Monday, May 20, 2019

Overrated Human Intelligence

One of my repeated topics for my mental offal is how I have seriously doubts as to whether human beings are an intelligent species. In fact one of my earliest blogging buddies took considerable umbrage to my proposal that while a few humans show true intellect or innovation, most Homo sapiens seem content to spend their entire lives going to work, eating, sleeping, and engaging in some form of lowbrow entertainment.

I fully realize that our civilization is not geared to pushing its people to make the most of themselves. Many smart and talented individuals are forever condemned to menial, low paying jobs because they didn't get a proper education to prepare them for college, or simply cannot afford it. Even if a person graduates from college, the job they often end up with is anything but enjoyable or fulfilling. They spend their days stuck in a cubicle dealing with various forms of stress, long hours, and stagnate wages. And we all know the ingrained prejudices of our society cripple many from ever escaping poverty and ignorance.

But where I begin to think humans are just glorified, hairless primates is that many of us do not have the barest inclination to better ourselves. We refuse to do anything but shove empty calories in our mouths while watching hours of low-quality crap on the television or computer. Sure, I have my guilty pleasures like a Three Stooges marathon or some bullshit action movie with explosions and ladies clad in tight spandex. Where I separate myself from the modern Hoi polloi (rednecks or dregs of society) is that I actively investigate multiple sources of new information, which involves the radical act these days of keeping an open mind. Most of all I read everything I can get my hands on, even items that do not support my preconceived notions or beliefs.

The actor Jim Carrey is not a role model for me. While I have enjoyed many of his movies, I understand he holds anti-vaccine views I find incredibly backward and dangerous. But when I saw this quote, I realized he stated my thoughts far more succinctly than I have in all my years of blogging. The vast majority of people I interact with are little more than automatons when it comes to understanding the world. These individuals perform a single function extremely well but when it comes to the topics of basic history, politics, science, or even elementary geography it would be easier to get blood from a granite stone than an informed opinion from them. Their lack of understanding of the world defies description, and yes many subscribe to some of the most outrageous conspiracy theories.

What I find darkly funny is how there is a movement to promote technical trades with the idea that a college education is not worth the cost. I understand the point, but we already have a situation where many people cannot find the United States on the map, recognize a picture of the current vice president, or answer simple questions on history. I can't imagine how our democracy could even begin to function with a population even more ignorant of civics and history.

I know it's futile to even write this but if humans want a purpose to life the easiest one to suggest is that we spend at least a little of our time seeking to better ourselves in some way. Seeking a deeper understanding of the universe is simply too much to ask for the vast majority of people. Their desire to blow off the steam from a frustrating job is understandable, but we should have more respect for ourselves than to continuously wallowing in abject ignorance. Then again, I still hold the view that our intelligence is highly overrated.

Monday, May 6, 2019

An Examination of Zima Blue

One of the surprisings offerings on Netflix recently is an anthology show called: Love, Death, and Robots. Made up of eighteen animated short stories, as the title should suggest they touch on the various genres of science fiction, fantasy, horror, and even comedy. All eighteen episodes are at least good with a few that have to be called outright mind blowing. Understand, the animation styles vary greatly and there are a couple of episodes that have sexually explicit scenes, think Game of Thrones level stuff. While my inner teenage boy enjoyed the racer episodes, there was one in particular that was so philosophically engaging it was on a whole other level by itself.

The episode, Zima Blue is set in the future and opens with a journalist sitting inside a high-speed watercraft on the way to interview the reclusive artist know as Zima. As the journalist speeds towards Zima's island home, she wonders about the artist and his early history. Apparently, Zima's public history isn't well known and consists mainly of rumor. It is widely thought that Zima began his artistic career painting portraits of people, but that he found it limiting. So he began looking for truth and a deeper meaning to existence by stretching his imagination out to the cosmos itself. This process involved him integrating advanced cybernetic enhancements with body to the point he could stroll on frozen, airless moons and wade in rivers of molten lava.

This search lead to him to paint grand space murals where he eventually began including a tiny blue square in the middle of the canvas. Over the decades, the blue squares in his work grew in size, to the point that was the only thing on the canvas. But by that time his canvases were hundreds and even thousands of feet high and wide. Remember, a good part of this story takes place several centuries ahead of our time.

Zima's work eventually moved out into space with him painting the rings around an unnamed gas giant planet along with other mega-engineering artistic works. In spite of his critical acclaim and popular fame, Zima was still unsatisfied and began making plans for his ultimate and final work.

The journalist arrives a Zima's private island and meets the man as soon as she steps off the watercraft. As far as the journalist knew, Zima's cybernetic enhancements were the result of operations that extended over his long lifetime. Zima escorts the journalist over to a nondescript pool that is being built and quickly tells her a very different story.

Zima's real story begins with a young woman living on Earth somewhere in the San Francisco area. This young woman was a genius when it came to “practical robotics” creating scores of them to perform odd jobs around her house. Zima goes on to explain this woman was quite fond of the her little robot creation that scrubbed the blue ceramic tiles on the side of her pool. Ceramic tiles whose color the manufacturer had named zima blue.

As the years went by, the robot designer upgraded the pool cleaning machine giving it a color vision system and a brain large enough to process the visual data. The upgrades continued with her installing systems that allowed the robot make its own decisions about how to clean the pool. In stages it became more aware of its surroundings. The pool cleaning robot was passed on to family members when its designer passed away. They too kept installing upgrades to the point what was once a simple machine designed to scrub pool tiles became a sentient being that took the name “Zima Blue.”

Later that night with the pool completed and filled with water, the journalist watches from the stands with other spectators as Zima dives in. As the famous artist swims, he begins to shut down his higher software functions and shed all the hardware upgrades. What is left is the original pool cleaning robot that immediately returns to the simple task it was designed.

I had a hard time dealing with the implications of this episode the first time I watched it. The basic premise being that a person can return to simpler times, like an adult wanting to shed all his or her responsibilities and become a child again. I understand the desire, being an adult has always been a pain in the ass. But everything I have been taught says returning to “simpler times” is not only a mistake but is in fact an illusion.

Yes, there are different levels to returning to simpler times. I would be quite happy to move out of the suburban, money hole mcmansion I live, and buy a much smaller house. I'm sure the same is true for changing careers. Stories abound of unhappy people leaving high pressure jobs after they realize the monetary rewards do not make their careers sustainable. There is no reason to die an early death doing a job you hate just to provide materialistic advantages.

In Zima Blue's case though, his desire to return to the one task that made him happy was the answer to his search for the ultimate truth. Real life human beings search for a grand cosmic truth will be greatly enhanced when we realize we'll never be granted that privilege.