Randomness, Life and Intelligence

Randomness, Life and Intelligence

The Concept of Life

What has soul in it differs from what has not, in that the former displays life … Living, that is, may mean thinking or perception or local movement and rest, or movement in the sense of nutrition, decay, and growth … This power of self-nutrition … is the originative power, the possession of which leads us to speak of things as living. - Aristole

Why should we have a category of things we call “alive” and another category for which the word is inappropriate? As we know, biological organisms act like parts in machines. The operation of muscle, neuron, … can be explainable in technological term. Cognitive scientists believe that each region of our brain is correlated with a certain kind of mental activity. Therefore, the human brain is also called the machinery of the mind. With the creation of adaptive robots and lifelike beings in computer programs, the division between living and nonliving systems is blurred. However, there may be reasons to draw a line between living things and inanimate matters. Whatever, we humans develop an empathic relationship with particular objects in the world,  and the concept of “living” then is hopelessly bound up in these empathic relations. Additionally:

The most humble organism is something much higher than the inorganic dust under our feet; and no one with an unbiased mind can study any living creature, however humble, without being struck with enthusiasm at its marvelous structure and properties. - Charles Darwin

There is a critical word used to distinguish between animate and inanimate things that is “adaptation”. Adaptation in nature is almost always a stochastic process. But almost always, things that appear random turn out to be deterministic:

God does not play dice. - Albert Eistein

Life has evolved in such a different and innovative way that beyond human imagination, even if we know this is true.

Is There Such Thing as Random?

If there exists a random mapping, it is not random.

Of course, “random numbers” in a computer are not random at all. Given the same random seed, any number generators will produce the same series of numbers. For most 20th, human believed that randomness existed at the subatomic level. According to Werner Heisenberg and Niels Bohr, it is in general not possible to predict the value of a quantity with arbitrary certainty, even if all initial conditions are specified. Quantum events were considered being perhaps the only example of true stochasticity in the universe. But in 1998, physicists Dürr, Nonn, and Rempe (1998) disproved Bohr’s theorizing. The real source of quantum “randomness” is now believed to be the “entanglements” of particles, whose behavior is in fact deterministic.

Then what is random? It is clear that human knowledge about this world still doesn’t allow us to define the basis of randomness. We use the word “randomness” to talking about something that is unpredictable. This kind of randomness is corresponding to unexpected challenges of environment that life and intelligence must be able to respond to.

The Human Mind, A Great Stochastic System

Stochastic adaptation is the great ability of a living entity that allows creative and innovative problem-solving for complex changes of the environment. Gregory Bateson (1979) called the evolution and mind are the “two great stochastic systems”. The brain is an excellent exemplar of the concept of a complex adaptive system. But we should not confuse brain and mind. Theorists argue that mental processes are very similar to evolutionary ones. Human brain provides a host environment for “knowledge” evolution. The ancient question is, what, really is knowledge? Knowledge exists somewhere, independent of minds. No one has proposed that knowledge evolve, and truth itself changes over time. Mathematical facts, for instance, that were true thousands of years ago are equally true today, and if they are not true now, they never were. But human ideas evolve in the minds of human, in other words, “our knowledge” not “knowledge” grows.

Knowledge is not a result merely of filtering or algorithms. It results from a far more complex process that is social, goal-driven, contextual, and culturally-bound. We get to knowledge — especially ‘actionable’ knowledge — by having desires and curiosity, through plotting and play, by being wrong more often than right, by talking with others and forming social bonds, by applying methods and then backing away from them, by calculation and serendipity, by rationality and intuition, by institutional processes and social roles. Most important in this regard, where the decisions are tough and knowledge is hard to come by, knowledge is not determined by information, for it is the knowing process that first decides which information is relevant, and how it is to be used. - David Weinberger

Cognition is an adaptation process. The ideas expressed by people certainly change over time. The evolution of ideas is a change of states of individuals “to fit to” the environment (or the culture of where we live). Biological evolutionary processes can be implemented in the form of computer programs used to solve many kinds of problems. As Weinberger detailed, human knowledge is a phenomenon that occurs when living beings coexist in societies. If we can have a sufficiently rich system of interactions going in a computer like a human society, we might be able to reproduce something like intelligence.


James Kennedy and Russell C. Eberhart, with Yuhui Shi (2009) - Swarm Intelligence