LifeOS: exploring the system that executes DNA

October 25, 2008

Instinct, Learning and Adaptation


“Learning is often thought of as the alternative to instinct, which is the information passed genetically from one generation to the next. Most of us think the ability to learn is the hallmark of intelligence. The difference between learning and instinct is said to distinguish human beings from “lower” animals such as insects. Introspection, that deceptively convincing authority, leads one to conclude that learning, unlike instinct, usually involves conscious decisions concerning when and what to learn.

“Work done in the past few decades has shown that such a sharp distinction between instinct and learning—and between the guiding forces underlying human and animal behavior—cannot be made. For example, it has been found that many insects are prodigious learners. Conversely, we now know that the process of learning in higher animals, as well as in insects, is often innately guided, that is, guided by information inherent in the genetic makeup of the animal. In other words, the process of learning itself is often controlled by instinct.”

Source: Gould, James L. and Peter Marler. Learning by instinct. Scientific American, January 1987. Reprinted in William S.-Y. Wang, ed.. 1991. The emergence of language. Development and evolution. New York: Freeman. 88–103.

Hard Wired?

What we have here is a learning/memory process that is shared by all biological systems. Nothing is really “hard wired” in biological systems. Even DNA is a pattern for growth and not a firm design. Even after DNA is expanded during cellular growth into a “final” adult design stage, cells grow and adapt to changing conditions. Hard wired is a term from computers that really doesn’t apply to biological systems, unless maybe that “learning” itself, is hard wired into all living systems.


Learning is a process that functions at all levels of biological systems. Looking at Life as an information processing system, reveals learning as a primary function of the system. DNA is the system wide knowledge base, stored in such a way to guarantee maximum stability and robustness. Every piece of code has a built in sundown clause. It is constantly being replaced with new code that has been thoroughly tested under real life conditions.

The life cycle of all living things is a two part process that simultaneously tests its DNA in the real world and learns about how the local environment is changing. Successful species continue to build on the knowledge base, adding and adapting to their experience.

The best designer in the world would not be able to design a mobile agent that could function successfully in a new environment without some knowledge of what that required. The system that designs agents must work from inside with intimate knowledge of the outside. The outside is constantly changing, so the inside must adapt.

Design Team

Even though the design team doesn’t have to redesign the whole agent every time, it needs to be able to set the appropriate control switches, like environmental triggers for imprinting and such. Each species has a set of specific triggers it expects from the environment in order to initiate specific learning patterns. Even though many systems and subsystems arrive fully functional regardless of the species, like basic metabolism, control and sensory systems, they still must adapt to resource availability during their development. They also grow and reinforce what is successful in real life tests. The design team will need to know the available food sources, their nutritional values and such, before they can set the necessary triggers.

Of course, there is no design team as such. I use the term to personify an observed function, for ease of discussion. It is a very handy tool, if the imagination is flexible enough not to get caught up in the analogy.

Whether the process is driven by dumb luck or an intelligence of unknown origin, the results are some very fine subsystems, of which the human animal is one. We seem to be very smart, however, our very best design teams produce nothing, but crude examples showing only primitive engineering savvy, when compared to the simplest life forms. Flatworms are primitive according to evolutionary standards, yet their design is extremely efficient, even elegant. From a system viewpoint, the flatworm design, represented by its DNA, is extremely robust, stable and well dispersed in the environment. It has been a very successful design. It is part of our exploration to identify the design process, wherever we find it.

Meeting Expectations

In building the LifeOS model, i was satisfied to have a system that would monitor reality and project solutions to problems, but idea that the system is constantly projecting an intended path is much more “intelligent”. Rather than have to identify “problems”, which could be a challenge, the system attempts to maintain a status quo. It treats any deviation as suspect. Seems to me that shows that the system is dealing pro-actively with the future.

In our culture, most people simply react to what comes their way. Our most intelligent citizens are people who don’t wait to simply react to events, but take control of their own future. These people set goals and work to reach them. Biological systems in general, are not just responding as would a person of average intelligence, but in the manner of one of superior intelligence; not by simply reacting, but by forming expectations(hypotheses) and testing them in the real world. This intelligent action is going on at the cellular level.

This is not in a long drawn out process, but a rapid firing cycle of cellular metabolism. With every cycle, the present input is compared to predictions. This process becomes a flowing wave of expectations, met or not, evaluated by waves of dopamine.

Animal Behavior

Back in Free Will i described the behavior of critters like cats and that bossy fly that quit playing by my rules. This is the same pattern of behavior that we find in dopamine neurons. These neurons are firing a steady stream of expectations that cause no reaction when they are met. Any deviation causes immediate adjustment to expectations. This stream by a single neuron becomes a wave when all the neurons are firing. This wave is constantly being compared to the waves of the past.

When an agent meets a new object in the environment, these neurons fire away, sending a flood of dopamine carrying info about the mystery object. It appears that the dopamine acts like a reward for the agent, making the exploration of new objects, “feel good”. It isn’t a simple on/off reward, but contains levels of description, evaluation and judgment. It is like emotion, with a wide range of feelings about the object. The simple act of observation begins an elaborate process of carving away the mystery to reveal the reality of the novel object or event.

When the new object is “figured out”, the neurons quit firing, the dopamine stops flowing, and interest in the object fades. Novelty and boredom controlled by the flow of dopamine. When a kitten is learning a new game, the dopamine is flowing. Once they learn the game, they lose interest. Back in Free Will, i attributed that behavior to the ego. The kitten and the fly just wanted to have their way. They just like to “boss us around”. From this new information, i would say that the reason for that behavior was because they learned the trick and their neurons quit firing. The dopamine rewards them for learning new tricks. Well, human beings are the bossiest of all, and our ego seems to be fueled by the same kind of neurons.

So, who gets bored? Who gets the reward that dopamine provides? Who is giving out this reward? When the fly or kitten turns its back on me and refuses to acknowledge my play cues, the animal is communicating to me that they are no longer getting the internal reward they need to stay interested. Who is initiating that communication? I still say, even the smallest creature has an ego, a sense of self that relates to its environment with intent, expectations and strategies.

Adaptation Happens

From a system viewpoint, adaptation must be a sought after goal of some protocol or other. Adaptation is accomplished by learning at all levels of biological systems. Adaptation is a fundamental attribute of Life, part of the protocols of its operating system.

October 22, 2008

Holographic Mind

Filed under: Ch 07 Biological Holography — Tags: , , — insomniac @ 11:09 am

Dr. Karl Pribram

Back in the 60s, Dr. Karl Pribram had this to say about how the brain produces images in the mind.

“ …brain models need to take into account the type of processing performed
by optical systems. Such optical information processing is called
holography, and holograms display exactly the same sort of
imaging properties observed for brain…”

Sight, hearing and thought all involve generating an internal hologram by firing synchronized neurons. Dr. Pribram was far ahead of his time. Not only did he see the brain as using holographic principles before most even new that holography existed, but he saw how it related to motor activity.

More from Dr. Pribram:

“What the data suggest is that there exists in the cortex, a multidimensional holographic-like process serving as an attractor or set point toward which muscular contractions operate to achieve a specified environmental result.”

The actual process of thought is connected holographically to muscles, which have their own holographic memory. Both are connected to the holographic model in our mind that we project as outward reality. What we see, hear, smell and feel, along with what we do and think about, are intimately wound into memory at all levels of our existence.

An Imaginary Ferrari

When the light bounces off the hood of your Ferrari , for example, it produces a 2D image on your retina. There is no matter being transferred, only light energy, carrying information.

Some photons bounce off the surface of the clear lacquer top layer, some penetrate deeper into the layers of paint. All these photons pick up individual bits of information about the surface qualities, and scatter this information into the environment. Within this scattering, all these individual bits remain coherent; the information describing this object retains its meaning. Amazing!

Waves of Information

The eye gathers all this information and sends it to the brain. The individual data paths from retina to the brain, have been studied at length. However, the way this data is reassembled into an interactive representation of external reality, is more difficult to address. As Dr. Pribram surmised more than forty years ago, it most certainly involves holographic principles.

The waves of photons encode the information into wave lengths and other properties that the nerve endings of your retina further encode into their specialty. Some nerve endings are sensitive to wave length, distinguishing colors. Other nerve endings are sensitive to other properties, like movement or edges, and they send their encoded information to the brain. Rather than consider all data paths as individual streams, it is more helpful to consider that they all follow the same wave synchronization as does the environment. Waves of photons are translated into waves of nerve impulses that maintain their coherence as they are converted into images in the cortex.

In the brain, these waves of incoming information are re-organized into a dynamic hologram, that mimics the external one. It is so accurate that you can you can use it to drive your Ferrari successfully through extremely dynamic environmental conditions.

Total Experience

Not only does this hologram consolidate diverse visual cues into an accurate model of the environment, but it also integrates the rest of the senses into a total experience. This includes the 3D holographic model along with all the sounds of the singing exhaust, smells of aromatic oils and jerking of g-forces that accompanied the experience. This total package is saved in memory as such. It links recall to elements of the experience that are not directly observable as environmental events, like the thrill of speed and the pride of ownership. In other words, it records dopamine, adrenaline and other hormone levels as well. This information is not stored as individual bits of data, but as part of the current “state” of the organism. All of this information is accessible in ways only dreamed of by database engineers.

Add to that the fact that the word “Ferrari ”, can recreate the experience, including a rush of hormones and you have a remarkable system. Actually, it can do better than that: it can create some of the Ferrari experience in the imagination, without ever having driven one. This is information processing at a very high level. Artificial Intelligence folks would love to be able to do this kind of stuff.

Instant Rendering

What the holographic model does is embody all relationships at once, like the 3D environment projected by our brain. Instead of isolating parts, it looks at the whole; the experience. It is like a 3D rendering done by ray tracing, in that it collects all the coordinates within its field, but it does it instantaneously. Whereas ray tracing is a digital activity that traces every ray, one by one, the holographic system projects all the ray possibilities at once.

A coherent electromagnetic field acts as if it were a single object, no matter the spacing or distance between the physical elements that generate the field. The field represents all of the possible mathematical and geometric relationships within its structure. It is the very antithesis of a linear equation; it is holographic projection of potential. The state of the field exists as a wave pattern against that potential; a real time expression of all current relationships.

Seeing in the Dark

Another question worth asking is, where does the light that appears in our cortex come from? Light stops at the retina, yet the hologram we see in our cortex is very convincingly made of light. It would seem that the neurons that produce the images in our brain are working in total darkness, right? We are not seeing the light directly, but our neurons are mimicking the environment as reported by the senses, including the light levels. Could the fact that all cells emit biophotons, light in the visible spectrum, have anything to do with it? According to Dr. Popp, chemical reactions within the cell are initiated by biophotons. They appear to be part of the control mechanism that manages cell activity. These biophotons are the holographic bits, firing in perfect sync, cranking out neurotransmitters, essentially producing our reality.

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