Newsletter #7 - 'What Are We?'

Hi again! Fantasy/Sci-Fi/Horror author Paul James Keyes, back with another newsletter!

Last time I depressed everybody with a grim look at what AI could mean for our future. [LINK TO NEWSLETTER 6 - AI COMETH] Today, I thought I would be fun to do something a little more cerebral by playing a little game I just made up called ‘define its nature’ where I use logic and scientific knowledge to define the nature of a term you only thought you understood. Let’s start with a big one. The question that I will be analyzing is ‘What are we?’

Other ways of asking this could be ‘What are humans?’ ‘What is life?’ or ‘What is mankind?’. There are nuances here depending on how this question is asked. The questions will get refined along with the definition as we go. This one is different than ‘what is the meaning of life?’ which I believe to be a mostly subjective question. What I propose to answer is ‘What exactly are we?’.

Stick with me here. Now obviously we are beings of matter, which is just compressed energy. Everything is energy. That is about as deep as most people get when thinking about the nature of life. The mistake here is one of definition. Defining what matter is is NOT the same as defining what we are. Don’t get me wrong, realizing matter is energy was a great revelation when Einstein made his famous equation E (energy) = MC^2 (mass multiplied by the speed of light squared). Yes, I know this is boring to non-physics nerds, but it really was a revolutionary discovery—equating energy and mass.

When trying to define what we are there are several logical approaches. You can take the broad approach of defining us as a group i.e. ‘humanity’, or the narrow approach of defining who we are as individual meat structures. I think both are important to any further discussion of the nature of man and mankind.

I would argue that a human is more than just a structure of cells with a stupid look on its face. A human is made up of cells of course, which is matter, which is energy, but we also have literal energy shooting around inside of us. Our neurons pass charges around the brain. We can see an image of this when people receive brain scans. The brain has trillions of connections, making it the most complicated natural system known to mankind (fun fact: the human immune system is the 2nd most complicated system known to mankind. Pretty crazy that out of everything we know about in the whole universe, the two most complex systems are both inside of us—and I don’t even know what #3 is yet, probably another animal’s brain?).

Okay, so we are a physical meat structure made up of matter, combined with a constantly transforming energy structure some might even call science’s equivalent of a soul. If one day we could accurately replicate the electrical structure, it could be like Altered Carbon where your mind is copied into a digital state in which we transcend death—but that’s a whole other discussion for another time.

I don’t think we’ve gone deep enough. There is something more to people. People do not exist separately from the history of humanity. It is what led to our births. Humanity (and more broadly, life in general), like erosion or evaporation, is a natural system. Our cells duplicate; life passes along copies of itself to future generations; new DNA sequences combine at random, the efficient usually survive—the right answer is the one that survives to make more copies. It’s a single step of evolution on an individual scale. Our brains are a byproduct of this evolution of life, so accurately, one could say we are the physical manifestation of the algorithm that all life follows in order to exist—a forever (hopefully) chain of tumbling dominoes of duplication, one cell to the next, one generation to the next.

But we are more than that still! We are other algorithms as well. Our brains make decisions based off of stimuli it takes in from our senses. All of our decisions and the inner workings of our brains are governed by reinforcement learning. It’s physics and math and follows an algorithm. Truly, we learn in a manner that is very similar to how modern AI learns. You experience something, build connotations about the outcomes and make future decisions based off of what you perceive to be the best move.  This may seem metaphysical, but it could be argued that we are the weights behind our learning algorithm. That’s not just our personality, but the culmination of all the experiences that mold us.

It sort of comes down to semantics, but I will define who you are at the beginning of your life as different than who you end up as by the end of it.  Every cross section of you across time is made up of different cells, different energy, as well as the ever evolving algorithm of your mind and decision making.  Really, you are all of it, just at different times.

So now, to put it all together: We are meat structures with storms of energy inside of us who transcend time as a natural system that is constantly changing and evolving. And we’re all just trying to survive.

That being said… A friend from high school killed himself recently. I know I buried the lead on this one. I guess I’ve just been grappling with a few things. It’s times like this that I tend to look inward. Lofty questions like ‘what are we?’ are a comfort to me as I dig deeper into the interconnectedness of the universe. I’ve always had a scientific mind, and as a non-religious person trying to understand my place in the universe, it has to be enough that we exist in the here and now. That’s all we have.

I mean, really. Everything that lives will one day die, and it is only the beauty of our existence that we leave behind that gives any of it any meaning beyond the momentary fancies of our senses. He left behind his wife and three young children. I can’t even imagine what he was grappling with. If you or anyone you know is having suicidal thoughts, I beg you, please seek help and have someone get rid of any quick ways out. The emergency number in the US is 988, and the non-emergency number, which goes to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 800-273-TALK (8255).

Damn, I hadn’t planned on writing any of that originally, but I needed to get it out. I don’t want to be the depressing newsletter guy, but sometimes life throws you terrible curveballs and all we can do is go on living the best way we know how.

Thank you for being here with me, and as always, stay safe.

Freebie: Into the Beyond - Part 1: Fated - A Fantasy Horror Series


Newsletter #6 - AI Cometh

Hey, everyone! Fantasy/Sci-Fi/Horror author Paul James Keyes here with another newsletter!

Last time we got into the “song” of a molecule and how scientists can broadcast a drug into your mind. [LINK TO NEWSLETTER 5 - THE ‘SONG’ OF A DRUG] This time I thought it would be fun to talk about the fast pace of the advancement of AI technology and how it is changing humanity and our workflows.

My novels; covers created with aid of Dalle-2 and photoshop.

AI has been popping up all over the place this year, faster than ever before. If you haven’t been paying attention, it’s probably starting to get difficult to avoid with the new chatGPT and AI generated profile pictures all over the place. I know I’ve seen a few CGI versions of friends that looked pretty nifty going around on Facebook recently.

As a writer, I have NOT used AI to generate any of the words in my books, but I have used it to aid me in creating cover art image ideas that I worked over further by hand in photoshop. I am sure we will start to see people writing whole books with AI doing 99% of the work load pretty soon. In the future, it may be hard to find a book written by a human, and as sad as that is, we probably won’t be able to tell the difference between an AI story and one written by a human writer anyway by that point.

Hopefully you all will still be fans of this mere human writer when the AI overlords are running all our systems. 

And why shouldn’t AI run everything? Obviously we need to trust the governance of our systems, but AI will be more efficient than humans at basically everything with little to no exception as time goes by. There is absolutely nothing to stop AI and automation from taking over 999/1000 human jobs within a few decades. Humanoid robots like the movie I, Robot are probably in our future (Tesla is trying to develop one right now). Labor will be a thing of the past, and so will most jobs once enough androids are running around.

You don’t see people welding individual car doors these days—a robot arm does that. One technician watches all the machines work and maintains the workforce (well maybe not just one, but you get the point). Humans are becoming obsolete with every passing year. The trouble with this is that our capitalist system doesn’t care to pay the workers whose jobs were displaced by machines. This has always been the case. With automation, everyone is forced into a larger labor pool with fewer and fewer opportunities. The work required to run society is quickly dwindling, while expenses seem only to grow.

In the not-so-distant future robots will be able to take care of us, but we probably won’t be able to afford the Apple and Tesla bots because we will have already lost our jobs to them. A possibly bleak future is on the horizon if we can’t figure out how to make laws that force corporations and the rich into supporting human society. Our labor is trending towards becoming meaningless when compared to the power of AI and automation. There are only so many service jobs to go around. Eventually, the humans that can afford to eat will do so because of a basic universal income, and the rest will starve. That is what capitalism is heading towards without legal restraints, and it is unsustainable.

I’m not sure who the corporations think will buy their products once humanity is too poor to feed ourselves, but I have a sneaking suspicion that companies not providing basic necessities will be the first to go out of business, like dominoes falling until we are all slaves to the remaining companies that provide as little as they can get away with, while funneling their profits to the top .1%. There’s a reason Bill Gates is invested heavily in farmland.

This isn’t about politics, it’s class warfare, only the lower classes doesn’t even realize they are supposed to be fighting back. I did say it was a bleak outlook, right? As an economist, governments poor handling of finances along with corporations abilities to get away with anything is a concerning combo that doesn’t bode well for our future.

Will governments step in and save the people when unemployment and under employment rates skyrocket? I hope so, but I’m not holding my breath. So far, the homeless population has only grown while prosperity seems to be reserved for fewer and fewer individuals at the top of the food chain.

Isn’t AI fun?! Well, at least it helped me make better book covers. The technology lowered the cost of entry for publishing a quality book. I no longer have to rely on any other artist but myself, which I appreciate as a recluse, frantically typing away on my laptop about the end of civilization as we know it. I guess there is a reason I was drawn to create a post-apocalyptic world in my novels.

Until next time, stay safe out there!

Freebie: Into the Beyond - Part 1: Fated - A Fantasy Horror Series


Newsletter #5 - The 'Song' of a Drug

Hi, folks! It’s Fantasy/Sci-Fi/Horror  author Paul James Keyes with another newsletter!

Last time we talked about Avatar: The Way of Water, and how sad it is that it’s apparently easier for people to relate to blue aliens than to actual Native Americans. [LINK TO NEWSLETTER 4 - A CRITICAL LOOK AT AVATAR: THE WAY OF WATER] Today, I thought I’d bring you some info about a new technology that absolutely blew my mind. So you’ve heard of A song of ice and fire… but how about the song of a molecule?

I recently read about a new longevity technology being developed by a US startup company called EMulate Therapeutics that I found exceedingly fascinating. They use an extremely powerful microscope in shielded conditions to observe the unique magnetic field of a molecule, drug or RNA sequence and then record it in a wav format, like a song. They then play the “song” of the molecule back to the brain, using technology that can target precise locations and penetrate the blood-brain barrier.

What they discovered was that the brain responds to the sound of drugs as if they were present. It turns out, when molecules interact (dock with one another) information (energy) is passed between cells in the form of magnetic resonance that can be duplicated by a simple wav file. The energy transfer can be done without the physical presence of the drug, and so, like something out of science fiction, scientists have been able to trick the mind into different states with the power of sound.

It’s absolutely wild to think about! The effects have been shown to wear off quickly when the acoustic device is removed, allowing people to stop a treatment almost instantly if they start to experience side effects. For example, the sound of fentanyl was shown to provide pain relief, and the effects wore off within 15-20 minutes of removing the acoustic device. Supposedly, this should help cull the cases of addiction.

Not only does this new tech allow the sound of any molecule or drug to be played to any part of the brain across the blood-brain barrier, but the sound can be broadcast in either targeted or broad areas to elicit different effects. Another absolutely crazy part of this tech is that the sound of RNA can cause genes to either be suppressed or expressed, again either in targeted locations or more broadly depending on the programming of the acoustic device.

Another interesting part of this is that by not having a physical molecule present, there is no actual docking. A lot of messiness is removed by the lack of molecules building up in the system.

Just imagine that, a world where any drug can be delivered with a sound wave, directly and instantly to the brain. The company is currently looking into cancer treatments, pain management, and beyond, including longevity treatments.

Here’s a link to the article:

I can’t wait to see what they do with this one! Kinda scary to think people will be able to express other people’s genes with targeted sound waves, though. We really are living in a sci-fi world!

Until next time, stay safe out there!

Freebie: Into the Beyond - Part 1: Fated - A Fantasy Horror Series



Wrought by Fire
Ashen Sky
Howls on the Wind
Into the Beyond - Part 1: Fated
Into the Beyond - Part 2: Far From Human
Into the Beyond - Part 3: Fires of Heaven

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