Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Santo Pablo and Swarm Intelligence.

The remarkable thing about Paul the octopus predicting the results of the World Cup Football matches is that Paul does not --- I should say ‘may not’ perhaps --- find it remarkable (borrowing from Bertrand Russell’s view of the amoeba: A process which led from the amoeba to man appeared to the philosophers to be obviously a progress though whether the amoeba would agree with this opinion is not known.). Paul was probably a bit bored and played the simple games that football lovers understand.

Ours is a win-lose world of the instant without the perspective of the future in the past. It’s a simple binary logic that is restricted to the show-business, computational and electronics world predicated on monetary gains, most times. The strategies in the Spain-Netherlands match was either the tika-taka of spain or the thud-thud nether approach of the Netherlands. It spells out a beautiful game of orthogonal non-overlapping opposites of strategies, once you know the strategies…but without a symphonic melody if you knew other beauties.

You should ask the Bengalis of dacca and kolkata how to play football in the monsoon rains when swarms of strategies shower down faster than the speed of the ball, rotating without translating in the Hooghly mud. The imagined past easily makes contact with the aniticipating future and only poetry can emerge for a truly virtual appreciation.

So how did the octopus know which team will win and predict correctly seven times out of seven?

One may devise a very academically correct, mathematically complex answer using complicated words which have no real world significance.

I had a friend, Rajasekhar, who used to enthusiastically raise his hands for any question asked in class. He would start with all seriousness “Sir, as per the theory of relativity, you see sir,…”. Since he did this every time, the lecturer would oblige him by asking him to leave the classroom, which he did with enthusiasm every time.

I wont be using relativity or spacetime concepts like the ancient people of the Incas may do in local culture or as in Belafonte’s song “From the beginning of time and creativity there existed the forces of relativity” in the song Man Smart Woman Smarter. The lyrics of this song could perhaps be re-written to the title “Man Smart, Paul smarter” since Paul did conceivaly consistently better than most of us who went by the hype.

We could be attributing Paul’s successes simply to luck… after all we are rational… at least as rational as we are allowed to be. You see, since you don’t see, Paul was not tested with the French and the Italians and the Brazilians!. Even my most trusted expert, my son, failed with that!

I will be using instead the modern catch-word in computer science, which is “swarm intelligence” although, it is my un-informed interpretation of it. This term is not to be confused with mob mentality although the latter has principles that are related to that of the former.

We need not ask any serious questions on what seems obviously to be a silly/trivial subject; especially when “so many people are dying of starvation” or when people are killed in Uganda for watching world cup matches! But we will ask the question which may be taken seriously just for the lark of it, even if it may seem to some as …whatever.

So we go ahead … to spend time. I am not responsible for any ill effects should my theory prove to be wrong.

Let us assume Paul did understand the game and did understand the question and did understand the necessity to take part in the game by making a choice that we require to visibly understand, and not teleptathically, for instance. The point of importance was that Paul is an octopus.

What’s so special about the octopus? What extra-sensory perception was involved? Or was it extraordinary intelligence. We do not use the word extraordinary in the sense of exceptional but more in the sense of bizarre. Is it possible that the octopus’s response were dictated by 1) his being sensitive to the questions being asked and his need to response and 2) the most intense spontaneous or primitive wishes of the supporting masses that influenced his decisions with or without his knowing.

As for the first question Paul was required to simply eat a mussel (so we are told, the majority of us Indians who are vegetarians will never understand an octoupus’s mind in this regard). He was to eat one from two boxes to indicate his preference. If he was hungry his choice would not have been a considered one but rather a spontaneous one. He would have chosen at random. He had to go through this exercise seven times and to be correct each time the unbiased probability of coming at the final correct decision was 1/(2^7) which meant he had roughly 1% chance of being correct on everything, provided he did not know anything about the game.

The more analytical or passionate considered decision leads inevitably to more bias, and invariably takes one away from the right decisions since most analyses turn out to be wrong. So the probability of making the correct decision decreased with increasing analysis or passion.

This could explain why Bejan Daruwalla is the leading Indian astrologer in predicting as well as Paul the world cup outcome!

But what about question 2? Was Paul answering the wishes of his most ardent supporter, since he was convinced that whoever he chose would influence the final decision? just as the flapping of the butterfly wings could influence the direction of a typhoon because of changes in initial conditions? Just as god does when he is divinely interfering and influencing a decision? Was Paul’s decision a conscious one or was it the effect of the unconscious. Was there an extrasensory influence?
Us ancient Indians and other Ethiopians or Tibetan bon people are (or used to be) familiar with telepathy and extrasensory perception without technically abbreviating it and validating it as ESP due to Rhine and his non-believers in the late 19th century.

The simplest way to account for telepathy is to think of people in a train having the same thinking as in the cartoon (Fig 1) which I found on the internet and which I am reproducing with the warning. What is interesting is not the thought “I am in the train” but the feature that they are looking in the same direction and associating various thoughts in their mind with what they see.

Some of these sights could make a common connect. For instance there may be something which looks strikingly similar to a very popular character, say popeye (maybe salmon khan, if readers are not familiar with popeye) and one of them start talking about spinach since popeye is associated with spinach. Another would say “Strange! I was thinking of the same thing!”. Will it then be telepathy?

I happened to give a similar analysis in a story I had written in 1990 or thereabouts (see my website http://www.materials-chemistry.com/SIMPLE%20DITTIES%20OR%20NOTHING%20AT%20ALL.pdf ). In this story I was trying, among other things, to impress upon the reader the way simple ditties keep us going. In the advertising world they try to influence people through catchy jingles for creating mostly unnecessary and unhealthy needs.

But how does this mass-appeal work? Is this feeling of goodness, the jingle in the ditty, due to the mind or something more spontaneous, more extrasensory in as much as it does not depend on the five senses that influences or is influenced by the mind? More importantly, how did it influence Paul? Or, alternatively, how did Paul influence it?.

The “scientific” search for ESP involved finding its place in the mechanism of the mind. But this is the wrong thing to do if the mind is separated from consciousness. This will be the case, for instance, when there are sensors in the body which operate on muscles and nerves independent of the body as in instinctive reactions.

This is where the octopus could score. The way the octopus moves its limbs using its brain is thought to be radically different from the way we understand the movement of our limbs. It then becomes a question of conscious and unconscious or instinctive activity.

The conscious mind does the conscious part such as presenting ones thoughts in a seminar, or moving parts of one’s body purposefully to carry out a brain-determined function such as swatting a fly in whatever form.

This is not so for the octopus!

According to a discovery aorund 2000 by scientists trying to make a robot with a flexible arm like an octopus, it was found that the brain of the octopus can only give a command to its arm and then the octopus can figure out what to do. This they did by cutting the nerves connecting the arm of the octopus to its brain and finding that the arm behaved exactly the same way.

So, one can have an independent decision making part in a body that can be influenced by its own concerns and not by central command. The arm would then seem to make an unconscious response? The advantage now may be that the unconscious control of the arms is not dictated by the limited experience of the brain but by the very variable and very unlimited nature of the environment of the arm.

Where does ESP come in?

It turns out that there are theories in which cells present in connective tissue, lymph nodes, and bone marrow and tied to nerve endings which may be hypersensitive enough to decode signals below levels accessible to the brain. These cells may be the body's ESP unit in which extra sensory would mean “very sensitive”. They are organs of the body, sending and receiving impressions below the normal perceptive level. Such cells are more sensitive and active during childhood, but is said to deteriorate without proper use, encouragement or diet.

Nerve endings are nociceptors, which respond to external forces, usually through the feeling of pain or some other discomfort, and then signals the response for evasive action.

I don’t think a nociceptor detects only pain but abnormal surface or skin changes that spells danger before the brain has time to analyze.

I must thank my nociceptor for saving me from at least two sure deaths. Once when I held back miraculously to avoid being pushed over by a speeding train with my hands, held back in surprise, grazing the passing train. Another time, I held back jumping over a bridge into a river, when in the moonlit night the river bed gave an illusion of being a pedestrian’s parapet.

I also remember waking up one night when I realized that my brain was amplifying a noise alarmingly as if somebody was ringing a giant bell on my head. After I woke up I realized that it was the noise of a dripping tap which I could just barely hear after I had woken up. There was some unconscious amplification mechanism which impressed me no end.

The point that I am trying to make is that there are unconscious acts that are not dictated by the brain, but by effects of the environment.

I don’t know how this leads to understanding Paul’ s behaviour. But we continue regardless.

In a recent (2010) article in the prestigious journal, Nature, it has been noted the nociception (if that is the word for pain perception) relies on a sensor that has been conserved over 500 million years of evolution and is a common ancestor to both vertebrate and invertebrate species. If the nociception sensor for detecting pungent and irritating noxious electrophile compounds arrived on the scene before invertebrates and vertebrates evolved (as reported by Kang et al in Nature, 2010) we may imagine a swarm of such sensors (olfactoceptor?) or other nociceptors which then attach themselves to nerve endings of other evolving species.

Perhaps we can imagine such a swarm behaving like colonies of ants or bees having the flexibility of breaking up and self re-organizing in a robust manner as per the needs of the colony in an instinctive manner, where each individual member acts locally to fill the demands of the entire swarm.

Like the arm of the octopus nerve-severed from its brain.

It could be these sense-senors (sensusceptors? which could be a general term which includes nociceptor) if that is the word that plays a role in controlling the animal’s behavior without the direct or conscious participation of the species. The influence of this swarm could be over long range with an effect which is negligible in the individual scale but magnifies over the swarm to a distinct and substantial effect.

This is the basis (I think) of Swarm Intelligence as distinct from, say, artificial intelligence.

Swarm intelligence is defined by Bonabeau et al (1999) as “The emergent collective intelligence of groups of simple agents”, or by Kelly “dumb parts, properly connected into a swarm, yield smart results.”

Paul could have been responding to, shall we say, the more powerful of the Swarm Prayers from the more dedicated and intense fans and by making his decision he fed back this intensity to where it came from and moved his hand.

We should be now having a Santo Pablo and a True Hand of God in Spain.

Believe it or not!

Maybe it requires some more working. This is after all an unrefereed blog!

The octopus is very intelligent and well known to play games as in the very remarkable video footage of an octopus’s movie footage with a movie camera stolen from one Victor Huang (http://www.mahalo.com/octopus-steals-camera) who was free diving in his environment. What is remarkable also is the way Huang behaved.

In the meanwhile I came across this 2005 cartoon (Fig 2) on the net with a riddle (Posted on: January 15, 2009 9:38 AM, by PZ Myers)
There were various answers. Among the ones I liked is the one below (Posted by: Cuttlefish, OM | January 15, 2009 10:13 AM)

I looked up to the heavens and I wished upon a star
Though I knew it couldn’t hear, from unimaginably far,
I wished two arms to hold me, two arms to keep me tight,
Two arms that I could cling to every second of the night,
Two arms to keep me safe and warm, two arms to share my fun—
I meant “two arms in total”, but that star’s a silly one.

For that we will not need Santo Pablo, right? Or even a saint?

Whether we have evolved towards the better from swarm intelligence to human intelligence through octopus intelligence is something the human mob may not be able to decide.