Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Reason Iz Stoopid

"Our logic is to be illogical. 
That is our advantage"

Oh yeah. I'm a geek. Although I'm a little embarrassed about it, I'm told by, uh, this Really Hot Mom* that I'm going out with, that there is something very sexy about geeking out. It's decidedly childish, but also childlike. I figure women find it a cute thing about men: that we don't ever actually completely grow up. I think this is one reason why women keep us around - at least until A Real Mandroid(TM),  the mind-reading love robot, with the kung-fu grip, is perfected and put on the market. Anyways...

The entitled quote is from Star Trek. Specifically, an episode entitled "I, Mudd" wherein Captain Kirk is speaking to an android named Norman, in still another demonstration of how us illogical humans can outwit logical computers. (And just so know, I had to google this. I'm not nearly as much as a geek as I let on).  

Well, the point of all this is the following statement: "Logic ain't all it's cracked up to be". 

Case in point. There was a science news article back in July of aught-nine entitled "Ants Are More Rational Than Humans".

As the article states, it is not that ants are smarter than humans, but that humans simply make more irrational decisions when faced with complex challenges. This has also been investigated by economists Kahneman and Tversky (look 'em up). And I would argue that ants are dumb, which is why they are more rational.

Another case in point. For the longest time, computer scientists thought that building intelligent computers would be a piece of cake. All they had to do was apply the Brute Force approach of supplying enough memory banks and processing chips, and Logic would do the rest. As it turned out, it was all a big disappointment, and Artificial Intelligence was a lot harder problem than they realized.

Worse still, back in 1997, IBM build a computer called Deep Blue. Deep Blue beat the world chess champion, Garry Kasparov, and it really messed with his head. At one point in the game, Deep Blue passed up a logical move of capturing Garry's piece for immediate advantage, in order to press a more risky strategy to win the game. Kasparov got paranoid, convinced that he was playing a human opponent disguised as a computer. As I said, it messed with his head. 

Now, I personally don't think much of chess. It isn't that I suck at the game, which I do. It's because it really is just a stupid wasteful medieval battle of attrition. One in which any modern general would probably be court-martialed for slaughtering so many of his own men. And playing the game is more a matter of having a good memory than using logical skills. But nevertheless, there is a step-by-step linear method of logic involved. And look how easy it was for a dumb (yes, dumb as a turd, by animal standards) computer to kick human ass.

Ah, but put Deep Blue in the awkward social position of going to a barbeque in your backyard, and you quickly realize how much of a dumbshit it is. We, without consciously thinking about it, recognize everything in the backyard. We recognize bushes, and grass, and patios, and pets, and charcoal grills without a second thought. And really, it takes quite a bit of computer processing time (not that that's what we do) to do all of this in our little pumpkin heads. And no matter how much logical processing time it devotes to it, poor old Deep Blue just ain't gonna cut it as life of the party at your Bar-B-Q.

In other words, it takes more raw intelligence to visually recognize a chess board than it does to play the game. It takes more raw intelligence to inhabit and navigate a body, than it does to do calculus, or compute orbital trajectories, or model climate change, or win at a mathematical game like the Prisoner's Dilemma.

So, let's talk about that so we can get to the friggin' point. You got two crooks that get caught by the cops. Detectives interrogate them in separate cells. The cops need a confession  or they have to let the crooks go. They tell 'em "Rat on your buddy, and it will go easy on you". Each crook has a choice. Turn rat fink, or clam up. Mathematically, there are four outcomes with expected payoffs: Both crooks rat, one rats on the other, or the other rats, or both clam up. Mathematically, logically, it can be proven that the logical choice is to rat. But the irrational choice, which also has the highest payoff since the crooks go free, is to clam up. In other words, they can logically compete, or they can illogically cooperate.

Guess what humans usually do, not just in this game, but in other games, including economic games? They choose to behave irrationally. 

And it is not just humans. There is increasing evidence from ethologists - biologists who study animal behavior - that animals are more likely to cooperate than compete. It would seem that "Nature Red in Tooth and Claw" is not entirely the whole picture. That altruism (seen by some as irrational) has a certain logic - if you view "survival of the fittest" to be a group selection thingie. An individual that cooperates in the group, makes for a fitter group. And the group, in turn, provides social advantage and protection to the individual, and enhances fitness to the individual.

Perhaps someone should tell the Vulcans about all this... or at least the Libertarians.

UPDATE: Throw this into the category: Funny how it never rains, but it pours. The New York Times has an article out today on the evolutionary roots of altruism, titled "We May Be Born With An Urge To Help". Enjoy.

*In my categorization of things, there is a hierarchical classification of attractive women. It goes from merely hot single young sweet things up to Hot Moms at or near my age. I suppose others would call them Cougars, but I prefer my term. I wonder if this is biological. I also wonder if, when I am an old wrinkled potato, I will find women my age that are in similar shape more  attractive, or will it not matter by then? Probably not.

1 comment:

  1. Human beings defy all logic. I am continually amazed that we are still here.