Friday, December 22, 2006

Free Will

I just posted to a slashdot discussion about how neuroscience appears to be eroding the notion of free will. Some really interesting philosophical threads there that touch on tangents in physics, biology, and religion.

The genetic angle on this topic comes up in the field of sociobiology, which ties into what I mentioned at the end of my slashdot post. Genes create predispositions for certain behaviors, many of which impart a selective advantage. So many of our behaviors, at a coarse level, are in place since they helped our ancestors survive. At a fine level, evolution doesn't shape our specific, day-to-day behaviors, but it certainly channels us into certain predictable directions.

The physical structure of our brains is necessary by not sufficient for all the specific behaviors we have or are capable of having. Borrowing a concept from genetics, one could say that significant alterations in brain physiology by things like tumors, are likely to have pleiotropic effects on many things that depend on brain function, such as all of our characteristically human behaviors.

So given this, we should not be so surprised when a tumor is proven to have been at the root of someone's decision making process. I guess it shakes our world view regarding what it means to be human.

Sunday, June 11, 2006

Halo Xbox: Why don't I play more?

In a word: I suck. In more words, read on.

Guys at work often have Halo 2 Xbox video gaming sessions, and I often intend to show up, and have played a few times, yet typically I bail. On the surface, my excuse is that I opt to spend time with family. Yet the games often go on long after everyone at home is off to bed, so I think there is a deeper reason why I tend to no-show.

I play the game so rarely that I usually need to relearn the complex joystick device (which is much more than a "stick") and have no finesse whatsoever. After an hour or two, I'm starting to get the hang of it again, but still feel woefully outclassed by everyone else, who race around me like 8 year olds at a toddler park. "No Steve, don't eat the sand!" Usually, other players leave me alone, since there's not much sport in offing someone who's barely able to avoid smacking into walls and what not. But this only leads to feelings of isolation.

I'm not usually one to whine or turn down a challenge, but there's only so much demoralization and frustration one can tolerate. It starts to feel like "Getting Hit on the Head Lessons" (No, not "owww!", but "waaah!". "Waaah!". "Good!"). So I usually only show up when in an exceptionally resilient emotional state that can take any amount of abuse and inferiority trip.

One of these days when my boys are older, mind, I'll have one of these devices at home and will be able to spend hours at a time on it, without getting interrupted to change a diaper. It's really quite an impressive immersive experience. In no time, my reflexes will be optimized for these joysticks on steroids, I'll have hardware accelerated my gray matter to dominate virtual worlds of mass destruction. Co-workers beware! Or maybe I'll take up Tai Chi instead. Could go either way.