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Weekly Survey

Survery Question #1
Survery Question #2

Weekly Survey Question #1:

If you were forced to accept one of these hypothetical handicaps, what would it be, and why? Which one would be hardest to deal with?

1. Breathing is no longer automatic; you have to consciously take every breath. (You would sleep in a respirator)
2. You have to take the driver's test at the DMV every day at 9am. If you fail, you have to spend the next year in a maximum security prison.
3. You can only use one sense (sight/hearing/touch/smell/taste) at a time. Switching senses would take one second.



Responses:

This is absurd! Is not (2) the obvious answer? I'd die in 15 minutes if I had to think to breath or, conversely, I would wish I were dead. As for the switching senses, that would also likely kill me. But I'd rather be in prison than have to live like that. – Nick

Emily: I'm going to agree with Nick on this one. #1 is by far the worst. I'm yet to take a Driver's test, but it is hard to imagine it would be worse than having to conciously think about breathing (and far less dangerous–what if I got distracted and stopped breathing?!). I think it would be interesting to try #3, and perhaps even useful at times (I wouldn't get distracted by noise while studying), but would hate to be so disabled on a permanent basis.

The conscious breathing thing (#1) is not quite as bad as you all think ... you could have a device that monitors whether you're breathing or not, and beeps if you haven't done so in, say, 30 seconds. So, you'd spend about half your time thinking about breathing, and the other half of your time thinking about other things during the 30 second periods when you hold your breath. The beeper would always be there to remind you to start breathing again before you collapse and die. Just make sure to keep its batteries fresh :-)
Also, the one sense thing (#3) has some other disadvantages. For example, I believe that walking and other simple motor tasks are probably almost impossible without a sense of touch. Walking is essentially carefully controlled falling ... we need to make constant unconscious adjustments to walk properly. So, with this restriction, we'd have to be blind and deaf whenever we're moving around. (mb)



Since we're being really hypothetical here anyways, let's presume you wouldn't need a device to remind you to breath; you would just experience pain in chest when you haven't taken a breath in a while, just as you do now.

This question actually has me thinking about "concious control" though. I've been trying to think of a bodily process that I can conciously control that isn't muscular, and I can't think of one. I cannot directly make myself sweat, digest food, secrete hormones, or otherwise control the chemical processes of my body. Which makes me wonder whether this is a fundamental limitation, or something that can be overcome, either through will or technology. – Nick

There are cases of monks learning to control certain supposedly involuntary body functions, including heartbeat and metabolic rate, through meditation. While they accomplished this without the use of technology, bio-feedback devices, which visually display the status of a subtle body activity, have been used to help people overcome various problems, including migrane headaches, by learning how to consciously control them. (mb)

How many monks have you seen doing this? I believe it is true to some extent, but you seem remarkably glib about it. What are the bases for your claims? On the lighter side, I just finished reading Iain M. Banks' The Player of games - a different kind of science fiction. Here, all of the above are done throught "genofixing" and "glanding". There's a lot more weird stuff in there - definitely worth a read, but not for "goody-goody", Asimov-like SF lovers. (rb)

I don't think I'm being "glib" – I did say that "there are cases of", as opposed to "it is widely known that" ... In any case, here are links to abstracts of journal papers about meditation being used to control autonomic responses. I realize that just because something has been published doesn't mean it's true, but the presence of these papers in refereed literature shows that there is at least some evidence to support it.
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov:80/entrez/query.fcgi?cmd=Retrieve&db=PubMed&list_uids=2194593&dopt=Abstract
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov:80/entrez/query.fcgi?cmd=Retrieve&db=PubMed&list_uids=8582759&dopt=Abstract (mb)

Maybe to even out the questions a little more, the driving test one could be changed to "a year in solitary confinement" a la Shawshank Redemption. Also, the driver's test would have to be taken at a DMV similar to the one in Mountain View CA that I'm familiar with, where some of the DMV employees who administer the tests are nasty nit-pickers.(mb)

These cases only point to enhanced activity/slowdown in metabolism after years of practicing meditation. This is not different from the kind of mental alertness, physical endurance or hyper-activity levels that martial arts are supposed to impart. They do not point to active control of the involuntary actions/senses by a human. Likewise, hibernation is an adaptive (and automatic) mechanism in cold-blooded animals, not an active control mechanism. Also, in these "elevated" states, the monks are virtually incapable of accomplishing anything else - i.e. they are meditating, period. The situation you speak of, that is, breath control in some form while "living" your life, is a little different.(rb)

Whales and other marine mamals are concious breathers. This means they are never fully asleep, because part of their brain needs to remain awake so they'll remember to breathe (or they drown). I wouldn't mind having to conciously breathe so much if I could wait 30 minutes between breaths, and if my brain was otherwise adapted to it. –Emily






Weekly Survey Question #2:

If you could solve a currently standing unsolved problem in any field (computer science, mathematics, physics, medicine, etc.), what would it be and why? Try to keep the responses specific (e.g. passing the Turing Test) rather than general (e.g. achieving ideal Artificial Intelligence).




Responses:

P == NP or P != NP
– Leo

Especially if you could pick which one was true :-)


Immortality comes to mind, but that's probably too general. –Emily

Immortality, or control over the aging process? (MT)

Knowledge transfer from one biological vessel to another, be it
biological or digital.