In Between


How’s your in-between coming along?

Landmark in one of their advanced courses had a phrase on the white board:
and the conversation that went with it went something like:
“See that little dot, that is your life, the period between birth and death. What are you making of it?”
Ask myself that question most days.
Ask myself many questions most days!

Still searching for a high probability path of delivering the greatest possible security with the greatest possible freedom to every person (self aware entity – human and non-human, biological and non-biological).

And I keep taking such opportunities as seem appropriate.

And any finite period is as nothing compared to any infinity.
And we are not yet certain if we are actually dealing with any infinities, or just very large approximations.
Spent some time on the latest MIRI newsletter (Machine Intelligence Research Institute) over the last couple of days. What they are doing is interesting, yet I cannot help but think that they have it fundamentally inverted. Evolved intelligence is not about optimising utility functions; it is about the differential survival probabilities of the systems that have actually been instantiated.
To the degree that such systems can be thought of as having “utility functions”, then their approach has some utility, but the reality of evolution just seems to be one of largely randomly generated sets of variations either surviving or not in particular contexts.
That is a very different sort of thing.

Not many people in the AI community seem to have actually gotten the systemic depths of that distinction. The probability landscapes that result are very different.

And this dot I am living seems to be generating interest and diversity 😉

Posted in Laurie's blog | Tagged | Leave a comment

Quora – How to live healthier

What do you do to live healthier?
Moved here

When my doctor’s advice was “You have terminal melanoma, go home and get your affairs in order”, and I watched him write “palliative care only” on my file, then I was forced to do my own research and experimentation.

That was over 8 years ago.

I am strict vegan.

I have a heaped teaspoon of vitamin C dissolved in a glass of luke warm water twice a day (every day – no misses).
I have removed all added sugar and alcohol from my diet.
I get reasonable exercise.

Like many others advice, avoid stress, anger, resentment. Cultivate acceptance and appreciation to the greatest degree possible.

It’s all about removing impediments to immune system function.
Stress (fight or flight response) shuts down immune response.

Many things can be the rate limiting step to immune function, in most people it is vitamin C most of the time; and it can be many other things also.

I haven’t had a cold or flu since starting this regime.

And there are lots of things one needs to be conscious of, for vegans B12 and omega 3/6 ratio are the two main ones; but lots of other deficiencies in diet can be important to different people.

So there is a lot of “suck it and see”, as we are each different in many subtle yet important biochemical ways. See what works for you. Become as conscious as possible (a never ending journey) of how your body reacts to food and environments. Select those that work for you.

Posted in cancer, Longevity, understanding | Tagged , | Leave a comment

All things Great and Small

What are you grateful for?

Great ritual Laurie.

I am grateful for the miracle of existence.

As a biochemist and general systems geek the improbability of the existence of life in general and me in particular is something I am conscious of most days. In the face of all the many ways in which non existence is possible, we exist. That is something I am truly grateful for. Not grateful to anything or anyone for, just grateful for.

The numerical complexity of existence is something I contemplate often, and I just looked up from my keyboard, looked out over our deck, over the tree tops, across the bay to the snow capped 9,200ft Mt Manukau all sparkling in the first rays of morning sunlight, and the stark beauty of the experience of being is with me also.

Last week I spent 2 days (1 night) up in those mountains at the Hutton’s Shearwater colony at the head of the Kowhai river (went in and out via helicopter), and it was an awesome experience. We were burrowscoping to identify active burrows with eggs in them, mark them with stakes, so that we can go back in March and see how many have chicks. We marked 70 in the area above the research hut on the first day (another 57 in another colony about 1.5km further up the valley the next day). I woke shortly after midnight to the amazing sound of thousands of seabirds in the high mountains, got up and went out and just sat on a snow tussock in the middle of the colony for a couple of hours. I watched the birds flying overhead silhouetted against the stars, and felt others walking over my feet, oblivious to my existence as anything other than another bump in the landscape. It was just such an amazing experience, sitting up there listening to thousands of these birds flying in and out, and calling to each other, and thinking about their probable evolution. It seems very probable that their ancestors were nesting on the coast about 25 million years ago, when the Kaikoura orogeny started and the mountains started pushing skyward. They just kept going back to the same spot, but the spot was being pushed higher and higher, further from the ocean. So now they are a small seabird nesting in the high mountains. Amazing things.

So much of life seems to be like that, level upon level of amazing and unlikely events that somehow managed to work in the particular contexts that they did.

Such an amazing thing to be grateful for.

Posted in Laurie's blog | Tagged | Leave a comment

Toxic masculinity and the Patriarchy

In response to a post by Will on Toxic Masculinity and the Patriarchy

Completely agree with you that toxic masculinity needs to be removed where ever it can be.

And there are deep issues hiding in this idea.

It is dangerous to assume that all things are down to easily modifiable behaviour – some things are deeply buried in the biology of our neural networks and are very difficult to change.

Take the simple case of aggression.
The distributions for men and women are only slightly different. If you randomly select one woman and one man from a population, then on average 6 out of 10 times the man will be more aggressive, and 4 out of 10 the woman will. That may seem like a very small difference, and in the center of the distribution it is. The problem is that the people in prisons don’t tend to come from the center of the distribution, they tend to come from the tails of the distribution. And at the tail the small difference at the center is highly skewed, and of the 1% of most aggressive, it is 10 times more likely to be male. And worse is that the tendency to aggressive behaviour is strongly age correlated, so that it peaks at about 18-22 and declines rapidly by 30 for most individuals.

For those with a strong biochemical disposition to aggression, who have not had lifelong training to balance it, that can lead to the sorts of distributions we see.

Similar sets of distributions are seen for all the big 5 personality traits, and none of them are significantly linked to each other (so they are essentially independent).

There are certainly many aspects of our society that have significant patriarchal influence, and to the degree that we can accurately identify it, I agree that we need to counter it where-ever it actually exists.

And there are a lot of other factors at play also, and putting them all in the “Patriarchy” bucket doesn’t actually help anyone.

It is a seriously complex set of social issues – deeply involving the degrees to which any of us actually choose to take on the responsibility to modify such behaviours as we reasonably can in ourselves.

Having gone vegan as part of a suite of strategies to survive a terminal cancer diagnosis, I have some personal experience of just how difficult even a relative simple thing (like changing diet) can be. Changing much deeper and more powerful aspects of our behaviour (like aggression and compassion) are far more difficult, and require both the will to do it, and the social support to allow it to happen; and neither of those things are broadly possible in a market based social system that by definition values scarcity over abundance.

So one of the most fundamental aspects of addressing the deep issues in the distributions of “toxic masculinity” in both biological and social aspects, is changing our societal mode of value definition from market based scarcity to technological based abundance; and the devoting the vast amount of time and energy required to bring those at the extremes of the distributions who are creating significant risk to the life and reasonable liberty of others back to a distribution that does not pose such risk.

It is a seriously non-trivial set of issues.

It really doesn’t help to over simplify the nature of the problem (that just creates deep issues of injustice for those on the receiving end of those over-simplifications).

And at the higher end of social abstractions, and deep strategic frameworks; it is an extremely difficult process to gain any sort of significant confidence about exactly what it is one is dealing with, as there are thousands of reasonably possible candidate suites of strategies that all deliver similar outcomes.

A Seriously NON_TRIVIAL problem space.

Posted in Ideas | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Quora – what is the next advance in the scientific method?

Quora – What will be the next qualitative advance in the scientific method?

It seems very probable to me that the method is relatively complete, even if reality is sufficiently complex that people will be able to keep getting interesting results by using the scientific method even should we manage to live for the rest of eternity.

The scientific method is simple really – it is to question everything, then design experiments to test which of the available explanations best fit the data given by the experiments, then repeat.

And the world seems to be very complex.

Our best explanatory framework for physical reality (Quantum mechanics) deals fundamentally with probabilities. So one has to give up the classical notion of Truth that most of us start with, and end up with sets of explanations that deliver contextually useful probabilities (even if we are never entirely certain we are in an appropriate context 😉 ).

Exactly how we generate variants on ideas that seem to us to be likely enough to be useful enough to be worth the effort of testing is itself one of the more fascinating areas of inquiry – and the AI community is leading the way in many aspects at present. And it seems likely to remain as much art as science.

So I suspect that the scientific method will be with us for a very long time (as long as we manage to survive); even if the idea of knowledge that we gain from it is a very different sort of thing from the one we are taught in high school.

Posted in Ideas, understanding | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Cancer cure article reference

Ngaio sent me a link on facebook to this article, and asked – is this just a big tease?

to which I replied

It is sort of accurate.
We have known about several mechanisms for inducing apoptosis (cell suicide) for quite some time. The trick is to induce it only in the cells you want to get rid of, and not any of the nearby ones.
The original research is published here:

[followed by def just for scientists lol]

Hi Ngaio, yeah – I thought that might happen. I’ve been studying that sort of stuff since 1970, so it is familiar to me in ways that not many people get.

I just love the way that the chemistry of life seems to actually work.
It is not the sort of neat and tidy science that many think of, but rather a science based in quantum mechanics that is fundamentally messy and uncertain at several distinctly different levels; with everything influencing everything else, all at the same time; yet it manages to work.

As one delves deeply into the patterns present, one starts to get a feeling for just how profoundly complex even the simplest of life is, and at the same time, the principles present behind the systems are in a mathematical and logical sense relatively simple (even if appreciating that simplicity requires one to give up the classical idea of true and false as being anything more than simple approximations to something profoundly more complex and fundamentally uncertain).

So yeah, not a journey for those attached to the idea of “Truth” and certainty; one has to be able to get comfortable with the idea of eternal uncertainty; and be able to make do with contextually useful probabilities.
But I am a self confessed geek. Biochemistry and computers are two of the things that most fascinate me (along with living systems generally and people in particular) {systems upon systems upon systems …. – about 20 levels of sets of systems in every one of us}.


[followed by Ngaio asked – So, as a scientist do you have any thoughts of the concept of Wairuatanga?]

Hi Ngaio,

For me Wairuatanga is an attempt by some of our ancestors to make some sort of sense of the deep relatedness that exists between multiple levels of systems; but to do so in a context that lacks any sort of clear understanding about quantum uncertainty and relatedness; complex adaptive systems; molecular, cellular, systemic and cultural evolution; or the structure and function of the deep neural networks that characterise our ability to develop language and abstract concepts.

So for me, it contains many useful heuristics (shortcuts that work in practice), even as many of the ideas embodied in it are clearly not at all how things actually work at the micro level.
Thus it can be a useful approximation in a practical sense, even as it is far from useful in the more theoretical sense.

And for me, useful approximation is about as good as knowledge gets – ever – any level (reality does in fact seem to be that complex).

Posted in cancer, understanding | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Evolution Institute – Saving Social Constructivism

Saving Social Constructivism

Yes, this is deep and complex.

Yes we are dealing with deeply nested sets of complex adaptive systems (up to 20 and sometimes more levels).

The classical notion of “Truth” (that one can be absolutely certain of something) must be one of the first casualties, and it needs to be replaced with contextually relevant confidence. And in some contexts that confidence can be very high indeed, within 20 decimals of unity in the case of modern processors with regulated temperature and power supplies.

In some contexts, some systems can be very reliable indeed, in other contexts not so much.

Of course some things are socially constructed, but not all things.

Of course social construction has a role in our perceptions, but so do evolved biochemical and social constructs, and choice.

The issue is not with the claim that some things are socially constructed, that is obvious.
The issue is with the claim that all things are socially constructed, and that is not a simple claim to disprove, and I am satisfied that it has been disproved beyond any shadow of reasonable doubt.

So where does that leave us?

We are in a deeply dangerous border area, between scarcity and abundance.
We have a socially dominant valuation mechanism (markets) that are scarcity based and cannot give a positive value to the universal abundance of anything.
We have technologies capable of the delivery of universal abundance of a large and exponentially growing set of goods and services.

Most people are still firmly inside of the accepted social construct of money and markets, and cannot yet step beyond it to see the existential level dangers present.

And certainly, yes, markets do perform many levels of very complex and necessary risk management, including distributed cognition and distributed risk management and distributed governance. So developing effective transition strategies is a seriously non-trivial complex task; and it is one we need to complete in the next decade.

Posted in Philosophy, Politics, understanding | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment