Tuesday, 17 January, 2012

But naturally

I have often faced situations while designing systems and processes where after a point things start going wobbly in my mind..

Here's a simple example:

- Say there's a system with 3 types of users - administrators, managers and users (administrators at the top, managers below them and users below managers)
- each one of these users (including the administrator and managers) has a manager

Now, to change a user's manager, you need to send a notification to the administrator, who then approves (or rejects) the operation
What do you need to do if the administrator's manager needs to be changed?

The administrator chooses a manager and is sent a notification that his manager has changed, and then approves it himself? Sounds superfluous, no?

Such problems are always a pain and make me want to quit my job and start a tea shop called P&T on the highway.

But who knows - I might face a similar problem while managing my inventory of tea at P&T.

Back to the problem then.

The pain, then needs to be addressed.

I turn to nature for help. Because such painful situations must exist in nature and nature must have a way of solving them, for if anyone has been there and done that, it has got to be nature. And I too am of nature, after all.

Hang on. Did I just say pain, twice?

The brain, apparently, does not feel pain, even as it inflicts above mentioned inconvenience on other body parts.

And pain is pleasure taken to absurd limits, but that is completely besides the point - so let me leave this rather tempting diversion alone and get back to the main pain at hand.

If damage has occurred in the hand, the brain finds out and inflicts pain in it, in the hope that the possessor of the hand might use said brain and proceed to salvage what remains of said hand.

Now, If damage has occurred to the brain, who can save it? The hand? Probably not, unless the brain has already instructed it to assist but that too is besides the point.

Nature, it seems, assumes that if the brain is damaged, nothing is worth saving and hence there's no point in inflicting pain in it.

That's a tantalizing conclusion, but wait. It is also possible that the brain is not capable of inflicting pain in itself - because it wouldn't know whom to tell - unless it told itself and since it is the originator too, it would call its own bluff and go nuts in the process.

If you come at it from the opposite end, you'd think the brain is interested in preserving itself. By inflicting pain on other body parts, it is motivating the organism to get moving - to do something - to protect it.

So, the fact that the brain does not feel pain is either a design limitation or a feature.

If it is a feature, there must be a superior authority that designed it. This too is quite besides the point at hand, so I leave another jewel by the wayside as I continue in my pursuit of truth.

Actually, it is not besides the point. The fact that brains (and the rest of organisms) exist is proof that the brain has managed to preserve itself over time. 

So, rather than a limitation, I think the painlessness is a feature.

Actually, the earlier point about pleasure being exquisite pain, too, was not besides the point - the pleasure is the feature.

The summary then, for the benefit of the impatient reader who has skipped this far without reading the bulk of the essay:

The brain is designed to preserve itself and have a good time and it uses the same pleasure it enjoys, to inflict pain in other body parts to motivate them to aid in its preservation.

To go one step further and alienate my audience completely, I'd conclude that the possibility of perishing is probably what provides the potential energy and hence the motivational force that propagates species and intelligence is only a by-product

Intelligence, then being quite visceral (to the extent that it would require the definition of visceral to be changed), if we are interested in creating artificially intelligent systems, we should, like nature, be building systems that can perish, rather than building systems that are designed to last forever.

An indestructible silicon hearted beast is probably not going to be motivated enough to create another in its own image no matter how much data you stuff into it. It's just going to eat all that data and emit a mega burp - that smells somewhat like the world wide web.

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