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Global Brain: Chapter 1 - 2 - 3 Discussion 
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Post Global Brain: Chapter 1 - 2 - 3 Discussion
Global Brain consists of 21 chapters total, so I'm creating 7 seperate threads breaking the book into 3 chapter segments. Hopefully this format will keep the discussion somewhat organized and on track. You do not need to keep your discussions within these 7 threads.

Edited by: Chris OConnor  at: 6/7/05 1:46 pm



Mon Jan 13, 2003 1:23 pm
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Post Re: Global Brain: Chapter 1 - 2 - 3 Discussion
I presume this thread also covers the Prologue.

Group Selection is a key feature of Bloom's picture both in "The Lucifer Principle" and in "Global Brain".
Howard gives arguments for group selection in the second half of the prologue, pages 7-13.

I am sympathetic to Bloom's position here, and though I dare say I could pick holes if I set my mind to it, I'm not eager to do so, especially since there are others here who will disagree with complete facility.

I would be interested to hear from those who disagree with Howard's position as expressed in these pages.
Particularly interested of course, in specific criticisms of what he has written here, either the accuracy of his claims or the cogency of his arguments.

Personally, the bit I like least in these pages is the explanation in terms of "complex adaptive systems".
Unfortunately my crkiticism here is not very specific, I just don't see how invoking complex adaptive systems here helps us to understand how or why group selection is a force to be reckoned with.




Tue Jan 14, 2003 4:51 pm
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Post Re: Global Brain: Chapter 1 - 2 - 3 Discussion
I was going to start a thread covering the first 6 chapters and call it "The Primordial Global Brain". I was quite interested in the concept, but very skeptical that a global brain was operating in the pre-cambrian era. But then reading about the probe & feast behavior of bacteria with chemical feedback systems that "exceed the processing power of a Cray computer" and it makes you say "Hmmmmmmmmm..." Reading on about bacterial shape-shifters and even designed changes due to creative processes (p. 44 - 45) and my head starts spinning...




Wed Jan 15, 2003 9:14 pm
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Post Re: Global Brain: Chapter 1 - 2 - 3 Discussion
The behavior of bacteria, et al., is fascinating but does not seem to me to be evidence of a global brain. Rather, I think it should be understood as a metaphor based on an analogy. Douglas Hofstadter mused once over the behavior of an ant hill -- and how it seemed to be a superorganism -- but left any notion that it had any kind of consciousness hanging. And, I think, for good reason: while sponges, ants, bees, etc., collectively demonstrate enhanced intelligence, it is stretching it a bit to hypostatize an ant hill, bee hive, sponge brain. And, for human beings, whose brains (along with those of certain other primates and perhaps some cetaceans) have evolved a kind of unified consciousness, for there to be a global brain (other than as metaphor) there should be an emergent consciousness built up out of the whole. How might that notion be tested? I think it is essentially too metaphysical for a test. Maybe Bloom has a kind of Turing test in mind.




Sat Jan 25, 2003 8:24 pm


Post Re: Global Brain: Chapter 1 - 2 - 3 Discussion
I have a lot of sympathy with rielmajr's comments.

It does seem to me that the way most people conceive a global
brain requires more than the intelligence which can be seen in
evolutionary processes.
One expects the ability to conceive and execute a plan to secure
some purpose or objective, for example.

I don't think we need expect that "Global Brain" be
more than a metaphor, but I would like a better metaphor than
Bloom is offering us.

For my part, the interest in the book is not really in his conception
of the Global Brain, but in his understanding of social behaviour
and its interplay with evolution.

Roger Jones





Mon Jan 27, 2003 3:57 pm


Post Re: Global Brain: Chapter 1 - 2 - 3 Discussion
Bloom's book is interesting to me for the same reason given by Roger. His historical and sociological musings are fascinating and grounded in fact and evidence; the global brain conjecture is simply metaphysical -- and seems to postulate a hypothetical construct that is without what most of us expect from a brain: consciousness, intention, the capacity to form an idea of which it might be aware and be able to act on. A good read, indeed a page turner, but not convincing.




Mon Jan 27, 2003 11:41 pm


Post Re: Global Brain: Chapter 1 - 2 - 3 Discussion
It may be worth noting that Blooms initially stated thesis
says something like:

Quote:
A collective learning machine achieves its feats by using five elements:

1.conformity enforcers
2.diversity generators
3.inner judges
4.resource shifters
5.intergroup tournaments


(I think this is a paraphrase rather than a quote)

This is definitely about a key aspect of "brain", viz learning and does connect
well with what he actually talks about in the book.
We may quibble about whether this is enough to be "really" talking about
brains, (just as one might question whether "The Lucifer Principle" is
really about "evil") but I think the level of hyperbole here is no more than
you could reasonably expect from someone with such sweeping conceptions
and some clue about what sells books.




Thu Jan 30, 2003 2:35 am
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Post Re: Global Brain: Chapter 1 - 2 - 3 Discussion
I'm only now finishing Chapters 1, 2 and 3, which is why I haven't posted much. When I get back from my camping trip this weekend I'll start getting involved in this discussion.

Chris

Edited by: Chris OConnor  at: 10/30/05 4:21 pm



Fri Jan 31, 2003 4:40 am
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Post Re: Global Brain: Chapter 1 - 2 - 3 Discussion
I'm impressed with the scope of Howard Bloom's scholarship. He has compiled an extensive interdisciplinary review, and arrived at some remarkable conclusions about nature and life. Two theses stand out: one that terrestrial life comprises a "global brain" that has existed since life's inception (may even predate its inception), and two that current evolutionary theory is seriously flawed in failing to recognize something called "group selection." I find these ideas intriguing, but have reservations about both.

I do not see an advantage to proposing the term, "global brain," as a replacement for the term, "web of life," to describe biological interconnectedness. That all life forms interact, both intra and inter specifically, is well recognized. On the other hand, suggesting that the interconnectedness of life in general gives rise to thoughtful and purposive behavior is not substantiated. Bloom goes beyond even this, however, when he describes a neutron as "a particle filled with need." He says that, "To survive, it must find at least one mate, then form a family." Interesting language that might have some vague metaphorical value, but can be highly misleading. I see no reason to believe that a neutron has "needs" at all, let alone that it "mates" and forms a "family," or that it gives a damn about "surviving." These are all anthropocentric notions that do not enlighten us about the character of neutrons. A neutron possesses no mechanism for intention and no basis for deciding between one existential path and another. Persisting or not persisting are equally valid outcomes for a free neutron. Those that happen to collide with appropriate "partners" persist, those that do not, cease to exist. There need be no internal bias either way. Bloom uses an extended discussion of the "needs" of neutrons to introduce a favorite mantra of his: "To he who hath it shall be given. From he who hath not even what he hath shall be taken away." This aphorism, attributed to Jesus, neatly sums up a concept long known, well accepted, and thoroughly researched in chemistry and biology: namely the concept of competitive exclusion. No need to redefine it, anthropomorphize it, or mystify it.

I find Bloom's discussion of stromatolites curious. He notes that the cyanobacterial colonies which produce them contain very large numbers of organisms, which numbers he finds so impressive he refers to them throughout the book, and seems to believe that each of these organisms is somehow equivalent to much more complex organisms. He says, for example, that: "Stromatolites were manufactured by cooperating cellular colonies with more microorganisms per megalopolis than all the humans who have ever been." Seeing a stromatolite as a "megalopolis," a very large city, requires a more pliant imagination than I possess. That aside, what he says about stromatolite colonies applies equally well to every single human. We are all colonies of immensely large numbers of cells, interacting in a vastly more complex manner than the bacterial cells that generate stromatolites. I find more curious the statement that "each bacterial megalopolis possessed a staggeringly high collective IQ." Really? I find stromatolitic intelligence unimpressive considering that after three billion years they continue to occupy the same limited environment they always have. Surely they could at least have made it out of the mudflats. Oh, yes, I forgot; their ancestral forms were also the ancestral forms of multicellular organisms, such as humans, who did make it out of the mudflats. I am equally unimpressed by what is presented as a major indicator of stromatolitic intelligence: "the strategy of probe and feast," in which stromatolites "spread like ripples from a common center." This "strategy" appears identical to that of wildfires, floods, or salt crystals developing in an evaporating brine. No intelligence is required for such a strategy, just a slavish obedience to natural law.

I think Bloom also makes too much of the urgency of togetherness, exemplified by phrases such as: "bacteria are social to the nth degree." I worked for twenty years as a research microbiologist for NASA and much of my effort was directed toward growing and assessing bacteria from soil and other natural habitats. A favorite technique involved separating organisms into individual units and plating them on agar or other solid surfaces where resulting colonies were used to infer original numbers. The technique is highly effective, and readily calibrated against mechanical and electronic counts. Bloom never mentions the vast body of research using chemostats to grow organisms in suspension, assuring that each develops separately and optimally. Productivity in fermentation is greatly enhanced by such techniques. In fact, in most cases bacteria do better alone than in colonies. The latter occur mostly out of necessity, rather than due to any "choice," deliberative or other, made by the organisms. Obviously there are exceptions, stromatolites for example, but there is no exclusivity to either solitary or social ways of life (The same, incidentally, applies to humans. Socially isolated individuals do not automatically die as Bloom implies. History is replete with its ascetics, monks, hermits, and others who have chosen solitary lives and lived them fully).

I question Bloom's almost mystical notion of "group selection." It is not clear how this selection takes place other than through individual gene selection. Clearly, group selection of a kind takes place in all multicellular organisms, where the tissues of the body are coselected. This type of group selection is accepted, documented, researched and fairly well understood as a phenomenon of coevolution, which includes as well the coincident evolution of species in complex ecosystems. How group selection differs from coevolution is not clear to me.

I see Bloom's theses as a kind of animism, a broad positing of consciousness, purposiveness, willfulness to all living things and even to things ordinarily considered inanimate, such as elementary particles. This seems more religious than scientific to me.

PHDeal




Fri Jan 31, 2003 2:05 pm
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Post Re: Global Brain: Chapter 1 - 2 - 3 Discussion

The Primordial Global Brain
I agree it's important to sort this out before moving on. It seems absurd to assign emotional or intellectual qualities to subatomic particles aligning during the first pico-seconds after the big bang. Bloom's ideas are damaged by this reach into the unknowable.

However, discussions of bacteria and other life forms are quite different from atoms. "Probe & feast" behavior may not indicate intelligence, but does indicate a global information processing system (one that far exceeds a Cray super-computer?). Perhaps "system" is less controversial than "brain"?

Scientific Proof
PLEASE keep in mind the awesome scope of the 60+ page bibliography (!) of this work. As Nobel prize winning authors of similar exploratory works have admitted*, it is not possible for any single human being to have sufficient knowledge to PROVE the breadth of ideas that are offered in this book. For example, Bloom mentions bacterial shape-shifters and designed evolutionary changes due to creative processes (pgs. 44 - 45 of soft cover). This is difficult to believe, but rather than offering a complete defense of the concept, Bloom refers you to another author's work for the details.

Bloom is building on the concepts of numerous experts in various fields and his observations depend on the accuracy of the distillation. Is this style of breadth vs. detailed proof a significant problem? Why?

* Christian de Duve




Sat Feb 01, 2003 1:18 am
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Post Proof
Lan
Quote:
Is this style of breadth vs. detailed proof a significant problem? Why?
because "exceptional claims require exceptional evidence". Also because, "If you can't dazzle them with brilliance, baffle them with bullshit". A 60+ page bibliography means absolutely nothing if the facts don't support the hypothesis. If Bloom wants to start a religion, well, that's his right as an American. It offends me when religion is sold as science, though.




Sat Feb 01, 2003 8:22 pm
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