March 9th, 2006


Letters to the Editor

Not me, of course, but someone in The Independent, making the most sense I've heard from anyone recently on the subject of Energy.

The debate on energy policy needs to be conducted by people who are much better informed than the "the wind doesn't blow all the time you know" bores such as Dominic Lawson ("The answer is not blowing in the wind", 7 March).

Even the Government seems to be pursuing the matter as if God had hidden a holy grail full of cost-free energy somewhere and all we had to do was find it. Every time a source of energy turns out not to be "the Answer", it is rejected and the search for the Holy Answer resumed. The real answer is a proper policy, one that takes into account everything, takes from each the best of what it can offer, accepts that each is bound to have a price of some kind, and puts the lot together into an integrated, joined up, balanced, co-ordinated, whole.

The recipe will almost certainly include: some onshore wind, some offshore wind, some bio-mass, some geothermal, some large-scale hydro, some small-scale hydro, some tidal barrages, some wave power, some photo-galvanic, maybe some nuclear; and carbon sequestration, if it can be made to work. There are more. There will also be a lot of energy efficiency, a big reduction in energy-greedy activity and a complete stop to all those plain daft things, like carting lorry loads of bottled water around the country and heating patios.

If we go on rejecting each and every one of these because it has a downside: offends someone's taste, alters a habitat, or simply because it isn't the whole Answer, we are morons. What does not have a cost? What is ever the whole answer? There is a very, very serious, totally appalling, crisis looming. All this bar-room pontificating by Nimby know-nothings isn't going to solve it.



Andy's Theory of Mind in 6 easy steps

Being, for the most part, stuff what came up in conversation with Ed, who is halfway through "The Mind Made Flesh: Frontiers of Psychology and Evolution".  Which brought up questions about different levels of intelligence.  Most of this is just based on stuff I've picked up over the years, but I was explaining what I thought to Ed, and so thought I'd jot it down.

1) Pure chemical reaction - No processing whatsoever, just mechanical action/reaction.
2) Simple brain reactions - complex reactions with no real memory, but the ability to produce different reactions to more complex (but still simple) situations.  No central nervous system (and therefore no brain).  Still a basically action/reaction system, but more complex. 
3) Learning.  Even without a central nervous system a simple neural net can self-tune from simple pain/reward stimuli.
4) Memory.  With the development of a central nervous system/brain it becomes possible to store information over a long period.  This may still not be conscious, but just a more complex form of action/reaction, allowing more efficient tuning of these reactions. 
5) Modelling.  With a central nervous system/brain the creation of internal models is possible, and these can be built on and retained over time.  This can vary from the very simple (This is food, this is not) upwards to models of how other people 'work'. 
6) Self-Modelling.  When the stage is reached of building models of other people, an understanding of self-as-object is possible, and true self-awareness occurs.  Complex plans involving other people's reactions to our reactions to other people (and so on) become feasible.  An understanding of subjectivity and how our nature affects all of the above is possible.

Placing what goes where on this chart is the tricky part.  Plants and microbes are stage 1.  Jellyfish/Worms are stage 2-3.  Insects have definitely hit stage 4, but I don't know if the smarter ones have hit stage 5 or not.  Mammals are definitely stage 5, but some primates (at least) are also capable of the basic bits of stage 6 (although there are still people out there that put them at stage 4 (which I consider insane, and evidence that they haven't spent much time around them).  People are stage 6, but it frequently seems to me that people mostly spend time at stage 5, only occasionally really aware of themselves.

Still thinking about lots of this, obviously, and any reading you can throw in my directin will be appreciated (if read rather slowly)