Monthly Archives: December 2008

Computer Science is Life Science

Computer Science (CS) is not a science of computers. CS is a science of life. It is a bridge to connect the physical science with human science.

Here I take the word life as what is meant by C.A. (Christopher Alexander) in his book The Nature of Order. And I use his concept Degree of Life as the measure of life.

So what is CS studying? The essential part of CS is software programming, which is about how to create life. It is commonly known that OOP (Object Oriented Programming) is about agents and interfaces (e.g. the contracts between agents) (so is economy). Here we can summarize it with the Principle of Play (as in the post about Python).

Briefly, the Principle of Play is about how other life entities (I will start using this word throughout this essay to describe anything that we consider having a degree of life, probably a degree of life that is higher enough to interact with other entities) can easily interact/play with.

So for a life entity, if we want to measure its degree of life, we can look at the following aspects: how many different entities are able to interact with this entity in different ways; how much time those entities need to learn to figure out how to use this one.

For a system, on average, how much degree of life within a system of many life entities? We can look at these from the following:
how generative the system is, how the system is able to come up with new ways to deal with new problems (kind of like human body);
how adaptive the system is to the outside;
how adaptive the system is to its own growth/evolution, whether the system is able to carry out the evolution in a more peaceful way;
how much time the life entities in the system spend in figuring out how to work with each other;

A better system is more able to be life-generating. It is more efficient at converting energy from lower forms to higher forms, such as converting energy into life entities. Take music for example. When a musician create the music, he consume a lot of energy (he has to eat a lot of food and use the energy that is from the food) in creating that music and put that music down in some kind of physical format (for example, a mp3 file on a computer). When that mp3 file is listened to by another person, the music causes some life-generating events in that person. If we say it causes some new material being generated in that person’s brain or causes restructuring of his brain, then the energy is transformed into the material (new life entity) in that person’s brain. So good music, just by being played over and over again for different people, simply consume some physical energy (electricity, for example) and push a higher energy being generated and stored. (The real situation, of course, can be way more complicated. Here we just simplify it temporally for the convenience of introducing the idea.)

So a system with more life means that more energy are taken from the physical world and stored at a higher level.

So what kind of brain has more life? Possible answers below:
A brain that has real knowledge, the brain structure is shaped very well that it can recall knowledge and engage with the world in a very efficient and creative way;
A brain having a higher degree of life is better at creating life.

More questions for our consideration:
Why human being is a higher form of life? (Is the language giving us the potential to have more life?)
Why creatures have more life than furniture?
Which society is more able to adapt to change? For example, with the new frontier in the info age, which country is more able to adapt and imagine a new future?
What kind of life creating process is it in human body? How does DNA create life for human? How does human being take physical energy from outside and convert that to its own energy?

There are definitely endless fields that we can go into to examine how the life generating process is carried out there.

So when we go to the macro level, we look at the whole human society, we want to see if our society as a whole has a higher degree of life than societies 2000 years ago, which means if our society is more able to adapt to change, more responsive to outside, more able to carry out the evolution in a peaceful way.

To give an example of how we can measure the degree of life, maybe we can try to see how we measure the degree of life of different programming languages (for example, Java VS. Python). I am thinking the method can be as below: we look at how people in different professions or different age groups are able to pick up the programming language quickly and how diverse are the software/apps that are built by this programming language, how the language itself is more able to adapt to change… Surely, sometimes whether a programming language is used more often has a lot to do with marketing. That is why we need a better playground so the better ones can be played by more people.

Every life center (entity) has billions of plus and billions of minus. Thus it is math on a higher level. (Any math is just an extended transformation of plus and minus). So what is this form of transformation of plus and minus in life centers (entities)? One clue is that this is computation of plus and minus on the scales of billions (http://www.wired.com/science/discoveries/magazine/16-07/pb_theory). Another clue is as  CA has pointed out in his book Nature of Order, it is expressed through geometry forms. Certainly any geometry forms (if not a dot) contain billions of plus and minus. Thus visualization of huge amount of data might be part of the big picture of solutions.

Google’s search engine is a way to compute the billions of plus and minus, if we treat a link as a vote (a form of plus and minus). In words of O’Reilly, Google “built real-time information systems to capture and respond to that vote”.

Above are just some early hypothesis. Any new science starts with great hypothesis, then countless proving and figuring out the details. I hope these hypothesis can be a good start.

The ideas here are still very rough. I put it out early for the purpose of getting some early feedback. So if you know someone doing similar work on this, please let me know.

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Filed under About Software, Chan/Zen, Computer Software, Essay, Featured Essays, Programming, Python, Social Software

Consciousness/experiences cannot be transfered

In Zen, it is well-known that the masters insist that they have nothing to teach. They insist that their words cannot become the students’. The students have to experience for themselves.

Yes, the consciousness/experiences cannot be transfered from one person to another. You have to experience it yourself.

What I realized after coming to US is that the consciousness/experiences also cannot be transfered from one culture to another culture. Even it is within the same person, for what you have experienced in your native culture you will have to experience them all over again in the new culture. Otherwise, the old experience will just fade away and become not accessible anymore. So you have to rebuild the whole new experience on the new substrate.

I always tell my oversea Chinese friends that it is a battle of life and death living in US, which they cannot totally comprehend. But for our brains, it is certainly a battle of life and death. Although many oversea Chinese try to get by by associating with the oversea Chinese communities, it is certainly very different from living in your native culture. Their consciousness was locked up and cannot keep growing anymore.

I was talking to a friend the other day. He asked me about some of his impression of Chinese. I told him that Chinese coming to US in different time are very different. When they came to US, they were pretty much stuck in the time they came. So the Chinese coming to US 50 years ago were trapped as Chinese 50 years ago. Even China itself has changed over the past 50 years, these Chinese don’t change much. The new generation of Chinese coming here certainly realize those Chinese are very different. So each generation of Chinese immigrants become a museum of that generation. They cannot “melt” (a common word used, but I don’t feel that is an accurate expression) into the western culture. They cannot grow together with their original Chinese society anymore. So they got locked up. For China, it had gone through countless of wars and turmoils in the past 150 years. The trauma and humiliation these wars had caused in the people’s minds are very deep. And it takes many years of peaceful time to rebuild the order of peace, and people can start rebuilding the manners of their society. So people in a society grow together. But the Chinese coming to US a long time ago cannot grow anymore and was locked in that historical period forever. It took their second generation to start making a little change.

In Buddhism, we say there is no time. What happened in the past is not in the past. It is in the present. It is in your memory. So the past is just the space in our memory. We access that space by living the present. So if you are more able to interact with the present, you have more access to the past (the space in your memory).  We are constantly reshaping and restructuring our memory so that our past experience and our knowledge can be more readily available with no thinking. When you are crossing the street, how do you know you need to pay attention to the cars? How is that memory recalled? During an emergence, for example, how to put out a fire on oil? How do you recall your knowledge and reconnect things on the spot? It is reasoning. You have the subject and object. You take the experience of the object as the object. The subject and object are not separated. But when you are trapped in thoughts, the subject and object are separated. Then you are thinking.

Learning, is to constantly restructure our memory so it can be more readily available. When you can connect things at the bottom level, it is much easier for you to hold things together. When you are able to hold all your experience together in your hand, you will feel very good. When you bravely engage with the present space, the emptiness of the present will recall the emptiness stored as patterns in your memory (according to the current brain science, the revoking of memory is based on pattern mapping). Such pattern mapping doesn’t have to be visual to visual mapping. Visual might be mapped to audio and so on.

As in the previous post, our memory is also stored externally in the material culture. By interacting with that external material culture every day, we have access to our memory. Thus living in a community has essential meaning to human being. Being extracted out of that material culture and transported to another material culture means you lose part of your memory. Thus you need to familiarize yourself with the new material culture and have that as your new external storage of memory. By interacting with it day to day, you are accessing your memory stored in it. The ability to interact with this new material culture certainly determines how fast you can build up your new experiences and be able to access that experience from time to time.

Some stuff above is more hypothetic in nature.

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Filed under Chan/Zen, Foreign Experience, Random Thoughts, What is Learning

Material culture as an extension of human cognition

I read of this in Seed Mag that a frontier scientist named Lambros Malafouris is proposing that “Material culture is an extension of human cognition. Cognition develops and evolves through the interplay between intelligence and material culture.”

This surely isn’t new to Buddhism since Buddhism teaches there is no solid identity. What is new is that science is trying to take on this from the scientific perspective.

I like to keep old text book and review the old course material often. It is not because those text books are good or I cannot find that info somewhere else. It is just because I have been familiar with them. So when I see the structure of the book, I can immediately remember what I have been through. So the old text book serves as a memory storage place.

Living in a society/community is to store your memory with that society/community. Your cognition evolves by interacting with that society/community. So that society/community becomes your external storage place of your memory. By keeping interacting with the same people, culture, you reinforce your memory. You access your memory.

Going abroad is essentially taking your brain out of the “external” part of the brain/memory. Thus it explains why it is so difficult to recall past memory while in a new culture. You just don’t see the same people, the same language and culture, which actually functions as a storage of your memory.

I remember people talking about building some memory chip into human brain to help people store a lot of memory. It looks we should focus more on storing our memory externally in the community, so we can access it from time to time.

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Filed under Random Thoughts

When you walk

When you walk, you are just walking. You are not making any decision. Then the space opens up, and you experience the unlimited space that is beyond any concept. All thinking and concepts are limited space. No matter how wonderful the thinking and concepts are, they are limited and are for the convenience of the human being compared to the unlimited space that you already know. Yes, without thinking, you are already directly connected to this unlimited space.

So Buddhism practice is to first have clear deep experience with that unlimited space which you know it originally. Thus sitting meditation and further walking meditation are important. Thus we need to do sitting meditation every day. Just simply sit down, and get yourself back to that unlimited space that you know originally.

Once you have that experience, and know what you already know, it will be the time to talk about what you don’t know and how you can “learn” of things you don’t know. That is the topic of relative, dynamic and life. As I said, impermanence is the only way for permanence to manifest itself and also have life. Diversity is the only way for equality to manifest itself and also have life.

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Filed under Chan/Zen, What is Learning