Friday, September 26, 2008

New Song

I just got an awesome handheld digital field microphone, and downloaded Ableton. Ahhhh... music things are slowly coming together at last. Here's a new song I made up for download.

Warm Breath

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Another Possible Catalyzer In Homo Sapien Brain Development

It's amazing to see what newborns of various species are capable of, driven only by instinct, directly out of the womb or egg. At least physically, newborn humans are completely at a loss comparatively. Perhaps the focus on brain development has coevolved with increased infantile safety in humans, both catalyzing each other. Developmental energy in human infants is focused on learned brain development rather than instinctive programming, and physical growth and ability suffers. Most mammals are born later in physical development, allowing them to immediately run with the herd, among other things. As humans became increasingly less nomadic, selective focus ignored the physically adept, and more infants survived that were born physically premature. The early birth and static lifestyle both allowed for increased observational learning and therefor more brain development during the growth cycle. Runaway sexual selection picked up where this process left off as the smart and creative kids, as we have seen, were more successful in reproducing than those that were born physically endowed like their mammal ancestors.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Your Conservative Estimates of the Probability of Intelligent ET Life Aren't Conservative Enough

I am very optomistic about the probability of life occuring on other, extra-solar planets. But of the search for 'intelligent' extra terrestrial life, I am skeptical.

For those of you who aren't familiar with the Drake equation, it is an equation which attempts to quantify how many planets are home to intelligent life in our galaxy (or our universe, or however far you dare to estimate). The equation is a simple multiplication of unknowns. It looks like this:

N = R* X fp X ne X fℓ X fi X fc X L

N is the number of civilizations in our galaxy with which communication might be possible;


R* is the average rate of star formation in our galaxy
fp is the fraction of those stars that have planets
ne is the average number of planets that can potentially support life per star that has planets
fℓ is the fraction of the above that actually go on to develop life at some point
fi is the fraction of the above that actually go on to develop intelligent life
fc is the fraction of civilizations that develop a technology that releases detectable signs of their existence into space
L is the length of time such civilizations release detectable signals into space.

When we look at the Drake equation, there is a glaring component that, depending upon interpretation, can decidedly make or break the probability and hope of finding intelligent life: What percentage of planets that develop life will develop intelligent life?

How do we define intelligence? Are cells with organelles surrounded by a protective cell walls intelligent? Multicellular creatures? Is intelligence the point at which decidedly living creatures interact with decidedly non-living things apart from themselves in ways that demonstrate foresight and imagination? Or when organisms talk on cell-phones?

First of all, we have to realize that some things we generally think of as ubiquitous to life are actually highly complex and specialized for our unique and singular time and place in the universe. For instance, something like a run-of-the-mill walled cell seems to be pretty far down the line of ancestral lineage, but in the scheme of even Earth's geological time-scale, The first cell with DNA and a cell wall could be thought of as a relatively recent ancestor. A cell is an advanced form of life that had already taken many steps to reach its form, and could have taken many different routes than it did, resulting in a drastically different 'building block of life'. DNA itself is a highly developed, complex replicating system that requires complex biochemical machinery to operate. We can imagine drastically different replicating systems.

Richard Dawkins pinpoints the origin of life as the origin of true heredity. He explains, "The key to true heredity is that each replicator resembles the one from which it was copied more that it resembles a random member of the population." It is under these circumstances that natural selection can direct populations to change relative to each other and specialize into distinct niches. We can imagine heredity in many forms, and there are even more which we cannot imagine. And, taking these drastically different points to start branching off of, it seems that life could develop in an infinite amount of ways for a long time, becoming very advanced, without ever creating anything like a walled cell, for instance.

With this in mind, we can return to the question: How likely is it that planets that develop life will develop intelligent life? First, we must define intelligence. This, of course, is generally considered to be an extremely difficult question to answer, but there is a very straightforward definition that has already been quietly agreed to for mostly practical reasons: Intelligent life forms are ones that send out signals in the electromagnetic spectrum that are irregular and strong enough to make human observers pay attention. (One caveat to that definition would the inclusion of physical messages or personal appearances.) These are the only forms of life that we currently have the ability to look for, but more importantly, it is technology that is considered universally by humans to be the benchmark of intelligence.

Now, to rephrase the question: How likely is the behavior of developing devices that communicate in the electromagnetic spectrum? Let's think about it. This would require the behavior of developing technologies in general. And this in turn would require the development of a large brain, which would have to evolve from nerve ganglia, and on and on. Keeping in mind the almost infinite imaginable forms of heredity, whose initial spark could send natural selection off in so many inconceivable and unimaginable ways, a technological society seem highly unlikely.

One might argue that there are multiple paths to technological development other than concentrated nerve centers like the brain. I would reply that technology is an extended phenotype that is unique to the brain and its interactions with limbs, and that independently evolving life, developing in the presence of drastically different environments could coincidentally develop something very closely resembling the brain, but the possibility is negligible.

My point is that most people, when discussing ET life, and things like the Drake equation, take technology for granted as the eventual product of natural selection, with an argument like this in mind, "Whatever the path, given enough time, groups of evolving individuals will start to create technologies, because the intentional manipulation of one's environment provides such a distinct advantage that the niche must eventually become occupied in virtually any environment."

The argument is a sound one, and it is the stance I would normally take. But perhaps this view is a false one driven, forgivably, by our biased stance as a species who have 'achieved' such behavior. Perhaps technology is merely another obscure behavior development, like salmon swimming upstream, or walking bipedally, or building nests from scraps and hatching eggs, that arose to fulfill a very specific niche provided by a very specific environment shaped by many previous interacting niches. Just as I don't think transforming flower pollen into honey is an inevitable niche that will be filled by highly evolved life, I don't think the development of large brains, or the creation of technology is an eventual inevitability. Organisms change their physical structure and behavior because of need. The only purpose is the propagation of genes. I would imagine that even on planets that do develop complex life, genes could propagate until their closes stars destroy them without ever needing to create tools to survive. Even on our own planet, with the exact same replay of all of the infinitely unlikely combinations of events that led up to Earth 65 million years ago, we could change one chance even like preventing the meteor that exterminated the dinosaurs could possibly have changed the future so that developing large brains was never necessary, or allowed given the circumstances. In a hypothetical Earth, with the exact same location relative to other celestial bodies, exactly the same history of formation with the same distribution of elements, tidal forces, arrangement of land masses etc., with the exact same history of life except one rock avoiding collision with Earth. Even in this hypothetical situation, we can imagine not having a technological species.

Of course, although astronomers disagree on exactly how big the universe is, one thing is for certain: the universe is super big, and there's a lot going on inside of it. The point of this essay is not to argue that there is no possibility of intelligent life on other planets, even in the most specific sense of the word 'intelligent'. The point is that, perhaps even when we think we are considering the nature of life in an objective way, we are still holding a bias that represents an extremely low rate of probability. After all, even on our planet, we are the only species among millions to display the type of behavior that we are looking for in the cosmos.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Cheap As Free!

Some of the best and most creative music today is being released under MP3 labels, under Creative Commons license. So, if you don't have the money to burn that it takes to legally explore the music world, or if you feel guilty when you download music from artists who wouldn't condone it, or if you just want to hear some of the best music around today, I've made a short list of some great sites to check out, full of artists who want you to download their music for free.

Bedroom Research has a long explanation of their concept and inspiration for organizing this website and experimental electronic hub, but it's in French, like most cool electronic things. At the very bottom of this page is one sentence of English that summarizes the site in about the same way I would: "the most kick-ass nasty weird funky cool awesome wicked electronic music available for free." Underneath this, the bottom-bottom of the page says "share your music or be dead." But seriously, this website will change your life.

Great music here at Ego Twister, although not a huge amount. As I write this, there are 5 amazing MP3 releases available for free in ZIP format. Another source of electronic delights.

V/VM has some of the weirdest music you'll ever hear. That's a promise. V/VM is Jim Kirby, and he's known all around as a weird musical prankster, who's always wearing a pig mask. A couple of his projects, which incidently draw a lot of attention and praise from Boomkat, include 'The Stranger' and 'Caretaker'. He's also responsible for the Sick Love project. There's a lot of totally screwed ZIP files available here for free from many artists, including 365 songs from Kirby himself that he made in a self-commisioned project to create audio each day and give it away for free. Also, viewers can click dates on the calendar to see journal entries. To quote Kirby, "The idea was basically to create and upload free audio for one whole year and leave a massive big mess behind, warts and all for you to digest as you see fit."
All of the music is licensed under Creative Commons, with this accompanying message: "The digital youth of today are being brought up on a near limitless diet of free and disposable music from file sharing networks. Fuck iTunes and cold soulless paid downloads. Give something in the hope of something new happening. What goes around comes around. Have fun with what you find around here."

En:Peg doesn't give their stuff away for free, but I had to slip this label in because of their consistently superb releases. They are an MP3 label that charges $2.00 even for every single release they offer, whether it be an EP of LP. Great stuff here.

Wow. Plastiq Passion has some amazing releases from several outstanding artists that you won't hear anywhere else.... at least I haven't. Don't sleep on these guys. Shamelessly entertaining electronic madness. But it's not all off the wall Animaniacs-inspired adultoon ADD beats. There's a variety of music here, all well-honed and mature, with styles ranging from textural to happytune-synth, all unpredictable and bursting with energetic creativity. And for free! Oh, what a world!

I post this with hesitancy, in the company of all these reliable sites filled with genius. The music on WM Recordings is very hit or miss, in my opinion. There is a great variety of sound, style and genre, from Hardcore to quirky 3-Piece bands, to upbeat electro. The unifying theme seems to be general quirkiness. Much of it is very low-fi, in the sense that if you heard it playing in a friend's car, you'd ask them if you were listening to a project of one of their close friends. But of course, creativity isn't in the gear, and there is plenty of creativity showcased here. And some of it is very good quality, indeed. For instance, Thiaz Itch and Vernon Lenoir, two of my absolute favorite electronic artists, both have releases here. But there is a lot to wade through here, so be prepared to get drunk on sound clips!

That should be more than enough for a while. I will surely post a sequel.

Some Songs I Made

I spent hours of my life trying to figure out how to embed an MP3 player on this blog. I finally figured it out, and found a good one, but it would never complete the loading of the song. I tried hosting on various sites, thinking that their server was just slow, but nothing would work. I really wanted to have click-and-listen audio on this blog, but guess I'll have to settle with just embedding the audio I make for download. Here are a few.

Dirty Stomper
There's No Sound In Space
Letter of Resignation
Nothing But Monsters (Analog 4-Track)
Soft Edges