Quotes & Questions
Citations in Zann Gill’s Books
The 21st century technologies — genetics, nanotechnology, and robotics (GNR) — are so powerful that they can spawn whole new classes of mutations and abuses. Most dangerously, for the first time, these mutations and abuses are widely within the range of individuals or small groups. They will not require large facilities or rare raw materials. Knowledge alone will enable use of them. Thus we have the possibility, not just of weapons of mass destruction but of knowledge-enabled mass destruction (KMD), this destructiveness hugely amplified by the power of self replication. Failing to understand the consequences of our inventions while in the rapture of discovery and innovation seems to be a common fault of scientists and technologists. . . . As this enormous computing power is combined with the manipulative advances of the physical sciences and the new, deep understanding in genetics, enormous transformative power is being unleashed. . . . But now, with the prospect of human-level computing power in about 30 years, a new idea suggests itself: that I may be working to create tools which will enable the construction of the technology that may replace our species. How do I feel about this?
Under what conditions will cooperation emerge in a world of egoists without central authority?
It is more probable that any law, at the knowledge of which we have arrived by observation, shall be subject to one of those violations which, according to Hume’s definition, constitutes a miracle than that it shall not be so subjected . . . it follows, that the class of laws subject to interruption is far more extensive than that of laws which are uninterrupted.
Variation, whatever may be its cause, . . . is the essential phenomenon of evolution. Variation in fact is Evolution.
An alternative approach to the Darwinian one: The basic assumption is that the creativity observed in nature is not an illusion but part of an objective reality. In the new picture evolutionary progress is not the result of a successful accumulation of mistakes, but is rather the outcome of designed creative processes in the genome.
The opposite of a correct statement is a false statement. But the opposite of a profound truth may well be another profound truth.
Why has neither AI nor ALife produced artefacts that could be confused with a living organism? Was it a lack of computing power? More computing power has enabled some advances, such as computer vision systems, complex simulations, and Deeper Blue’s victory for computers in chess against the human champion Garry Kasparov in 1997. Did we fail to create artificial life because of a lack of complexity?
Our ineptitude in getting at the record is largely caused by the artificiality of systems of indexing. When data of any sort are placed in storage, they are filed alphabetically or numerically, and information is found (when it is) by tracing it down from subclass to subclass. It can be in only one place, unless duplicates are used; one has to have rules as to which path will locate it, and the rules are cumbersome. Having found one item, moreover, one has to emerge from the system and re-enter on a new path. The human mind does not work that way. It operates by association. With one item in its grasp, it snaps instantly to the next that is suggested by the association of thoughts, in accordance with some intricate web of trails carried by the cells of the brain.
If pleasures and pains are not just passive experience, if they are indeed effective parts of our central control machinery, . . . an explanation of our behavior without them is incomplete.
Recovery of the connections between the arts and science is one of our greatest, if un-acknowledged, challenges.
Simon Conway Morris
You do not win battles by debating exactly what is meant by the word “battle.”
It is interesting to contemplate a tangled bank, clothed with many plants of many kinds, with birds singing on the bushes, with various insects flitting about, and with worms crawling through the damp earth, and to reflect that these elaborately constructed forms, so different from each other, and dependent upon each other in so complex a manner, have all been produced by laws acting around us.
There is no reason why we should view ourselves as the pinnacle of a process that still has another five billion years to go. What form the next step will take, even what extant species will be involved, are unanswerable questions. What will be recognized tomorrow as a fork organism is a mere terminal twig on the tree of life today.
Christian de Duve
What would have taken one thousand generations in the past may now happen in a single generation. Biological evolution is on a runaway course toward severe instability . . . . Our time recalls one of those major breaks in evolution signaled by massive extinctions. But there is a difference. The cause of instability is not the impact of a large asteroid or some other uncontrollable event. The perturbation is from life itself acting through a species of its own creation, an immensely successful species, filling every corner of the planet with continually growing throngs, increasingly subjugating and exploiting the world.
Christian de Duve
Will mutations produce wings like angels, in a human being? If you wanted to develop a race of angels, would it be possible to select for a pair of wings?
Could certain microbes, now occupying highly specialized, restricted niches, find the conditions we are creating more favorable and enjoy population explosions that trigger other events inhospitable to us? Changes in the sea in the past few decades should command our rapt attention — the sort of interest one might take in, say, the life-support system of a spacecraft housing all of the past, present, and future of humankind.
Today we can intervene in, and repair, genetic processes; this capability asks for knowledge that we don’t yet have. Future evolution will be not only on the genetic level; the human mind enables a faster roundabout of development. What happens in the future will involve humankind. Now, as before, the motto of evolution is still survival.
The human being is one player in a huge game, the outcome of which is, for him, uncertain. He has to make full use of his capabilities to hold his own as a player and not become a plaything of chance.
Manfred Eigen & Ruthild Winkler-Oswatitsch
To the question, “What happens to species when environments change?”, the standard post-Darwinian answer became, “They evolve.” . . . Here we have imagination colliding with common sense — and, worse, with empirical reality. . . . By far the most common response of species to environmental change is that they move . . . .
Evolution belongs to no one — no single individual, certainly, but also no particular discipline. The breadth of discourse is sweeping indeed, and there are very many voices contributing to the conversation.
It is simply not reasonable to suppose that any single scientist can ever be fully relied upon to hold [a position] with total dispassion. . . . The disputations for which the scientific community is so justly renowned are truly a group-level phenomenon.
The present would provide an infinite choice of futures if it were not already the projection of a story begun in the past.
They can’t possibly get it. All these people who think (fear) that technology will ultimately trump biology have missed the point. They are not even wrong.
Alan H. Goldstein
The problem of the validity of judgments about future or unknown cases arises, as Hume pointed out, because such judgments are neither reports of experience nor logical consequences of it. Predictions, of course, pertain to what has yet to be observed . . . . What has happened poses no logical restrictions on what will happen.
At the basis of all this ferment lies nature’s irreducible complexity. Organisms are not billiard balls, propelled by simple and measurable external forces to predictable new positions on life’s pool table.
Stephen Jay Gould
Darwin lived to see his name appropriated for an extreme view that he never held — for “Darwinism” has often been defined, both in his day and in our own, as the belief that virtually all evolutionary change is the product of natural selection.
Stephen Jay Gould
I believe that the theory of natural selection should be viewed as an extended analogy — whether conscious or unconscious on Darwin’s part I do not know — to the laissez faire economics of Adam Smith.
Stephen Jay Gould
These machines would be a new form of life, based on mechanical and electronic components, rather than macromolecules. They could eventually replace DNA based life, just as DNA may have replaced an earlier form of life.
If we see the circle of interpretation as vicious and look for ways of avoiding it, . . . then the act of understanding has been misunderstood from the ground up . . . In the circle is hidden the possibility of the most primordial kind of knowing.
As with seeds, much comes from little. . . . Newton’s laws of gravity, or Maxwell’s equations describing electromagnetic phenomena, have much in common with the definition of the game. . . . As in games, we uncover possibilities quite unsuspected by the authors. Newton could not have guessed that his equations would reveal the gravity-assisted boost that takes space probes to the outer planets. . . .
John H. Holland
Think of concepts as stars, and knob-twiddling as carrying you from one point on an orbit to another point. If you twiddle enough, you may find yourself deep within the attractive zone of an unexpected but interesting concept and be captured by it. You may thus migrate from concept to concept. . . taking advantage of their overlapping orbits.
. . .inquiry will ultimately move in the circle to which thinking itself confines us in our thinking. For in thinking about thinking itself, we presuppose thinking and in trying to know what knowledge is, we presuppose knowledge.
The universe begins to look more like a great thought than a great machine. Mind no longer appears as an accidental intruder into the realm of matter. . . . the old dualism of mind and matter seems likely to disappear. . . through substantial matter resolving itself into a creation and manifestation of mind.
People who know about the dangers still seem strangely silent. When pressed, they trot out the ‘this is nothing new’ riposte — as if awareness of what could happen is response enough. . . . They complain, ‘Your worries and your arguments are already old hat.’
When Charles Darwin proposed his theory of evolution by variation and selection, explaining selection was his great achievement. He could not explain variation. This was Darwin’s dilemma.
Marc Kirschner & John Gerhart
Those motivated to question Darwin’s theory found its weakest point in the origin of novelty. . . The secret lay in understanding the organism on its own terms.
Marc Kirschner & John Gerhart
There is nothing supernatural about a linear causal chain joining up to form a cycle.
[The key idea behind these new architectures is] emergent functionality. . . . The global behavior of the agent is not necessarily a linear composition of the behaviors of its modules, but instead more complex behavior may emerge by the interaction of the behaviors generated by the individual modules.
The theory of evolution by natural selection does not predict that organisms will get more complex. It predicts only that they will get better at surviving and reproducing in the current environment.
John Maynard Smith & Eørs Szathmàry
According to modern theory, the idea of “revelation” applies to epigenetic development, but not of course to evolutionary emergence, which, owing precisely to the fact that it arises from the essentially unforeseeable, is the creator of absolute newness.
Emergent properties. . . are novelties that follow from the system rules but cannot be predicted from the components that make up the system. The individuals that make up the whole are designated agents. For example, interaction rules of individual insects (the agents) may give rise to the configuration and behavior of swarms (the agents at the next hierarchical level).
By human standards it could not possibly have been artificial: It was the size of a world. But it was so oddly and intricately shaped, so clearly intended for some complex purpose that it could only have been the expression of an idea.
Between [the] perceiving mind and the perceived world, is there nothing in common? We call them disparate and incommensurable. Nature in evolving us makes them two parts of one mind, and that one mind is our own. We are the tie between them. Perhaps that is why we exist.
Sir Charles Sherrington
Information only has meaning within a context, and the living context still evades us.
Ricard Solé & Brian Goodwin
One common Darwinist error is to purge the future.
J. Scott Turner
What makes you so sure that mathematical logic corresponds to the way we think? . . . The time has come to enrich formal logic by adding to it some other fundamental notions. What is it that you see when you see? You see an object as a key, . . . you see some sheets of paper as a book. It is the word ‘as’ that must be mathematically formalized, on a par with the connectives ‘and,’ ‘or,’ ‘implies,’ and ‘not’ that have already been accepted into formal logic.
What if [Earth] is utterly unique: the only planet with animals in this galaxy, or even in the visible universe, a bastion of animals amid a sea of microbe-infested worlds? If that is the case, how much greater the loss the Universe sustains for each species of animal or plant driven to extinction through the careless stewardship of Homo sapiens?
Peter Ward & Donald Brownlee
Was life nothing but chemistry after all?… It soon became apparent that even if living organisms were simply collections of chemicals, they were very clever collections indeed.
Christopher Wills & Jeffrey Bada
Darwin’s dice have rolled badly for Earth. The human species is, in a word, an environmental abnormality. Perhaps a law of evolution is that intelligence usually extinguishes itself.
Edward O. Wilson
We are drowning in information, while starving for wisdom. The world henceforth will be run by synthesizers, people able to put together the right information at the right time, think critically about it, and make important choices wisely.
Edward O. Wilson
An Armageddon is approaching at the beginning of the third millennium. But it is not the cosmic war and fiery collapse of mankind foretold in sacred scripture. It is the wreckage of the planet by an exuberantly plentiful and ingenious humanity.
Edward O. Wilson
Microorganisms account for most of the biomass on the planet and are an essential foundation on which the global ecosystem rests. They play an absolutely essential role in the survival of the human race. My goal is to work for a recognition of what I feel is the real biology, a science that is not a half-science as it is now, but a science that stands along side of physics as one of mankind’s basic windows on the world, a science that can help man cope with his future, and not just solve immediate problems.
Even Archimedes’ sudden inspiration in the bathtub, Newton’s experience in the apple orchard; Descartes’ geometrical discoveries in his bed; Darwin’s flash of lucidity on reading a passage in Malthus. . . . were not messages out of the blue. They were the final coordinations, by minds of genius, of innumerable accumulated facts and impressions which lesser men could grasp only in their uncorrelated isolation, but which — by them — were seen in entirety and integrated into general principles. . . .
Credit: Painting by Mark Bryan. “Holy Wars”
Diagram shows the third kingdom, discovered by Carl Woese.