Monday, April 28, 2008

Intelligent Life?!?!?! Part 2

If intelligence is directly proportional to rationality, then homo sapiens has to be the dumbest species on Earth( refer part 1)! What about language? Many people believe that our supposedly highly complex and rich languages are evidence for our superior intelligence. But is human language really effective communication? Yes, there are about ten thousand times as many words in any human language as compared to most other animals'( dolphins excepted: their notes-based language is believed to be even more complicated!). But firstly barely anyone knows what exactly each word is supposed to mean. Additional layers variously called context, sarcasm, humour, anger only attempt to hide our obvious ignorance. Add to that other things like grammar and dialect, whose purpose I can't even begin to discern and we have human language! On top of all the extravagant garnishing, it might be that despite the perfectly delivered message, the mood( let's call it the Capricity Factor) of the listener might mean it's garbled into nonsense! Anyone still believes language is a sign of greater intelligence?

Then there is music and art! Need i say anything here? I haven't seen any form of music( or art) that some group of people or the other find tympanic murder( or ophthalmic torture)! I wonder if bees refuse to carry food saying that the signalling buzz isn't heavy(or brutal ;-) ) enough, or doesn't have the right beat...

Some people( or all?) may say that the irrefutable sign of human intelligence is having sex for pleasure. Sorry folks, but dolphins and pigs( I think) beat us there!

A little more on human rationality- What about something like smoking? People know it multiplies your lung cancer risk manifold, but they still do it. Some people may point out that we inhale about a billion poisonous substances every day, why can't we add another to the list? The argument is weak, to put it mildly. You might as well commit suicide at birth because you will die in a handful of decades anyway! Pollution is another enigma- being rational we should be able to consider viable alternatives and arrange the best future for posterity, right? But myopia comes free with rationality i suspect.

I'm not even sure if entertainment is uniquely human. I recall reading somewhere that quite a few species have games, which seem to serve no higher need than relieving boredom. I can vouch for this statement's veracity, at least in the case of dogs!

On the other hand, there are many uniquely human traits which seem to exist just to counter arguments like this one. Humans are intelligent? No way- look at any talk show, or ES1, or ES2, or American Football, or celebrity journalism( maybe the journalism is redundant here?), or Times of India, or hip-hop, or Chelsea FC, or sitcoms ! That was exhausting.. Wait, i forgot to mention saas-bahu soaps, the fashion industry( a mystery to me!), the atom bomb, every war beginning from when some cursed soul whetted the first stone-knife and every person killed in conflicts over a movie's cultural appropriateness(!!!).. That list was quite convincing, I suspect!

Similarities abound, however, between humans and malicious viruses( ask all the species wiped out in our unstoppable march to progress). For further information google Holocene Extinction Event.

Intelligent Life?!?!?! - Part 1

Reading the report on Stephen Hawking's speech at a NASA convention was an eye-(re)opener. Although his speech was mainly about extra terrestrial life( one of my pet obsessions!), he briefly touched upon the topic of human intelligence. He said '... some people might say it hasn't happened on Earth yet.'

I am sure many people have wondered about the distinction, that unique anatomical detail( or anomaly), that differentiates the human race from the rest of the biosphere. Sidenote 1 Let's not get drawn into an argument on the sheer arrogance of that statement. I actually sympathise with all those upset, but if only for the sake of argument let's accept that such a differentiating factor exists. And quite a lot of people say that the little evolutionary step we are looking for is intelligence. When I did AI last semester, there was this paragraph about experiments done on the dung beetle. The dung beetle picks up a ball of dung to cover the entrance to a newly built nest. If the ball of dung is removed en route, then the beetle simply continues on and mimes the act of covering the nest's opening! This was a good example to illustrate the rather algorithmic nature of many forms of life. Can we have a program that perfectly mimics the behaviour of a dung beetle? Definitely, and it's not even that tough. We can even build a physical casing resembling a dung beetle, infuse it with the program and voila, we have a dung beetloid( i suspect it would be a rather primitive robot though!). Before we can contemplate extrapolating this to human beings, let us consider something else intermediate to humans and dung beetles: dogs. What differentiates dogs from dung beetles? ( ouch! My apologies to all caninophiles, yours truly included!). It's called learning( brain structure-wise only). I am sure all of you have heard of Pavlov and his bells( refer to the footnote if you haven't). Dogs can learn, and while they may not be the quickest or the most receptive ones around, they do it. Humans learn too, and quite often produce algorithmic behaviour( refer to 'ghots' by Binit) as well, but what we can really do that others can't is be irrational! Yes, you might say that the dung beetle, with its pantomime act, is irrational, but i argue that it is being rational within the limited domain of its knowledge. Humans, on the other hand have the unique distinction of being able to take the wrong decisions despite fully well knowing what the right one is! Let me illustrate with the quite topical example of class attendance- we know it will ease our pre-compre tortures if we just attend a couple of classes a day( and yes we can come back and play cs!) but we dont! Now, the brain receives sensory input and processes it just like in other animals. But an intermediate entity called consciousness interrupts and decides whether to accept the reasoning or not. (I think i spoke about consciousness in some earlier post). Irrationality, therefore, is the little bit of magic that us homo sapiens possess. It is easy to see how irrationality can be an evolutionary force: If you are a predator who loves to snack on tasty dung beetles, and you have slightly better reasoning ability than the average donkey, you can easily work out the beetle's routine; all you have to do is lay in wait at some point in the dung trail!

On the other hand, does this translate to some higher form of intelligence that we all possess? Stubbornness is another uniquely human trait( you cant quite call the dung beetle stubborn, it doesnt know what else to do!). Maybe that is necessary to retain some semblance of sanity( or consciousness). Or maybe we haven't evolved enough yet? Whatever the case may be, if intelligence hasn't evolved on Earth yet, Peter knows how we can be so presumptuous as to believe we can look for it elsewhere( at least that's better than believing that we are the only ones, however !).

FOOTNOTE Pavlov apparently rang bells before giving dogs their meals. After a few weeks( I think), he noticed that the dogs started salivating to the sound of the bells, even if no food actually accompanied them!

Monday, April 14, 2008

The enigma called Fifa 08

To celebrate my induction into the prestigious group called fifa 08 frustratees, i hereby lay down the ten commandments that guide you to karmic frustration :-

1. Thou shall never take the ball away from the opposition player. Only he may see fit to bestow the ball on rare occasions to deserving mortals.

2. Thy keeper is dumb.

3. Thou shall ne'er even come close to tackling a player; he will always turn towards the guy you are not controlling.

4.Thy tricks and intrigues shall only be implemented when the ball is a tackle and four passes away.

5.Thou shall not score until you have had 233 shots on target( the number is holy 'tis must not be questioned...)

6.Thy keeper is dumb.

7. Thou shall see God( in the face of the supreme omnipotence of the opposition players) at least twice every match.

8.Thy opposition will certainly score from a free kick within 0.113 seconds of thy scoring.

9.Thou shall break at least one object in the vicinity before the end of the match.

10. Thy induction into f0f is now complete.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Good and Evil

I have often wondered about the depiction of good and evil in fiction. In older literature, good and evil were often clearly defined: Person X is good and Person Y is evil.( Grey Shades? What are you talking about?!) There were a few traits that came to symbolise evil - greed, for instance, is right up there with the best. Many cultures hold lust, or sometimes even any evidence of open sexuality as evil. Having too much money was another( ask the Catholics- new decrees say that you go to hell if you have too much money).. Having too much fun, for some inexplicable reason, is also occasionally frowned upon. So what must a good person be like? Unselfish, austere, self-sacrificing, self-torturing, chaste, noble, heroic and basically completely impossible. On the other hand, i've realised that modern literature tends to veer towards the other end of the spectrum. Everyone ( with the possible exception of the novel's protagonist) is evil. Everyone is greedy, selfish, cowardly and consumed by lust. It has become a cool new writing technique to describe in detail the protagonist's thoughts after every conversation- say polite things outwardly and curse to hell inwardly. But I wonder, is that really true? Does everyone need to do some internal bitching, so to speak, after every trivial conversation? It's certainly not true for me. Critics rave about the sensitive, grim and realistic(?) depiction of human emotions in such books, but for me they are pure torture. And I know black and white depictions of good and evil are not really realistic, but give me fantasy any day, if the only other option is the realism dished out in modern literature.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

a defence of heavy metal

If you were to ask me what question it is that i'm asked the most( no, this one does not qualify) - it would be something along the lines of 'how do you listen to that stuff?' with incredulity dripping from every syllable. And in celebration of the four billionth instance of that question, I hereby launch into a vigorous defence of that misunderstood art called heavy metal music.

What is the most common argument against metal? Usually it goes like It has no melody or it has no tune or something similar. What I find interesting here is that many of the people(not all, just to protect myself from the libelliously inclined) who take this stand are fans of that doubtful form of music called rap. Honestly, i see nothing more to rap than a collection of *&@!@! @!*!@ @!*#$)^%$ (for a complete translation, consult 50 cent) and half dressed women( rap videos ooze directorial genius, don't they?) and certainly no melody. What about those people who claim to detest both rap and metal?Sidenote 1: I know for a fact that there are people like that. I think what they are looking for is melody in vocals; maybe it's just the culture here but vocal melody is given much more appreciation than instrumental skill of any kind. Even this doesn't tell the whole story- the voice has to be in a certain frequency range( somewhere near 20000 hz will be just fine thank you). If somehow the voice is deeper, or louder, or growlier it just won't do, even if the same intricate inflections of tone that drew applause in the first place, are still there. Only yesterday I had been listening to Amon Amarth and was busy in the process of appreciating the sheer vocal prowess of the lead singer when a friend walks in and says, 'How do you listen to that stuff?'. I wish the same kind of narrow minded appreciation could be extended to other kinds of music. Sidenote 2: I do not have anything against sopranos. I love this Japanese band called Seraphim which can be best described as operatic metal.

Even language is to blame for the spread of this prejudice- Soft, slow songs evoke that mystical sense of musical ecstasy, which is sadly missing in heavy,loud,noisy rock music. Really? Dude, I sleep to heavy metal music. Sidenote 3 If you think I am disturbed, you are not the first. Sidenote 4 No,I am not deaf!

Then there are those people who listen to Bollywood music and Bollywood music only. Actually film music didn't use to be as bad as it is now- there were days when the odd song could actually be called melodic. But, then you can always blame rap music for that...

Last Word: Listen to Symphony X, or Dragonforce. If that is noise, well you are the latest victim of the terminal neurological disorder called cerebellus hiphopophilitis