skip to Main Content

Reading Summary (July 2016)

The articles below blow my mind away like a grenade exploding a watermelon.  To keep your brain sharp it’s beneficial to challenge assumptions and beliefs that you take for granted.  If you read these articles, your mind will buzz with a new perspective.  In a world of blind lemmings you’ll have done your part in battling your own confirmation bias and that’s commendable.

If anyone has a grenade and a large yard, I'll bring the watermelon and we'll update this image.
If anyone has a grenade and a large yard, I’ll bring the watermelon and we’ll update this image.

I’ve included a summary lifted from the article interspersed with my own thoughts.  Read the original articles for the details and deeper thoughts from the original authors.  When reading, open your mind to hold back your confirmation bias.  If you flinch in pain from disagreement when reading, that’s confirmation bias.  If you automatically judge in a second when reading, that’s confirmation bias.  If you read free from existing assumptions and hold uncomfortable thoughts in your mind for several seconds to form your  own opinion, you’re successfully battling your bias.

Change your thoughts and you’ll change your world.  – Marcus Aurelius


The Fermi Paradox from Tim Urban (Web’s Best Writer)

  • There may be 100 billion billion Earth-like planets in the universe or 100 Earths for every grain of sand on our Earth.
  • If .01% of those planets had life advance to Earth-like intelligence levels, there would be 10 million billion intelligent civilizations in the observable universe and 100,000 in our galaxy.  These estimates could be off by orders of magnitude and still there’s a high probability of other Earth-like planets.
  • Some of these intelligent civilizations would logically be light-years more advanced technologically because some of them would have several billion of additional years to develop given that the universe is ~3x older than our Sun.  Their technology would be to us like a thousand times the reaction a medieval knight would have to a cell phone (knight looks confused…knight scratches head…knight texts sword emoji…knight receives smiley face…knight jaw drops).  
  • A high-level method for evaluating a civilization’s technological advancement is called The Kardashev scale.
    • Type 1 Civilization – Can harness all energy on their own planet.  We (Earth humans) are at .7 meaning we’re not yet fully harnessing our planet’s energy, but close.
    • Type 2 Civilization – Can harness all energy from their host star (i.e. the Sun).
    • Type 3 Civilization – Can harness energy comparable to a galaxy like the the Milky Way.  This should allow a civilization to colonize a whole galaxy in a few million years, which is pretty short on the scale of billions.
  • Even with billions of additional years for many Earth-like civilizations to develop into a Type III civilization, we still haven’t received signs of intelligent life from any.  This is the Fermi Paradox.
  • Read the possibilities for why we haven’t heard from any higher civilizations at the link below.  Start with “The Great Filter” and read more mind-bending possibilities like higher life forms are everywhere and we can’t perceive them or reality is completely different from what we believe.  Enjoy.
  • Link –


The Evolutionary Argument Against Reality from Amanda Gefter interviewing Donald Hoffman (UC Irvine Cognitive Science)

  • We assume our perception is an accurate reflection of the real world, however that assumption conflicts with logical inferences based on quantum physics.
  • The central lesson of quantum physics is: There are no public objects sitting out there in space.  The objects are definite only when we observe them.
  • We believe that people that see reality more accurately have a competitive advantage over those who see less accurately.  However, an organism that sees reality as it really is will never be more fit than an organism that sees reality in the way best tuned for Darwinian fitness
  • For example, a computer user interface allows you to work with a software application more easily than understanding all the details of what happens when you double-click an icon.  Your understanding of how the computer works isn’t a complete representation of reality, but a simplification.  The simplification is useful for survival.  You don’t need to know all the details of how a tiger works to know that when you see one, you should ‘Fight or Flight’.
  • Hoffman briefly describes a Mathematical Model of Consciousness in the article that allows him to factor our the world leaving just conscious agents.  
  • Conscious Realism: Objective reality is just conscious agents or points of view.  
  • Link –


The empty brain from Robert Epstein (Senior Research Psychologist)

  • The human brain isn’t empty, but it doesn’t work like a computer and it doesn’t contain memories.
  • We are changed when we observe the world, pair stimuli, and are punished or rewarded.
  • Stories are re-experienced when told and diverge further from reality each time they’re told.  Should we selectively retell stories to keep them more pristine?  Is this how larger than life legends are born?
  • A snapshot of the 86 billions neurons in the brain is meaningless outside the body of the brain that produced it. 
  • Link –


How Did Consciousness Evolve? from Michael Graziano (Princeton Psychology and Neuroscience)

  • The Attention Schema Theory explains how consciousness developed to focus on a subset of signals in the presence of vast amounts of information.
  • Neurons compete with each other for attention trying to rise above the noise and change behavior.  Consciousness allows us to filter through the competition.
  • The theory of mind is the ability to understand the possible contents of someone else’s mind.  We understand each other by projecting ourselves onto them and understand ourselves by considering how other people view us.
  • Advanced language developed relatively recently and may be the reason we’re highly aware of each other’s mental states.  That awareness advantage comes with more frequent false positives, but false positives (Is that a snake? No. Yay!) kill you less than false negatives (That’s not a snake.  AHHH!  SNAKE!).
  • Link –


Are you living in a computer simulation? from Nick Bostrom (Oxford Philosophy)

  • Technology advances exponentially implying that later civilizations will have massive power to run simulations like humanity living in a video game, only the game is as real as our life.  The ability to run these types of simulations is called the “post-human stage”.
  • It’s possible that we’re part of an existing advanced civilization’s simulation, given that future generations will have this ability.   This assumes we don’t go extinct, destroy our technology, or   experience another event that takes us back to the Stone Age.
  • This leaves 3 possibilities.
    1. The fraction of “post-human” civilizations is close to 0.
    2. The fraction of “post-human” civilizations interested in running a simulation is close to 0.
    3. The fraction of people with our kind of experiences living in a simulation is close to 1.  If this is true, we likely live in a simulation.
  • Conclusion: Unless we’re living in a simulation now, our descendents will likely never run one.
  • Link –


Physics Makes Aging Inevitable, Not Biology from Peter Hoffman (Wayne State Physics)

  • The 2nd Law of Thermodynamics dictates that everything ages and decays.  However, living creatures have protein machines that constantly heal and renew their cells.  Why then do we and other life forms die?
  • There are 2 common theories on why we die: “innate senescence” (biological necessity) and “wearing out” (physical accumulation of stress).  
  • Senescence is an evolutionary way to make room for younger generations.  It implies master clocks counting down the days of our lives.  Telomeres (DNA snippets) shorten, but it’s not known whether that’s a cause or effect of aging.
  • Senescence isn’t needed, because thermal motion and random events cause enough death to decrease the population to make room for younger generations.  The risk of death doubles (2x) every 7 years after age 30.  Plus, free radical damage accumulates and apoptosis (cell suicide) increases without normal stem cell replacement as you age.  
  • Studies on worms show that survival curves decrease with increasing temperatures and this pattern resembles chemical bond breakdown rates. 
  • Similar to the work experiment results, chemical bond breakage vs force  plots resemble human survival vs age plots.  Are we just chemical bonds breaking down over our lives?
  • If this data is correct, aging isn’t a disease but a natural process of nanoscale thermal physics. 
  • Link –

Your habitual thoughts will be the character of your mind for the soul is dyed with the color of your thoughts. – Marcus Aurelius (paraphrased)