Hacciety and Quiddity – Selected Plot Dev Chapters
Excerpt From November, 1992 edition of Annual Review of Neuroscience:
Most experts will agree that 21st century neuroengineering crystallized along the two big schools of thought: “Growers” and “Programmers.” Both the “Growers” and the “Programmers had the same goal in understanding and engineering working “thought engines,” but disagreed over the means. In fact until the contributions of “Grower” founder Andrea Cynn in the late 20th century, neuroengineering was not advanced enough to be considered a branch of science in its own right. Until the “Cynn Engine,” it was merely a speculative and highly theoretical branch of bioengineering. Somewhat similar to xenobiology or string theory, it was a rich universe of internally consistent logic and mental creativity with no testable real world predictions. The “Cynn Engine,” a highly controversial blob of bio-matter engineered by its namesake was the first “grower” attempt at testing some neuroengineering theory with a working model. “Programmers” on the other hand were information theorists and computer scientists who pursued AI abilities with Deterministic Turing Machine generation hardware and software (the modern PC). Both the Programmers and the Growers agreed that hardware based AI and biological mental engines had pros and cons, but disagreed on where and how to reconcile them. For example, it is easy to name a set of problems a computer can solve better than a human and vice versa. The primary difference rested in the “Grower” philosophy of using biological hardware (proteins, lipids, etc) and biological software (DNA, RNA, evolutionary selective algorithms) to make physical engines. The “Programmers” of course used single bit semiconductor based hardware (micro transistors, logic gates, etc) and Boolean software (binary logic gate based algorithms).
Public support heavily favored the “Programmers” due to the moral controversy surrounding the”Growers.” Christian right and social conservatives decried “biological abominations” gurgling in jars as “playing god and failing badly.” Even leftist and centrist politicians considered it political suicide to fund grower attempts at creating thinking engines. Public opinion likewise reflected a disgust and fear of “growing human brains in jars.” This led to a PR effort by Cynn and the “Growers” that culminated in a series of public debates between Cynn and selected “Programmer” representative Miles Volchevsky, a relatively unknown theoretical physicist. Unlike most “moral pop sci” debates, these were respectful, insightful, and constructive. They greatly solidified the theoretical structure of both sides and elucidated the philosophical and scientific differences between each school of thought.
Most scientific experts including Volchevsky himself conceded that Cynn was largely correct from a theoretical perspective, though lacked experimental potential. Cynn’s most damning criticism according to Volchevsky was that ” the semiconductor based hardware and Boolean software touted as superior by the “Programmers” was easily designed and fabricated by “Grower” favored biological human brains, whereas the reverse is largely impossible.” It is true that the human mind has certain limitations. However, it recognized them and designed computer hardware and software to supplement them. The semiconductor based hardware and Boolean algorithm based software of the “Programmers” is not a branch of evolution superior to biological thought but is in fact the intellectual property of biological brains. The reverse does not happen, not only have the Programmers failed to produce an engine capable of passing a Turing Test, the engine does not recognize that it has failed or even attempt a remedy. In Cynn’s own words: “Biological creativity is the divine that gave birth to “Programmer” engines. Computers are nothing more than tools. Any effectiveness of computers is testament to the creativity and adaptive problem solving of biological thinking engines, not a call to replace them. When I computer can build a man I think we can begin to consider the Programmer point of view.”
Volchevsky’s concedes that Cynn is largely correct, though maintains her reasoning is a somewhat “soundbited” rendition of how complex systems seem to inherently beget other complex systems. According to Volchevsky “We could just as well hold gravity, electromagnetism, weak, and strong forces as the divine creative force responsible for both mechanical and biological engines. After all these four forces, after sufficient expansion and cooling of the universe, gave rise to the complex system of Quantum Mechanics. QM gave rise to the periodic table and the complex system of atomic bonding, this then gave rise to the complex adaptive system of life and evolution. Following this, as Dr. Cynn correctly pointed out, life and evolution gave rise to creativity including computer engineering.” Despite this clarification, Dr. Volchevsky still agrees with Dr. Cynn that biological thinking engines are the peak of this cycle. “Mechanical thinking engines are still in early development whereas biological brains have had millions of years to develop. However, at this point, creativity has not been observed in machine and I do not see any potential for it to develop. I agree with Dr. Cynn, that biological brains are superior to mechanical thinking engines as a foundation for neuroengineering, if all the practical problems were solved miraculously. How do you even plan to engineer a working biological brain? Although a functioning biological brain is superior to any given computer at achieving any of out goals, attempts at engineering biological engines have had severely limited results. Though the “Cynn Engine” is a remarkable feat of genius, it is still outperformed in every task by rudimentary computers.”
“Analyzing creativity is hard. Especially the complex mess of emotions going through an artist’s mind when she creates. How do those emotions come about? How do they interact with other emotions? How do they interact with the cognition or the intellect? Then how does all that cause the creative notions to come about? This system has far too many variables for any supercomputer to handle even if it weren’t highly non-linear and therefore chaotic at all levels. We had to simplify it somehow if we were going to understand anything at all about creativity. The problem, I thought, was if you simplify the human brain….then it isn’t the human brain anymore, its just a pile of ion channels, lipids, and neurotransmitters. That’s why I did my Master’s thesis on forcing artists to take drugs.”
“You couldn’t actually force them to take drugs though. They consented?”
“They consented to take a given drug, but I decided through a random number chart which drug they would get. So they never really consented to take the drug that I gave them, although they kind of did. It had to be that way though, because…”
“Yeah basic experimental design, I understand.”
“Anyway we didn’t simplify the human brain, we just simplified the input. All the drugs we used had a well documented, clear, and reliable effect on neurotransmitter production and inhibition. We knew what those neurotransmitters did to what clusters of neurons. So we did treat the brain as a black box except for what those specific drugs were doing and hoped all that chaotic background noise would be irrelevant over the large number of artists we tested on. If causal patterns resulted from a given drug and a given creative process across a wide variety of artists we can conclude something valuable about certain neuron clusters and creative thought. If we gave the same drug to all of our subjects and observed wildly different results in alteration to whatever that artist’s “normal baseline” creative process is, we knew our model was too simple to analyze that facet of the creative process.”
“So you assumed that the human brain was wildly chaotic, but perhaps all human brains were the same type or similar flavors of chaotic so the background noise would cancel out among a large number of test subjects.”
“Yeah pretty much. Although a bit oversimplified that is the right way of thinking about it.”
“So the actual design of the experiment I understand. What were you actually measuring in these artists?”
“Oh yeah, that’s the tougher part. We brought in lots of linguists and literature scholars of all sorts to brainstorm about that. I’m not sure of the specifics of why they came to value certain parameters over others, not my field. I know they did things like, umm, take an object or a person and see in one chapter how many different metaphors or like perspectives they present it in considering word economy of course. Like how many different “planes” or understanding they explore with respect to, say, a candlestick. Philosophical, descriptive, visceral, emotional, etc and the connections between the different planes drawn by the chapter. That was one of the more complicated ones. They also just did simpler more scientific linguistic stuff like number or nouns, verbs, adjectives per sentence. They checked for grammar and spelling errors, on purpose or by accident as verified by the artist.”
“So that’s for writers, what about visual artists, film makers, sculptors, musicians etc.?”
“So for visual artists we started with just taking “grid sectors” of a painting and performing a geometrical analysis for each grid. Then we looked at the individual colors used and how they were blended and did Fourier series breakdowns on every millimeter by millimeter section of color on the entire painting. Same thing for musicians really, except the Fourier breakdown was for air pressure waves (sound) rather than color (light). Same principle though. Like one section of the painting will be really blue heavy with red overtones, green overtones, yellow overtones, and how strong or weak are each of those overtones. In music you have scales which work based on these sorts of overtones and how each of them interacts with each other and with the overtones of different notes played right after or right before the note being analyzed. We have people who specialize in doing the same thing with colour. So when those patterns varied based on the drugs we gave artists we had an idea of how neurotransmitters affected the creative process.”
“Right and how did you connect such lower order processes to higher order creative parameters like emotional content or even semantic content of a given painting?”
“A lot of the time we just couldn’t. We aren’t miracle workers. We sometimes just had to publish the data and make only lower order conclusions.”
“Umm, well you are a genius though. I’d expect you to come up with something.”
Andrea gave a little laugh; intially forced, then organic. “Not a genius. I know you are only called in to work with geniuses, but they’re wrong, I’m not a genius… Speaking of which aren’t you supposed to be “fixing me,” she glibly air quoted “You have some ink blots to show me or some daddy issues to work through with me? Not that I’m not enjoying talking shop with you. Umm kind of. Like 7 out of 10 in conversational enjoyment. Good job by the way, that’s pretty good. Not sarcastically, seriously, you are pretty decent for all the shrinks I’ve seen.”
Miles had been suppressing his “empathy powers” as much as possible as he feared that the person he “read the mind” of was suffering some sort of problematic side effect. He suspected this from facial expressions, and that people avoided him and were more off put than usual after he did his “empathy thing.” This required an enormous amount of concentration and hence hindered him somewhat in conversation. Of course, without using his “empathy thing” he was also not really any better at psychology than the next person. Though he suspected that he couldn’t do much for Dr. Cynn given how much smarter she was than him. In fact, Miles suspected that she was actually in better psychological shape than he was and that they should probably switch roles if anything.
“Thank you, I appreciate that” Miles said, not sure how glib or how serious he should be in this statement
Jesus, she’s impossible to read. Probably even with the “empathy thing” that I do.
“I can tell you are sexually and maybe even a little romantically interested in me” Andrea interjected, “I’m flattered but uninterested, thanks anyway.”
Holy shit christ fucks does she have the empathy thing too?! Oh fuck, what have I been thinking. I’m being paranoid, I’m just easy to read. Umm right, ok, let’s make sure. How to test this…
“Oh yeah, I can tell because of your micro-expressions, pupil dilation, cheek flushing, eye movements, etc. I probably should have told you that so you didn’t get freaked out that I was “reading you mind,” Andrea said laughing “It’s part of being a neuroscientist, we can just pick up on these things. I’m sorry if I was being too frank or blunt with you. It wasn’t meant to be mean, just informative.”
“No, no it’s fine. You’re………. right and I’m glad you…somehow picked up on it and let me know. You saved me…ummm… a lot of embarrassment.”
“So umm….the….experiment….seems a little simple. Just one drug and one neurotransmitter? Doesn’t most of the magic happen in numerous neurotransmitters interacting?”
“We gave them lot’s of drugs don’t worry.” she said smiling “We would start off with just one, then add a few more. Then eventually we gave them one drug while working on a piece, then later let them come back to that piece to review and edit it while on another drug. We got some intriguing interaction effects that manifested across artists.”