LifeOS: exploring the system that executes DNA

April 10, 2009

Why Are We Here?

When observed from above, from the control room of higher order of environmental systems, it looks like human beings have waged an all out war on Nature. From the time that man initiated slash and burn technology, the ability of one person to destroy habitat and reduce productive systems to wasteland has increased many fold, as have his reasons to do so. Human ingenuity has found many ways to profit from the plunder. And the sheer number of them has also multiplied. Six billion of them chewing away at the biological infrastructure like termites. What are they thinking?

At War With the System

Our imaginary war with the System is exemplified by the way we treat diseases like cancer. We think of cancer as something that has attacked us that we have to fight. We fight by killing cells, hoping to kill all of the enemy cells. Those cells indeed threaten a healthy body, but they are not enemies from the outside; they are the bodies own cells.

The body produces cancerous cells from time to time and has an elaborate immune system, that normally takes care of them. When the immune system becomes damaged itself, or the information it needs to function is compromised, or it is overwhelmed by damaged cells, a tumor results.

To the Rescue

The ego likes to blame the outside for all of its problems and the concept of attack and defense fits right in. The medical profession likes the concept as well. It makes them the knights in shining armor that save the day, defending the helpless ego from evil doers. But in reality, the carcinogens are always out there and the cancerous cells are always being produced. It is not that cancer is attacking, but the immune system is unable to cope with the level abuse heaped upon it by our decadent lifestyles.

It is Captain Self’s job to avoid carcinogens in the environment and make decisions that maintain the integrity of the immune system.

Misinformed Agents

When the good Captain is locked into battle with his own crew, nothing good can come of it. The Captain is not at war with the system, but a product of it. The cancerous cells are not at war with the body, but a product of it. Just like the Captain, the cancerous cells are simply misinformed. They are working under their own type of internal delusion. They both have forgotten that they belong to the system and have taken off on their own, following some internal dialog that takes them far from their intended path. In the efficient information processing system, we would expect these processes to be quickly terminated.

Run-a-way Process

In this journey of discovery, we are always on the lookout for repeated patterns. Here we see that an entity can run amuck, endlessly repeating a process because some feedback loop malfunctions. Just as in a computer stuck in an endless loop, sucking resources while producing no meaningful work, cancer cells and human beings have lost contact with their parent system; they no longer have the information they need to stay on track.

Is That Bad?

Depends on your point of view. From the view of the individual and/or species, failure is bad, success good. From the systems viewpoint, although run-a-way processes pose a threat to local subsystems, they also can provide benefits. A run-a-way process puts stress on the local system, causing accelerated learning and adaptation. For example, our separation from our environment has led to a spike in creativity and technology that never would have happened if the human animal had stayed connected to its natural system. For the individual, a diagnosis of terminal cancer can certainly rearrange one’s priorities. The sense of mortality may lead to extra effort going into an unfinished masterpiece.

Systemic Responsibility

The System provides the necessary information for all entities, just as it supplies nutrients and carries away their waste. The System also is responsible for any breakdowns in the supply channels. The System is also responsible for successful adaptation. The System knows what it is doing.

The System experiments with agents. There is a competition going on here; not a war, but a contest to determine what improvements need to be made in future models. This unprecedented acceleration of learning and adaptation is oriented towards an intentional outcome. We have a mission. Our job is to learn what that entails and get on with it.

December 4, 2008

Learning How to Live

Wetware Development

From the time an embryo begins to develop in the womb, it is learning how to live. As the wetware grows, its functionality depends on controlling factors that are analogous to software development. Throughout the growth process, every new capability of each new organ has to be learned. After all, each organ is a unique construct, built from available materials to a flexible plan that adapts as it goes. At first, the organ is too simple to function fully, but as it grows, it goes through a phase something like beta testing, where it practices being a fully functioning organ.

As organs grow and develop, their nerves(control systems) and functionality(process and behavior) develop along with it. The organ goes through a process of learning, by building and reinforcing patterns of its internal behavior. The growth and behavior are generated and stored together in the holographic memory. By the time the organ is fully developed, it has learned how to do its job, and is ready to go on-line.

Growing Memory

This same cellular level process that produces functioning organs is amplified by the integrated system of organs comprising the body, and continues after birth. Then the body begins to build a memory of motion and interaction with the environment, using the same holographic memory process. As the baby begins learning from social interaction, memory expands to include the behavior of others, stored along with the other behavioral info. When they start to appear, thoughts are added to the mix, likewise recorded along with the memory stream. Repetition reinforces the patterns of thought and behavior, and records them right along with environmental input.

Intellectual Learning

This same process of learning exhibited at the cellular and organ levels, is extended into our consciousness, and there becomes our intellectual learning process. This takes learning to a new level.

In this view, the intellect is not an emergent attribute, but the extension and refinement of a fundamental process. Learning how to live(adapt) is what LifeOS is all about.

DNA represents the current state of the art: everything the system has learned, stored redundantly, globally, and for the long term. The human intellect represents what the system has learned on the subject of learning about itself.

October 25, 2008

Instinct, Learning and Adaptation

Instinct

“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

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.

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