science fiction

Editing Memories

"Can we edit the content of our memories? It’s a sci-fi-tinged question that Steve Ramirez and Xu Liu are asking in their lab at MIT. Essentially, the pair shoot a laser beam into the brain of a living mouse to activate and manipulate its memory. In this unexpectedly amusing talk they share not only how, but  more importantly why they do this." 

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Choice Bradbury-isms

From "Drunk on Writing: Ray Bradbury’s Gifts to Humanity," by Casey Rae, The Contrarian, June 6, 2012

Some choice Bradbury-isms:       

Go to the edge of the cliff and jump off. Build your wings on the way down.

I’m not afraid of machines. I don’t think the robots are taking over. I think the men who play with toys have taken over. And if we don’t take the toys out of their hands, we’re fools.

I don’t need an alarm clock. My ideas wake me.

I don’t believe in being serious about anything. I think life is too serious to be taken seriously.

The women in my life have all been librarians, English teachers, or booksellers… I have always longed for education, and pillow talk’s the best.

Don’t talk about it; write.

If you dream the proper dreams, and share the myths with people, they will want to grow up to be like you.

The best scientist is open to experience and begins with romance — the idea that anything is possible.

There are worse crimes than burning books. One of them is not reading them.

See also: "21 Ray Bradbury Quotes: Your Moment of Friday Writing Zen," by Zachary Petit, Writer's Digest, Feb. 17, 2012

On and On

“There is a fundamental reason why we look at the sky with wonder and longing—for the same reason that we stand, hour after hour, gazing at the distant swell of the open ocean.

94 percent of the human body is made up of the key elements oxygen, carbon, and hydrogen.

There is something like an ancient wisdom, encoded and tucked away  in our DNA, that knows its point of origin as surely as a salmonid knows its creek.

Intellectually, we may not want to return there, but the genes know, and long for their origins—their home in the salty depths.

But if the seas are our immediate source, the penultimate source is certainly the heavens…

The spectacular truth is—and this is something that your DNA has known all along—the very atoms of your body—the iron, calcium, phosphorus, carbon, nitrogen, oxygen, and on and on—were initially forged in long-dead stars.

This is why, when you stand outside under a moonless, country sky, you feel some ineffable tugging at your innards. We are star stuff. Keep looking up.”

~ Jerry Waxman

Not Beyond Your Imagination

James Cameron, in conversation with Elvis Mitchell for a special online edition of The Treatment, recorded live at a benefit for the Natural Resources Defense Council:


“I’ve always believed in exploration. I’ve always believed in that sense of going beyond and looking where we haven’t looked. I think the film connects that way in a number of different ways. There’s one line I hate and studios love to use: Beyond your imagination. It’s not beyond your imagination. People have great imaginations. They have great dreams when they’re kids. You can fly when you’re a kid in your dreams. As you grow up, your dreams somewhat diminish and you don’t fly as much in your dreams. I wanted to go back to that childlike dream state in this movie because I think we all kind of connect at that level. And so I wanted to create essentially a lucid dream that would connect us all at some kind of unconscious level.”

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“We were tasked with designing all these creatures and plants and everything for this movie. And every time we thought we had a great idea somebody would bring in a photograph or some bit of nature here had beat us to the idea. Ultimately, at the end of a two-year design process, we had to just admit with great humility that nature’s imagination was better than the combined imagination of the best visual artists on the planet that I had gathered to make Avatar. And it’s true.”

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In his talk at TED 2010, James Cameron “reveals his childhood fascination with the fantastic — from reading science fiction to deep-sea diving — and how it ultimately drove the success of his blockbuster hits Aliens, The Terminator, Titanic and Avatar.”

Enjoy the Process

Excerpt from “Enlightenment 2.0,” a Buddhist Geeks conversation with Ben Goertzel and host Vince Horn:

I think that the idea underlying that story (Enlightenment 2.0) really came out of something that I worry about in my personal life just thinking about my own personal future. When I think about “What would I want in the future if superhuman Artificial Intelligence (AI) became possible?”

Wall-E ...I really think that the human brain architecture is limiting. So that I think if you could change your brain into a different kind of information processing system, you could achieve just better states of mind. You could feel enlightened all the time, while doing great science, while having sensory gratification, and it could be way beyond what humans can experience.

So that leads to the question of, okay, if I had the ability to change myself into some profoundly better kind of mind, would I do it all at once? Would I just flick a switch and say “Okay, change from Ben into a super mind?” Well, I wouldn't really want to do that, because that would be just too much like killing Ben, and just replacing him with the super mind. So, I get the idea that maybe I'd like to improve myself by, say twenty percent per year. So I could enjoy the process, and feel myself becoming more and more intelligent, more and more enlightened, broader and broader, and better and better.

Cylon (Battlestar Gallactica) …You think of phase transitions in physics. You have water, and you boil the water, and then it changes from a liquid into a gas, just like that. It's not like it's half liquid and half gas, right? I mean, it's like the liquid is dead, and then there's a gas.

That was the kind of theme underlining this story. There was this super-intelligent AI that people had created. The super intelligent AI, after it solved the petty little problems of world peace, and hunger, and energy for everyone, and so forth, that super-human AI set itself thinking about “Okay, how can we get rid of suffering, fundamentally?” How can we make a mind that really has a positive experience all the time, and will spread good through the world rather than spreading suffering through the world.

Then the conclusion it comes to is it is possible to have such a mind, but human beings can never grow into that, and that it, given the way that it was constructed by the humans, could never grow into that either.

So, the conclusion this AI comes to is there probably are well-structured, benevolent super minds in the universe, and in order to be sure the universe is kept peaceful and happy for them, we should all just get rid of ourselves, because we're just fundamentally screwed up, and can't even ever continuously evolve into something that's benevolently structured.

Which I don't really believe, but I think it's an interesting idea, and I wouldn't say it's impossible.

Sam Worthington as Marcus Wright (Terminator Salvation)

[So] is the AI a lunatic or does it have some profound insight that we can't appreciate? Which is a problem we're going to have broadly when we create minds better than ourselves.

Just like when my dog wants to go do something and I stop him, right? Maybe it's just because my motivational system is different than his. Like I don't care about the same things as he does. I'm not that interested in going to romp in the field like he is, and I'm just bossing him around based on my boring motivational structure.  On the other hand, sometimes I really have an insight he doesn't have, and I'm really right. He shouldn't go play in the highway, no matter how much fun it looks like.  The dog can't know, and similarly, when we have a super-human AI, we really won't be able to know. We'll have to make a gut feel decision whether to trust it or not.