Wednesday, November 21, 2012

ET sensoria and ET cogitations

Dear Alternate Minds Readers,

For a philosophy and sci fi course I'm piloting spring semester, I'm seeking recommendations of sci fi, preferably short, that depicts either extraterrestrial cognition or extraterrestrial phenomenology.

What's good? Whatchoogot?



Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Inventions and Ideas from Science Fiction Books and Movies at

Inventions and Ideas from Science Fiction Books and Movies at

Explore the inventions, technology and ideas of science fiction writers at Technovelgy (that's tech-novel-gee!) - over 2,200 are available. Use the Timeline of Science Fiction Invention or the alphabeticGlossary of Science Fiction Technology to see them all, look for the category that interests you, or browse by favorite author / book. Browse more than 3,700 Science Fiction in the News articles.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Economics of Science Fiction

Robin Hanson's Economics of Science Fiction:
"This is economic analysis of the sorts of assumptions typically explored in science fiction. It is distinguished from the typical hard science fiction analysis by using the tools of professional economics, rather than the intuitive social science of the typical engineer. And it is distinguished from most economics by taking seriously the idea that we can now envision the outlines of new technologies which may have dramatic impacts on our society."
ht: Thanks, Tim Czech, for bringing this to my attention.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Understand - a novelette by Ted Chiang

This is one of my all-time favorite short stories: Understand - a novelette by Ted Chiang

Ted Chiang writes...
The initial impulse to write "Understand" arose from an offhand remark made by my roommate in college; he was reading Sartre's Nausea at the time, whose protagonist finds only meaninglessness in everything he sees. But what would it be like, my roommate wondered, to find meaning and order in everything you saw? To me that suggested a kind of heightened perception, which in turn suggested superintelligence. I started thinking about the point at which quantitative improvements -- better memory, faster pattern recognition -- turn into a qualitative difference, a fundamentally different mode of cognition.
Something else I wondered about was the possibility of truly understanding how our minds works. Some people are certain that it's impossible for us to understand our minds, offering analogies like "you can't see your face with your own eyes." I never found that persuasive. It may turn out that we can't, in fact, understand our minds (for certain values of "understand" and "mind"), but it'll take an argument much more persuasive than that to convince me.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Jay Mark Johnson’s unusual camera emphasizes time over space

Jay Mark Johnson’s very unusual camera emphasizes time over space.:

The abstract-seeming images here are not the result of some wacky Photoshopping. Jay Mark Johnson’s photos are actually incredibly precise. The reason they look like this is because he uses a slit camera that emphasizes time over space. Whatever remains still is smeared into stripes, while the motion of crashing waves, cars and a Tai Chi master’s hands are registered moment by moment, as they pass his camera by. Like an EKG showing successive heartbeats, the width of an object corresponds not to distance or size, but the rate of movement. Viewing the left side of the picture is not looking leftward in space but backward in time.

I think I speak for everyone


Monday, October 15, 2012

Is it real? Physicists propose method to determine if the universe is a simulation

I'm not sure how they're gonna rule out the simulators just stepping in and inserting whatever confirming/disconfirming "evidence" they want, whenever they want. But I'm just a philosopher. Anyway, here's: Is it real? Physicists propose method to determine if the universe is a simulation

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Reading this post will destroy your soul | MetaFilter

Reading this post will destroy your soul | MetaFilter:
The Motif of Harmful Sensation (or as TV Tropes calls it, the Brown Note) is a recurring idea in literature: physical or mental damage that a person suffers merely by experiencing what should normally be a benign sensation. The phenomenon appears in both traditional and modern stories.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Some Hivemind that I Used to Know

Apparently, Gotye himself created this video mashup of Gotye coverers covering Gotye. Got it?

Monday, July 30, 2012

Beautiful short film shows a frightening future filled with Google Glass-like devices | VentureBeat

Beautiful short film shows a frightening future filled with Google Glass-like devices | VentureBeat:
Here’s an amazing eight-minute-long short film we came across. Created by art school grads Daniel Lazo and Eran May-raz as a final school project, the short shows a not-too-unrealistic future wherein we all walk around with contact lens-like devices that connect us to the cloud — everything from games to entertainment to instruction to dating coaches.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

The Superintelligent Will

Minds and Machines, Volume 22, Number 2 - SpringerLink: The Superintelligent Will: Motivation and Instrumental Rationality in Advanced Artificial Agents
Nick Bostrom
From the issue entitled "Special Issue on "Theory and Philosophy of AI""

Friday, June 22, 2012

Hannibal Lecter: Transhumanist Icon

This is one of my favorite things ever. It's Hannibal Lecter: Transhumanist Icon @, written by Roger Williams, author of The Metamorphosis of Prime Intellect.

In certain circles you hear the word Transhumanism a lot lately. This is the idea that new technologies will make people so intelligent, powerful, healthy, and long-lived that we will not be merely human any more; we will transcend what is commonly called the "human condition" and become something more like gods.Of course it's very difficult to imagine what it would be like to become something so much better and different than ourselves. But it's also an old dream of ours, and some of our brightest thinkers have tried to imagine it for us. Come with me on a slightly different reading of a character you've probably already met: One of the most well known and yet clearly transhuman characters in modern literature is Hannibal Lecter, the serial killer who has now appeared in three novels by Thomas Harris.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

1974 film about super hive intelligence, Phase IV

The film, Phase IV, on youtube.

From wikipedia:
Due to some unknown cosmic event, listed in "phases", ants have undergone rapid evolution and developed a hive mind. A scientific team begins investigating strange towers and geometrically perfect designs that the ants have started building in the desert. The ant colony and the scientific team, along with a rural family, make war with each other, with the ants being the more effective aggressors. The narrative uses the scientific team as the mainprotagonists, but also has an ant "heroine" going about her duties in the colony. The film concludes with the last of the cosmic "phases," Phase IV, which promises a new future for all life on Earth.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012


Tadeusz Wieslaw Zawidzki (2012). Trans-Human Cognitive Enhancement, Phenomenal Consciousness and the Extended Mind. International Journal of Machine Consciousness 4 (01):215-.
Drawing on Charles Stross's recent trans-humanist, science fiction novel, Accelerando, I argue that phenomenology can play an important supplementary role in arguments for the hypothesis of extended cognition — the view that the mind might sometimes extend beyond the skull. In their initial arguments for this hypothesis Clark and Chalmers [Clark, A. and Chalmers, D. [1998] "The extended mind," Analysis 58(1), 7–19], deliberately downplay the role of phenomenology, emphasizing third person, functionalist reasons for it. However, passages from Stross's novel suggest that feasible, extra-cranial cognitive technology will have dramatic effects on phenomenology. Such "trans-human" phenomenology will likely eliminate intuitive resistance to the hypothesis of extended cognition, thereby supporting functionalist arguments for it. Although this is not sufficient to establish that consciousness itself might extend beyond the skull, I also argue that any view on which consciousness supervenes on the functional properties of the nervous system, like Chalmers, D. [1996] The Conscious Mind (Oxford University Press, New York) and Baars, B. [1988] A Cognitive Theory of Consciousness (Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, UK); Baars, B. [1997]In the Theatre of Consciousness (Oxford University Press, New York); Baars, B. [2002] The conscious access hypothesis: Origins and recent evidence, Trends in Cognitive Science 6, 47–52; Baars, B. [2003] How brain reveals mind: Neuroimaging supports the central role of conscious experience, Journal of Consciousness Studies 10, 100–114, must accept this possibility.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Saturday, May 5, 2012

The Splintered Mind: Martian Rabbit Superorganisms, Yeah!

The Splintered Mind: Martian Rabbit Superorganisms, Yeah!
The most sophisticated ant colonies (e.g., large leaf cutter colonies) are as intelligent and sophisticated in their behavior as rabbits. If we're going to reject biological chauvinism and continguism (prejudice against discontiguous entities) on behalf of the Martians, why not reject those prejudices on behalf of Earthly superorganisms too? Maybe the colony as a whole has a distinctive, unified stream of conscious experience, of roughly mammal-level intelligence, above and beyond the consciousness of the individual ants (if individual ants even do have individual consciousness).

Monday, April 2, 2012

Why our minds have probably evolved as far as they can go

Why our minds have probably evolved as far as they can go (
Our brains have reached an evolutionary "sweet spot", and we can't get much smarter without making major trade-offs. That's the finding of psychologists Thomas Hills of the University of Warwick and Ralph Hertwig of the University of Basel. They have examined a number of studies, and they have come to one inescapable conclusion: there's a steep price to pay for enhanced brainpower, and it's almost certainly not a good deal from an evolutionary perspective.

Friday, March 30, 2012

Lotus-Eater Machine - Television Tropes & Idioms

Lotus-Eater Machine - Television Tropes & Idioms
A character, usually a hero, is knocked out or goes to sleep and wakes up in their own personal paradise. Whatever they wanted most, all their life, is finally theirs.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Bostrom's "The Superintelligent Will"

The Superintelligent Will: Motivation and Instrumental Rationality in Advanced Artificial Agents [pdf]
Presents two theses, the orthogonality thesis and the instrumental convergence thesis, that help understand the possible range of behavior of superintelligent agents - also pointing to some potential dangers in building such an agent.

The Fourth Dimension App for iPad and iPhone

Monday, February 27, 2012

The Splintered Mind: Is the United States Conscious?

Is the entirety of the United States, considered as a single entity, a conscious one? Answering "yes" might be the most metaphysical height to which a patriot could hope to climb. But anyway, there are some interesting issues around here concerning which systems do and which systems don't have conscious states. See Eric Schwitzgebel's discussions of this stuff herehere, and here:
The Splintered Mind: Is the United States Conscious?:
It would be bizarre to suppose that the United States has a stream of conscious experience distinct from the streams of conscious experience of the people who compose it. I hope you'll agree. (By "the United States" here, I mean the large, vague-boundaried group of compatriots who sometimes act in a coordinated manner.) Yet it's unclear by what materialist standard the U.S. lacks consciousness.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Bookslut | Blindsight by Peter Watts

Nice discussion of Watts's Blindsight, including comparisons to other works on similar themes: Bookslut | Blindsight by Peter Watts:
As in Bruce Sterling's "Swarm," and some of Stephen Baxter's work (such as the grand Evolution), the value of consciousness itself is questioned. Control is an illusion, after all: think about moving your arm, and your arm will already be in motion. We exist after the fact -- or, as Siri's friend Pag puts it, "We're not thinking machines, we're -- we're feeling machines that happen to think."
We are observers, not agents, and where's the survival advantage in that? Watts's aliens, certainly, think rings around his humans and posthumans. They can detect the electromagnetic fluctuations of a human brain, and rewire them in real time. They can time their movements so precisely as to hide in the saccades of our eyes. And they can do it, in part, because they are not conscious, because consciousness is expensive: "I wastes energy and processing power, self-obsesses to the point of psychosis [...] They turn your own cognition against itself. They travel between the stars. This is what intelligence can do, unhampered by self-awareness," is Sarasti's blunt assessment. We are a fluke, a mistake; in evolutionary terms, a dead end. Once we get beyond the surface of our planet we are not fit.


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