Today, I’d like to talk about the idea of permanence from an ontological standpoint. The issue i’m concerned with is the ease with which we talk about the existence of something independent of time. I will make observations in common subjects and move on to less general ones.

Richard Dawkins’  book The Selfish Gene theorizes the gene-centric view of evolution where its phenotypes,  you and I, are carriers of genetic material on which selection happens. After reading the book, I was left with a feeling of inferiority in the manner of a helpless subordinate. The feeling might have well been due to a strong sense of associating my self with my mind (“I am the most abstract thought I can think”) as opposed to computing my identity by weighting several well regarded societal good-to-haves. In any case, it is true that certain patterns of A, T, C, G have been very successful over 4 billion years over other patterns of nucleotides . It is true that some biological structures like warm blood or vertebrae or neurons have been more successful than other structures. On the other hand, it is also true that some elements are most abundant in the universe than others – hydrogen and helium for obvious reasons, iron for a more interesting reason ( watch BBC Atom ). Hydrogen atoms are almost as old as the universe, younger by about 300,000 years. Atoms, neucleotides, genes, proteins, organs, individual organisms, species and many distinct layers in between all have existed for different time periods with each comparable layer exhibiting a non-uniform pattern in its space of all possible patterns. All right. With these observations in mind, let us ask some questions :

Q. What is the purpose of life?

A. 101010 due to some random effects in Douglas Adams’ neural connects.

Q. No, seriously. If I think of myself as a computer, as I most often do, what function f(x) do I optimize?

A. When I read Dawkins, one answer immediately seemed to be a perfect match – “Procreate as much as possible to optimize the survival of all your children”, or “Don’t disappoint the genes that formed you”. This explanation of what we’ve unconsciously been doing all along applied very well to the people around me. People and non-human animals spend a majority of time directly or indirectly in search of a mate, or finding resources for the upbringing of a young one. For them, f(x) is necessarily in terms of their gene patterns; “phenotypic” residues ( for ex. intellectual contributions ) have very short life spans. I suspect their strategy of having as many kids as possible is a way to produce future computational instances that can continue crunching on their f(x), just as they had been of their ancestors’. All of this is fine, but I think there was a very very crucial event in the 1800s, that changed the whole game. In On the origin of species, Darwin clearly explained this in great detail. We now know roughly the characteristics of f(x) that was being optimized, and in my opinion this knowledge has significantly altered that f(x). It is the measurement problem. World human population is expected to decline. Populations in developed countries, presumably with “wiser’ people, are already on the decline. Genes that evolved to code for a human phenotype are probably not going to live the longest. Why then should I consider the spreading of my genes as my primary purpose?

Q. So, what has this f(x) become?

A. It can be whatever you want it to be. I realize that doesn’t mean much as it quickly reduces to the problem of free will vs determinism, which is really non-problem. What I mean by that, is f(x) doesn’t have to be continuous. Every once in a while a “level-crossing” feedback loop is completed – f(x) becomes complicated enough to model the previous version of f(x). At that point what appears to be a linear growth of complexity encounters a spike. A black swan. In practical terms, what I’m trying to say is that we as humans seem to be beginning to learn that “permanence” or “longevity” of something is a worthy candidate for optimizing. Genetic configuration is not primary anymore. Welcome, gays, lesbians and smart people who don’t want to have kids. Your bodies ( including minds ) have figured out a way to experience the pleasure of sex, possibly created and selected as a major driving force of survival, without procreation. Find your new thing that has a larger value of permanence – contribute to the scientific body! That is the higher being!

I wanted to talk a lot more about permanence in Mathematics. About universal quantifier “for all”, about Continuum hypothesis, about Mathematical platonism etc. I wanted to mention our quest for permanence in Physics – of virtual particles and an obsession with finding theory of everything,  Maybe if time permits some other time. Good Night folks!