Transmission Control Protocol, or TCP, is an algorithm that manages data congestion on the Internet, and as such was integral in allowing the early web to scale up from a few dozen nodes to the billions in use today. Here’s how it works: As a source, A, transfers a file to a destination, B, the file is broken into numbered packets. When B receives each packet, it sends an acknowledgment, or an ack, to A, that the packet arrived.
This feedback loop allows TCP to run congestion avoidance: If acks return at a slower rate than the data was sent out, that indicates that there is little bandwidth available, and the source throttles data transmission down accordingly. If acks return quickly, the source boosts its transmission speed. The process determines how much bandwidth is available and throttles data transmission accordingly.
It turns out that harvester ants (Pogonomyrmex barbatus) behave nearly the same way when searching for food. Gordon has found that the rate at which harvester ants — which forage for seeds as individuals — leave the nest to search for food corresponds to food availability.
A forager won’t return to the nest until it finds food. If seeds are plentiful, foragers return faster, and more ants leave the nest to forage. If, however, ants begin returning empty handed, the search is slowed, and perhaps called off.
Now that we’ve established that persistence hunting may be the key driving adaptation for Homo Erectus, we can start exploring the cognitive demands of persistence hunting. Here, I believe, we’ll find the evolutionary origins of mystical states of mind. From my reading of the literature, there seems to be three major cognitive developments required for persistence hunting:
- 1. an intrinsic reward for the action of running
- 2. a heightened awareness of the overall environment
- 3. ability to mimic the psyche of the animal prey
1) In studies of societies that undertake persistence hunting, it was found that hunters during the hunt often fall into a quasi-mystical state of euphoria. Running is considered effortless and enjoyable in itself. Considering that recorded hunts can last up to 8 hours, there is a tremendous delayed gratification involved. Thus, it is necessary to evolve an intrinsic reward for the running itself, in order to motivate our persistence hunter to carry out this otherwise exhausting activity. As such, our ancestor’s brains evolved natural endorphins that are released with the physiological markers of long-distance running, such as regular intense breathing, and rhythmic motion.
2) For persistence hunting to work, the hunters must isolate and chase down a single animal. If you get mixed up and chase after different animals, you will not be able to exhaust it to collapse. Thus, one of the crucial abilities of a successful hunter is to track an animal over the landscape during an entire 8 hour run. The hunter has to develop the cognitive ability to maintain awareness of the prey in the vast expanse of the landscape. This is different to other mammalian predators, who only need to maintain direct visual contact as they run down their prey directly. The Hunting Ape must have developed an expansion of consciousness that defocuses from what is in front of you, diffuse over the vast expanse of the landscape in order to locate the prey anywhere on the horizon over the many hours of a chase.
3) Over a given chase, the hunters often lose sight of the animal, and no clear tracks are discernible. In such instances, the advantage goes to the hunter who could figure out which way the animal was likely to have gone. Our ancestors had to do it without tools such as GPS, satellite tracking, or knowledge of evolution. Instead, our ancestors found a short circuit to this information by evolving the ability to be “possessed” by the animal, or cognitively inhabiting the mind and thinking of the animal. Indeed, this is how modern day persistence hunters operate to predict the movement of the prey even when the trail was lost completely.
In accounts of mystic states in formless traditions, an early precursor to a formless mystic experience is the experience of light. As the mind focuses on the origin of perceptions, defined perceptions are prevented from developing. This results in experiences of diffuse light, and music. This simplified perceptions are the results of blocking the development of perceptions received in our sense organs.
The formless mystical state occurs when all perceptions ceases. One is then conscious only of consciousness. Since there are no relative perceptions to keep track of time differences, time, for all and intents and purposes, stops. One steps out of the manifest universe. Meister Eckhart calls this the experience of the Godhead, the underlying fabric of existence. Buddhists call this Emptiness. From this vantage point, all perceptions, which belong to the manifest universe, is an illusion.
"Misconceptions like this are unavoidable," he said, "now that we’ve eaten of the tree of knowledge. But Paradise is locked and bolted, and the cherubim stands behind us. We have to go on and make the journey round the world to see if it is perhaps open somewhere at the back."
One of my favorite essays, I was sure that I posted this years ago but apparently not. Either way, it’s worth reading again.
The sun is, essentially, a four-hundred-quintillion-megawatt thermonuclear power plant, fueled by billions of years’ worth of hydrogen. Six hundred million tons of it is converted into energy every second. “If you go back, really far, you see the first caveman crawl out of his cave and be surprised every time the sun came up—that was the first time mankind encountered a fusion reactor,” Ned Sauthoff, a physicist at Oak Ridge National Laboratory, in Tennessee, who serves as ITER’s American project manager, told me. “It was ninety-three million miles away. But, of course, the caveman was impressed by the warmth and the light, and, being human, he said, ‘How can I have one of those?’ ”
With Wikipedia and its inadequate categories, one enters the realm of ontology. The word originally meant the philosophical study of the nature of being. In the context of information science, it has taken on a different meaning having to do with the modeling of reality. In essence, an ontology is an explicit, formal definition of a conceptual framework for any number of kinds of entities, as well as any number of relationships between them. In contrast to a taxonomy, which is merely a hierarchical ranking of entities using a single relation, an ontology can have any number of hierarchical and nonhierarchical relationships between its entities. The key words, however, are “explicit” and “formal.” An ontology is by definition a model of reality that is amenable to logical representation.
Because computers are incapable of creating meaningful ontological categories, and because the invention of new ontologies requires collective acceptance before they can be used, the most workable approach is to have the expected consumers of an ontology create and maintain it themselves. We could call this process the crowdsourcing of ontology.
We will increasingly see ourselves in terms of these ontologies and willingly try to conform to them. This will bring about a flattening of the self—a reversal of the expansion of the self that occurred over the last several hundred years. While in the 20th century people came to see themselves as empty existential vessels, without a commitment to any particular internal essence, they will now see themselves as contingently but definitively embodying types derived from the overriding ontologies. This is as close to a solution to the modernist problem of the self as we will get.
In 1822, Franz von Gruithuisen thought he saw a giant city and evidence of agriculture on the moon, but astronomers using more powerful instruments refuted his claims. Gruithuisen also believed he saw evidence of life on Venus. Ashen light had been observed on Venus, and he postulated that it was caused by a great fire festival put on by the inhabitants to celebrate their new emperor. Later he revised his position, stating that the Venusians could be burning their rainforest to make more farmland.
Around 1900, the Guzman Prize was created; the first person to establish interplanetary communication would be awarded 100,000 francs under one stipulation: Mars was excluded because Madame Guzman thought communicating with Mars would be too easy to deserve a prize
The elements of human nature:
Age-grading, athletic sports, bodily adornment, calendar, cleanliness training, community organizations, cooking, cooperative labor, cosmology, courtship, dancing, decorative art. divination, division of labor, dream interpretation, education, eschatology, ethics, ethnobotany, etiquette, faith healing. family feasting, firemaking, folklore, food taboos, funeral rites, games, gestures, gift giving, government, greetings, hairstyles, hospitality, housing, hygiene, incest taboos, inheritance rules, joking, kin groups, kinship nomenclature, language, law, luck superstitions, magic,. marriage, mealtimes, medicine, obstetrics, penal sanctions, personal names, population policy, postnatal care, pregnancy usages, property rights, propitiation of supernatural beings, puberty customs, religious rituals, residence rules, sexual restrictions, soul concepts, status differentiation, surgery, toolmaking, trade, visiting, weaving, and weather control.
The elements of an insect-like intelligence:
Age-grading, antennal rites, body licking, calendar, cannibalism, caste determinism, caste laws, colony-foundation rules, colony organization, cleanliness training, communal nurseries, cooperative labor, cosmology, courtship, division of labor, drone control, education, eschatology, ethics, etiquette, euthanasia, firemaking, food taboos, gift-giving, government, greetings, grooming rituals, hospitality, hosing, hygiene, incest taboos, language, larval care, law, medicine, metamorphosis rites, mutual regurgitation, nursing castes, nuptial flights, nutrient eggs, population policy, queen obeisance, residence rules, sex determination, solder castes, sisterhoods, status differentiation, sterile workers, surgery, symbiont care, toolmaking, trade, visiting, weather control …
HISTORY MUST BE CURVED, for there is a horizon in the affairs of mankind. Beyond this horizon, events pass out of historical consciousness and into myth. Accounts are shortened, complexities sloughed off, analogous figures fused, traditions “abraded into anecdotes.” Real people become culture heroes: archetypical beings performing iconic deeds. (Vansina 1985)
In oral societies this horizon lies typically at eighty years; but historical consciousness endures longer in literate societies, and the horizon may fall as far back as three centuries. Arthur, a late 5th cent. war leader, had become by the time of Charlemagne the subject of an elaborate story cycle. Three centuries later, troubadours had done the same to Charlemagne himself. History had slipped over the horizon and become the stuff of legend. In AD 778, a Basque war party ambushed the Carolingian rear guard (Annales regni francorum). Forty years later, Einhard, a minister of Charlemagne, mentioned “Roland, prefect of the Breton Marches” among those killed (“Hruodlandus Brittannici limitis praefectus,” Vita karoli magni). But by 1098, Roland had become a “paladin” and the central character, the Basques had become Saracens, and a magic horn and tale of treachery had been added (La chanson de Roland). Compare the parallel fate of a Hopi narrative regarding a Navajo ambush (Vansina, pp. 19-20). This suggests that 17th century history has for the bulk of the population already become myth. Jamestown is reduced to “Pocahontas,” and Massachusetts boils down to “the First Thanksgiving.” And the story of how heliocentrism replaced geocentrism has become a Genesis Myth, in which a culture-hero performs iconic deeds that affirm the rightness of Our Modern World-view.
The Long Now Foundation, established in 1996, is a private, non-profit organization based in San Francisco that seeks to become the seed of a very long-term cultural institution. It aims to provide a counterpoint to what it views as today’s “faster/cheaper” mindset and to promote “slower/better” thinking. The Long Now Foundation hopes to “creatively foster responsibility” in the framework of the next 10,000 years, and so uses 5-digit dates to address the Year 10,000 problem (e.g. by writing 02013 rather than 2013).
Civilization is revving itself into a pathologically short attention span. The trend might be coming from the acceleration of technology, the short-horizon perspective of market-driven economics, the next-election perspective of democracies, or the distractions of personal multi-tasking. All are on the increase. Some sort of balancing corrective to the short-sightedness is needed-some mechanism or myth which encourages the long view and the taking of long-term responsibility, where ‘long-term’ is measured at least in centuries. Long Now proposes both a mechanism and a myth.
Entoptic phenomena are visual effects whose source is within the eye itself.
Entoptic images have a physical basis in the image cast upon the retina. Hence, they are different from optical illusions, which are perceptual effects that arise from interpretations of the image by the brain. Because entoptic images are caused by phenomena within the observer’s own eye, they share one feature with optical illusions and hallucinations: the observer cannot share a direct and specific view of the phenomenon with others.
The vision of the brain as a computer, which I still champion, is changing so fast. The brain’s a computer, but it’s so different from any computer that you’re used to. It’s not like your desktop or your laptop at all, and it’s not like your iPhone except in some ways. It’s a much more interesting phenomenon. What Turing gave us for the first time (and without Turing you just couldn’t do any of this) is a way of thinking in a disciplined way about phenomena that have, as I like to say, trillions of moving parts. Until late 20th century, nobody knew how to take seriously a machine with a trillion moving parts. It’s just mind-boggling.
You couldn’t do it, but computer science gives us the ideas, the concepts of levels, virtual machines implemented in virtual machines implemented in virtual machines and so forth. We have these nice ideas of recursive reorganization of which your iPhone is just one example and a very structured and very rigid one at that.
We’re getting away from the rigidity of that model, which was worth trying for all it was worth. You go for the low-hanging fruit first. First, you try to make minds as simple as possible. You make them as much like digital computers, as much like von Neumann machines, as possible. It doesn’t work. Now, we know why it doesn’t work pretty well. So you’re going to have a parallel architecture because, after all, the brain is obviously massively parallel.
It’s going to be a connectionist network. Although we know many of the talents of connectionist networks, how do you knit them together into one big fabric that can do all the things minds do? Who’s in charge? What kind of control system? Control is the real key, and you begin to realize that control in brains is very different from control in computers. Control in your commercial computer is very much a carefully designed top-down thing.
You really don’t have to worry about one part of your laptop going rogue and trying out something on its own that the rest of the system doesn’t want to do. No, they’re all slaves. If they’re agents, they’re slaves. They are prisoners. They have very clear job descriptions. They get fed every day. They don’t have to worry about where the energy’s coming from, and they’re not ambitious. They just do what they’re asked to do and do it brilliantly with only the slightest tint of comprehension. You get all the power of computers out of these mindless little robotic slave prisoners, but that’s not the way your brain is organized.
Each neuron is imprisoned in your brain. I now think of these as cells within cells, as cells within prison cells. Realize that every neuron in your brain, every human cell in your body (leaving aside all the symbionts), is a direct descendent of eukaryotic cells that lived and fended for themselves for about a billion years as free-swimming, free-living little agents. They fended for themselves, and they survived.