Category Archives: Terms

Forced Move

Term
 A move that reason mandates an actor make.
Explanation
“We can look back and see that our case of necessity, having an autonomous metabolism, can be recast as simply the only acceptable solution to the most general design problem of life. If you wanna live, you gotta eat. In chess, when there is only one way of staving off disaster, it is called a forced move. Such a move is not forced by the rules of chess, and certainly not by the laws of physics (you can always kick the table over and run away), but by what Hume might call a ‘dictate of reason’. It is simply dead obvious that there is one and only one solution, as anybody with an ounce of wit can plainly see. Any alternatives are immediately suicidal.” (128, Darwin’s Dangerous Idea)
Source
Darwin’s Dangerous Idea by Daniel Dennett

Blind Necessity

Term
When there is a rational necessity to a step occurring despite the chance of that step occurring being random.
This refers mainly to a forced move in evolution, where an organism is forced to select for a particular trait despite the mutation leading to traits being random. Frequently these are circumstances that are contingent in the realms of physics and logical possibility but necessary in the realm of biology.
Explanation
“So at least some ‘biological necessities’ may be recast as obvious solutions to most general problems, as forced moves in Design Space. These are cases in which, for one reason or another, there is only one way things can be done. But reasons can be deep or shallow. The deep reasons are the constraints of the laws of physics — such as the Second Law of Threnodynamics, or the laws of mathematics or logic. The shallow reasons are just historical. There used to be two or more ways this problem might be solved, but now that some historical accident has sent us off down one particular path, only one way is remotely available; it has become a ‘virtual necessity,’ a necessity for all practical purposes, given the cards that have been dealt. The other options are really no longer any other options at all.
     The marriage of chance and necessity is a hallmark of biological regularities. People often want to ask: ‘Is it merely a massively contingent fact that circumstances are as they are, or can we read some deep necessity into them?’ The answer is almost always: Both. But note that the type of necessity that fits so well with the chance of random, blind generation is the necessity of reason. It is an inescapably teleological variety of necessity, the dictate of what Aristotle called practical reasoning” (129, Darwin’s Dangerous Idea)
Source
Darwin’s Dangerous Idea by Daniel Dennett

Homology

Term
When a trait arises due in the course of evolution to copying rather than for purely functional reasons.
Explanation
“The curious fallings short of what would seem to be perfect design, that are the best evidence for a historical process of descent with modification; they are the best evidence of copying, instead of independent re-inventing, of the the design in question. We can now see better why this such good evidence. The odds against two independent processes arriving at the same region of Design Space are Vast unless the design element in question is obviously right, a forced move in Design Space. Perfection will be independently hit upon again and again, especially if it is obvious. It is the idiosyncratic versions of near-perfection that are dead giveaway of copying. In evolutionary theory, such traits are called homologies: traits that are similar not because they have to be for functional reasons, but because of copying.” (136, Darwin’s Dangerous Idea)
Source
Darwin’s Dangerous Idea

Credit

Term

The promise of one party to pay value at a later date in exchange for another party paying value at the current date.

Explanation

” ‘Credit’ is the third person  singular conjugation of the present tense of the Latin verb credere, ‘to believe.’ It’s the most exceptional and interesting thing in the financial world. Similar leaps of belief underlie every human transaction in life: Your wife might cheat on you, but you hope otherwise. The online store may not ship you your goods, but you trust otherwise. Credit derivatives are just the explicit encapsulations of such beliefs, in financial and contractual form, for corporate entities. Unlike other financial securities, such as shares of IBM stock or oil futures, a credit derivative is not even some theoretical value of a tangible good. It’s the perceived value of complete intangible, the perception of the probability of meeting some future obligation” (20, Chaos Monkeys)

Source

Chaos Monkeys by Antonio Garica Martinez

 

Neoteny

Term

The retention of typically juvenile features in adult life.

Explanation

“The key to his argument is the concept of ‘neoteny’ — the retention of juvenile features into adult life. It is a commonplace of human evolution that the transition from Australopithecus to Homo and from Homo habilis to Homo erectus and thence to Homo sapiens all involved prolonging and slowing the development of the body so that it still looked like a baby when it was already mature. The relatively large brain case and small jaw, the slender limbs, the hairless skin, the unrotated big toe, the thin bones, even the external female genatilia — we look like baby apes.

The skull of a baby chimpanzee looks much more like the adult skull of an adult being than either the skull of an adult chimpanzee or the skull of a baby human being. Turning an ape-man into a man was simple matter of changing the genes that affect the rate of development of adult characters, so that by the time we stop growing and start breeding, we still look rather like a baby. ‘Man is born and remains more immature and for a longer period than any other animal,’ wrote Ashley Montagu in 1961.”(327, Red Queen)

“The combination of a slow change and long period of youthfulness means that as adults they have astonishingly large brains for an ape. Indeed, the mechanism by which ape-men turned into men was clearly a genetic switch that simply slowed the developmental clock. “(328, Red Queen)

Source

The Red Queen by Matt Ridley

Cognification

Term
Adding intelligence to an unintelligent object through the application of artificial intelligence. This can include either narrow artificial intelligence or
Explanation
“It is hard to imagine anything that would ‘change everything’ as much as cheap, powerful, ubiquitous artificial intelligence. To begin with, there’s nothing as consequential as a dumb thing made smarter. Even a very tiny amount of artificial intelligence embedded into an existing process boosts its effectiveness to a whole other level. The advantages gained from cognifying inert things would be hundreds of times more disruptive to our lives than the transformations gained by industrialization.” (29, The Inevitable)
Source
The Inevitable by Kevin Kelly

Protopia

Term
A state in which the world is progressively becoming better. Kevin Kelly coined this term to contrast his understanding of the world to the dystopian or utopian points of view, which are both stagnant rather than progressively changing.
Explanation
 
“However, neither dystopia nor utopia is our destination. Rather, technology is taking us to protopia. More accurately, we have already arrived in protopia.
     Protopia is a state of becoming, rather than a destination. It is a process. In the protopian mode, things are better today than they were yesterday, although only a little better. It is incremental improvement or mild progress. The ‘pro’ stems from the notions of process and progress. The ‘pro’ in protopian stems from notions of process and progress. This subtle progress is not dramatic, not exciting. It is easy to miss because a protopia generates almost as many new problems as benefits. The problems of today were caused by yesterday’s technological successes, and the technological solutions to today’s problems will cause the problems of tomorrow. This circular expansion of both problems and solutions hides a steady accumulation of small net benefits over time. Ever since the Enlightenment and the invention of science, we’ve managed to create a tiny bit more than we’ve destroyed each year. But that few percent positive difference is compounded over decades into what we might call civilization. Its benefits never star in movies.
     Protopia is hard to see because it is a becoming. It is a process that is constantly changing how other things change, and, changing itself, mutating and growing. It’s difficult to cheer for a soft process that is shape-shifting. But it is important to see it” (13, The Inevitable)
Source
The Inevitable by Kevin Kelly