboring pixels according to some programming rules. In his theory, this cellular automata is the characteristics of all matters in nature, like rippling bubbles forming outward in a pond. Both space and time have graininess to them, not continuous, the by-product is guided by the rules of information exist among them. In this world of cellular automata, Fredkin refer to the universe as a computer and if you can depict the rules then it is also reversible. Pretending, hitting a cue ball into a rack of pool balls, as long the as the balls continue to move after impact, then one can derive some analysis on the exact path they traveled based on some tedious equation of course. Once the balls stop moving, this information is lost in form of energy. Suppose we can capture this energy, then indeed we can backtrack the time. In the end, Fredkin mentioned the mission of our existence is to create artificial intelligence. In this part of book, problem of infinite regress, religion, teleological matter were also mentioned.

Edward O. Wilson is world’s foremost entomologist, who correlated many sociological matters and studies of genes, minds, and culture, from his earlier observations of ants. Like human, ant egg contains about half of mother’s genes, but the sperms produced by the same father are identical. Thus, two human sisters have about one half of common genes, where as ants share about three fourth. This genetic reality, the information programmed into the more shared DNA, perhaps account for the phenomena in the highly organized society and task systems found in insects.


The colony of ants indeed behaves like a whole much like an organism itself. In this, Wilson describes the four pinnacles of social evolution. First has to do with invertebrates and the extreme specialization of the members. Second has to do with common altruism and the societies are closely knit “the casters are physically modified to perform particular functions and are bound to one another by tight, intricate forms of communications.” Third pinnacle is when egotism carried to its extreme that selfishness rules the relationships between members. This trend shows that as organism become more complex, they become less social and more selfish. When they are genetically identical, they display almost unlimited cooperation and altruism. (Explain about twins?) Human, constitute the fourth pinnacle of social evolution, that broke the vertebrate trend, instead reduces selfishness; we acquire the intelligence to consult the past and plan for the future.


In human society, teenagers from two different regions, whose share similar lifestyles, may have much more in common then to their fathers. This is of course due to the information programmed indirectly programmed into them, as oppose to genetically, through the environments around them. Wilson also thinks work is a central source of meaning for human beings.


Kenneth Boulding, considered as economist, maybe even a poet, with voice in legitimacy. He contributes a lot of different points without really an integrated focus. Perhaps, his views were to integrate parts into a greater whole, “the subordination of human and national egos to global harmony.”



Quotes and Learned


Claude Shannon: the more uncertainty there is about the contents of a message that is about to be received, the more information the message contains.


Energy often comes in forms of carbon.


Definition of meaningful information: Meaningful information is that which has form, can help create or maintain form, and does so by representing states of the environment and inducing behaviors appropriate to them.


Wilson: The members of human societies sometimes cooperate closely in insectan fashion, but more frequently they compete for the limited resources allocated to their role-sector. The best and most entrepreneurial of role-actors usually gain a disproportionate share of the rewards, while the least successful are displaced to other, less desirable positions.


Wilsion: Deception and hypocrisy … are very human devices for conducting the complex business of everyday life.


Wilson argues that homosexuality may also be natural, a product of kin selection.Culture is any information transmitted from one organism to another nongenetically.


Genetic change is a prerequisite for significant culture change. Or more, ever-more rapid cultural evolution is the cause of deceleration of genetic evolution. (Consider: the burst and complexity of investment areas decelerates regular people ability to invest soundly.)


Culture evolution: horizontally, siblings, and vertically, generation to generation.


Poster quote: All progress has resulted from those who took unpopular positions.


Robert Wright, author: Information, in the end, is influence; and communication is control.


Wright: communication, honest or dishonest, can be instrumental in the creation and preservation of form – whether the form of the cellular slime mold, the form of multi-cellular body, or the form of a corporation or government.


English is 50 percent redundant.


Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle: the act of measurement affects the thing measured.


Boulding motto: don’t get it right – get it written.


Boulding’s the principle of increasingly unfavorable internal structure: states, as an organized system grows larger, the concomitant demands on its structure and infrastructure may grow disproportionately.

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