Tag Archives: Evolution

Remoting-in to the Virtual Box

As no-one spoke up yesterday, I’ll assume everyone has accepted the notion that all software runs in a virtual universe, free from the laws of physics. That’s why we don’t need to run software developments like an engineering project. They are not subject to all of the constraints that make engineering hard. We can ‘build the roof first’ and worry about ‘how strong the foundations need to be’ later, when we understand more about the model we have built of our incomplete idea. Like this blog post, Agile products are almost free-floating in a world of our invention, until they need to communicate with people. We are stuck here, interacting with this parallel universe, using our big, heavy ape arms and clumsy interfaces. We drag behind them like tired children.

Did you see the original ‘Tron’ film? Do you remember how the programmers’ personalities were represented by the programs? That was a true story. Programs can be gentle, kind, beautiful but shallow, or bullying ego-maniacs, just like their creators. They can appear to have a certain character while actually being something else entirely. Software reflects aspects of the personalities of it’s creators, as expressed within their self-imposed cultural boundaries.

I think most people reading this will accept that evolution theory is most likely true and that genes carry the necessary code to make new life. I want to propose my own hypothesis. I don’t know if I’ve re-invented an old idea so please tell me if you’ve heard of it before. I think that every form of life has its own culture and that DNA and culture have evolved together in a symbiotic relationships, like a third interlocked spiral. The main difference is the speed at which the invisible cultural strand can change. We may still have the emotional responses of cave dwellers due to our DNA but we can change our political and religious opinions in a day. Every system that survives, protects itself, so we have evolved early-adopters, fashion-victims, people who want to fit in and reactionaries, to quality-check dangerous ideas. As a species we resists change, because change has proved to be really dangerous. At the same time, we constantly strive to try something new because that has been proved to give evolutionary advantage, if you don’t die trying. The variation in the attitude of humans is one of our evolutionary advantages. The two are kept in balance by death of the over adventurous and economic failure of the over-cautious.

“Where’s he going with this?”, you may ask. Well: just as Richard Dawkins put forward the idea that we are carriers of our selfish genes, I’m in turn proposing the idea that selfish us and our selfish genes are carriers of our cultures and that if we can project human culture into software, we can free it, and ourselves from the rules of physics and the constraints of limited resources and thereby, finally, from the drive to be selfish.


Weeding for God

“Unemployment is capitalism’s way of getting you to plant a garden.”
– Orson Scott Card

It’s a widely held view that gardening is the closest mankind gets to playing God; to creating life.

Having spent several days in the garden recently, my observations have been quite different. I’ve mowed grass and weeded, pruned trees and dug up and potted squirrel-planted hazel trees. I have attempted to rip out every last root of an unwelcome run of bamboo but I haven’t created a single thing. My role has been ‘arbiter of fitness’ to survive. I have a vision of how the garden should be and I ruthlessly remove or modify anything that opposes my scheme.

I’m not God, I am Evolution.

“Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds.” – Translation of the Bhagavad Gita, quoted by J. Robert Oppenheimer on seeing the first atomic bomb.

As The West contemplates an appropriate response to Islamic State, we need to be aware of our own potential for ruthlessness in protecting our chosen cultural memes. Perhaps we should look at more flexible planting schemes.

I have dug a ditch around the bamboo for now, to contain it but another voice calls for it to be destroyed by fire, before the original shoots we planted get out of hand again. Creation is harder to control than destruction.

Oppenheimer underestimated the awesome power of branching chain reactions too.

Competitiveness – a strange game

[ a slightly different version of a post I made on LinkedIn ]

“A strange game. The only winning move is not to play” – the computer in ‘Wargames’

Also see: market capitalism, Westminster politics, privatisation, corporate performance reviews.

Sexist Theory

In theory, I support feminism. That is to say that I believe that everyone should have equal rights and opportunities, as far as practically possible, though I accept that male breast-feeding is unlikely to arrive in my life-time so some asymmetrical allowances may have to be made.

I don’t think that any two humans are equal. Each of us is unique. The mechanism of evolution favours diversity, so there is wide variation in human capability across many axes of ‘capable’. I don’t find it in any way surprising that there may be biological as well as social differences between the sexes. You cannot say that all men are taller than all women but you can say this “on average”. That is not adequate reason to say that in a job which requires a large, strong person, women should be excluded. That is sexism. It may also be true that, on average, a woman is better at childcare than a man but that may be due to social conditioning or hormone levels. It is sexism to assume that one man cannot make an excellent nursery assistant.

I think there are 2 different types of human evolution occurring. One is political, intellectual, cultural and possibly moral. It moves fast. Ideas can be born, played with and die in days, hours or even a few minutes with the Internet to speed up our communication and super-charge our societal network. It has taken only a month for ‘national pride’ to be something every political party wishes to aspire to. The ideas don’t have to be the best, only to win over popular opinion.

The other evolution is provided by good old biology. It moves very slowly. That is why we’ve tried to give it up. Our fight and flight mechanism is rarely an appropriate response to commuting congestion but many more stress-related deaths will be needed before it is eliminated from the population; or perhaps society will decide that the aggression necessaary to win a knife-fight will take precedence. The two types of evolution are simultaneously interdependent: Politics will decide our biology, by defining the environment we evolve to fit and in conflict: what we think and what our bodies feel can be at odds.

So it was that I found myself, complaining on Faceboook about an act of sexism and minutes later, posting a public link to a Jake Thackray song that starts, “I love a good bum on a woman, it makes my day”. Is this, I mused, what they call “hypocrisy”?

We are all animals. Most of us experience sexual desire but “there’s a time and place for it”. There are also manners and rudeness and what some feminists call “rape culture”. Apparently, it’s a very unpopular opinion with nearly all men but I’m going to bravely come out and say that I am against rape. I think it’s wrong. Not only that, I don’t think I’d like doing it, at all. I guess I’m just weird.

I sometimes find newsreaders and musicians and other people who suddenly appear on the screen in my house to be quite attractive. I know that is Wrong because it encourages the horrible exploitation of women who look nice at the expense of those who don’t, in a way that would never happen with, say, boy bands or jobs that are considered to require a good brain rather than good looks.
The thing is, I can’t help it. I could pretend I don’t find beautiful women nice to look at, like men with jealous partners have to, but it wouldn’t be true. I could not mention it, in the way I hardly ever say “Wow, you’re ugly!” to a complete stranger I meet in the street but the fact is, I think we are designed at a fairly basic level to want to compliment people we quite like the look of, in the hope they’ll remember and if everything else goes pear-shaped later, maybe we might stand a chance there. Sometimes I think people even like it, if it’s done in a way that suits them, which is of course, completely impossible to predict.

Such casual flirting may be a coy look over the edge of a fan (this has NEVER worked for me) or a “Pwoar darling!” from a scaffolding tower(has that EVER worked for anyone? – sadly, I suspect the answer must be “yes” or surely they’d be too embarassed by now) but it appears we “just can’t help ourselves”, to differing degrees. Yes the object of our desire may be offended or simply physically repulsed by an unwelcome or inappropriate approach but society decides what is acceptable behaviour and there currently seems to be a huge mismatch between social manners and acceptable courtship behaviours that our generally permissive society has yet to resolve. Whether we practice our flirtation technique in preparation for our ‘one true love’ or whether wolf-whistling is actually an Alpha-male tribal bonding ritual, in which the apparent sex object is only symbolic and may as well be a cartoon character, may require further anthropological study.

Now, we come to the event which triggered me writing this post: a middle-aged, slightly overweight female comedian in a new frock she’d bought specially, went on TV to pick up an award and thousands of people tweeted to tell her what a mess she looked. How rude and insensitive! Subsequently, she wrote a reply in a TV magazine about how much they had hurt her and told them that how she looked had nothing to do with her job. Good for her. I wish more women would politely but firmly answer back, when it won’t put them in danger of further abuse.

I have made my peace with the sad fact that I will probably always find some people (including on TV) more sexually attractive than others and that is probably necessary for the healthy continuation of our species but that is not a fact TV executives should consider when employing people as newsreaders, or comedy clubs when booking an act, even if it will increase their audience, because those people will be there for the wrong kind of evolution.

In our turn, us men could all try not forcing any level of attention on anyone who clearly signals they aren’t interested, however confident we are that we “know they like it really” and we could all care a bit less about how other people look, certainly stopping well before the point of public abuse. We all decide what society’s standards are so let’s speak up whenever we think it could up it’s game.

Flogging a Dead Duck

As an addendum to my most recent post, I think it was @unfortunatalie’s tweet about dreaming of a dead duck that made me try to find ‘The Mallard’ by Harvey Andrews. Then I remembered hearing that he was once on ‘The Old Grey Whistle Test’ then YouTube told me I really should see a video that showed the question atheists can’t answer about evolution.
Well, “can’t” if you don’t allow them to use any evidence from the fossil record but are perfectly happy to believe books that are at least a thousand years old.
“Go on, show us one kind of animal turning into another kind of animal right now! You can’t can you?” they said.

I’ll answer that:

All of them. Right now. Genetic mutation and selection. Watch it under a microscope. Then by beng the freaks that don’t die. In the time I’ve lived in my house, I have selectively bred short-arsed dandelions. Now shut up and read your book. There are some good stories in it but some of them shouldn’t be taken too literally.

You listen to ‘The Mallard’ at your own risk.

Changing Socialism

I’ve been trying to get my head around politics, hierarchy and evolution.
I don’t believe in “growth” and since growth is the  fuel of Capitalism I can’t believe in market capitalism, or in the establishment hierarchy which supports it but I can see markets with my own eyes. They are real, so I have to believe in them.

I’ve also seen that neither the USSR or China were able to make their versions of Socialism work, and closer to home, I found Arthur Scargill at least as terrifying as Maggie Thatcher.

We have talked of “The Collider”. Perhaps it could help? An early, Leanly Manufactured prototype has been built and I have installed it, with my bed as the focus point, so I can start my research every morning before The Street is thoroughly aired.

The information feeds at this point are:

  • BBC Radio 4 – delivered by the medium of DAB alarm-clock radio. I like to think that the delay softens the impact. I listen for an hour through the filter of semi-conciousness that precedes my first coffee. The  filter throws the idea-stream into soft-focus, which I hope will model biological mutation.

Caffeine consumption is best achieved in an at least semi-upright posture which then enables my Internet feeds. They normally consist of

  • Facebook – but it is rarely fun in the morning. I seem to befriend more owls than worms, so my first call is often
  • LinkedIn – but I’d already thrown some bait out there yesterday. I’d posted a quotation I found, about ‘The Lean Mindset’ at http://www.poppendieck.com
    “Great companies are not in business to make money, they make money to stay in business and accomplish an important purpose.”
    I also responded to a link to an article about hierarchy on Forbes.com, called:
    ‘No Managers? No Hierarchy? No Way!’
    It had 5 ‘thumbs up’ and one comment in agreement when I arrived (well “kind of”. He may have been disagreeing politely). I said, “I disagree that nature is inherently hierarchical…” then everything went quiet. Top-level LinkedIn appears to be frequented by few people willing to take the chance of being on the Wrong side of an argument. I asked questions but had received no reply. I must assume that the author took them to be rhetorical or wished me to go away.

This seems to be what hierarchies do to protect themselves. (The next stages are social exclusion of the critic and finally expulsion, should anyone wish to plot their own position on a handy graph.) It was too early for fighting or having a perfectly sound argument ignored, so on to

  • Twitter -A few days ago, I realised most of my favourite tweeters are young, female, introverted, hopeful misanthropes who are interested in EVERYTHING but, like me, take an outsider’s view on Real Life. This probably says something about me but who cares what anyone else thinks, right?

I find Nat Guest, @unfortunatalie particularly good to wake up to.

  1. She gets up at a sensible time. There won’t be a backlog to catch up on. Let’s face it, Twitter, I’m only ever going to see a sunrise if I stay up particularly late.
  2. With Nat, there is rarely any need for further randomisation in pre-processing. She comes ready-muxed.
  3. I totally relate to her pseudo-parallel, chaotic changes in thought direction, constant “over” analysis and bemused observation of life’s absurdities.

This morning, in between her dislike of Calvin & Hobbes, increased bean varieties, the modern face of racism and a brief adventure into self-parody she told a sad story of Socialism failing. Failing again. “My favourite socialist-run stationery shop is closing. He has suffragette printing presses in his basement. Another woman & I are staring in through the window & commiserating”, she tweeted.
This place has history. It seems the sort of place London Communists might have gathered before marching to protect the Jewish commuity from the Blackshirts, when the police weren’t going to – one of England’s finest moments.
But look at that window display. It could be Soviet Russia. It’s main competitor is probably Amazon. How ironic.

There was a newsagent opposite my house that had remained unchanged since at least the mid-nineteen-sixties. It closed a few years ago, when the matriarch of the family, back minding the shop, was threatened with a gun. As far as I know, it was run along market-capitalist lines, as a family business. It just wasn’t making enough to be worth fighting for any more. Two car parking spaces were plenty. The environment had changed. I only ever went in there a few times, as a child and with my children. They didn’t sell much I wanted. I liked knowing it was there though and I miss it. It was a sign that things didn’t always have to change.

If you’re worried about the old lady, she told the robber, “bugger off, you’ll have to shoot me first” and he ran away. I wonder if that’s worth trying with Tower Hamlets Council. She didn’t live much longer though. I guess the shop was her life.

Maybe evolution has pre-disposed us to be selfish and grow because it is too dangerous to stay still, and contraction also causes resource depletion. We should find bigger purposes that we can all believe in.

If you’d like to know more about the Spitalfields shop, @unfortunatelie sent me this
spitalfieldslife.com > 2010 > 02 > 03 > Gary-arber-printer <http://spitalfieldslife.com/2010/02/03/gary-arber-printer/>  I was wrong about Communist Russia.
Natalie Guest owns the Copyleft to the photographs but has given permission to use them under a Creative Commons Attribution-Non-Commercial Licence https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/3.0/

Creating the optimum conditions for Noticing Things

Steve Jobs said, “Creativity is just connecting things. When you ask creative people how they did something, they feel a little guilty because they didn’t really do it, they just saw something. It seemed obvious to them after a while. That’s because they were able to connect experiences they’ve had and synthesize new things.”

This morning, during his Reith Lecture on BBC Radio 4, I tweeted “Grayson Perry reported a student saying that contemporary art is about noticing things, as @robinince reported Darwin said about himself” after discovering the mechanism of Evolution.

This afternoon, in ‘Costing The Earth’, also on The Wireless, Tom Heap talked to Eben Bayer, who has developed a replacement for polystyrene, made from mushrooms and agricultural waste. He said “Invention comes from putting two very disparate ideas together”

Are ‘creativity’, ‘discovery’ AND ‘Innovation’ simply about colliding ideas and noticing things? That sounds like you could apply ‘The Scientific Method’ to them, IF we had some sort of “idea collider”, a “notion accelerator” perhaps?

Creativity is just connecting things. When you ask creative people how they did something, they feel a little guilty because they didn’t really do it, they just saw something. It seemed obvious to them after a while. That’s because they were able to connect experiences they’ve had and synthesize new things.

Steve Jobs

Read more at http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/s/stevejobs416925.html#8f4zv5vPx69IxQ76.99