View Single Post
Old 12-27-2017, 10:56 PM
LSLGuy is offline
Charter Member
Join Date: Sep 2003
Location: Southeast Florida USA
Posts: 21,035
Sam, what follows is a serious suggestion.

I was a CS major too. Although my Masters was in business, not more CS.

CS is probably the most artificial form of engineering. The systems we rely upon, our raw materials if you will, have their challenges. But they don't have nearly the complexities and inhomogeneities of things like actual steel beams or actual concrete. Which differ significantly from idealized beams of idealized steel.

To a CS-trained mind, the world is not only more complex than we understand, it's more complex than we can understand. We, the CS gurus, lose our ability to recognize all the ways in which the messy substrates of the real world are not nearly so tractable as the clean, simple, and manmade substrate of pure math & logic. We spend so much time succeeding at managing spherical cows to good effect that we forget about the messy reality of real flesh-and-blood cows.

It's a common failing of CS people. But it can be worked past.

I have no real education in biology or chemistry beyond 101-level classes. I've read a lot of layman's materials and people tell my I've got a hell of a memory, but I don't have any real expertise in these areas.

Some years ago I stumbled on this blog.

Turns out the guy is real famous in his field as the elder statesman of bloggers who've got something smart to say about a pretty deep topic. He's a medicinal chemist, a guy who searches for and perfects medicines. I've read every post of his for the last 8 years. Along the way I've learned a great deal about the big picture of chemistry, biochemistry, cellular biology and organism biology.

He has slowly taught me that our current understanding of cellular & organism-level biology is on a par with primitive tribes' understanding of physics. It's not dead wrong, but there's vast tracts of pure guesswork and areas where we can't tell first order effects from 4th order effects. As well as vast areas we don't even know exist.

What makes him magic is that beyond his PhD and his 30+ years in the industry doing cutting edge stuff there's a deep-seated humility and a total absence of boosterism and hucksterism. We know more than did the witch doctors baying at the Moon. But not that much more versus how deep this stuff really is. We've barely scratched the surface of understanding how any of this stuff really works.

Try reading him for a bit. Follow the links back to earlier articles. Learn how much we know that we don't know. Which supports the reasonable estimate that the unknown unknowns are far larger yet.

IMO there's not much difference between something that's impossible as a matter of physics and something that's impossible as a matter of engineering we won't have for another 5000 years. I recognize that logically those are polar opposites: one impossible, the other possible. But practically they amount to the same thing. 100% of any effort spent today in that direction is waste and distraction from more practical things that are just beyond our grasp. That's where scientists and engineers live and work: just beyond our current grasp.

Ultimately, thinking and debating about humanities' tech in 5000 years is sterile. The noise so far outweighs the signal as to be pointless. All it leads to is people pointing fingers and stamping their feet.

As you almost said, the Universe is an existence proof for a way to make a universe. And biology is an existence proof for nanotech. But to jump from there to a) humans will master that tech; and further that b) we, or one of our AI tools, will do it soon is hubris. Nothing but hubris.

Dunning-Kruger is real. The greater one's expertise, the more they recognize the limitations to their knowledge and skill. Their awareness of those unknown unknowns grows ever larger. There is wisdom in the intellectual humility that flows from that understanding. Reductionism is the blithe statement that either there are no unknown unknowns, or they don't matter. Either of those POVs are foolish.

I think you're probably smarter than that. What you are not yet, is disciplined enough to act on those smarts.

Last edited by LSLGuy; 12-27-2017 at 11:01 PM.