I'm amused by things that almost make sense but don't. Arguably, that's the basis of all humor. Humor works best when there is some truth in it while still being an exaggeration into the realm of nonsense. It's the juxtaposition of truth and nonsense that triggers the brain hiccup called laughter.
I was reminded of this by a comment on this blog from Jengineer. Her argument was a bit different than the one I am about to make, but it sparked the following thought: There are only two conditions in the universe: Programmed or random. In other words, action is either a simple chain of cause and effect, or it is somehow immune to cause and effect.
Intelligence can't be random. That would be the opposite of intelligence. But intelligence also can't be programmed, for if that were allowed, your alarm clock would be called intelligent, and obviously it isn't.
So if there are only two possibilites -- programmed or random -- and intelligence can be neither then intelligence must not exist. It must be an illusion.
The thing that amuses me about that argument is that I'm sure it is wrong, but I don't know why. And that is further evidence that intelligence is an illusion. At least my own.
As I (mis)understand the laws of physics, there is nothing preventing a toaster from suddenly jumping into existence from nothingness. The odds against it are in the fergetaboutit range, but that assumes the universe is only a tad over 14 billion years old. And it assumes there aren't many universes.
Suppose the Big Bang was just a Big Comma, separating what came before from what came after. After a trillion years times a trillion, the toaster's odds of springing into existence improve. The same holds true if there are lots more universes that we don't know about.
Now suppose instead of a toaster, a robot jumps into existence. (Hey, if you believed a toaster could materialize, it's not such a big leap.) The hypothetical robot is coincidentally hardened against the harsh forces of the universe and capable of surviving almost anything. Its program, created by entirely random forces, tells it to manipulate the building blocks of nature to create life in a way that allowed evolution to occur.
In such a hypothetical situation, would you say Intelligent Design was involved in creating the universe Remember, while the robot might be extraordinarily capable, he has no free will. And his intelligence isn't the sort we generally attribute to a designer. The robot had no reason to create life. It simply followed its program.
What interests me about this hypothetical question is that most people won't be able to answer it with a yes or a no because it smells like a trap.
Scientists at Stanford discovered something I don't understand. Then a writer simplified it for the Internet, making it worse. Then I read about it and my brain added a few misconceptions, as usual. That's how I roll. Anyway, now I am left with this question: Is this a big deal or a little deal?
This story didn't exactly set the media on fire, which leads me to believe it is a small matter, potentially adding a detail to the Theory of Evolution.
But perhaps it is the first solid evidence of my theory that spacetime is like a huge donut, or Mobious strip if you like, and future scientists will find a way for humanity to survive the black hole that devours the universe. They create the physical equivalent of a computer program that is so small it is unaffected by the forces that crush the universe. Over a few billion years, the program chugs along, guiding evolution to produce humans once again, thus we are all reborn. And since the universe is deterministic, it happens the same way every time.
My only question today is whether this discovery might lead to a big change in the generally accepted Theory of Evolution.
First, some background. I often used a service called sendyourfiles.com to move my own large art files to United Media (my syndicator), to my publisher (Andrews McMeel Publishing), and other business associates. I also used the service to send large photos and videos that e-mail couldn't handle. Every person who received a large file from me in this convenient way said some version of "Hey, I could use this myself."
So I contacted the owners of sendyourfiles.com and worked out a deal for a branded version of their service that we call dilbertfiles.com. They do the business end, and I help spread the word. It's a great tool, so I enjoy letting people know about it.
As the more technical among you know, there are a number of options for sending large files. Some of them are even free, although without the features or convenience of dilbertfiles.com. For example, with Dilbertfiles.com you can download a plug-in for Outlook and send large files without even going through a web page. And if you do use the browser interface instead, you get to watch some free Dilbert comics while your file is transmitted. You also get to watch Dogbert vigorously whip the progress bar, which feels better than you'd imagine.
As the number of traditional newspapers continues to shrink, this is the sort of thing that will help keep Dilbert free online. If you know anyone who moves large files around for work, or for fun, please do them and me a favor by forwarding the link.
[Update: The link was broken when I first posted. Now corrected.]
[Disclaimer: I have no financial interest in the company. When I asked my friend Tim how many people might die because the company couldn't get funding, I felt it was important to blog about it.]