Humans as Intellectual Replicators

One of the great films of the 20th century was Apocalypto by Mel Gibson. In the film, there is scene when the protagonists are sat around a fire and the tribal elder is telling a story. The story goes -

And a Man sat alone, drenched deep in sadness.

And all the animals drew near to him and said, “We do not like to see you so sad. Ask us for whatever you wish and you shall have it.”

The Man said, “I want to have good sight.”

The vulture replied, “You shall have mine.”

The Man said, “I want to be strong.”

The jaguar said, “You shall be strong like me.”

Then the Man said, “I long to know the secrets of the earth.”

The serpent replied, “I will show them to you.”

And so it went with all the animals. And when the Man had all the gifts that they could give, he left.

Then the owl said to the other animals, “Now the Man knows much, he'll be able to do many things. Suddenly I am afraid.”

The deer said, “The Man has all that he needs. Now his sadness will stop.”

But the owl replied, “No. I saw a hole in the Man, deep like a hunger he will never fill. It is what makes him sad and what makes him want. He will go on taking and taking, until one day the World will say, 'I am no more and I have nothing left to give.’”

While this story is interesting without any further insight needed to enjoy it, there are in fact some extremely insightful themes to be gained from this short story.

In earlier blog posts, I discussed where the term Hollywood comes from – it is believed that in Druidic England the Celtic Druids where responsible for the spiritual and societal conditioning of the populace. When practicing sermons they would take twigs from the Holly tree, as they believed the Holly tree was imbued with spiritual properties. Co-incidentally this is also where the notion of wands originated from. Hence, Hollywood – the spiritual and societal conditioning form much of the Western World and how any pre-existing intellectual, creative ideas heavily influence our own actions in terms of how we manifest what we wish to achieve in the domains of science, technology, art, and indeed countless other areas.

Now to return to the story, what I believe is fascinating is that if envisage our own intellectual and cognitive development from an evolutionary perspective, it is evident that the old story teller is describing what took place in reality rather than metaphorically.

If we make the assumption that human beings’ genetic code did in fact arrive on Earth as part of a planet terraforming Fermi probe, where the subsequent organisms needed to adapt to the environment, then we can have some interesting thought experiments.

Each action that we do, is not dissimilar to how a machine learning algorithm begins to develop efficiency in various tasks. For example, when you are a very small in fact, hand eye co-ordination is somewhat limited and merely using a knife and fork can result in half the food ending on the floor rather than in the mouth of the infant. As the infant practices more with a knife and fork, the infant progresses to master this action until using the cutlery doesn’t present any form of challenge. Nearly all aspects of our interaction are the same – we have hundreds of thousands of actions, communications, and similar that we can perform that we have refined over the years that allows us to operate in modern societies, and using our opposable thumbs, our voice box and more.

Clearly the human brain is incredibly malleable and can learn new skills with repetition and perfect these skills.

Now animals are much the same. There are a huge number of animals that exists across the entire spectrum of geographies, climates and geological periods. Each specific animal has developed similar machine learning algorithms, that are forever coded in their genetic code as instinct, that allow them to hunt, survive great heat or cold, and a whole range of hierarchical structures that the animal kingdom has developed.

If we take very early humans, complex social structures, hunting strategies, and many societal roles simply did not exist. Even military strategies, defending homes and similar did not exist. Yet, what a human being is adept at, is observing, learning, and assimilating what they have seen.

If we take an example of a Meerkat and how these animals guard their homes, they have members of the species that act as watchmen, that observe for danger approaching their homes. This sort of behaviour is consistent in modern militaries and even ancient militaries – troops will be stationed some distance from bases to act as an alert for encroaching enemies.

What is not to say that if we take all the animals that have ever walked the face of the earth, that have survived in every climate and region of the planet before human beings arrived, did not already develop the optimal machine learning algorithms in side their neural architecture through millions of years of trial and error. When man came along, he was simply required to watch and observe what the animals were doing – how they hunted, how they guarded their homes, what plants were safe to eat, what territories were dangerous.

It is assumed that human beings developed all their intellectual and societal structures through our own species’ trial and error. But what if for the majority of human development, we quite literally hoovered up all the optimal behaviours of the animal kingdom, all the optimal survival strategies and applied them to our own survival?

As mentioned, we achieved human flight, because we watched birds, and sought to imitate (mythology of Icarus is relevant here). I believe there are in fact many, many areas of human society that are in fact borrowed from the dynamics that were observed in animals by our early ancestors.

In the modern world we assume animals to be less intelligent, less developed, as when compared to human beings, yet if we combine all of the various strategies, social hierarchies, plant knowledge and more that is contained In the animal kingdom, then our own knowledge is mirrored to some extent.

Perhaps this story told by the Tribal Elder is in fact a metaphor for how our human ancestors developed so quickly in terms of our adaptation to the world around us – the animals had done much of the work already in terms of developing these ‘,machine learning’ algorithms and we simply observed, borrowed and adapted best in class strategies to our own survival rather than going through the same evolutionary process ourselves. Our ability to observe, and apply other species’ learnt strategies to our own gave us the advantage.

We are replicators of existing idealogical, natural and evolutionary strategies. Sent here on Fermi probe, to develop to this planet, and to scour the planet, to collect all the information that other machines (animals) have developed and incorporate them into our own models.