Please see this article -- my comments on the Evri/Twine deal, as CEO of Twine. This provides more details about the history of Twine and what led to the acquisition.
Please see this article -- my comments on the Evri/Twine deal, as CEO of Twine. This provides more details about the history of Twine and what led to the acquisition.
Posted on March 23, 2010 at 05:12 PM in Artificial Intelligence, Business, Collaboration Tools, Collective Intelligence, Global Brain and Global Mind, Group Minds, Groupware, Intelligence Technology, Knowledge Management, Knowledge Networking, Memes & Memetics, Microcontent, My Best Articles, Productivity, Radar Networks, Science, Search, Semantic Blogs and Wikis, Semantic Web, Social Networks, Software, Technology, The Future, The Metaweb, The Semantic Graph, Twine, Venture Capital, Web 2.0, Web 3.0, Web/Tech | Permalink
In typical Web-industry style we're all focused minutely on the leading trend-of-the-year, the real-time Web. But in this obsession we have become a bit myopic. The real-time Web, or what some of us call "The Stream," is not an end in itself, it's a means to an end. So what will it enable, where is it headed, and what's it going to look like when we look back at this trend in 10 or 20 years?
In the next 10 years, The Stream is going to go through two big phases, focused on two problems, as it evolves:
The Stream is not the only big trend taking place right now. In fact, it's just a strand that is being braided together with several other trends, as part of a larger pattern. Here are some of the other strands I'm tracking:
If these are all strands in a larger pattern, then what is the megatrend they are all contributing to? I think ultimately it's collective intelligence -- not just of humans, but also our computing systems, working in concert.
I think that these trends are all combining, and going real-time. Effectively what we're seeing is the evolution of a global collective mind, a theme I keep coming back to again and again. This collective mind is not just comprised of humans, but also of software and computers and information, all interlinked into one unimaginably complex system: A system that senses the universe and itself, that thinks, feels, and does things, on a planetary scale. And as humanity spreads out around the solar system and eventually the galaxy, this system will spread as well, and at times splinter and reproduce.
But that's in the very distant future still. In the nearer term -- the next 100 years or so -- we're going to go through some enormous changes. As the world becomes increasingly networked and social the way collective thinking and decision making take place is going to be radically restructured.
Existing and established social, political and economic structures are going to either evolve or be overturned and replaced. Everything from the way news and entertainment are created and consumed, to how companies, cities and governments are managed will change radically. Top-down beaurocratic control systems are simply not going to be able to keep up or function effectively in this new world of distributed, omnidirectional collective intelligence.
As humanity and our Web of information and computatoins begins to function as a single organism, we will evolve literally, into a new species: Whatever is after the homo sapien. The environment we will live in will be a constantly changing sea of collective thought in which nothing and nobody will be isolated. We will be more interdependent than ever before. Interdependence leads to symbiosis, and eventually to the loss of generality and increasing specialization. As each of us is able to draw on the collective mind, the global brain, there may be less pressure on us to do things on our own that used to be solitary. What changes to our bodies, minds and organizations may result from these selective evolutionary pressures? I think we'll see several, over multi-thousand year timescales, or perhaps faster if we start to genetically engineer ourselves:
Posted on October 27, 2009 at 08:08 PM in Collective Intelligence, Global Brain and Global Mind, Government, Group Minds, Memes & Memetics, Mobile Computing, My Best Articles, Politics, Science, Search, Semantic Web, Social Networks, Society, Software, Systems Theory, Technology, The Future, The Metaweb, The Semantic Graph, Transhumans, Web 3.0, Web/Tech, Wild Speculation | Permalink | TrackBack (0)
The next generation of Web search is coming sooner than expected. And with it we will see several shifts in the way people search, and the way major search engines provide search functionality to consumers.
Web 1.0, the first decade of the Web (1989 - 1999), was characterized by a distinctly desktop-like search paradigm. The overriding idea was that the Web is a collection of documents, not unlike the folder tree on the desktop, that must be searched and ranked hierarchically. Relevancy was considered to be how closely a document matched a given query string.
Web 2.0, the second decade of the Web (1999 - 2009), ushered in the beginnings of a shift towards social search. In particular blogging tools, social bookmarking tools, social networks, social media sites, and microblogging services began to organize the Web around people and their relationships. This added the beginnings of a primitive "web of trust" to the search repertoire, enabling search engines to begin to take the social value of content (as evidences by discussions, ratings, sharing, linking, referrals, etc.) as an additional measurment in the relevancy equation. Those items which were both most relevant on a keyword level, and most relevant in the social graph (closer and/or more popular in the graph), were considered to be more relevant. Thus results could be ranked according to their social value -- how many people in the community liked them and current activity level -- as well as by semantic relevancy measures.
In the coming third decade of the Web, Web 3.0 (2009 - 2019), there will be another shift in the search paradigm. This is a shift to from the past to the present, and from the social to the personal.
Established search engines like Google rank results primarily by keyword (semantic) relevancy. Social search engines rank results primarily by activity and social value (Digg, Twine 1.0, etc.). But the new search engines of the Web 3.0 era will also take into account two additional factors when determining relevancy: timeliness, and personalization.
Google returns the same results for everyone. But why should that be the case? In fact, when two different people search for the same information, they may want to get very different kinds of results. Someone who is a novice in a field may want beginner-level information to rank higher in the results than someone who is an expert. There may be a desire to emphasize things that are novel over things that have been seen before, or that have happened in the past -- the more timely something is the more relevant it may be as well.
These two themes -- present and personal -- will define the next great search experience.
To accomplish this, we need to make progress on a number of fronts.
First of all, search engines need better ways to understand what content is, without having to do extensive computation. The best solution for this is to utilize metadata and the methods of the emerging semantic web.
Metadata reduces the need for computation in order to determine what content is about -- it makes that explicit and machine-understandable. To the extent that machine-understandable metadata is added or generated for the Web, it will become more precisely searchable and productive for searchers.
This applies especially to the area of the real-time Web, where for example short "tweets" of content contain very little context to support good natural-language processing. There a little metadata can go a long way. In addition, of course metadata makes a dramatic difference in search of the larger non-real-time Web as well.
In addition to metadata, search engines need to modify their algorithms to be more personalized. Instead of a "one-size fits all" ranking for each query, the ranking may differ for different people depending on their varying interests and search histories.
Finally, to provide better search of the present, search has to become more realtime. To this end, rankings need to be developed that surface not only what just happened now, but what happened recently and is also trending upwards and/or of note. Realtime search has to be more than merely listing search results chronologically. There must be effective ways to filter the noise and surface what's most important effectively. Social graph analysis is a key tool for doing this, but in addition, powerful statistical analysis and new visualizations may also be required to make a compelling experience.
Posted on May 22, 2009 at 10:26 PM in Knowledge Management, My Best Articles, Philosophy, Productivity, Radar Networks, Search, Semantic Web, Social Networks, Society, Software, Technology, The Future, The Semantic Graph, Twine, Venture Capital, Web 2.0, Web 3.0, Web/Tech | Permalink | TrackBack (0)
(DRAFT 7. Work-In-Progress)
What is the universe and where does it come from?
There are two major schools of thought on this question:
In this paper we will take an intellectual adventure into the far fringes of both science and religion, to explore the question of whether or science and religion might be unified. Such a unification is an intellectual "Holy Grail" that could truly change the world. But is it even possible? I think it is, and I'll propose the core of such a unification here.
The Possibility of Convergence
While there are clearly differences between the approaches and beliefs of the sciences and religions of the world, there are also more similarities than many would like to admit. Beyond that however, at the very deepest levels, they lead to similar logical conclusions and in fact intersect on certain fundamental points, whether their proponents know it or not.
In particular, the question of the origin and nature of the universe is where I believe science and religion converge. Whether one holds the view of science, the view of religion, or both, it turns out that there is a logical necessity for reaching the same final conclusions about the ultimate nature of reality.
Whether one starts from a scientific viewpoint and applies only the methods of science and logic, or one starts from a religious perspective and applies only the methods of religion and logic, either way the conclusion is the same. As long as one regards logic as a valid method of enquiry, the final answer is the same.
The Core Argument
So what is the answer? In short, everything is "nonoriginated." This has a very specific meaning: the universe (or anything else that we might posit to exist) cannot logically originate from nothingness, from itself, or from some other fundamental thing.
Here's how this conclusion is reached in a nutshell (I will explain this argument in more depth later in this article, as well as its many implications):
To claim that something originates from nothing is a contradiction.
To claim that something originates from itself is a contradiction.
To claim that something originates from something else leads to an infinite regress unless you claim there is a fundamental first-thing -- but claiming there is a fundamental first-thing leads to a contradiction, so it's not an option. An infinite regress on the other hand, is not really an origin.
Therefore none of the three above ways of originating are logically tenable, yet there is no other possible fourth alternative.
This then leaves only two possible conclusions about the universe (and anything else that is posited to exist):
Option (1) is easily refuted. We are left with option (2) - Nonorigination.
But it is a bit strange to imagine a universe that has no beginning, no origin. How can the universe exist if it is truly beginningless? Without a first-cause what could ever have gotten it started? Without a final fundamental particle, what could things actually be made of? In fact, it is precisely because the universe is nonoriginated that it CAN appear at all. This will be explained further in this article.
We can see how this logic applies to the origin of the universe. How about God? Well if God exists then the same logic would apply: God must also be nonoriginated. Anything that is posited to exist must be nonoriginated.
This point of nonorigination is where science and religion intersect. Nonorigination is the ultimate nature of reality. It is not merely a concept -- it is the actual nature of all things, and it has many profound implications. It points to a level of reality that is beyond the limits of space and time -- and in this respect it is proof of what might be called the Divine, yet it is also completely compatible with the physical world and its laws.
There are several other key dimensions of nonorigination as well. Awareness is one of them. Awareness is the unique capacity of sentient being to make observations. It plays an important role in making the universe happen, and is actually unified with nonorigination. Where there is nonorigination there MUST be awareness and vice-versa.
Likewise the process of cause-and-effect turns out to be a natural corollary to the nonorigination of the universe, and it's powered by awareness, the act of making observations. If there were no such process, the universe could not work as it does; it would effectively be random.
I will explore these topics in a lot more detail below.
The unification of science and religion is not philosophy, it is logic. But how we interpret it, and what we do with it is a matter of personal preference and personal philosophy. This paper will not attempt to draw conclusions about what scientific or religious belief is best. That is up to you. Use the logical evidence however you see fit.
What Does the Universe Come From?
If one even merely posits the existence of the universe or even just the presence of a fundamental particle -- then that immediately leads to further questions such as: Then where does that come from, what is it all really made of, and how could it all be taking place, what is space-time made of or located in, who or what designed this or how did it all happen so perfectly when it is statistically almost impossible?
Some people just can't imagine that anything as vast as God could be possible, so they simply decide (without any real evidence) that God is impossible. Or they think that there could not be anything greater than or beyond the scope of the physical universe because they feel that the only things that can exist are physical things. To them, there is nothing but the physical, it is all a big machine, this is all there is -- and for that reason they can't believe in some kind of greater being or ultimate reality beyond space and time or the physical laws. But the grounds on which they claim God is not possible can also be used to claim the universe itself is not possible. If they believe in the possibility of the physical universe they also must accept the possibility of God by the same logic.
Here's why: If the argument against the possibility of God is that it just isn't possible for there to be something infinite, then that means either space and time are finite or they can't exist either -- the universe would not be possible because space and time are presently thought to be infinite.
Similarly, if the argument against the possibility of God is that there just couldn't be anything beyond the physical universe, then even the physical universe could not exist -- for if there were no possibility of anything greater than or beyond the universe then where is the physical universe taking place? What does it come from? What is it "in?" If it ever ends, what remains? This second argument is a bit of a difficult point so it bears further explanation.
Whenever you posit something, it logically has to either come from nothing, or from itself, or from something else. And at the time it exists it either has to depend on nothing, depend on itself, or depend on something else.
Stating that the universe comes from nothing or depends on nothing is problematic -- it is in fact equivalent to saying that the universe comes from or depends on something beyond the universe: some primordial "nothingness."
Stating that the universe comes from or depends on itself is circular and also a contradiction of sorts -- in order for the universe to create itself or depend on itself it must already exist, and so this is impossible and not an option.
Yet stating that the universe comes from something else or depends on something else admits that there must be something beyond it to come from or depend on.
In other words, no matter what position one takes on the universe, it leaves open the possibility - indeed even the logical requirement - that there must be something before it, greater than it, deeper than it, beyond it, after it, etc.
Refuting Ideas that the Universe Comes from Nothingness
There are however some people who are not convinced by the above arguments. They hold tenaciously to the belief that the universe comes from some kind of primordial "nothingness" which they conceptualize as existing somehow on its own, either before or during the existence of the universe.
This belief in some kind of concrete "nothingness" has many problems. First of all to posit "nothingness" is to treat it as some kind of thing in fact -- so it is self-contradictory from the start. Secondly, it is impossible to even imagine actual "nothingness" so labelling it, speaking of it, or positing that it exists is simply delluded. To posit it is not actually to posit it. To imagine it is not actually to imagine it. And in fact there is no way to even conceive of nothingness actually existing, for if it were to exist it would not be nothing. Finally, even if we ignore all these logical problems and still cling to the concept of nothingness, how could anything come from nothing? Let's examine further.
If nothing really is "nothing" it could not contain anything that serve as a cause or origin for anything else, let alone an entire universe. So it could not give rise to anything. In fact it would be a contradiction to assert the co-existence of nothing and something as well -- so even if nothingness could somehow give rise to the universe it would have to be destroyed or eliminated at the moment the universe came into existence -- but if that were the case how could it give rise to the universe -- it could never overlap with the universe at all so how could it even be said to give rise to it?
For example the universe could not gradually emerge from nothingness since nothingness would be completely eliminated at the very first instant of the process of emergence, and then the process would be over since there would be no more nothingness left for the rest of it to emerge from.
Similary the universe could not emerge all-at-once from nothingness either, because for that to happen there would at least have to be a moment in which nothing and the universe co-existed -- the moment in which the universe emerged.
If we don't allow for at least that one moment of co-existence before the universe replaces nothingness, then causality is not possible to establish: there would be no way to connect the emergence of the universe as coming out of or from a pure state of nothingness that existed before it -- and so there would be no point in making this claim at all.
To say that one thing comes from another thing means we have to be able to show how they are connected, and for that to be possible they have to both exist at the same time, or there has to at least be some chain of events we can point to that connects them.
But if nothing and something are truly mutually exclusive then that is simply not possible to establish. All this effort is simply to show finally and totally that nothingness is a flawed concept, and to claim that something can come from nothingness is even more flawed. If you already accept that you don't have to re-read this paragraph to figure it out, just continue reading below.
Furthermore belief in the concept of nothingness actually refutes belief in the power of science -- for nothingness is not measureable, not verifiable in any way, and is therefore impenetrable to science.
So anyone who cites "nothingness" as the origin of the universe is not in fact being scientific, they are abandoning science. To claim that all space and time -- and all science -- springs from nothingness is akin to claiming that the physical world (and therefore the domain of science) depends upon something beyond the physical world and beyond domain of science, in other words on what is traditionally the domain of religion.
In other words, if we think the universe sprang forth from nothingness that is like saying that science depends on something beyond the realm of science at the fundamental level, and if we say the opposite -- that the universe has always existed or there is an infinite series of universes -- that is also akin to saying that science depends on something beyond what science can ever explain -- for infinity, while not a contradiction at least, is equally impenetrable to science.
Refuting Ideas that the Universe Comes from Itself
If the universe didn't spring forth magically from nothingness, then perhaps it came from itself. What would this mean? It would mean that the universe already existed before the universe existed, in other words it both existed and did not exist at the same time. That is circular reasoning, and it's also a logical contradiction. There's not much more that needs to be said about this. But I'll say it anyway, just to make it perfectly clear that this is not an option.
Perhaps we might interpret "coming from itself" in a slightly modified manner. For example, the universe today comes from the early universe, and they are quite different. So saying the universe of today comes from the universe of way-back-when is not saying that the universe today comes from itself literally, it is saying it comes from something else: the early universe. That is certainly one way to wiggle out of the fallacy of something coming from itself, but it just leads to an infinite regress: the fallacy of something originating from something else. The next section explores why that isn't an option either.
Refuting Ideas that the Universe Comes from Something
If the universe doesn't come from nothingness, or from itself, then what does it come from? If it comes from something else, then what does that thing come from? At some point there has to be a beginning to the process. But if there is a beginning then what is before it? Whatever that is, it is beyond the realm of science.
To state that the universe comes from something else is to say that something else (whatever it is) is the more fundamental level or prior state of the universe. In other words to state that the universe comes from something is really saying the universe comes from the universe, at a deeper level or an earlier time, or a different place, or in a different state or form, or all of the above.
But all such statements are either claims that the universe, taken as a whole (all states of the universe over all time and space) comes from itself, or at worst it is a circular argument that simply pushes the problem down a level: what does that other more fundamental "something" that the universe depends on come from?
On the other hand, if we claim that the universe is beginningless and unoriginated -- then what is the eternity in which this "beginninglessness" is taking place? What created eternity? To posit that there is an eternity "beyond" the universe, or that "contains" the universe (including space and time) is already to state that there is something beyond the realm of science, something outside the universe. That's acceptable, however, if we then claim that this "eternity" is some kind of more fundamental thing, we just end up in the same infinite regress as before.
Another possibility might be to claim that eternity and the universe are the same thing. This is to say that the universe is infinite in scope -- space and time are boundless and contain all there is. This is either equivalent to the claim that the universe comes from nothing, or from itself. Neither of those options is tenable.
If we posit that eternity comes from nothing that is a contradiction. If it is self-originated, that is circular and also a contradiction. If we say it comes from something else, then what -- an infinite series of greater eternities, each containing all the lesser ones, like a Russian doll? Or is there a highest level of eternity and if so, what prevents there from being greater levels of eternity -- what causes the boundary to exist and if there is a boundary, what is on the other side of it? This leads to either a contradiction or an infinite regress.
If one claims that the universe contains all space and time, then is the container and what is contained finite or infinite in scope? If it is finite there must be some kind of edge, if it is infinite it implies something so inconceivably vast it is frankly mystical in scope.
In short, if we claim the universe comes from something that leads to circular arguments and contradictions, or an infinite regress. If we're willing to accept circular arugments and logical contradictions or infinite regresses as satisfactory answers then that is not very different than accepting any other self-justified claims taken on faith, such as those made by religions. In fact, it's just a kind of religious belief disguised as science. If we are willing to think this way -- and most scientists are -- then why not also believe in God or other religious ideas as well? It would be hypocritical not to.
It's important to note that the same logic that refutes notions that the universe comes from nothing, itself, or something else, can also be applied to any claims that there is a God. If there is a God, then like the universe, it also cannot originate from nothing, itself, or something else without leading to logical fallacies. To claim that God came from nothingness is again the something-from-nothing argument that we know does not make sense under logical scrutiny. To claim that God comes from God is circular reasoning and contradictory. To claim that God comes from something greater than God contradicts the very notion of God and/or leads to an infinite regress which just pushes the problem down to deeper levels -- where does that infinite regress of ever greater Gods come from then?
Both the universe and the concept of God have the same existential status in fact. Neither one of them has an origin that we can actually find or name without ending up in a logical mess of contradictions and infinite regressions. In this respect they are quite similar.
If neither any possible universe nor any possible God can be said to come from nothing, itself, or something else, then that leaves only two logical conclusions:
Option (1) is refuted by the basic fact that we do observe something happening right now. Option (2) is the only remaining option, and is not refuted in any obvious manner.
But option (2) is mind-bending. How can something beginningless exist? How could it ever have come about if there were never any initial causes or conditions to start it? It's the primordial chicken-and-the-egg problem.
And this is where things get interesting. Scientific theories claim the universe either has an origin or is unoriginated. Religions also either claim the universe has an origin or is unoriginated.
In the first case, the claim of an origin (such as theories in which the universe started from some physical event before which there was literally nothing, or in which there was nothing and then a Diety appeared and created the universe), we can prove logically that this leads to fallacies (because the origin cannot come from nothing, itself, or something else), so this view is simply wrong, or provisional at best; it's not a final explanation.
In the second case, the claim of non-orgination, in which the universe is held to be beginningless and possibly endless (for example a never-ending sequence of Big-Bangs and Big-Crunches, or a timelessly existing realm), this begs the question of where did this never-ending sequence come from? How could it have ever started? What is it, what is eternity and what created eternity?
In either case however, whether we use science or religion to approach the problem of the origin of the universe, we end up at the same place in the end. The path we may travel to get there is different, and certainly the language with which we express the conclusions is quite different, but the final result is the same. Logically speaking, the universe must be either unoriginated or created by something unoriginated. It is the only logically tenable conclusion.
In other words whether universe is thought of as purely physical, or originating from God, the only logically tenable conclusion is that it is nonoriginated. And the same goes for God. We may believe that God is greater than the universe, in other words prior to it, and in this case God and the universe are not equivalent, however, upon final analysis, even in this configuration, the only logically tenable conclusion is nonorigination.
For example, if the universe is a physical thing that was created by God, yet God is nonoriginated, then by inference the universe is also ultimately nonoriginated (via God's nonorigination). Although provisionally we can state that the universe originates from God, since God is in this case nonoriginated, the universe is ultimately nonoriginated, for no final origin can be found or logically established.
In summary, nonorigination is the single fundamental truth of both science and religion. It is where they converge.
And now, based on the above lines of reasoning, the final capstone on the argument.
If we posit that only the physical universe exists, then we have no other choice but to say the universe itself must be unoriginated, in other words, uncaused and unconditioned -- neither coming from nothing or from something else.
There is no escape from this logical conclusion. Nonorigination is always found to be the ultimate nature of whatever is positied to exist. It doesn't matter how many levels of reality you think there are, as soon as you posit even one, it's "turtles all the way down," to quote the famous expression. In other words, if you posit the universe resting on the back of something (for example, a giant turtle) then that something must in turn rest on the back of something else (another giant turtle, for example), and so on, endlessly. The only way to not have an endless pile of turtles resting on still deeper turtles is to posit a final fundamental turtle, but that makes no sense -- for that turtle would be in free-fall, meaning the entire stack of turtles would have no foundation and would topple over. What nonorigination really means however is that the stack of turtles can be infinite or finite - it really doesn't matter and is equivalent -- either way the entire stack itself, whether just 1 turtle our countless turtles, is nonoriginated. This is not to say that the stack depends on something else we call nonorigination, it is to say that the stack itself IS nonorigination.
This is very hard to accept conceptually, but it is a logical conclusion. The only way to deal with it intellectually, once you derive it and are convinced there is no way around it, is to simply accept it. The universe really is beyond conception -- it really cannot ever be conceived. It's infinite and its nature is inconceivable.
Now what's interesting, and unifying, about this conclusion is that nonorigination is a logical and scientific kind of conclusion, and yet there is something about it that is inconceivable and wondrous like what we think of when we speak of something Divine. Nonorigination is unexplainable, inconceivable, prior to all space and time, beyond the limits of the mind, and the nature of all things. This is at once scientific and Divine -- it is something infinitely beyond all conceptual limits -- it is the point where everything converges.
Nonorigination is also a very subtle truth, because it neither asserts or refutes the universe and/or the Divine. In fact, what appears is free to appear and function -- yet if we analyze it we find it is nonoriginated. That doesn't mean there are no causes and effects in operation, it doesn't mean the universe is random -- in fact quite the contrary will be shown later in this article.
Nonorigination says nothing about the day-to-day "relative level of the world" and how it functions -- it is a statement about the ultimate nature of everything: the originlessness and fundamental essencelessness of whatever appears. Thus when speaking of nonorigination, we can make a conceptual distinction between the relative and ultimate levels of truth. They are both true, one does not contradict the other.
Relative truth is truth within limits -- specifically a statement that holds true locally but not globally. Ultimate truth applies globally. In this case within the reference frame of the universe alone, we can say that any effect we observe is originated from various causes and conditions, but within the larger frame of the origin of the entire universe, it is nonoriginated. In any case, whether one chooses to accept this modal logic or not is a matter of personal preference.
Beyond Four Logical Extremes
In Buddhism the ultimate nonoriginated, uncaused and unconditioned primordial nature of reality is said to be "unborn." Since it has no cause it is never actually created or "born" as some thing, yet since it is also not literal nothingness, it is not entirely non-existent, for if it were nothingness it could not be something that we could even apply the labels of nonoriginated, uncaused and unconditioned to.
That which is nonoriginated is entirely free of all logical extremes:
It doesn't exist because it is not originated. It doesn't not-exist because it isn't literally nothingness. It doesn't both exist and not-exist because that is a logical contradiction.
The fourth logical extreme is the hardest to overcome and there are a few different arguments to conquer it. First of all the assertion of something neither existing nor not-existing is also a contradiction, via double negatives: if it doesn't exist then this is equivalet to not-existing, and if it doesn't not-exist then this is equivalent to existing.
Another way to refute this extreme is by the fact that there is no other alternative to existing or not-existing: to exist is to be something, whereas to not-exist is to not be something. How could there be "something" which is neither something or not-something. If it is "something" that contradicts the prong of claim that it is neither "something" or not-something. Yet if it is "not something" then that contradicts the prong of the claim that it is neither something or "not-something." In other words, to claim that something is neither something or not-something is contradictory from the very start.
The Nonorigination of Nonorigination
It's important not to get stuck on conceiving of nonorigination as a special kind of thing. Nonorigination is in fact nonoriginated too. So it can't be something. It also can't be nothing. It's actually free of of four logical extremes of being something or nothing. It's not any of these four logical possibilities:
There are no other logical possibilities than these four. Nonorigination cannot be said to be or not to be.
In fact, if we look for nonorigination we don't find it. For example, you cannot find the absence of something. The absence of that thing is literally the fact that you cannot find it. Nonorigination is the absence -- in any moment of experience -- of anything that can be found to exist, not-exist, exist and not-exist, neither exist nor not-exist. It is an absence, not the presence of something else that could be labelled "nonorigination."
But this absence is not merely a rhetorical or logical point -- it really is the actual fundamental nature of reality. In other words, whatever the universe is -- whatever appears to us -- really does have this nature of nonorigination, this complete absence of existing, not-existing, both, or neither. This means the universe is far more unexplainable than can even be imagined.
The Primordial Nature of Reality
We have found that whatever there is, it must be nonoriginated. There is no other logical alternative. Even nonorigination is nonoriginated. So while there is no final isolated thing we can point to as nonorigination itself, the fact that whatever we can point to is always found to have a nature of being nonoriginated is a fundamental truth. In fact it is perhaps the fundamental truth. It's the one logical conclusion that we always reach no matter what we analyze. All roads lead to nonorigination.
If we say that the universe is nonoriginated, then it doesn't exist the way that most scientists and even most religious thinkers imagine it to. While it's not nothingness, it's also not something, or any other alternative. This absence of having an existential status is in fact the way it really is, that's its primordial and ultimate nature. We can also say that this absence of existential status is the primordial nature of reality.
This means that reality is beyond the limits of existing and non-existing. This may defy common sense, or even feel impossible to imagine, yet it is the only logical option -- it is inconceivable yet must be so.
Many great religions all agree on this point at their highest levels of philosophy: Buddhism, Christianity, Judaism, Islam and Hinduism all agree at the purest conception of the Divine is really inconceivable and unameable, and certainly primordial (not created or conditioned by anything else). At it's very purest essence the universal truth of all religions, and even of science, is that there must be, and is, something uncreated and unconditioned at the root of reality.
Whether the universe is theorized to have sprung out of perfect randomness or nothingness, or it is an eternity, or there are infinite parallel universes, the only logically tenable way that the entire reference frame can exist is if it is nonoriginated. This nonoriginated, uncaused and unconditioned nature, is the primordial nature of reality -- of the universe and/or the Divine -- regardless of whether one believes in just one, or in both.
So there we have it: the essence of the universe and the essence of the Divine are the same primordial unoriginated reality. We can call that the universe, we can call it God, or we call it Buddha, Christ, Allah, Tao, or something else. It doesn't matter what we call it really, it is nameless.
If something is truly nonoriginated, in other words, uncaused and uncreated, then it is totally free. In particular it is free of all concepts and beliefs about it or anything else. It is free of all limitations. We cannot say that it has a particular name and no other name. We cannot say it can only be reached through one path and not others. We cannot say that it can only be served by obeying particular rules and not others. We cannot say that only some people have access to it while others don't, or that anyone is closer to it than anyone else.
Who are we to say anything that would limit something that is totally uncaused and unconditioned? Something cannot be partially free. Either it is totally free or it is not free at all. There is no middle ground. If we truly believe in a conception of a "God" that is totally free, then we have to be careful not to impose further concepts onto it or onto ourselves or anyone else. The closer one is to knowing God, the less one can really say about God.
The same goes for science: we eventually must reach similar conclusions about the fabric of reality and the origin of the universe. We may be able to describe and predict all sorts of things about the physical universe, but the deeper or farther we look in space and time, the more it starts to become indescribable. At the smallest scales and the largest scales, and in fact at every scale in between, the origin and nature of the cosmos is and will always be a mystery. The best we can do is categorize it and glean some understandings about how it functions, but we'll never be able to explain it. The universe, like God, is also beyond conception. It is either uncaused and unconditioned itself -- which means it is free -- or it depends on something that is uncaused and unconditioned. Either way, it is free.
Think about that for a moment. If the universe is free or depends on something that is free -- then either way, what takes place in the universe is ultimately uncaused and unconditioned, meaning the universe is effectively free in both cases. What does "free" actually mean? It means literally that anything can happen. Anything. Any universe is possible. Any set of physical laws are possible. Anything at all is possible -- even things which we can't explain and which perhaps are contradictory to the physical laws (such as anomalies, miracles, etc.).
But then why do only particular things appear to happen, rather than other alternatives? Why does the universe appear to obey particular physical laws? Why don't we observe miracles or other anomalies that contradict the physical laws (note: some people do claim they observe these phenomena, so we cannot say with certainty that they don't happen at all...)? But in any case, why does the universe seem so rational and orderly if indeed absolutely anything is possible?
One school of thought on this question (the Many Worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics) answers that in fact everything does happen, but in parallel universes, all at once. So there's no real choice being made -- all possibilities from those that are consistent with the universe we know to those which are totally outlandish or seemingly impossible do happen, all at once.
Another school of thought claims that somehow the universe makes choices and that these choices come about whenever observations take place, and that they have something to do with probability -- the universe is not precisely deterministic, but not entirely non-determinstic either. If that is the case, then the act of observing something essentially causes the universe to choose what actually happens from the set of all the things that could possibly happen.
But if the universe makes quantum mechanical choices at each moment of observation, then what comes first, the act of observation, or what is observed? What creates reality, what causes the choice that selects one possibility versus all the others? Is what appears literally caused by the observer, or is it there before being observed -- does it cause the observer to observer it, or does the observer cause it to be observed? It's unclear, according to quantum mechanics at least; It's a chicken-and-the-egg kind of problem. In fact, the situation is better characterized as a kind of feedback loop, or a dance of sorts, that's been going on forever.
The universe is ultimately free; anything can happen. But anything does not appear to happen, only some things happen. This is currently said to happen because of choices that are made when observations take place, at least on a subatomic level.
But while observation may cause or condition reality on the quantum scale, on the macroscopic level -- the level of people and cars and houses and trees, and so forth -- the act of observation does not seem to function in the same manner; it doesn't cause things to happen. Or does it? The classic Zen koan, "If a tree falls in the woods and there is nobody there to hear it, does it make a sound?" addresses this question.
In fact, if there is no observer to hear the sound, how can we say there is a sound? When the tree falls it causes vibrations, but those vibrations only make a sound if they move the eardrum of something that can hear. If there is no observer, but only a recording device in the woods, there is a recording, but not yet a sound. The sound only can be said to exist when the recording device is actually used to play the recorded sound to an observer. Until that happens, the sound is not observed.
This strange fact is reflected in scientific experiments such as the famous "Double Slit Experiment" and many variations. In that experiment, the act of measuring the path that a photon takes causes it to appear to appear to behave like a particle, while if you don't measure the path it appears to behave like a wave. In fact, this effect is even stranger -- experiments have been done which seem to indicate that this effect can even go backwards in time. Even if you wait to measure the path the photon takes long after it has traveled through the experiment, that observation seems to effectively go backwards in time and cause the photon to retroactively behave one way or another, in the past.
Another famous thought-experiment which illustrates the interaction between observation and reality is the "Schroedinger's Cat" example, in which a cat in a box is either dead or alive depending on whether a random event happens, but until you actually open the box you can't know it's actual status -- and on a quantum level in fact, until the cat is observed you cannot really say it is either dead or alive; it exists in a kind of intermediate state. The moment of observation somehow causes the intermediate state to collapse into a particular quantum state. This is very odd stuff. And for a while it was thought to really only apply at very small scales, although more recently there is some evidence that similar logic may apply even at macroscopic scales.
What this all means is that there is something about observation that seems to cause the universe to make choices. Another way of expressing this is that the universe -- because it is totally free -- has the freedom to make choices, and this happens through the act of observation. This would also imply that the universe is intelligent and creative, because the things that make observations (sentient beings like humans, for example) are intelligent and creative. Perhaps the universe isn't happening out there on it's own, perhaps it is in a very real sense, imagining itself through an unfolding process of creatively making observations.
The Improbability of the Universe
If the universe either is something totally free, or depends on something totally free, then either way, the universe is totally free. That is to say there are no limitations on it. Anything can happen. How then is it that we observe particular things and not everything happening? Why don't each of us experience all possible parallel universes? Why is the universe the way it is, and not even slightly different? Why are things the way they are? We can look at physical things and use scientific knowledge to understand their trajectories and dynamics. That certainly helps us explain a little bit about those physical things. But it doesn't tell us why the initial conditions were not different, or why the universe is such that the physical laws and physical constants are what they are.
Even a slight change in the structure or unfolding of the universe would have resulted in a vastly different outcome -- the physical laws would be different, the physical constants would have different values, and this would result in different kinds of universes. Some would have very different properties than the one we live in. Some would support life, some would not. Some would have led to our planet and human beings, some would not. Some would have stars and galaxies, yet other extreme cases would burn out and collapse into giant black holes almost immediately, while other configurations would have led to the universe breaking into countless separate universes or literally exploding and then dissolving into countless separate black holes. And there are many other possibilities too. These claims may sound wild, but in fact they are predicted using our current scientific model -- if we simply change the initial conditions of the early universe slightly.
So why did things turn out the way they did? And why does our universe seem perfectly balanced to support human life -- or any life for that matter? There are so many possibilities for how the universe might have unfolded, and most of those possibilities do not result in a universe that could support human life at all. In fact the universe we live in is one of the more statistically improbable outcomes. The odds of our universe happening are infitessimally small. So how did it happen?
Furthermore, at least on a quantum level it appears that until an act of observation takes place we cannot really say the universe makes a choice about what happens. So what about the early universe -- before there were any human observers, or any living things at all to make observations? So what was made the first observation? Was there a "prime observer" at the first instant of the universe, and if not, how could it have come into being since on a quantum level without being observed it could not have had a particular state.
Or alternatively was there some other kind of outside observer that made the original observations of every ancient quantum interaction, enabling the universe to make choices, at least until living observers could evolve to make their own observations? Or, has the universe effectively made all those choices retroactively -- for example, now that there are observers, has the effect of our present choices gone back in time and caused the universe to make all the necessary past choices to lead to the way things are today (that one is a mind-bender, but on a quantum level it is not unreasonable or impossible to consider -- space and time are not obstacles on the quantum level. For more on this, read about the Anthropic Principle in physics and cosmology)
Perhaps only universes that can support life can therefore contain observers, and so only such universes can actually happen because without observers quantum level choices cannot be made -- in other words, possible universes that don't contain observers effectively cancel themselves out and never even happen, leaving only those universes that can and do support observers. This would at least eliminate a lot of possible universes and improve the odds of universes like ours ever happening. But there are still innumerable, literally countless, variations that are possible even within that set of observer-friendly universes. Why did it turn out that exactly one and only one of those possible universes -- ours -- is what happened?
Here's another question that we have to consider as well: If observation is required for the universe to make choices and effectively collapse on various states out of the space of possible states it could be in, then either there was a first observer (which leads the contradiction that the first observer could not happen because it was not observed) or there has to be an infinite regression of observers, or we couldn't have the present universe at all. Once again, we come to the logical problems we encountered earlier when discussing the universe and God. Either we end up in contradictions or regressions.
One possibility is that the universe is an observer of itself. We know that since the universe can contain observers (for example, humans), it is capable of making observations. So why should observations only happen on the human-scale. Perhaps there are larger systems within the universe that can make observations too? But even if we believe this it still doesn't solve the problem -- even if the universe can observe itself, what observes the universe? Alternatively, if we posit some kind of outside observer of the universe, then again, what observes that? In either case, we end up with a logical contradiction or an infinite regression.
Is there any way out?
Yes, there is one, and only one, way out: It all comes down to consciousness.
Just as we found that in order for the universe to exist either it must be nonoriginated, it also must be inherently observed. Without observation, nothing could happen, choices could not be made, at least according to quantum physics.
But if this the case, what made the first observation that started it all? The answer is that there was no first observation. Instead, observation must be inherently unified with nonorigination. There is no other alternative, at least if observation is necessary for the universe to exist, on a quantum mechanical level.
In other words, the universe does not require an outside observer. This MUST be the case, for on a quantum level the early universe -- indeed even the Big Bang or whatever we think the universe was like as far back as possible -- could not have happened at all without something observing it (on a quantum level). The capacity to make observations must be an inherent property of the universe itself, or at least of what the universe depends on if we think it depends on something else. Either way, the capacity to observe is inherent, it doesn't come from nothing, itself, or something else -- it has no origin. It has to be or we couldn't have the universe at all, according to current scientific theories about quantum physics.
So what is this mysterious capacity to observe? It seems to be pretty close to what we mean when we use the terms "consciousness" or "awareness" (and of "God" too by the way).
We humans have this capacity to experience our minds and senses -- to not only be aware but to be reflexively aware as well -- and it appears that animals and other forms of sentient life have this capacity too. We are able to observe and react to stimulus, but also to know it. We don't just react automatically, like springs bouncing back from being compressed. We experience what we observe -- we know -- we are. We have a sense of our own being, we are aware that we are aware. We are aware that we are. And that is observation in its most naked form.
The universe supports the evolution of things which are aware of their own being. And that means that the awareness of being either comes from the physical universe or from beyond it. But either way, we have seen in our earlier discussion, that at the end of the day, whether you believe in only the physical universe or you believe in a God beyond the universe, they have the same ultimate nature of nonorigination.
The characteristics of the universe, and therefore of what we call "God," are therefore that of being uncaused, unconditioned AND aware (in other words, making observations). There is no other logical, or scientific, alternative.
Consciousness is therefore something deeper than what we might think. It is a reflection of the universe's and/or God's inherent capacity to be aware. It literally IS the primordial awareness of the universe. And because consciousness IS primordial awareness -- the basic capacity to make observations that observes at least itself and can potentially observe anything or everything else -- that means it is coming directly from the most fundamental level of reality -- in fact it IS the most fundamental level of reality.
Awareness is uncaused, unconditioned and aware of being. Each of us, and indeed, each sentient being that is aware of anything, is a reflection of the entire universe in a sense, and of whatever we call "God," if we believe in God. In a very real sense -- from a scientific perspective as well as a religious one -- there is something divine in every sentient being, and indeed in the entire universe.
This primordial awareness is inconceivable, because it literally IS that which is nonoriginated. Even within our own minds we cannot describe it or limit it in any way. It is the nature of mind, and it is the nature of reality, and of whatever we might call God. The difference between each of our individual human awarenesses and the infinite and inconceivable awareness of the universe and/or God is one of scale, not one of qualities. This also means that each individual's mind is potentially as totally free as the total freedom of the universe and/or God. This is our true condition, whether we know it or not. Total freedom means the mind is potentially unlimited -- truly unlimited. That means it is possible to know or experience or observe anything, for us as individual sentient beings, and for the universe as a whole.
Although anything can happen in theory, sentient beings such as ourselves and others make observations -- that is our function in the universe in fact -- and these observations have quantum level repurcussions that actually cause the universe to choose particular outcomes, which in turn feedback to affect the probabilities of our future observations. In a very real sense, observation creates experience.
Whether you believe the universe is an inconceivably vast intelligent and creative being that has free will, or you believe it all depends on a God that is inconceivabley vast, intelligent, creative, and has free will -- it's the same. Take your pick, they lead to the same conclusion, and the same universe. Awareness -- the essence of consciousness -- has a very key role in the universe, and/or in whatever we think of as God. It is in fact THE key to it all.
Cause and Effect
From this discussion so far, we have concluded that the universe is nonoriginated. That is to say, the only logical option is that it exists in a nonoriginated manner -- it does not arise from nothing, itself, or something else (OR if it arises from something else then that thing must be nonoriginated, or at least something at some point that is causally upstream from it has to be nonoriginated). For example if the universe comes from God, then either God must be nonoriginated, or that which God depends on has to be nonoriginated, and so on. The point is that the series of things and things that create them is finite, not infinite. There is no infinite regress.
This does not deny the operation of cause and effect within the universe, nor does it deny that there can be an infinite series of causes and effects that lead to or stem from any event within the universe. It only denies that there can be an infinite series of causes and effects the lead to the creation of the universe as-a-whole. In other words, on the relative level, within the universe, cause and effect can operate just as science (or even various religions) might predict. However, the universe as-a-whole is not caused, or eventually depends on something that is not caused.
Therefore the universe as we know it is not contradicted by claiming that it is nonoriginated. Nor is cause and effect contradicted by stating that ultimately the universe as-a-whole, or whatever is that which is nonoriginated, is totally and complely uncaused, unconditioned and therefore free. Furthermore, even though observers -- individual sentient beings -- within the universe are expressions of that primordial freedom (by virtue of being aware), they are still subject to the laws of cause and effect within the universe.
For example, a particular observer may make an observation, and in doing so they perturb the universe on a quantum level, which conditions what they end up observing. Observation is a cause. What is observed is partially an effect of the act of observation, and partially an effect of other causes and conditions that relate to it. When an observer makes an observation, together with the appropriate set of causes and conditions, a particular event is observed to take place. Similarly, that event then acts as a cause or condition for other observations and events to take place for that observer and/or other observers.
In this manner everything that happens within the universe is the result of a complex network of causes and conditions, in which observers play critical roles. Observers actually change the topology of the network (the patterns of linkages between various causes and conditions and observers) whenever they make observations. This ability to rewire the network by making observations is something that is unique to sentient beings -- only true observers that are conscious are capable of causing this to happen.
In fact, without observers actively making observations we cannot truly say the network exists in any particular state -- it could be in any of an infinite number of possible configurations representing any of an infinite number of possible timelines of universes. The act of observation is what triggers chains of cause and effect to "fire" (almost as if they were patterns of neurons and dendrites in the brain firing sequentially to generate various thoughts). When there is no observation taking place we might say that the universe is frozen in a kind of indeterminate state. Only when observations happen are particular chains of potential cause and effect in time and space activated, and thus particular events they bring about appear to take place.
The process of cause-and-effect changes the probabilities of various events, making them more or less likely to take place, that is, to be observed. And it is the act of observation itself which triggers the chain of cause and effect, which powers it, which makes it happen. This is how the universe works on a quantum level, and also perhaps how it works on other levels too (for example, the law of Karma in Buddhism is effectively this very process of cause and effect, or what is also called dependent-arising, taking place not only in the external physical world and the body, but within all sensory modalities and even within the mind).
But is cause-and-effect required for the universe to function the way it does? Is there an alternative?
Suppose that there were no cause-and-effect within the universe. Instead imagine what it would be like if everything happened randomly. In a totally random universe every event has an equal chance of happening, so either all events would happen at once, or none of them would. We don't see either of these taking place however. Instead we see very non-random distributions of events taking place.
When you exert a force on an object it is highly likely to exert and equal and opposite reaction on you, and it is quite unlikely that it will do the opposite of that. But in a random universe both events would be equally likely, at least over all time and space and observers and possible universes. So if the all events are equally likely then we could not have the universe we experience, in which that is certainly not the case.
One might move the problem down a level however by suggesting that perhaps this universe is only one universe in an infinite number of parallel or possible universes, which are all equally likely to happen, and we just got lucky somehow. We happen to be observers within this one, where things fall towards the force of gravity rather than being repelled by it, and so we are able to stand here on the planet and the planet retains its atmosphere, etc.
It's fine to hold that view, however, even if one does, within this universe at least, it appears to be as if cause and effect is in operation. Whether cause and effect sequences are really happening sequentially over time and are influenced by the free will of observers, or they all happen all at once from the perspective of eternity and thus free will is illusory, what we experience would be the same. Thus these two alternatives are equivalent.
In this universe -- which is the only one we observe -- it appears to us as if cause and effect processes are unfolding over time, and for all intents and purposes, from our perspectives, whether causality unfolds creatively and non-deterministically over time and in part due to the free will of observers like ourselves influencing what we observe, or it's all preordained in eternity, its equivalent.
What this means is that for this universe to happen, cause and effect is necessary. There may be other possible universe in the set of all possibilities which may not appear to contain processes that resemble cause and effect, but we are not experiencing any of them right now, nor can we even prove they exist. So from our perspectives it is as if they do not exist. Notably however, we cannot prove they do not exist either.
Now the question is how can a universe that appears to operate by cause and effect, within it, be nonoriginated? How could a universe full of causes and effects not have a cause? How can nonorigination and cause-and-effect be compatible? Isn't that equivalent to claiming it is an effect (the univeres) that has no cause (nonorigination), and isn't that therefore a logical contradiction? No. To make such a claim would indeed be a logical contradiction -- an effect is the result of a cause and cannot exist without a corresponding cause. The solution is to not claim that the universe is an effect, nor to claim that nonorigination is a cause.
It is contradictory to assert the existence of an effect apart from its cause. Therefore the universe cannot be asserted to be an effect that has no cause. It is simply nonoriginated, it is not the result of anything. For it to be the result of something would contradict nonorigination, which we have already found is the only logical way that the universe can exist at all (because it can't come from nothing, itself, or something else, so therefore it must either not exist at all, or it must exist in a nonorignated manner, and since it does appear to exist, it must exist in a nonoriginated manner).
Nonorigination requires that the entire universe is not a cause nor an effect. But although the entire universe is not a cause or an effect, it can appear to contain what look like, and function within it as, causes and effects -- sequences of events that are causally linked over time and space in complex interdependent networks.This is a real mind-bender and will take some time to explain. Cause-and-effect is a relative level process -- it is provisionally true -- but on an ultimate level the process and everything within it is nonoriginated.
For example, we probe further, into any particular event, and we trace back its origins within the universe, and if space and time are infinite, then we may find an infinitely broad and deep network of causes and effects both upstream (leading to it) and downstream (stemming from it) in time. Since these sequences are infinite, they are from a logical perspective infinite regressions. To claim that any effect comes from an infinite series of causes and effects, is logically fallacious -- we cannot prove such a claim since we cannot test infinity to see whether or not the series is truly infinite or not, or even what all the causes and effects in the alleged series even are.
Cause and Effect is Nonorigination
Therefore, from a logical level, even though causes and effects may appear within an infinite universe, they too must be nonoriginated -- it is the only manner in which they can be said to exist without commiting a fallacy: They must exist in a manner that is free from four logical extremes. In other words, they cannot exist, not-exist, both exist and not-exist, or neither exist or not-exist.
They cannot exist because of infinite regression. They cannot not-exist because that is a logical contradiction and also conflicts with what we observe. Combining existing and not-existing is a logical contradiction. Rejecting both existing and not-existing leads to logical contradiction and also conflicts with what we observe. So while on a relative level the process cause-and-effect appears to operate, on the ultimate level of analysis, it is equivalent to being unoriginated, from our perspectives at least.
Another way of expressing the same thing is end result is that if the space and time are infinite, then the universe as well as its contents (including all causes, effects, observations, and observers) must be ultimately nonoriginated. And since it's not possible to have a finite sequence of causes-and-effects (because that would mean that at least one cause or effect would not have a corresponding effect or case, which is not possible (because a cause and an effect are inseperable, it is a contradiction to claim you have one without the other), a finite universe of causes and effects is impossible. Therefore finite universes are impossible, since only universes that contain causes and effects would not be random.
Therefore our universe must be infinite, because we do observe processes of cause and effect, and it also must be nonoriginated (or be equivalent to something that is nonoriginated -- for example be being part of an infinite series of causes and effects of universes or by being created by some kind of God's free will, not by cause and effect (where God is by definition not orignated by anything else). These are the only logical possibilities.
The lines of reasoning in this section, and those above it, prove that lead us to conclude that only infinite universes in which cause and effect appear to operate are possible, and that such universes (and the causes and effects they contain) must be ultimately nonoriginated, and observed, in order to be said to occur.
In other words, cause and effect is nonorigination. Whatever appears to be generated by causes and effects is ultimately nonoriginated.
Nonorigination is Cause and Effect
The same is true in the reverse direction. We cannot say that something is nonoriginated unless there is some relative-level appearance of a thing to make that statement about. The notion that nonorigination could exist on it's own without some subject or object that is nonoriginated is a contradiction. Nonorigination is a phenomenon that requires a complementary relative-level facet, namely whatever is being asserted to be nonoriginated. To assert nonorigination apart from anything else would be like positing a penny with no sides. A penny must have a heads and tails. It can't be a penny without them.
Therefore where there is cause and effect is the result of nonorigination and observation, and where there is nonorigination and observation there is some phenomena -- some event appearing to take place, and since phenomena do not happen randomly, the only alternative is that some combination causes and effects are at work.
It is the process of observations, causes and effects that makes some possible phenomena more or less likely than others at various locations in space and time. Without such a process all possible phenomena would be equally likely at all possible locations in space and time. That would not result in our universe, or anything like our universe, at least as far as we observers can know from our positions within space and time.
Perhaps one might argue that maybe if we could see eternity we might find that our universe was randomly generated as-a-whole, but that is not possible either -- for if all universes were equally likely then they would either all happen at once or none of them would happen at all. The fact that this universe appears refutes the possibility that none of them happen at least. As for the possibility of them all happening at once, this is a possibility, but we can't determine this for sure unless we can see eternity ourselves. From our perspective, and as far as we can know, only this one is happening.
Nonorigination is therefore equivalent to cause and effect, and vice-versa. The process of cause-and-effect is not refuted by nonorigination, indeed it is required by nonorigination, and vice-versa. The proof is that this universe is appearing and functioning the way it does.
At each moment of our lives, of each moment of observation no matter how brief or precise -- there is something else taking place that is NOT nothingness and NOT exactly whatever appears to us either.
For example when we observe a tree, we see the appearance of the tree visually. That appearance is there, at least as a mere visual image, not unlike an image in a dream. It may be a real image of a real tree, or a dream image of a dream tree -- but that doesn't matter, the two cases are equivalent for in fact we really cannot tell the difference at the moment of its appearance.
The image of the tree before us is of some thing which we may believe exists "out there" in the "real world" beyond our body and mind, and that it is really just a depiction of the object out there in the visual spectrum, formed by our particular sense organs and their abilities and limitations, and then rendered via the circuitry of our brains onto some kind of internal viewing screen, or to some further set of cognitive processes which then do things like interpret it, label it as a "tree" etc. That's all fine -- whether or not any of that is really what is taking place or not -- at the very moment of an appearance appearing that is all hypothetical from our own perspective. All we can know at the moment of an appearance is that it is there in its own unique way, and that we know it.
The appearance is the object side of a moment of experience. The "we know it" part of the experience is the subject side. There are these two sides to every ordinary moment of experience. This is consciousness, a dualistic interpretation of what is taking place in every moment into having two poles of subject and object that are somehow two different things. Most people spend their lives experiencing everything -- themselves, the outside world, others -- in this dualistic mode of cognition. Note that dualism is not inherent, it is a conceptual interpretation of raw experience. Experience itself is not dualistic -- there is no actual boundary that we can find between subject and object and we cannot separate them to have one without the other. This dualistic frame of mind is a deep-seated habit and unquestioned belief that is part of our "filter" of the world. It prevents us from knowing experience the way it actually is, and instead splits it like a prism splits a single beam of light, into multiple beams of "subject" and "object" halves of each moment.
It's key to notice that the dualistic frame of mind -- ordinary consciousness -- is a kind of artificial division of the moment into two parts. It comes about because a misunderstanding on our own part of what is actually taking place in each moment. What we call the object side of experience is any appearance in any sensory modality or the mind. The subject side of experience is the label we give to the part of the moment that seems to be witnessing it, or being it.
In fact there are not really two things like this, divided and separate from one another. Instead there is only one thing taking place that has both of these aspects. What is taking place is nonorigination. It has two aspects: awareness and appearance. Actually this triad can be expressed in three formulas:
Nonorigination = awareness + appearance (N = A + A')
Appearance = Nonorigination - awareness (A = N - A')
Awareness = Nonorigination - appearance (A = N - A')
Each moment of experience combines all three of these together into a trinity -- they are unified yet still distinct. This might in fact be The Ultimate Trinity of all trinities. Furthermore, if we focus on appearance we will find that it is nonorigination. If we focus on awareness we will find that it too is nonorigination. If we try to focus on nonorigination itself we never find it, instead we always find moments of awareness plus appearance. Yet if we then try to find the awareness or appearance on their own they dissolve back to nonorigination.
This Trinity is THE most important philosophical point of all. And I cannot take credit for it. Evertying I know about it or have said here is based on what I've learned from Buddhism and quantum mechanics. In particular there are thousands of years of highly developed Buddhist logical treatises on precisely this point.
What is Actually Happening
When things happen they don't just appear out of nothingness.
There isn't really any nothingness. Nothingness is impossible by virtue of the following proof: Something appears right now. Nothing and something are mutually exclusive.
Furthemore, even IF nothing was possible, it could never generate anything because there is no way to turn nothingness into something other than nothingness.
Instead of nothingness there is a kind of space of knowing or being -- what might be called awareness. This space is not inherently personalized -- it has no concepts or sense of I or of being an observer, etc. This awareness has the characteristic of being nonoriginated -- we cannot find it or call it a concrete, truly-existing, isolated "thing."
At the same time as there is any knowing or being, appearances spontaneously develop within its scope. For example, this is just like dreaming. In a dream there is the space of the mind and then within this space various appearances (and other sensory experiences, for example of sound, etc.) unfold. We then identify with a particular character or perspective in the dream and the appearance of its body -- and we call that "I" or "self." That is a habit -- there is nothing inherently real about the character we see ourselves as in a dream -- it is not really us, not really our body or our actual mind but rather just a dream image of a body and mind. We label it as "I" or "me" out of habit. In fact, our real body is alseep in bed and is not in the dream, and our real mind and self are having the dream they are not really in the dream. Or are they?
When we dream, dreams don't appear out of nothing, they appear out of awareness.
The same goes for all the experiences (aka appearances in various sensory modalities) that we call a moment of "our universe." At each moment of experience there is the space of awareness plus at least some appearance. Neither the awareness or the appearances are truly-existing or even separate, they are just two aspects of nonorigination.
Nonorigination -- or what in Buddhism is called "emptiness" is not a final fundamental thing that can be grasped or found either -- if you find it you find that it dissolves into awareness and appearances and these dissolve back into nonorigination, endlessly.
Time unfolds as the process of this infinite loop -- the Trinity of
nonorigination, awareness and appearance -- iterating. We are always
either looking at an appearance, our awareness, or nonorigination. In
either case as soon as we make such an observation what we find is that
these dissolve into their counterparts. As we keep observing we trigger
the process of cause-and-effect which continues to perpetuate
appearances and that is what powers the universe so to speak. The
energy we put into it by making observations drives it to "run" this
program so to speak, endlessly iterating new moments of experience that
then trigger us to make further observations and so on.
On a quantum level, the process of enacting awareness, via simple acts of observation -- is literally what causes the universe to make quantum decisions that jolt the quantum field of possibilities to "collapse" onto a single possibility whenever we look for it. This is analogous to being able to cause liquid water to suddenly freeze into ice by just looking at it. When we don't look, it's water, but when we do look it instantly freezes into a particular shape.
We can never really see it in its water form, it always freezes just when we look for it. But we can infer the water from the frozen shapes that appear. Even ice has has waterlike qualities -- it's clear, and it melts back into water when heated after all. If we look closely at any observation (any shape made of ice in this analogy), to find its nature, this is analogous to heating the ice we are looking at, which melts it back to liquid form.
Once it melts we can no longer see it (in this analogy) until we make the next observation as we continue to look for it again. Our next observation is conditioned by the previous observation -- the network of probabilities for what can appear next are changed by the previous observation -- and this causes it to follow from it, statistically, rather than to be completely random -- this is the process of cause-and-effect in a nutshell. Therefore our acts of observation crystallize and perpetuate our experience in an ongoing, recursive process.
Each act of observation effectively loads the dice for the next act of observation and so changes the odds of the next possible dicerolls. If the world did not work this way it would be totally random. Since it's not totally random -- it does appear to behave in a non-random fashion, we are able to make various kinds of predictions, there is a certain amount of consistency over time, this is how the universe must and does work. Cause-and-effect makes the universe non-random and non-randomness of the universe results in cause-and-effect operating.
Metascience: What are the Possible Beliefs We Might Hold?
So far we have explored some very deep questions about the origin and nature of the universe and, if one believes in God, then of God too. We have found that all these questions converge on the same ultimate reality -- the reality of nonorigination.
But while they may all converge on that point eventually, there are many different schools of thought within science and religion, and regarding how they relate to one another. So how do we choose what to believe in?
It is necessary to make such choices in order to simply function on a day-to-day level, to resolve difficult moral questions, and to figure out how to live or what to do in the future. Many people just accept the choice that is handed to them by their parents, or by authorities they trust. But if one has the freedom and presence of mind to question this themselves, then on what basis can an intelligent choice be made?
It's difficult to make sense of the range of belief system choices available, and their biggest differences or main points. One could proceed on an extensive voyage of exploration -- surveying every field of science and religion over decades (what I did by default). But the whole task might be a lot faster and more efficient if one had a map to start with.
I propose a field of thinking about what to believe that we might call "Metascience" in which we make maps to help people navigate possible belief systems more intelligently. In this approach we address big philosophical questions from a higher level, starting by enumerating the space of possible beliefs we could hold about them -- rather than by starting with a particular choice of belief. (Note: Another word for Metascience might simply be philosophy or metaphysics. But Philosophy and more specifically, metaphysics, have gotten totally lost, irrelevant, and non-objective. It's time for a refresh.).
So, regarding the choice of beliefs about the relatoinship between God and the universe -- Instead of immediately diving into the rathole of arguing the specifics of any one particular belief system or position on the issues, first let's at least try try to agree on what the set of possible beliefs and positions is, and on a way to enumerate them as elegantly and usefully as possible. Is a universally agreeable metascience possible? Can we come up with a way to enumerate all the possible belief systems about God and the universe that everyone can agree with?
A Categorization of All Possible Beliefs About The Universe and God
So here is my first attempt at mapping out the exhaustive metascientific enumeration of all possible philosophies regarding God and the Universe.
(A) Hierarchical Approach: Either the universe or God is more fundamental and/or includes the other
(B) Dualistic Approach: The universe and God are two separate things
(C) Non-Dualistic Approach: The universe and God are one unified thing
(D) Existential Approach: The universe and/or God is a provisionally existing thing
(E) Nonconceptual Approach: The universe and/or God is inconceivable
There are no other major categories that I can think of regarding the Universe and God. I believe this may be then an exhaustive list. But feel free to add your own thoughts in the comments below.
Are These Questions Worthwhile?
At this point, for the skeptics among us, we should ask whether it is even meaningful and worthwhile to try to unify science and religion.
It is certainly clear that science has value. But what about religion?
Firstly, much of the world's population believes in some form of religion and these beliefs are at the root of much of what takes place in the world -- culturally, politically, economically and more. For that reason, if nothing else, we really should have as deep an understanding of all the various conceptions about God as we can. But that's just the start. In fact there are sound scientific and philosophical reasons for exploring the topic of God as well. The theory that God originated the universe is just a valid a hypothesis as any other theory -- and may even be testable at some point in the future. It's certainly no more outlandish than some of the more exotic and hard-to-test cosmological hypotheses put forth in recent decades.
In addition, many people (including even many scientists) have had personal experiences that indicate that there is some greater entity beyond the body, mind or individual self, and perhaps even beyond the physical limits of space and time. While not everyone has had such experiences, and there is no way to validate the experiences of others, the fact that such experiences are so common and so similar, is another data-point that makes this topic worthy of consideration both by those who claim to have had such experiences, and by those who claim to have not had them. They may be artifacts of the particular architecture of the human body and brain, or they may be pointing to a deeper reality that exists just as objectively as the physical world.
Finally, from a purely scientific perspective, the origin of the universe is a mystery, and therefore the possibility of God is as much an open question as it ever was. Science has been able to learn about how the universe works to some degree, and to map parts of it, and even to form conjectures about how it has developed -- but where it comes from, how it started (if it even has a beginning at all), and even where it is located ultimately are a mystery. If one posits any kind of a beginning -- such as a Big Bang -- then that immediately begs the question of where did the Beginning come from?
Religion has certainly learned a lot from science over the millennia. But perhaps, ironically, science has as much to learn from religion in coming millennia, at least when it comes to understanding and exploring the farthest possible reaches of cosmology and the mind. The strange relationship between mind and matter may be what the next great scientific revolution will focus on.
Similarities Between Sciences and Religions
While science and religion may disagree on certain points, at the very deepest level, they may actually be more compatible than we might think. In fact, I would go so far as to propose that a grand unification of science and religion may come about in the future as we probe ever deeper into the edges of what we know about cosmology, subatomic physics, and even our understanding of consciousness and the mind.
The strangeness at the boundaries of science already points to a reality that goes beyond a strict division of mind and matter. For example, the simple act of observation seems to have an influence on what is actually measured to take place, according to the field of quantum mechanics. Similarly, at the borders of cosmology, questions still abound on the origin, structure, and fate of the universe. And in particular, given the improbabilty of a universe such as ours, which seems to be precisely balanced to support the emergence of intelligent life, how did this universe happen?
In many cases scientists are very careful to state that they simply don't know certain things yet. But at the same time, as scienfitic theories come into vogue, they often get out of control. For example the theory of the Big Bang. This particular theory, like most other scientific theories, has gone from being a new and contentious proposal, to a major and mainstream scientific belief, to a term that even non-scientists embraced as fact, and now today there is new evidence that perhaps the Big Bang theory is flawed and/or totally incorrect.
In the field of the philosophy of science, which studies how scientific paradigms are born, how they develop and compete, and how they are overturned, there are many other examples (the view of the Newtonian universe versus the view of Relativity, for example, or various explanations for the quantum world, and more recently String Theory). As scientific belief systems emerge, their proponents sometimes develop a kind of faith in the veracity of their beliefs that is not yet justified by the evidence, or that can never be justified in some cases -- this scientific faith is quite similar to religious faith. It's a strong belief in an explanation of nature for which there is some evidence but not yet final proof.
In fact, in science, theories can only be falsified, they can never be established as permanent and final. One never knows if and when new evidence may emerge that overturns the received view, or points to a deeper understanding.
It should also be noted that it is not the case that science is rational and religion is not. In fact, most if not all religions claim that that at least some of their beliefs are verifiable by individuals who follow a rational and repeatable process (for example, do certain things and you will get certain results). In addition at least some religions also apply rigorous formal logic to support their viewpoints. Those religions that provide an experimental method (do certain things and anyone will get predictable results) and that also apply rigorous logic to their reasoning, are applying a form of scientific method. It may be a weak form of scientific method, but it is not irrational.
So while science and religion have very different methodologies, at least with regard to their answers to the really Big Questions, such as the origin and ultimate nature of the universe, they both require a certain amount of faith, and they are both rational processes to some degree.
Differences Between Sciences and Religions
However there are also certain key differences between sciences and religions. In particular, many religions are built from axioms (creation myths, dieties, stories, traditions, and rules) which are established tautologically (they are considered to be true because simply they are defined to be true). For example, those religions which found their belief systems on ancient manuscripts that are said to have come directly for God, are building their belief systems from axioms. Such texts are claimed to be axiomatically true and cannot be disputed for they are God's Word.
Some relgions also make the claim that the only way to test and verify the truth of their beliefs is to first take them on faith as true. In other words, the only way to verify that x is true is to first believe that x is true, and then after you believe it, the evidence will start to emerge. In other words, not having faith -- asking questions or having doubts -- actually prevents one from discovering the truth. It is the act of having faith that actually opens the door, so to speak.
Putting faith first is the opposite of the scientific method. The scientific method starts with doubt. It invites questioning -- nothing is too sacred to examine, and if some theory can't stand up to scrutiny, or can't be shown through experiment or logic to be true, then it can't be said to be scientific fact. In fact, to accept that something is true without having doubts, but prior to having proof, would be a grave scientific error. This is a key difference between the methodologies of sciences and religions in general.
However, different though it may be from the scientific method, the religious approach seems to work. Billions of people throughout human history who have followed various religions have been able to verify, for themselves at least, the authenticity of their beliefs. Whether or not the stories in a certain religious text are literally true or only metaphorical or allegorical, the fact remains that the religious process of faith, devotion, prayer and personal growth do lead, in a predictible and repeatable manner, to profound religious experiences and in some cases even to unexplainable "miracles" at times (such as the many documented cases of spontaneous healings, for example). While this is certainly not the scientific method, it appears to work pretty well nonetheless.
It is not my intention to prove that the scientific method of "proof before faith" is better or worse than the religious approach of "faith before proof." In fact, I think they both have their place, and they both work, for different purposes.
The Boundary Between Science and Religion is Fuzzier Than One Might Think
The boundary between where science ends and religion begins is fuzzy at best. In fact, they are so intimately connected at the deepest levels that perhaps they will oneday turn out to be the same thing.
Already we have found that on the quantum scale there is an intimate and strange connection between conscious observation and what appears to happen. This is not well understood yet, but it is observed experimentally. Yet we don't have any real understanding of what consciousness is, or how it interacts with what is observed. The sciences have very little understanding of the mind at all. In fact, many scientists don't even believe there is a mind; they think the brain is a machine and the mind is a kind of illusion. There is no soul, no consciousness, no being at all. Yet others disagree. The jury is still out.
Religions on the other hand have been studying consciousness for millennia, and some are downright scientific about it. For example the ancient Hindu and Buddhist tantric sciences provide extremely detailed and sophisticated technologies for using the breath, posture, visualization, sound, and concentration to bring about extremely unusual states of body and mind (which have recently have been measured in scientific laboratories in a number of studies). Religions are in some ways way ahead of science when it comes to understanding the mind.
The mind is one of the places where science and religion are going to collide and most likely converge. Another is the ultimate nature of the universe -- the nature of space and time. The boundary between science and religion becomes fuzzier as one begins to explore the mind, the relationship between mind and matter, and simply as one views the universe at the largest or smallest scales.
There have been many past attempts by scientists at proving and disproving the existence of God. In fact the question of God's existence was once considered an acceptable topic of enquiry by scientists such as for example, Sir Isaac Newton, and many others. In the past science was concerned with all questions about nature -- including questions about the nature of reality and the mind, and even the possibility of a soul. But in recent times the focus of mainstream science has shifted far away from such topics -- which are now seen as almost taboo. But why should they be taboo? They are just as much a subject for enquiry as ever. God has not been proved to exist or not-exist by science, and therefore the jury is still out. The question is whether there is any way to prove that God exists or not? It may in fact be possible to do this, scientifically, eventually.
In any case, just as is the case for the question of God, there are many scientific questions that also have not been answered yet, especially in the fields of cosmology and theoretical physics. Where does the universe come from? What created it? What came before the Big Bang (if there was a Big Bang)? What medium is space-time taking place in right now, or if there is nothing beyond space time then how did it ever happen, what does it come from, how could there be nothing beyond it? Does the universe have any edges and if so what is outside them? If there are multiple universes, what separates them from each other, or are they connected and if so how? Do all possible states of all possible universes already exist or are they truly unfolding over time? Is everything predetermined by the physical laws, or is it all open to chance, or is there some level of intelligence and creativity taking place in the universe?
Even if science someday were able to describe and define everything there is to know about the physical universe, there would still be something more to know that could not be proved or discribed or defined. Godel's famous Incompleteness proof established this on a formal logical level -- there will always be gaps in our knowledge -- of any formal systems we construct. No formal system can be both consistent and complete at the same time. We will never have perfect scientific knowledge of the universe. And even if we could, it would simply beg the question of what is beyond that -- no matter what we say the universe is, the question will always come up: well, then where does it come from and how or why is it happening?
Whether through science or religion, all paths lead to the possibility of something inconcievably beyond what we know. And this is where the boundary between science and religions gets so fuzzy that it dissolves completely.
Making a Choice
Assuming we can all at least agree on the meta-level choices (the set of possible choices), we can then discuss possible criteria for comparing, testing, and even ranking the various possible choices available to us.
At the end of the process of course there may be no final best choice that everyone accepts (in fact, I can guarantee there will not be!), nor any agreement as to what are the best or correct criteria for choosing among them. But at least we can all at least agree on what the choices are and how they compare to one another in various ways.
This could go a long way to promoting and improving tolerance and understanding. Better yet, this kind of process might even lead to useful meta-level or inter-belief-system dialogues that may eventually lead to important discoveries and even grand unifications in the future.
However, for now, regardless of what belief system we prefer, we simply have to accept that the belief system we choose, if any, is a matter of personal choice (some might call that faith, others might call it aesthetic preference, others might call it a hunch or intuition) -- at least until such time as someone comes up with a way to objectively prove to everyone else that there is only one correct choice. Until that time, even if we have our own favorite belief system choice, we still have to keep some measure of open-mindedness in the face of the set of other choices available and the fact that we can't today prove objectively (to everyone) that we made the right choice.
At least however, we should be clear that if we are willing to believe anything about the universe, there are strong reasons why we therefore should keep an open mind with regard to the possibility of God. It is not that huge a leap in fact. If we are willing to accept that something as vast and inconceivable as the universe exists, then why not God too? We really don't have much solid grounds for holding any beliefs about such things -- to do so is really just an act of faith either way. We should not have illusions about that. Believing in scientific explanations of the cosmos is really not that much different than believing in religous ones.
the good news at least is that so long as our conception of God has the properties of being uncaused and unconditioned, we are likely to have made the right choice. This also means that all the great religions, at least at their cores, are in agreement -- they are all worshipping the same ultimate God, regardless of what different names they use for it. You really can't go wrong as long as you believe in an ultimate nature that is uncaused and uncreated. However -- where you certainly CAN go wrong is in imposing any further beliefs on it. And many make that mistake.
I have shown in this article that if one believes in the physical universe described by science, then in fact there is a logical requirement that the universe is ultimately nonoriginated.
I have also shown that the same holds for belief in God -- God is also logically required to be nonoriginated.
Therefore the universe and God have the same ultimate nature.
In addition I have shown that for the universe to make choices about what happens from the set of all possibilities, observation, and therefore awareness, is required. Furthermore the nature of sentient beings, and of God, is precisely this unique capacity of awareness. Both the universe and what we think of as God are characterized by the same nature of being nonoriginated and aware.
In fact, at this level, the ultimate nature is not very different from the core idea of what God is. On an ultimate level there is not really much of a distinction between the ultimate nature of the universe and the ultimate nature of God -- it is just one ultimate reality. The universe and God may be one thing, or they may be two things, or only one and not the other may exist, but in any and all of these cases, there is still only one ultimate nature: nonoriginated awareness.
There is no escape from this logic. There is no question that somewhere down the line, we must finally accept that there is something greater than the universe -- whatever we think the universe is -- and the characterstics of that greater thing are in fact the one common theme of the conception of God across all religions. We can name it what we want, and certainly different religions do. We also may have different perspectives on it, and add all sorts of other details. But what all the great religions have in common is an ultimate nature that is essentially transcendental.
In other words, science and religion are two sides of the same coin. You really can't have one without the other. They are a dichotomy, but not a duality. They are distinct yet unified.
We do however have the freedom to choose our relative level beliefs about science, and our religious tradition. This freedom is an expression of the primordial freedom of the awareness -- our ability to choose what to observe -- and this in turn is the ultimate nature of reality. Intellectual freedom is therefore not only irrepressible, it is a reflection of the nature of the universe, it is our birthright.
On the ultimate level everything is unified, but on the relative level, there is no one correct science or religion, there will always be different views, and they probably won't always agree on all points, and this is perfectly in accord with the freedom of the universe, and each individual. So while science and religion may be unified on the ultimate level, they certainly are not unified on the relative level, and in fact even within each indivividual field of science and each religion, there are differing viewpoints and schools of thought. And this is good.
There is a menu of different belief systems in both arenas and various items on the menu are or are not compatible with one another, or with the beliefs of others. It's really our personal choice to make. However, what should be clear from the above argument is we have to choose both a main course and a desert: science is undeniable, and religion is unavoidable, they are two sides of the same coin.
Science and religion are different on the relative level (though not as different as some might think), but they definitely converge at ultimate level and this convergence is not a matter of faith, it is a matter of logic. Therefore, regardless of whether we prefer science or religion, or any particular sect within either camp, at least we should not err on the side of thinking they are mutually exclusive.
Unifying Physics and Consciousness: The Next Scientific Revolution
If you pursue science to the very edges, you reach nonorigination. Similarly if you become as close as possible to the diety in any religious tradition, you reach nonorigination. Moreover, nonorigination is the nature of appearances and awareness, and vice-verse. They are never separated. It's a trinity.
The ultimate nature of the universe, and the ultimate nature of God (if you believe in a God) - must logically be precisely the same. This nature unifies the physical world of seemingly "external" sensory experiences and seemingly "internal" mental events, with the unfindable yet undeniable dimension of awareness, and the unfindable yet logically required nature of being nonoriginated.
The beauty of this is that on the ultimate level there really is no question at all about whether or not the universe exists, or whether or not God exists -- the appearances of primordially aware nonorigination is the truth -- and it is the most amazing miracle of all. It is irrefutable, it is logically required, and it establishes a basis for authentic and universal spirituality. One can logically derive or directly experience this logical trinity through the vehicle of focusing on and logically analyzing any phenomena (the universe, the mind, God, etc.). When this trinity is recognized as the nature of reality, and directly experienced as such, that is the deepest scientific observation or religious experience possible.
The universe including the body and all other physical things in space and time, the conceptual mind and its mental realm of thoughts and emotions, and all possible real or imaginary dieties, all have at their ultimate root, the same primordially nonoriginated awareness.
Proving this once and for all in a non-religiously couched manner -- using pure logical reasoning -- enables science to progress beyond its present day limitations to finally begin to make sense of the strangeness of the quantum world and of the role and nature of consciousness, and the ultimate nature of space and time.
The next frontier in science will not be simply be a deeper understanding of the physical world -- it will be a broader and more integrated understanding that includes both the physical world and the realm of consciousness -- the mental realm.
To fully explain and understand the physical world science must find ways to include and measure the crucial role of conscious observers. Each physical event has both sides on a quantum level: the side of the observer and the side of what is observed. Science has so far been focused exclusively on understanding the side of what is observed. But what is observed cannot fully be understood or explained without an equal measure of scientific understanding of the observer and the act of observation.
Similarly, the only way to fully understand consciousness is to include and measure the crucial relationship between consciousness and the process of appearance (namely cause and effect). Both the physical world and consciousness are nonoriginated -- they are empty of having an origin, not having an origin, having both, or having neither.
We don't have the tools for measuring or exploring consciousness yet, but we're close. Experiments that show the impact of observation on reality are indicators that consciousness is a phenomenon that can affect the observable world. This means that consciousness is indirectly detectable via measurments of the physical world around observers. It may be that consciousness -- the act of observing -- cannot be directly measured or observed except on its own -- by and "within" each individual -- but may still me indirectly measured or detected via its affects on the quantum field in the environment when it is present.
By analogy, this is similar to how space is measured, so it is possible to imagine doing this for consciousness. In the case of space, we cannot see it, touch it, or measure it directly. We can only infer things about it by measuring other things -- like the way light travels, or the way things move. These indirect measurements lead us to an undestanding of space.
Similarly we may be able to triangulate on consciousness by measuring the effects of various physical changes on consciousness (as reported by a conscious observer) and/or by the effects of consciousness (some observer) on physical phenomena (such as the Double Slit experiment). This is definitely an interesting possibility for further exploration, and perhaps the next scientific revolution is waiting just over the horizon in this direction.
Our civilization has not even scratched the surface of this new frontier -- a unified science of physics and consciousness. But we will soon. We have to. It is unavoidable. Our quest for knowledge and understanding will take us there whether we like it or not. Already there are cracks in our present scientific theories, and experiments are showing us gaps and contradictions in our theories that we cannot explain. And the light is spilling through them.
Video from my panel at DEMO Fall '08 on the Future of the Web is now available.
I moderated the panel, and our panelists were:
Howard Bloom, Author, The Evolution of Mass Mind from the Big Bang to the 21st Century
Peter Norvig, Director of Research, Google Inc.
Jon Udell, Evangelist, Microsoft Corporation
Prabhakar Raghavan, PhD, Head of Research and Search Strategy, Yahoo! Inc.
The panel was excellent, with many DEMO attendees saying it was the best panel they had ever seen at DEMO.
Many new and revealing insights were provided by our excellent panelists. I was particularly interested in the different ways that Google and Yahoo describe what they are working on. They covered lots of new and interesting information about their thinking. Howard Bloom added fascinating comments about the big picture and John Udell helped to speak about Microsoft's longer-term views as well.
Posted on September 12, 2008 at 12:29 PM in Artificial Intelligence, Business, Collective Intelligence, Conferences and Events, Global Brain and Global Mind, Interesting People, My Best Articles, Science, Search, Semantic Web, Social Networks, Software, Technology, The Future, Twine, Web 2.0, Web 3.0, Web/Tech, Weblogs | Permalink | TrackBack (0)
(Brief excerpt from a new post on my Public Twine -- Go there to read the whole thing and comment on it with me and others...).
I have spent the last year really thinking about the future of the Web. But lately I have been thinking more about the future of the desktop. In particular, here are some questions I am thinking about and some answers I've come up so far.
This is a raw, first-draft of what I think it will be like.
Is the desktop of the future going to just be a web-hosted version of the same old-fashioned desktop metaphors we have today?
No. We've already seen several attempts at doing that -- and they never catch on. People don't want to manage all their information on the Web in the same interface they use to manage data and apps on their local PC.
Partly this is due to the difference in user experience between using real live folders, windows and menus on a local machine and doing that in "simulated" fashion via some Flash-based or HTML-based imitation of a desktop.
Web desktops to-date have simply have been clunky and slow imitations of the real-thing at best. Others have been overly slick. But one thing they all have in common: None of them have nailed it.
Whoever does succeed in nailing this opportunity will have a real shot at becoming a very important player in the next-generation of the Web, Web 3.0.
From the points above it should be clear that I think the future of the desktop is going to be significantly different from what our desktops are like today.
It's going to be a hosted web service
Is the desktop even going to exist anymore as the Web becomes increasingly important? Yes, there is going to be some kind of interface that we consider to be our personal "home" and "workspace" -- but it will become unified across devices.
Currently we have different spaces on different devices (laptop, mobile device, PC). These will merge. In order for that to happen they will ultimately have to be provided as a service via the Web. Local clients may be created for various devices, but ultimately the most logical choice is to just use the browser as the client.
Our desktop will not come from any local device and will always be available to us on all our devices.
The skin of your desktop will probably appear within your local device's browser as a completely dynamically hosted web application coming from a remote server. It will load like a Web page, on-demand from a URL.
This new desktop will provide an interface both to your local device, applications and information, as well as to your online life and information.
Instead of the browser running inside, or being launched from, some kind of next-generation desktop web interface technology, it's will be the other way around: The browser will be the shell and the desktop application will run within it either as a browser add-in, or as a web-based application.
The Web 3.0 desktop is going to be completely merged with the Web -- it is going to be part of the Web. There will be no distinction between the desktop and the Web anymore.
Today we think of our Web browser running inside our desktop as an applicaiton. But actually it will be the other way around in the future: Our desktop will run inside our browser as an application.
The focus shifts from information to attention
As our digital lives shift from being focused on the old fashioned desktop (space-based metaphor) to the Web environment we will see a shift from organizing information spatially (directories, folders, desktops, etc.) to organizing information temporally (river of news, feeds, blogs, lifestreaming, microblogging).
Instead of being a big directory, the desktop of the future is going to be more like a Feed reader or social news site. The focus will be on keep up with all the stuff flowing through and what the trends are, rather than on all the stuff that is stored there already.
The focus will be on helping the user to manage their attention rather than just their information.
This is a leap to the meta-level. A second-order desktop. Instead of just being about the information (the first-order), it is going to be about what is happening with the information (the second-order).
It's going to shift us from acting as librarians to acting as daytraders.
Our digital roles are already shifting from effectively acting as "librarians" to becoming more like "daytraders." We are all focusing more on keep up with change than on organizing information today. This will continue to eat up more of our attention...
Read the rest of this on my public Twine! http://www.twine.com/item/11bshgkbr-1k5/the-future-of-the-desktop
Posted on July 26, 2008 at 05:14 PM in Artificial Intelligence, Collaboration Tools, Collective Intelligence, Groupware, Knowledge Management, Knowledge Networking, Mobile Computing, My Best Articles, Productivity, Semantic Blogs and Wikis, Semantic Web, Social Networks, Software, Technology, The Future, The Semantic Graph, Web 3.0, Web/Tech | Permalink | TrackBack (0)
I have been thinking a lot about social networks lately, and why there are so many of them, and what will happen in that space.
Today I had what I think is a "big realization" about this.
Everyone, including myself, seems to think that there is only room for one big social network, and it looks like Facebook is winning that race. But what if that assumption is simply wrong from the start?
What if social networks are more like automobile brands? In other words, there can, will and should be many competing brands in the space?
Social networks no longer compete on terms of who has what members. All my friends are in pretty much every major social network.
I also don't need more than one social network, for the same reason -- my friends are all in all of them. How many different ways do I need to reach the same set of people? I only need one.
But the Big Realization is that no social network satisfies all types of users. Some people are more at home in a place like LinkedIn than they are in Facebook, for example. Others prefer MySpace. There are always going to be different social networks catering to the common types of people (different age groups, different personalities, different industries, different lifestyles, etc.).
The Big Realization implies that all the social networks are going to be able to interoperate eventually, just like almost all email clients and servers do today. Email didn't begin this way. There were different networks, different servers and different clients, and they didn't all speak to each other. To communicate with certain people you had to use a certain email network, and/or a certain email program. Today almost all email systems interoperate directly or at least indirectly. The same thing is going to happen in the social networking space.
Today we see the first signs of this interoperability emerging as social networks open their APIs and enable increasing integration. Currently there is a competition going on to see which "open" social network can get the most people and sites to use it. But this is an illusion. It doesn't matter who is dominant, there are always going to be alternative social networks, and the pressure to interoperate will grow until it happens. It is only a matter of time before they connect together.
I think this should be the greatest fear at companies like Facebook. For when it inevitably happens they will be on a level playing field competing for members with a lot of other companies large and small. Today Facebook and Google's scale are advantages, but in a world of interoperability they may actually be disadvantages -- they cannot adapt, change or innovate as fast as smaller, nimbler startups.
Thinking of social networks as if they were automotive brands also reveals interesting business opportunities. There are still several unowned opportunities in the space.
Myspace is like the car you have in high school. Probably not very expensive, probably used, probably a bit clunky. It's fine if you are a kid driving around your hometown.
Facebook is more like the car you have in college. It has a lot of your junk in it, it is probably still not cutting edge, but its cooler and more powerful.
LinkedIn kind of feels like a commuter car to me. It's just for business, not for pleasure or entertainment.
So who owns the "adult luxury sedan" category? Which one is the BMW of social networks?
Who owns the sportscar category? Which one is the Ferrari of social networks?
Who owns the entry-level commuter car category?
Who owns equivalent of the "family stationwagon or minivan" category?
Who owns the SUV and offroad category?
You see my point. There are a number of big segments that are not owned yet, and it is really unlikely that any one company can win them all.
If all social networks are converging on the same set of features, then eventually they will be close to equal in function. The only way to differentiate them will be in terms of the brands they build and the audience segments they focus on. These in turn will cause them to emphasize certain features more than others.
In the future the question for consumers will be "Which social network is most like me? Which social network is the place for me to base my online presence?"
Sue may connect to Bob who is in a different social network -- his account is hosted in a different social network. Sue will not be a member of Bob's service, and Bob will not be a member of Sue's, yet they will be able to form a social relationship and communication channel. This is like email. I may use Outlook and you may use Gmail, but we can still send messages to each other.
Although all social networks will interoperate eventually, depending on each person's unique identity they may choose to be based in -- to live and surf in -- a particular social network that expresses their identity, and caters to it. For example, I would probably want to be surfing in the luxury SUV of social networks at this point in my life, not in the luxury sedan, not the racecar, not in the family car, not the dune-buggy. Someone else might much prefer an open source, home-built social network account running on a server they host. It shouldn't matter -- we should still be able to connect, share stuff, get notified of each other's posts, etc. It should feel like we are in a unified social networking fabric, even though our accounts live in different services with different brands, different interfaces, and different features.
I think this is where social networks are heading. If it's true then there are still many big business opportunities in this space.
There has been a lot of hype about artificial intelligence over the years. And recently it seems there has been a resurgence in interest in this topic in the media. But artificial intelligence scares me. And frankly, I don't need it. My human intelligence is quite good, thank you very much. And as far as trusting computers to make intelligent decisions on my behalf, I'm skeptical to say the least. I don't need or want artificial intelligence.
No, what I really need is artificial stupidity.
I need software that will automate all the stupid things I presently have to waste far too much of my valuable time on. I need something to do all the stupid tasks -- like organizing email, filing documents, organizing folders, remembering things, coordinating schedules, finding things that are of interest, filtering out things that are not of interest, responding to routine messages, re-organizing things, linking things, tracking things, researching prices and deals, and the many other rote information tasks I deal with every day.
The human brain is the result of millions of years of evolution. It's already the most intelligent thing on this planet. Why are we wasting so much of our brainpower on tasks that don't require intelligence? The next revolution in software and the Web is not going to be artificial intelligence, it's going to be creating artificial stupidity: systems that can do a really good job at the stupid stuff, so we have more time to use our intelligence for higher level thinking.
The next wave of software and the Web will be about making software and the Web smarter. But when we say "smarter" we don't mean smart like a human is smart, we mean "smarter at doing the stupid things that humans aren't good at." In fact humans are really bad at doing relatively simple, "stupid" things -- tasks that don't require much intelligence at all.
For example, organizing. We are terrible organizers. We are lazy, messy, inconsistent, and we make all kinds of errors by accident. We are terrible at tagging and linking as well, it turns out. We are terrible at coordinating or tracking multiple things at once because we are easily overloaded and we can really only do one thing well at a time. These kinds of tasks are just not what our brains are good at. That's what computers are for - or should be for at least.
Humans are really good at higher level cognition: complex thinking, decisionmaking, learning, teaching, inventing, expressing, exploring, planning, reasoning, sensemaking, and problem solving -- but we are just terrible at managing email, or making sense of the Web. Let's play to our strengths and use computers to compensate for our weaknesses.
I think it's time we stop talking about artificial intelligence -- which nobody really needs, and fewer will ever trust. Instead we should be working on artificial stupidity. Sometimes the less lofty goals are the ones that turn out to be most useful in the end.
Posted on January 24, 2008 at 01:13 PM in Artificial Intelligence, Cognitive Science, Collective Intelligence, Consciousness, Global Brain and Global Mind, Groupware, Humor, Intelligence Technology, Knowledge Management, My Best Articles, Philosophy, Productivity, Semantic Web, Technology, The Future, Web 3.0, Wild Speculation | Permalink | Comments (10) | TrackBack (0)
I've been thinking since 1994 about how to get past a fundamental barrier to human social progress, which I call "The Collective IQ Barrier." Most recently I have been approaching this challenge in the products we are developing at my stealth venture, Radar Networks.
In a nutshell, here is how I define this barrier:
The Collective IQ Barrier: The potential collective intelligence of a human group is exponentially proportional to group size, however in practice the actual collective intelligence that is achieved by a group is inversely proportional to group size. There is a huge delta between potential collective intelligence and actual collective intelligence in practice. In other words, when it comes to collective intelligence, the whole has the potential to be smarter than the sum of its parts, but in practice it is usually dumber.
Why does this barrier exist? Why are groups generally so bad at tapping the full potential of their collective intelligence? Why is it that smaller groups are so much better than large groups at innovation, decision-making, learning, problem solving, implementing solutions, and harnessing collective knowledge and intelligence?
I think the problem is technological, not social, at its core. In this article I will discuss the problem in more depth and then I will discuss why I think the Semantic Web may be the critical enabling technology for breaking through the Collective IQ Barrier.
Posted on March 03, 2007 at 03:46 PM in Artificial Intelligence, Business, Cognitive Science, Collaboration Tools, Collective Intelligence, Global Brain and Global Mind, Group Minds, Groupware, Intelligence Technology, Knowledge Management, My Best Articles, Philosophy, Productivity, Radar Networks, Science, Search, Semantic Web, Social Networks, Society, Software, Technology, The Future, Web 2.0, Web 3.0, Web/Tech, Wild Speculation | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack (0)
It's been a while since I posted about what my stealth venture, Radar Networks, is working on. Lately I've been seeing growing buzz in the industry around the "semantics" meme -- for example at the recent DEMO conference, several companies used the word "semantics" in their pitches. And of course there have been some fundings in this area in the last year, including Radar Networks and other companies.
Clearly the "semantic" sector is starting to heat up. As a result, I've been getting a lot of questions from reporters and VC's about how what we are doing compares to other companies such as for example, Powerset, Textdigger, and Metaweb. There was even a rumor that we had already closed our series B round! (That rumor is not true; in fact the round hasn't started yet, although I am getting very strong VC interest and we will start the round pretty soon).
In light of all this I thought it might be helpful to clarify what we are doing, how we understand what other leading players in this space are doing, and how we look at this sector.
Indexing the Decades of the Web
First of all, before we get started, there is one thing to clear up. The Semantic Web is part of what is being called "Web 3.0" by some, but it is in my opinion really just one of several converging technologies and trends that will define this coming era of the Web. I've written here about a proposed definition of Web 3.0, in more detail.
For those of you who don't like terms like Web 2.0, and Web 3.0, I also want to mention that I agree --- we all want to avoid a rapid series of such labels or an arms-race of companies claiming to be > x.0. So I have a practical proposal: Let's use these terms to index decades since the Web began. This is objective -- we can all agree on when decades begin and end, and if we look at history each decade is characterized by various trends.
I think this is reasonable proposal and actually useful (and also avoids endless new x.0's being announced every year). Web 1.0 was therefore the first decade of the Web: 1990 - 2000. Web 2.0 is the second decade, 2000 - 2010. Web 3.0 is the coming third decade, 2010 - 2020 and so on. Each of these decades is (or will be) characterized by particular technology movements, themes and trends, and these indices, 1.0, 2.0, etc. are just a convenient way of referencing them. This is a useful way to discuss history, and it's not without precedent. For example, various dynasties and historical periods are also given names and this provides shorthand way of referring to those periods and their unique flavors. To see my timeline of these decades, click here.
So with that said, what is Radar Networks actually working on? First of all, Radar Networks is still in stealth, although we are planning to go beta in 2007. Until we get closer to launch what I can say without an NDA is still limited. But at least I can give some helpful hints for those who are interested. This article provides some hints, as well as what I hope is a helpful tutorial about natural language search and the Semantic Web, and how they differ. I'll also discuss how Radar Networks compares some of the key startup ventures working with semantics in various ways today (there are many other companies in this sector -- if you know of any interesting ones, please let me know in the comments; I'm starting to compile a list).
(click the link below to keep reading the rest of this article...)
Posted on February 13, 2007 at 08:42 PM in AJAX, Artificial Intelligence, Business, Collaboration Tools, Collective Intelligence, Groupware, Knowledge Management, My Best Articles, Productivity, Radar Networks, RSS and Atom, Search, Semantic Blogs and Wikis, Semantic Web, Social Networks, Software, Technology, The Future, The Metaweb, Venture Capital, Web 2.0, Web 3.0, Web/Tech, Weblogs | Permalink | Comments (4) | TrackBack (0)
Many years ago, in the late 1980s, while I was still a college student, I visited my late grandfather, Peter F. Drucker, at his home in Claremont, California. He lived near the campus of Claremont College where he was a professor emeritus. On that particular day, I handed him a manuscript of a book I was trying to write, entitled, "Minding the Planet" about how the Internet would enable the evolution of higher forms of collective intelligence.
My grandfather read my manuscript and later that afternoon we sat together on the outside back porch and he said to me, "One thing is certain: Someday, you will write this book." We both knew that the manuscript I had handed him was not that book, a fact that was later verified when I tried to get it published. I gave up for a while and focused on college, where I was studying philosophy with a focus on artificial intelligence. And soon I started working in the fields of artificial intelligence and supercomputing at companies like Kurzweil, Thinking Machines, and Individual.
A few years later, I co-founded one of the early Web companies, EarthWeb, where among other things we built many of the first large commercial Websites and later helped to pioneer Java by creating several large knowledge-sharing communities for software developers. Along the way I continued to think about collective intelligence. EarthWeb and the first wave of the Web came and went. But this interest and vision continued to grow. In 2000 I started researching the necessary technologies to begin building a more intelligent Web. And eventually that led me to start my present company, Radar Networks, where we are now focused on enabling the next-generation of collective intelligence on the Web, using the new technologies of the Semantic Web.
But ever since that day on the porch with my grandfather, I remembered what he said: "Someday, you will write this book." I've tried many times since then to write it. But it never came out the way I had hoped. So I tried again. Eventually I let go of the book form and created this weblog instead. And as many of my readers know, I've continued to write here about my observations and evolving understanding of this idea over the years. This article is my latest installment, and I think it's the first one that meets my own standards for what I really wanted to communicate. And so I dedicate this article to my grandfather, who inspired me to keep writing this, and who gave me his prediction that I would one day complete it.
This is an article about a new generation of technology that is sometimes called the Semantic Web, and which could also be called the Intelligent Web, or the global mind. But what is the Semantic Web, and why does it matter, and how does it enable collective intelligence? And where is this all headed? And what is the long-term far future going to be like? Is the global mind just science-fiction? Will a world that has a global mind be good place to live in, or will it be some kind of technological nightmare?
Posted on November 06, 2006 at 03:34 AM in Artificial Intelligence, Biology, Buddhism, Business, Cognitive Science, Collaboration Tools, Collective Intelligence, Consciousness, Democracy 2.0, Environment, Fringe, Genetic Engineering, Global Brain and Global Mind, Government, Group Minds, Groupware, Intelligence Technology, Knowledge Management, My Best Articles, My Proposals, Philosophy, Radar Networks, Religion, Science, Search, Semantic Blogs and Wikis, Semantic Web, Social Networks, Society, Software, Systems Theory, Technology, The Future, The Metaweb, Transhumans, Venture Capital, Virtual Reality, Web 2.0, Web/Tech, Weblogs, Wild Speculation | Permalink | Comments (11) | TrackBack (0)
Change This, a project that helps to promote interesting new ideas so that they get noticed above the noise level of our culture has published my article on "A Physics of Ideas" as one of their featured Manifestos. They use an innovative PDF layout for easier reading, and they also provide a means for readers to provide feedback and even measure the popularity of various Manifestos. I'm happy this paper is getting noticed finally -- I do think the ideas within it have potential. Take a look.
Posted on November 01, 2004 at 11:15 AM in Biology, Cognitive Science, Collective Intelligence, Email, Global Brain and Global Mind, Group Minds, Groupware, Intelligence Technology, Knowledge Management, Memes & Memetics, Microcontent, My Best Articles, My Proposals, Philosophy, Physics, Productivity, Science, Search, Semantic Web, Social Networks, Society, Technology, The Future, The Metaweb, Web/Tech, Wild Speculation | Permalink | Comments (4) | TrackBack (0)
Note: This experiment is now finished.
GoMeme 2.0 -- Copy This GoMeme From This Line to The End of this article, and paste into your blog. Then follow the instructions below to fill it out for your site.
Steal This Post!!!! This is a GoMeme-- a new way to spread an idea along social networks. This is the second generation meme in our experiment in spreading ideas. To find out what a GoMeme is, and how this experiment works, or just to see how this GoMeme is growing and discuss it with others, visit the Root Posting and FAQ for this GoMeme at www.mindingtheplanet.net .
Posted on August 04, 2004 at 06:11 AM in Biology, Collaboration Tools, Fringe, Games, Group Minds, Knowledge Management, Memes & Memetics, Microcontent, My Best Articles, RSS and Atom, Social Networks, Society, Systems Theory, Technology, The Metaweb, Web/Tech, Weblogs | Permalink | Comments (9) | TrackBack (20)
by Nova Spivack
July 28, 2004
Permission granted to distribute or reproduce freely.
Should there be a Separation of Corporation and State?
Today our American democracy faces a new threat to its integrity, a threat even greater than terrorism in the long-term. This threat is the corporation. In this essay I propose that it may be time to introduce a new principle into our democracy and a new amendment to our Constitution - a formal "Separation of Corporation and State."
To illustrate this point, consider an earlier "separation" that has been essential to our democracy -- the Separation of Church and State. What would America be like if the Constitution did not provide for the separation of Church and State? Would it be a nation that protects and celebrates freedom, equality and pluralism? Or would it be a nation, not so unlike those presently under the sway of fundamentalism, run by religious lobbies, religious police, and fanatical extremists?
I have nothing against religion - in fact I am religious myself - but I don't think religion should have anything to do with government, or vice-versa. This is in fact one of the key ideas in our Constitution. Many of our Founding Fathers were deeply religious, but they recognized the need to make a clear distinction between their religious ideals and their political ideals. Thus over time a Constitutional separation of Church and State was formed -- a separation that would not only protect the integrity and objectivity of government, but also that of religious institutions.
However, although they were well-aware of the risks of mixing politics and religion, our nation's early Constitutional scholars were not as concerned with the risks of mixing politics and business. And why should they have been? At the time corporations were not nearly as independent or influential as monarchies and the Church. They were not considered threats. It would not be until the much later advent of the Industrial Age that corporations became a serious political force to reckon with. But one might well wonder whether our Constitution would have included protections against corporate influence had corporations been more of a force at the time it was devised.
Today corporations are becoming the single most powerful forces shaping our societies and governments. While corporations have great potential to benefit society and even governments, they are entirely selfish entities - they have no accountability to the public, and no responsibility to ensure the public good. A government that is influenced by corporations can easily become a government that caters to corporations, a government that is effectively run by corporations. Such a government is not representative of its people anymore. It is therefore not a democracy.
Corporate influence on government, if not carefully regulated, is a threat to democracy. It is a threat to the American way of life. This threat to democracy may not be as dramatic as terrorism, but in the long-term it may be far more damaging to society. In fact this threat was foreseen by some of our most visionary leaders:
"I see in the near future a crisis approaching that unnerves me and causes me to tremble for the safety of my country. ... corporations have been enthroned and an era of corruption in high places will follow, and the money power of the country will endeavor to prolong it's reign by working upon the prejudices of the people until all wealth is aggregated in a few hands and the Republic is destroyed." -- Abraham Lincoln
"The liberty of a democracy is not safe if the people tolerate the growth of private power to a point where it becomes stronger than their democratic State itself. That, in its essence, is Fascism -- ownership of government by an individual, by a group or by any controlling private power." -- Franklin D. Roosevelt
Because this threat was impossible to envision at the time our nation was formed, our Constitution was not designed with specific countermeasures and as a result our leaders, our government, our democracy, and our citizens, are presently without protection from political influence and manipulation by corporate interests. The danger of this is that our government may be run by corporations, or at least key decisions may be based on commercial interests. But is it democratic for national decisions to be driven by corporations that are only responsible to their shareholders? Are We The People represented by the corporate decision-makers and politicians they fund?
Are we living in a true democracy when many of our highest elected officials continue to receive salaries and bonuses and hold stock in, large corporations they formerly worked for? Are we living in a true democracy when our leaders are able to award lucrative no-bid contracts to their former employers? Are we living in a true democracy when public policy is influenced by corporate-backed political lobbies that spend millions of dollars to influence key decisions? Are we living in a true democracy when the same people who start our wars benefit financially from weapons sales and reconstruction contracts? Is this ethical? Is this what our Founding Fathers intended? Is our Shining City on the Hill starting to get a bit tarnished?
I ask you then: Is it time to modify the Constitution to specifically provide for a formal "Separation of Corporation and State" in our democracy? And if we don't take action, can our American democracy survive?
by Nova Spivack
Original: July 8, 2004
Revised: February 5, 2005
(Permission to reprint or share this article is granted, with a citation to this Web Page: http://www.mindingtheplanet.net)
This paper provides an overview of a new approach to measuring the physical properties of ideas as they move in real-time through information spaces and populations such as the Internet. It has applications to information retrieval and search, information filtering, personalization, ad targeting, knowledge discovery and text-mining, knowledge management, user-interface design, market research, trend analysis, intelligence gathering, machine learning, organizational behavior and social and cultural studies.
In this article I propose the beginning of what might be called a physics of ideas. My approach is based on applying basic concepts from classical physics to the measurement of ideas -- or what are often called memes -- as they move through information spaces over time.
Ideas are perhaps the single most powerful hidden forces shaping our lives and our world. Human events are really just the results of the complex interactions of myriad ideas across time, space and human minds. To the extent that we can measure ideas as they form and interact, we can gain a deeper understanding of the underlying dynamics of our organizations, markets, communities, nations, and even of ourselves. But the problem is, we are still remarkably primitive when it comes to measuring ideas. We simply don't have the tools yet and so this layer of our world still remains hidden from us.
However, it is becoming increasingly urgent that we develop these tools. With the evolution of computers and the Internet ideas have recently become more influential and powerful than ever before in human history. Not only are they easier to create and consume, but they can now move around the world and interact more quickly, widely and freely. The result of this evolutionary leap is that our information is increasingly out of control and difficult to cope with, resulting in the growing problem of information overload.
There are many approaches to combating information overload, most of which are still quite primitive and place too much burden on humans. In order to truly solve information overload, I believe that what is ultimately needed is a new physics of ideas -- a new micro-level science that will enable us to empirically detect, measure and track ideas as they develop, interact and change over time and space in real-time, in the real-world.
In the past various thinkers have proposed methods for applying concepts from epidemiology and population biology to the study of how memes spread and evolve across human societies. We might label those past attempts as "macro-memetics" because they are chiefly focused on gaining a macroscopic understanding of how ideas move and evolve. In contrast, the science of ideas that I am proposing in this paper is focused on the micro-scale dynamics of ideas within particular individuals or groups, or within discrete information spaces such as computer desktops and online services and so we might label this new physics of ideas as a form of "micro-memetics."
To begin developing the physics of ideas I believe that we should start by mapping existing methods in classical physics to the realm of ideas. If we can treat ideas as ideal particles in a Newtonian universe then it becomes possible to directly map the wealth of techniques that physicists have developed for analyzing the dynamics of particle systems to the dynamics of idea systems as they operate within and between individuals and groups.
The key to my approach is to empirically measure the meme momentum of each meme that is active in the world. Using these meme momenta we can then compute the document momentum of any document that contain those memes. The momentum of a meme is a measure of the force of that meme within a given space, time period, and set of human minds (a "context"). The momentum of a document is the force of that document within a given context.
Once we are able to measure meme momenta and document momenta we can then filter and compare individual memes or collections of memes, as well as documents or collections of documents, according to their relative importance or "timeliness" in any context.
Using these techniques we can empirically detect the early signs of soon-to-be-important topics, trends or issues; we can measure ideas or documents to determine how important they are at any given time for any given audience; we can track and graph ideas and documents as their relative importances change over time in various contexts; we can even begin to chart the impact that the dynamics of various ideas have on real-world events. These capabilities can be utilized in next-generation systems for knowledge discovery, search and information retrieval, knowledge management, intelligence gathering and analysis, social and cultural research, and many other purposes.
The rest of this paper describes how we might attempt to do this, some applications of these techniques, and a number of further questions for research.
Posted on July 08, 2004 at 02:03 PM in Artificial Intelligence, Biology, Cognitive Science, Collective Intelligence, Intelligence Technology, Knowledge Management, Memes & Memetics, Military, My Best Articles, My Proposals, Physics, Science, Technology, The Future, Web/Tech | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (4)
Draft 1.1 for Review (integrates some fixes from readers)
Nova Spivack (www.mindingtheplanet.net)
This article presents some thoughts about the future of intelligence on Earth. In particular, I discuss the similarities between the Internet and the brain, and how I believe the emerging Semantic Web will make this similarity even greater.
The Semantic Web enables the formal communication of a higher level of language -- metalanguage. Metalanguage is language about language -- language that encodes knowledge about how to interpret and use information. Metalanguages – particularly semantic metalanguages for encoding relationships between information and systems of concepts – enable a new layer of communication and processing. The combination of computing networks with semantic metalanguages represents a major leap in the history of communication and intelligence.
The invention of written language long ago changed the economics of communication by making it possible for information to be represented and shared independently of human minds. This made it less costly to develop and spread ideas widely across populations in space and time. Similarly, the emergence of software based on semantic metalanguages will dramatically change the economics not only of information distribution, but of intelligence -- the act of processing and using information.
Semantic metalanguages provide a way to formally express, distribute and share the knowledge necessary to interpret and use information, independently of the human mind. In other words, they make it possible not just to write down and share information, but also to encode and share the background necessary for intelligently making use of that information. Prior to the invention of such a means to share this background knowledge about information, although information could be written and shared, the recipients of such information had to be intelligent and appropriately knowledgeable in advance in order to understand it. Semantic metalanguages remove this restriction by making it possible to distill the knowledge necessary to understand information into a form that can be shared just as easily as the information itself.
The recipients of information – whether humans or software – no longer have to know in advance (or attempt to deduce) how to interpret and use the information; this knowledge is explicitly coded in the metalanguage about the information. This is important for artificial intelligence because it means that expertise for specific domains does not have to be hard-coded into programs anymore -- instead programs simply need to know how to interpret the metalanguage. By adding semantic metalanguage statements to information data becomes “smarter,” and programs can therefore become “thinner.” Once programs can speak this metalanguage they can easily import and use knowledge about any particular domain, if and when needed, so long as that knowledge is expressed in the metalanguage.
In other words, whereas basic written languages simply make raw information portable, semantic metalanguages make knowledge (conceptual systems) and even intelligence (procedures for processing knowledge) about information portable. They make it possible for knowledge and intelligence to be formally expressed, stored digitally, and shared independently of any particular minds or programs. This radically changes the economics of communicating knowledge and of accessing and training intelligence. It makes it possible for intelligence to be more quickly, easily and broadly distributed across time, space and populations of not only humans but also of software programs.
The emergence of standards for sharing semantic metalanguage statements that encode the meaning of information will catalyze a new era of distributed knowledge and intelligence on the Internet. This will effectively “make the Internet smarter.” Not just monolithic expert systems and complex neural networks, but even simple desktop programs and online software agents will begin to have access to a vast decentralized reserve of knowledge and intelligence.
The externalization, standardization and sharing of knowledge and intelligence in this manner, will make it possible for communities of humans and software agents to collaborate on cognition, not just on information. As this happens and becomes increasingly linked into our daily lives and tools, the "network effect" will deliver increasing returns. While today most of the intelligence on Earth still resides within human brains, In the near future, perhaps even within our lifetimes, the vast majority of intelligence will exist outside of human brains on the Semantic Web.
THE INTERNET IS A BRAIN AND THE WEB IS ITS MIND
Anyone familiar with the architecture and dynamics of the human nervous system cannot help but notice the striking similarity between the brain and the Internet. But is this similarity more than a coincidence - is the Internet really a brain in its own right - the brain of our planet? And is its collective behavior intelligent - does it constitute a global mind? How might this collective form of intelligence compare to that of an individual human mind, or a group of human minds?
I believe that the Internet (the hardware) is already evolving into a distributed global brain, and its ongoing activity (the software, humans and data) represents the cognitive process of an increasingly intelligent global mind. This global mind is not centrally organized or controlled, rather it is a bottom-up, emergent, self-organizing phenomenon formed from flows of trillions of information-processing events comprised of billions of independent information processors.
As with other types of emergent computing systems, for example John Conway’s familiar cellular automaton “The Game of Life,” on the Internet large scale homeostatic systems and seemingly intentional or guided information processes naturally emerge and interact within it. The emergence of sophisticated information systems does not require top-down design or control, it can happen in an evolutionary bottom-up manner as well.
Like a human brain, the Internet is a vast distributed computing network comprised of billions of interacting parallel processors. These processors include individual human beings as well as software programs, and systems of them such as organizations, which can all be referred to as "agents" in this system. Just as the computational power of the human brain as a whole is vastly greater than that of any of the individual neurons or systems within it, the computational power of the Internet is vastly beyond any of the individual agents it contains. Just as the human brain is not merely the sum of its parts, the Internet is more than the sum of its parts - like other types of distributed emergent computing systems, it benefits from the network effect. The power of the system grows exponentially as agents and connections between them are added.
The human brain is enabled by an infrastructure comprised of networks of organic neurons, dendrites, synapses and protocols for processing chemical and electrical messages. The Internet is enabled by an infrastructure of synthetic computers, communications networks, interfaces, and protocols for processing digital information structures. The Internet also interfaces with organic components however – the human beings who are connected to it. In that sense the Internet is not merely an inorganic system – it could not function without help from humans, for the moment at least. The Internet may not be organized in exactly the same form as the human brain, but it is at least safe to say it is an extension of it.
The brain provides a memory system for storing, locating and recalling information. The Internet also provides shared address spaces and protocols for using them. This enables agents to participate in collaborative cognition in a completely decentralized manner. It also provides a standardized shared environment in which information may be stored, addressed and retrieved by any agent of the system. This shared information space functions as the collective memory of the global mind.
Just as no individual neuron in the human brain could be said to have the same form or degree of intelligence as the brain as-a-whole - we individual humans cannot possibly comprehend the distributed intelligence that is evolving on the Internet. But we are part of it nonetheless, whether we know it or not. The global mind is emerging all around us, and via us, is our creation but it is already becoming independent of us - truly it represents the evolution of a new form of meta-level intelligence that has never before existed on our planet.
Although we created it, the Internet is already far beyond our control or comprehension - it surrounds us and penetrates our world - it is inside our buildings, our tools, our vehicles, and it connects us together and modulates our interactions. As this process continues and the human body and biology begins to be networked into this system we will literally become part of this network - it will become an extension of our nervous systems and eventually, via brain-computer interfaces, it will be an extension of our senses and our minds. Eventually the distinction between humans and machines, and the individual and the collective, will gradually start to dissolve, along with the distinction between human and artificial forms of intelligence.
Posted on June 26, 2004 at 11:02 PM in Artificial Intelligence, Biology, Cognitive Science, Collective Intelligence, Consciousness, Fringe, Global Brain and Global Mind, Group Minds, Intelligence Technology, Knowledge Management, Memes & Memetics, My Best Articles, Philosophy, Physics, Productivity, Radar Networks, Science, Search, Semantic Blogs and Wikis, Semantic Web, Social Networks, Society, Software, Systems Theory, Technology, The Future, The Metaweb, Transhumans, Venture Capital, Web 2.0, Web 3.0, Web/Tech, Weblogs, Wild Speculation | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (9)
See the rest of this article for a detailed description of how to build a working network automaton....
Many people have requested this graph and so I am posting my latest version of it. The Metaweb is the coming "intelligent Web" that is evolving from the convergence of the Web, Social Software and the Semantic Web. The Metaweb is starting to emerge as we shift from a Web focused on information to a Web focused on relationships between things --- what I call "The Relationship Web" or the "Relationship Revolution."
We see early signs of this shift to a Web of relationships in the sudden growth of social networking systems. As the semantics of these relationships continue to evolve the richness of the "arcs" will begin to rival that of the "nodes" that make up the network.
This is similar to the human brain -- individual neurons are not particularly important or effective on their own, rather it is the vast networks of relationships that connect them that encode knowledge and ultimately enable intelligence. And like the human brain, in the future Metaweb, technologies will emerge to enable the equivalent of "spreading activation" to propagate across the network of nodes and arcs. This will provide a means of automatically growing links, weighting links, making recommendations, and learning across distributed graphs of nodes and links. This may resemble a sort of "Hebbian learning" across the link structure of the network -- enhancing the strength of frequently used connections and dampening less used links, and even growing new transitive links when appropriate.
As the intelligence with which such processes unfolds, in a totally decentralized and grassroots manner, we will begin to see signs of emergent "transhuman" intelligences on the network. Web services are the beginning of this -- but imagine if they were connected to autonomous intelligent agents, roaming the network and able to interact with one another, Web sites, and even people. These next-layer intelligences will begin to function as brokers, associators, editors, publishers, recommenders, advertisers, researchers, defenders, buyers, sellers, monitors, aggregators, distributors, integrators, translators, and also as knowledge-stewards responsible for constantly improving the structure and quality of subsets of the Web that they oversee. And while many of these agents will be able to interact intelligently with humans, not all of them will -- most will probably just have interfaces for interacting with other agents.
Vast systems of "hybrid intelligence" (humans + intelligent software) will form -- for example, next-generation communities that intelligently self-organize around emerging topics and trends, smart marketplaces that self-optimize to reduce the cost of transactions for their participants, 'group minds' and 'enterprise minds' that embody and manage the collective cognitiion of teams and organizations, and knowledge networks that function to enable distributed collective intelligence among networks of indivdiuals, across communities and business-relationships.
As the network becomes increasingly autonomous and self-organizing we may say that the network-as-a-whole is becoming "intelligent." But it will be several steps beyond that before it finally "wakes up" -- when the various processes of the network reach that point at which the entire system truly functions as a coordinated, self-aware intelligence. This will require the formation of many higher layers of intelligence -- leading to something that functions like the cerebral cortex in humans. It will also require something that functions as its virtual "self-awareness" -- an internal process of meta-level self-representation, self-projection, self-feedback, self-analysis and self-improvement within the network. For a map of how this may actually unfold over time we might look at the evolutionary history of nervous systems on Earth.
As structures that provide virtual higher-order cognition and self-awareness to the network emerge, connect to one another, and gain sophistication, the Global Brain will self-organize into a Global Mind -- the intelligence of the whole will begin to outpace the intelligence of any of its parts and thus it will cross the threshold from being just a "bunch of interacting parts" to "a new higher-order whole" in its own right -- a global intelligent Metaweb for our planet.
Posted on April 21, 2004 at 08:07 PM in Artificial Intelligence, Cognitive Science, Collaboration Tools, Collective Intelligence, Consciousness, Group Minds, Intelligence Technology, Knowledge Management, Memes & Memetics, Microcontent, My Best Articles, Philosophy, RSS and Atom, Science, Semantic Web, Social Networks, Society, Systems Theory, Technology, The Future, The Metaweb, Web/Tech, Weblogs, Wild Speculation | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (15)
This diagram (click to see larger version) illustrates why I believe technology evolution is moving towards what I call the Metaweb. The Metaweb is emerging from the convergence of the Web, Social Software and the Semantic Web.
Posted on March 04, 2004 at 09:36 AM in Artificial Intelligence, Business, Collaboration Tools, Collective Intelligence, Group Minds, Intelligence Technology, Knowledge Management, Memes & Memetics, Microcontent, My Best Articles, Philosophy, RSS and Atom, Semantic Web, Society, Systems Theory, Technology, The Future, The Metaweb, Web/Tech, Weblogs | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack (4)
This article discusses new research in how the brain makes buying decisions and other choices -- what is now called "neuromarketing". Neuromarketing researchers seek to discover, and influence, the neurological forces at work inside the mind of potential customers. According to the article, most decisions are made subconsciously and are not necessarily rational at all - in fact they may be primarily governed by emotions and other more subtle cognitive factors such as identity and sense of self. For example, when studied under a functional MRI, the reward centers of brains of subjects who were given "The Pepsi Challenge" lit up when they tasted Pepsi, but Coke actually lit up the parts of the brain responsible for "sense of self" -- a much deeper response. In other words, the Coke brand is somehow connected to deeper neurological structures than Pepsi.
Neuromarketing is interesting -- it's actually something I've been thinking about on my own in an entirely different context. What I am interested in is the question of "What makes people decide that a given meme is 'hot'?" Each of us is immersed in a sea of memes -- we are literally bombarded with thousands or even millions of ideas, brands, products and other news every day -- But how do we decide which ones are "important," "cool," and "hot?" What causes the human brain to pick out certain of these memes at the expense of the others? In other words, how do we differentiate signal from noise, and how do we rank memetic signals in terms of their relative "importance?" Below I discuss some new ideas about how memes are perceived and ranked by the human brain.
I am having an interesting conversation with Howard Bloom, author, memeticist, historian, scientist, and social theorist. We have been discussing network models of the universe and the underlying "metapatterns" that seem to unfold at every level of scale. Below is my reply to his recent note, followed by his note which is extremely well written and interesting...
From: Nova Spivack
To: Howard Bloom
Subject: Re: Graph Automata -- Is the Universe Similar to a Social Network?
Howard, what a great reply!
Indeed the metapattern you point out seems to happen at all levels of scale. I am looking for the underlying Rule that generates this on abstract graphs -- networks of nodes and arcs.
In thinking about this further, I think we live in a "Social Universe." What binds the universe together, and causes all structure and dynamics at every level of scale, is communication along relationships. Communication takes place via relationships. And relationships in turn develop based on the communication that takes place across them.
Relationships and communications take place between locations in the manifold of spacetime, as well as between fundamental particles, cells, people, ideas, network devices, belief systems, organizations, economies, civilizations, ecosystems, heavenly bodies, galaxies, superclusters, or entire universes. Whether you call it "gravitation" and "repulsion" and other forces are really just emergent properties of the dynamics of relationships and communications. It's really all very self-similar.
I believe that we can make an abstract model of this -- just a graph comprised of nodes connected by arcs -- where the nodes (and possibly the arcs too) have states, and information may travel across them. Then, at each moment in time, we may apply simple local rules to modify the states of nodes and arcs in this network based on their previous states and the states of their neighbors.
In this article I discuss some insights about optimization of social networks. Basically I suggest that "trust is not preserved" along relationship paths of more than 3 hops. In other words, social networks should never forward messages beyond 3 hops. Doing so makes the communication of that message effectively arbitrary, adding noise to the system and degrading utility for users.
Thanks to the recent mushrooming of social networking systems, I am starting to experience a new problem that I call "social overload." Now that I am connected to the world via LinkedIn, Ryze, Plaxo, Orkut, and Typepad, as well 6 different IM systems, and several email accounts, I am finding that an increasing amount of my time is spent on "relationship maintenance" tasks like approving or declining relationship and referral requests.
The fact that I am experiencing social overload is ironic because the intent of many of these systems is actually to increase the efficiency of my relationships, thereby improving my productivity. However I find that exactly the reverse is what is taking place in practice.
Here's a wildly unexpected proposal that just popped into my brain: Humanity should intentionally contaminate Mars with Earth lifeforms -- as soon as possible! The benefits vastly outweigh any concerns to the contrary. Indeed, it may be the smartest thing our species ever does.
The first obvious benefit is that it will get Earth life off of Earth, making it more likely that it will survive. Humans are wrecking Earth -- but even if we don't Nature may do it for us. All it would take is one big comet or meteor impact -- or a supervolcano or ice-age and much of the living systems and civilization we currently take for granted would vanish in the blink of an eye. Our only insurance is to have a "planetary backup" -- so why not use Mars? We back up our data -- why not our DNA -- why not also backup the amazing ecosystems and living organisms that have evolved so painstakingly over aeons on Earth? By moving at least some of them to Mars we can at least rest assured that no matter what happens on Earth, life in our solar system will continue in other places. But that's just the beginning.
Another benefit of seeding Earth life on Mars is that we can jumpstart evolution on Mars by several million (or billion) years by seeding it with life from Earth. And then we can study how it evolves and adapts. Remember, many organisms contain in their DNA bits and pieces of lots of previous generations and species -- and as they adapt on Mars they could even eventually re-evolve lifeforms we have (or had) on Earth. Perhaps life on Mars will revert to adaptations that existing on Earth when our climate was harsher. But over time that could slowly transform the Mars climate, enabling life to catch up again, and evolve to "higher" forms. Eventually that could even create and spread living systems and ecosystems that humans can live off of, or live within at least. Yes it could take a very long time to evolve higher lifeforms on Mars if we start by just sending microorganisms, insects, landcrabs, lizards, etc, but it could happen given that the selective pressures on Mars are similar to those on Earth. On the other hand, life could go in a completely unanticipated direction -- that would be interesting too!
It's actually a fascinating and important scientific question worthy of funding and long-term study: given the same precursor lifeforms and similar or identical conditions, will life evolve along the same evolutionary course as it has on Earth? Will Mars get dinosaurs eventually, or even primates? And what about flora and fauna? If the Bush Administration wanted to propose A Really Bold Initiative what could be better than seeding life on another planet?
Hey NASA, are you listening? -- this idea is worth $100 billion in funding. We could learn more from seeding life on Mars and studying it as it adapts, spreads and evolves for the next several thousand years than almost anything else we could do with the space program. It will help us learn about ourselves, the cosmos, and ultimately about how species move to new worlds. It will even lay the groundwork for humans to eventually colonize Mars by starting to build a food-chain and life support web there. And seeding life on Mars would have a greater long-term benefit on humanity, and the solar system, than just about any other space or Earth-sciences research program we could embark on.
One of the many cool things about the Metaweb is that it functions as a vast bottom-up collaborative filtering system. RSS feeds represent perspectives of publishers. Because feed publishers can automatically or manually include content from other feeds they can "republish," annotate and filter content. Every feed is effectively a switch, routing content to and from other feeds. You are my filter. I am your filter.
Entire communities can collaboratively filter information, in a totally bottom-up way. The community as a whole acts to filter and route content in an emergent fashion, without any central coordination. On top of this sites can then provide value-added aggregation and information-refinery services by tracking memes across any number of feeds and then repackaging and redistributing them in virtual feeds for particular topics or interests. And these new feeds are fed right back into the collective mind, becoming raw materials for still other feeds that pick them up.
What we have here is the actual collective consciousness of humanity thinking collective thoughts in real-time, and we get to watch and participate! We are the "neurons" in the collective minds of our organizations, communities, marketplaces. Our postings comprise the memes, the thoughts, in these collective thought processes. Already the Metaweb is thinking thoughts that no individual can comprehend -- they are too big, too distributed, too complex. As the interactions of millions of people, groups and memes evolve we will see increasing layers of intelligence taking place in the Metaweb.
Posted on December 11, 2003 at 01:41 PM in Artificial Intelligence, Biology, Collaboration Tools, Collective Intelligence, Consciousness, Group Minds, Knowledge Management, Medicine, Memes & Memetics, My Best Articles, Philosophy, Physics, Science, Semantic Web, Society, Systems Theory, Technology, The Future, Web/Tech, Weblogs | Permalink | Comments (4) | TrackBack (2)
The Metaweb is not just the set of all Weblog posts, it is much more than that. As much as I love to blog I think many old-timers would have us view the entire Net through "blog colored glasses." But Weblog postings are just one kind of microcontent. There will be many others.
Posted on December 11, 2003 at 08:24 AM in Artificial Intelligence, Collaboration Tools, Collective Intelligence, Group Minds, Intelligence Technology, Knowledge Management, Memes & Memetics, My Best Articles, Semantic Web, Technology, The Future, Web/Tech, Weblogs | Permalink | Comments (5) | TrackBack (0)
Originally developed at Netscape, a new technology called RSS has risen from the dead to ignite the next-evolution of the Net. RSS represents the first step in a major new paradigm shift -- the birth of "The Metaweb." The Metaweb is the next evolution of the Web -- a new layer of the Web in fact -- based on "microcontent." Microcontent is a new way to publish content that is more granular, modular and portable than traditional content such as files, Web pages, data records, etc.
On the existing Web, information is typically published in large chunks -- "sites" comprised of "pages." In the coming microcontent-driven Metaweb, information will be published in discrete, semantically defined "postings" that can represent an entire site, a page, a part of a page, or an individual idea, picture, file, message, fact, opinion, note, data record, or comment.
Metaweb postings can be hosted like Web pages in particular places and/or they can be shipped around the Net using RSS in a publish-subscribe manner. Webloggers for example create microcontent every time they post to their blogs. Each blog posting is a piece of microcontent. End-users can subscribe to get particular pieces of microcontent they are interested in by signing up to track "RSS channels" using "RSS Readers" that poll those channels periodically for new pieces of microcontent.
Posted on December 04, 2003 at 11:05 PM in Artificial Intelligence, Business, Collaboration Tools, Collective Intelligence, Group Minds, Intelligence Technology, Knowledge Management, Memes & Memetics, My Best Articles, Semantic Web, Society, Technology, The Future, Web/Tech, Weblogs | Permalink | Comments (8) | TrackBack (21)
Today I realized that the solution to the failing patent law system in the US and abroad is not to eliminate patents, or prevent patents in certain areas. Nor is it to have more or better patent examiners, or stricter guidelines for prior art analysis and appeals. No, the solution is to keep the current patent system with one big change: Limit the lifetime of a patent to 5 years instead of 20 years. Secondly limit the lifetime of first continuation patents to 4 years each. Thirdly any further successive continuation patents have a lifetime of 1 year less than the patent continuation they continue. Five years is ample time in this economy for a company to make use of the advantages that a patent gives them in gaining a market foothold. It is fair that the party who invests to develop something should be given the first right to capitalize on it. But after 5 years they should no longer have that protection. The theory is that if they were successful within that 5 year grace period in which they had exclusive rights to the patent, then they will have gained enough competitive advantage and scale to continue being successful without having exclusivity. If they haven't made it to that point in 5 years, then they shouldn't have further exclusivity. This is a better form of natural selection of companies -- it weeds out those organizations that were not successful in monetizing a patent and frees up the knowledge encapsulated by that patent for other parties to utilize. This has the effect of facilitating progress by rewarding successful organizations yet preventing anyone from limiting the spread of knowledge. When the patent system was created the world was slower; 20 years was the time it took to do anything big. Today that time is down to 3 years. So 5 years is generous protection. Another benefit of cutting the lifetime of patents is that even if a bad patent is granted, or a patent is simply taken out to block others, the negative impact of that mistake on society, technological progress and the economy can be quickly expired. The problem is not the idea of intellectual property. Indeed intellectual property rights provide necesssary protection which makes it safe for parties to invest in new ideas. In any ecosystem there must be a way for participants in that ecosystem to compete for resources. But if the ecosystem is structured such that participants can gain unfair advantage that is based not on their adaptive success but rather on an artificial advantage granted from outside the system, this has the effect of amplifying the large players and dampening the small players. In other words such an ecosystem tends to destroy diversity. The diversity of companies, the diversity of ideas, is just as important to the health, prosperity and evolution of societies and economies as biodiversity is to biospheres. Our present patent system promotes cancerous companies when it should be killing them off. Cutting the patent lifetime to 5 years is just what is needed. Even the most malignant companies simply cannot continue to harm the system after 5 years. Ideas are still generally useful in 5 years, at least at this time in history. Thus my proposal strikes a new and healthier balance between intellectual property control and the freedom of knowledge. This is good for society in general, and that is good for the global economy.
No computer will ever be able to experience the state of Enlightenment that is familiar to Zen monks and other Buddhist meditators. If a computer is ever going to be truly intelligent -- at least in the same way that humans are -- it must be able to have religious experiences that are the same as those that humans have. The particular religious experience I am speaking of is the realization of the emptiness that is considered to be one of the fundamental truths of eastern philosophical traditions such as Buddhism and Taoism.
According to Buddhist teachings, the pure realization of emptiness is free of any form, substance, nature, characteristics, or content -- yet it is not a mere nothingness. Rather it is said to be fully awake and lucid yet totally beyond the limitations of dualistic consciousness. It contains no thought, no cognitive formations, no sense of identity or self-reflection, no perception --- in short it is totally free of any conceptuality. This is said to be the natural state of being, or the actual nature of mind itself when not obscured by conceptual overlays.
Computer systems, such as hypothetically sophisticated future artificial intelligence programs, will never be able to actually experience authentic religious experiences and will probably never be able to simulate them either -- no matter how "advanced" they are as software programs. This is because computers cannot do anything without using information -- computers are nothing but information processors. In other words, information processors are not capable of simulating or having states that contain no information content. The state of emptiness however is a state that is devoid of information content and is therefore not something that a computer will ever authentically realize. A similar religious experience that is considered to be the final level of spiritual evolution, and the highest realization, in Buddhism, is omniscience -- that state of being all-knowing, which is one of the qualities of a fully enlightened being. Omniscience is a state that is totally infinite -- it contains all information instantaneously. Computers on the other hand cannot process infinite information in finite time and can therefore not become omniscient. These are just two of many types of religious experience that are simply impossible for any computer or software program to generate. While computers and programs might be able to simulate such experiences, these simulations will never the same as the "real thing."
Simulated awareness or consciousness in a computer is not capable of replicating a state without information content. At best, a computer could simulate a lack of sensory input and a lack of cognitive formations -- but in order for that computer to be able to know that this was taking place it would have to create some infomration to represent that fact and then process that information in order to know that fact. In other words a computer can simulate emptiness but that is not the same as actual emptiness. A computer's simulation of emptiness is similar to the statement this sentence does not exist. We can say that all we like, but the mere act of saying it contradicts its meaning. In the same way, in order for a computer to simulate and know the experience of emptiness it must be in a state that is not equivalent to the state of experiencing emptiness.
Humans and other truly sentient beings are not limited in this way. We are capable of knowing emptiness directly because emptiness and awareness (that which knows) are in fact the very same thing. When a sentient being experiences emptiness it is unmediated by any information process -- emptiness is the experience of the very nature of self-awareness. In other words, because we are truly aware and our awareness is inherently aware of awareness, we are capable of being aware of emptiness which is the actual nature of awareness in its pure form (when unclouded by conceptual overlays). The point here is that when a sentient being has a direct realization of emptiness it does not take place through any conceptual process, in fact it is the opposite of a conceptual process, by definition. The experience of emptiness is a direct realization of the non-conceptual, contentless ground that underlies consciousness. Conceptual thought is merely a process of mental projection taking place on the basis of that ground. Computers are only capable of conceptual activity (although primitive at best). Computers are not capable of representing or experiencing a truly non-conceptual state of being.
For this reason, no computer will ever be truly self-aware in the same way that humans are. No computer will ever be able to experience the state of emptiness. No computer will ever be able to synthesize awareness. The Dalai Lama has mentioned in the past that someday, once computer become sophisticated enough, they may be able to support mindstreams, such that a consciousness could conceivably incarnate into such a machine. But that is very different from saying that the machine is conscious or that consciousness has been synthesized by the machine.
True consciousness, true awareness, does not emerge from any formal information process. It is fundamental to the universe. In other words, awareness does not come from something or somewhere -- it is already there and always has been. Just like energy. We never create it, it has always existed and we merely move it, transform it, and channel it from point to point.
Similarly, the human body and brain do not create conscious and are not themselves conscious either, for they are just organic machines. No machine, whether organic or silicon is really conscious in its own right. Any conciousness that appears on the basis of such machines is merely temporarily associated with them and totally independent of them. Consciousness is totally separate from machines, and from brains and bodies. It is a mystery. It always has been. It always will be. While it may arise within such systems it is not caused by them, not synthesized by their components, and cannot be reduced to them. In other words, a Zen State Automaton is impossible.
My argument goes as follows:
1. A human being (a truly self-aware system) can be aware of their own awareness without any thoughts occuring (ie. without creating or using any information)
2. Computers cannot do anything (thus they certainly cannot sense or know anything) without using information.
3. Therefore computers will never be able to synthesize or replicate self-awareness using any information process. This proves that computers will never be self-aware or conscious in the same way that truly aware beings (such as humans) are. Without true self-awareness computers will never be truly intelligent -- at least not as intelligent as systems that are truly self-aware. Therefore, artificial intelligence will never be truly intelligent by human standards.
In other words, a Zen State Automaton is impossible.
Posted on August 21, 2003 at 02:32 PM in Artificial Intelligence, Buddhism, Cellular Automata, Consciousness, Intelligence Technology, Knowledge Management, My Best Articles, Philosophy, Physics, Religion, Science, Systems Theory, Technology, The Future, Wild Speculation | Permalink | Comments (10) | TrackBack (1)
I think the Next Big Thing is going to be Wireless Power. I want it now. Tesla among others established that wireless power is possible, so why hasn't anyone started a venture to provide it? Wireless power is going to be essential to the next generation of mobile devices. I think it's only a matter of time before we have it. Whomever figures out how to do it is going to make a fortune. Here are my thoughts on some approaches to this opportunity...
What is consciousness and how important is it to intelligence? Can a computer be truly intelligent without also being conscious? If not, then can consciousness be synthesized on a computer or is consciousness something fundamental to the basic structure of the universe, like space, time and energy?
A popular concept among AI people is that the Turing Test is a decent measure of both intelligence and consciousness. I disagree. The Turing Test is really not a measure of consciousness -- nor does it actually measure anything about the computer being evaluated, in fact, if anything, the Turing Test is actually a measure of the intelligence of the human who is evaluating the computer. Is the human smart enough to tell that the computer isn't really a human? If a computer passes the Turing Test, that doesn't prove anything about the computer, but it may prove that the human who is evaluating the computer is not very smart.
How can developing nations expect the developing nations to stop logging their rainforests, strip-mining, over-fishing, etc., if we don't give them a financial incentive to do so? Maybe developed nations should pay into a Global Environmental Tax fund annually based on their pro-rata use of global resources. The money in this fund would then be paid to developing nations for every acre of sustainable healthy natural resources they maintain.
Should there be a formal separation of Corporation and State that is similar to the separation of Church and State, in our Constitution? This is a subject I am thinking about a lot lately. It occurred to me while I was listening to President Bill Clinton's speech at the 2003 Fortune Brainstorm conference in Aspen last week...
I wonder if it is possible to encode useful information -- such as messages, books, scientific formulas, medical records, etc. -- in a living person's DNA. Ideally this would have to be done in such a manner as to not cause any harm to the organism. This technology could have many uses. It also begs the question -- "Is there already a message stored in our DNA?" It might be worth a look! If this technology is possible then someday we could potentially carry all our data with us, in our own DNA -- we could all become walking libraries!...
The Genesis Project is my proposal for an initiative to create a backup of humanity's most hard-won knowledge, of sufficient detail to rebuild our civilization from the Radio-Age if we destroy ourselves or experience an extinction-level event such as a comet impact. The backup would reside in a really Safe Place such as on the moon, or in lunar orbit, or in a cometary orbit, or in near-earth orbit. The Genesis Project also involves technologies that can intelligently communicate back to earth to provide a map of backup locations, and perhaps even to teach interactively.
I would like to start an initiative to track and measure memes (replicating ideas) as they move around the world in real-time. I've spent about a year thinking about the technology necessary to do this. It requires a lot of data-mining power, but the algorithms are fairly simple. Essentially, we mine the Web for noun-phrases and then measure the space-time dynamics of those phrases as they move through various demographic, geographic, and topical spaces.
Posted on August 05, 2003 at 04:53 PM in Artificial Intelligence, Business, Collaboration Tools, Collective Intelligence, Consciousness, Group Minds, Intelligence Technology, Knowledge Management, Memes & Memetics, My Best Articles, My Proposals, Science, Semantic Web, Society, Systems Theory, Technology, The Future | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack (0)