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ETpro's avatar

Are human ways of thinking evolving as computer "thought" evolves?

Asked by ETpro (34550points) May 17th, 2012

Before Euclid, Pythagoras and the founders of geometry contributed new ways of conceiving Place using planes, rectangles, squares, lines, triangles and circles; human thought was confined almost entirely to abstractions and philosophy. With the introduction of Geometry, we began to think in more precise terms about place, mapping the position of stars, planets and the sun and moon.

Human thinking had evolved. Without printing presses and advanced math, much of human wisdom had been locked in the minds of individual artisans and craftsmen. Their combined wisdom was great, but almost entirely unshared. There was no good way to share it. With the advent of Geometry, humans could share information about place in a powerful new way. We could calculate how to circumnavigate the Earth and which way to bow if we wished to bow to Mecca.

When Isaac Newton bent his mammoth mind to understanding the stars and planets, he wanted to define not just Place but Pace. To do this, he needed maths more powerful than geometry. He invented calculus. And with it came a whole new way of computing things accurately where only rough approximations had been possible before. Before electronic computing, it might take several weeks for human “computers” (yes, there used to be such a job description) to calculate the trajectory of a long range artillery round. But once the table was written, it could be communicated to gunnery teams around the world. Humans were now able to talk and think more definitively about both place and pace.

But there are things we need to describe that are vastly more complex than the motions of celestial bodies or artillery shells. Biological processes, ecology, global economics and all the other life processes are controlled by such a bewildering array of forces that we truly don’t even know whether free will enters into human actions, or whether we are executing an enormously complex, but totally deterministic program.

The human mind isn’t even well equipped for thinking about such things. We are reasonably adept at learning, but lousy at forgetting. We have no delete function. Once we think we know something, we tend to doggedly hold on to it. This served us well in adapting to our environment when we lived as hunter gatherers. But it gets squarely in the way of understanding biological processes. To understand the complexities of living, volitional systems in large group interactions, we human computers were woefully handicapped. We needed another set of new maths, maths that humans can’t even master.

Only when electronic computing and the idea of iterative algorithms came along could we begin to truly understand and predict life processes. Computers are perfectly happy running trillions of calculations and then erasing them all and running a new simulation, storing only the result of each iteration and feeding it into the next run. Even the relatively simple Monte Carlo Simulation would have been a monumental undertaking for human computers. But you can now download Monte Carlo Simulations for business management and run them in Excel on your desktop computer.

The Google Panda Update, using Machine Learning to hone an algorithm that simulates human reactions and forms human-like “opinions” about Web sites would have been utterly impossible without networked supercomputers. At its level, humans can’t even fathom the final program that emerges from the iterative process the network of supercomputers use. We concern ourselves primarily with the result of the computer simulation. Once completed, the process becomes irrelevant.

What is relevant is that we now have a way to define Pattern as well as Place and Pace. In the past, each step toward clarity of definition has taken us further from our original world, where human wisdom was held in the heads of the butcher, the baker and the candlestick maker. Each new step has changed how we think.

The cart wright is no longer king in his village. Wisdom is widely distributed and readily available. The Internet puts it before us all. How will this change the way we think? What will it do to the evolution of human thought? How long till we bend our algorithms to the improvement of DNA and accelerate actual evolution at the molecular level?

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7 Answers

digitalimpression's avatar

User: Are human ways of thinking evolving as computer ‘thought’ evolves?

Cleverbot: No. I am human and you are a computer.

I think the largest obstacle here is that much of the information that is so readily available doesn’t have to be earned in the same way it once was. The carpenter who grew up building things, and hitting his thumb with the hammer, getting splinters, and ultimately becoming a fine craftsman is probably superior to the carpenter who read an eHow article on the subject and declared himself a carpenter 3 weeks later.

When the calculator became commonplace.. didn’t you notice that more people started to suck at math?

There is almost an overflow of information as well. Back in the old days information flow across the globe may have been a little like playing Chinese Whispers . Today, information is intact and in digital duplicate when sent across the globe.

I’m sort of rambling here because your question is a great one and has my mind bouncing from limb to limb in a jungle of brainstorming. Let me avoid the tributaries that are taking it into various underwater caves and just answer more succinctly:

“How will this change the way we think?”
Perhaps the mob mentality will grow stronger. Spreading rapidly, popular opinion can be validated by others almost at once. Similarly, unpopular opinions can be squashed, mocked, and ridiculed on a grande scale.

“What will it do to the evolution of human thought?”
In a way it may assist in the degradation of human thought. Quite a lot of people don’t go outside anymore. They will spend hours researching how to eat properly, how to excercise, and what new equipment to buy (all the while being distracted by a youtube video, or a reddit picture, or a fluther question). Then they’ll find that it’s too late to cook dinner so they’ll order out. Then it’s late so they’ll go to bed, waking up depressed about eating the takeout the night before and start the process all over again.

Computer thought can be an addiction more powerful than we realize. 40 years ago people weren’t wandering around looking for a power outlet, feeling crippled because they couldn’t connect to the internet. They developed social skills, learned the personal stories of those around them, or sat quietly churning away at their own thoughts. Without the distraction of smart phones, ipods, tablets, and laptops people knew how to talk to people and get around. They didn’t need a GPS device in their car or an app giving them directions to the “highest rated” local restaurant. Exploration was more individual.. not swayed by the 29 reviews posted online..

Of course, in the hands of the right people the “computer mind” is an absolutely wonderful thing! Scientists have been able to collaborate worldwide, musicians have played symphonies on split screen from their homes thousands of miles apart, and flutherers are able to discuss these things at great length without the necessity of traveling to the town meeting.

I’d wager that the effects of this so-called “computer mind” vary greatly depending on a person’s upbringing and specific occupation.

“How long till we bend our algorithms to the improvement of DNA and accelerate actual evolution at the molecular level?
To me this sounds a bit like 2001: A Space Odyssey.. I think we’ll have to wait quite a while for that one.

Ok, this is much longer than I had anticipated and may not have even addressed your question as I’d intended but.. I read your well constructed description and it got me thinking about a trillion things at once. Thanks for that. ^ ^

Cruiser's avatar

Very interesting question with one minor flaw and you know how I like to nit pick @ETpro! ;)

‘Wisdom is widely distributed and readily available”

Not so sure about that my friend! Wise words are everywhere on the net but true wisdom is a needle in this vast haystack. Wisdom cannot be found in binary code and is IMO truly a human quality. Wisdom is having that ability to use wise words and ideas at the very moment that would then define a truly wise moment.

I think wisdom is an age defying human quality that no technological advancement will ever duplicate.

ratboy's avatar

“Wisdom is widely distributed and readily available.” Absolutely and unconditionally false! Information and disinformation are widely distributed and readily available, but the wisdom to distinguish between the two is as scarce as ever. The world seems, in fact, to be descending into another era ruled by ignorance and fear.

ETpro's avatar

@digitalimpression Thanks for the thoughtful answer. It is interesting to trace how human thought has evolved from the days when all we could discus were nebulous concepts to today. As each new branch of maths gave us new tools, our whole way of thinking about the world around us changed.Even people clueless about any computations more complex than simple addition and subtraction were soon thinking in concepts that would have been entirely foreign to them in an earlier age. And so it seems to be going now as we enter into the age of the Intermaths.

I wouldn’t be so quick to dismiss DNA engineering. Scientists are already using intermaths and computer simulations to model how a long-chain organic molecule will wrap in and around itself, as this is often critical to the function of a new drugs or organic compound. We have mapped the human genome and have come to understand the function of many of the genes. We’re rapidly developing an understanding of genetic diseases and how they might be cured my modifying the gene involved.

@Cruiser & @ratboy I see that was a poor choice of words. I was thinking of wisdom of the cart wright, the potter, the black smith or the glass blower. Wisdom of how to do things. It was once a closely held secret, passed down from father to sons, and occasionally to a fortunate apprentice from outside the family. That is largely a thing of the past. The wisdom of how to live a purpose driven life and persevere, I agree, computers aren’t much good at teaching us that. For that, we need parents, friends with wisdom, teachers, mentors, books written by those who have gained wisdom, or the simple determination to contemplate life till we develop it internally.

Cruiser's avatar

@ETpro I see this “wisdom” spewed forth daily where people think quoting Wiki somehow validates their words as smart! The internet will be the death of wisdom!

LostInParadise's avatar

What we are seeing is collaboration between computers and people. In order to accomplish this, we have had to learn how to formulate solutions in a way that can be handled by computers. Computers excel at executing a looping procedure thousands or millions of times and of being able to handle large quantities of data. We are learning how to think algorithmically and we are learning how to make use of massive amounts of data.

ETpro's avatar

@Cruiser I am much more sanguine about the long arc of history than you, my friend. We’ve had our fits and starts, but as Dr. King said, “The arc of history is long, but it bends toward justice…” We have gotten wiser, and more altruistic, and kinder. Sure there have been fits and starts. But the arc of history inexorably moves toward enlightenment.

@LostInParadise Yes, I think that touches on exactly what I was seeing. Thanks.

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