Quora – How do we continue to power a civilization without destroying it?

Quora – How do we continue to power a civilization without destroying it?

We are not short of energy – the sun delivers the equivalent of 15cm of oil over the entire planet every year.

The sun delivers all the energy we actually need.

The issue is the way we value things.

The idea of money is an idea measured in markets, it is value in exchange.

The sun’s energy is distributed, like the air we breath. There is no money or profit in things that are distributed and universally available. So by definition, there is no market incentive to move to solar energy, and huge market incentive to prevent such moves.

Sure, there are energy density issues with many existing battery technologies, and lots of other issues related to chemistry in use and fabrication at scale, and those could be solved relatively quickly if effort was directed that way.

And once again, the idea we have, of using money to direct effort, and using the incentives of the market (scarcity based value in exchange), does not incentivise the delivery of the sort of universal abundance that people actually need. There is no incentive to include factors in the design process unless those factors have a monetary impact.

So it is very complex.

We need to develop mechanisms that incentivise us to use the automated systems we can now produce to deliver an abundance of all the things that individuals reasonably need for security and reasonable degrees of freedom, at the same time as we cease all our negative impacts on the wider environment, and put in place effective mechanisms to preserve what biodiversity we have left.

And those are very complex systems, so by definition there can be no simple set of rules that can produce an outcome like that. Such a process will be an iterative one, of trying out things and seeing what works and what doesn’t and repeating, eternally.

So there are many parts to the answer:

1 is accepting that individual security and individual liberty are both maximised in cooperative environments (the mathematics and logic of that is beyond any reasonable doubt) – the myth that freedom is maximised in competitive markets is pure myth. And our current market economic system is very complex, and performs many functions that are complex and required, so it is not a simple matter of just stopping using money, it is much more complex and multi-leveled than that. And it is something we need to do, over time, in a safe manner (multiple safe to fail experiments). So we need to move to globally cooperative systems (not global control, global cooperation between many levels of diverse systems). Probably some sort of universal income required as a stage in the process.

2 we need to respect individual life and individual liberty universally, and individuals need to accept that liberty always comes with responsibilities – as all levels of system require boundaries if they are to survive, and we are very complex multi leveled systems, as are our cultures. Existence trumps freedom, so there are necessary but eternally uncertain and changing boundaries required for existence, hence necessary but uncertain and changing limits to freedom.

3 we need to develop fully automated systems that can meet the reasonable needs of all individuals, and the needs of the ecosystems that exist on the planet (not either or, both and).

4 we need to accept that real liberty results in real diversity, and can only exist in contexts where diversity is accepted. Provided entities respect the lives and liberties of others, then they must have the right to exist and to express their own liberty. Such diversity will be difficult for the more conservative among us.

5 we must accept that complex systems cannot be constrained by simple rules. Complex systems are always changing, and that reality comes with an eternal responsibility to respond to such changes. And the notion of responsibility itself evolves, as new levels of awareness and complexity emerge.

We need to accept that the simple models are not an appropriate response to complexity except in the most dire of circumstances.

Cooperation is always vulnerable to multiple levels of cheating strategies, and comes with a responsibility on all of us to make reasonable efforts to detect and remove cheating strategies (both internal and external – within ourselves first and foremost, and within others – always easiest to see such things in others, always much harder to see them in ourselves).

Not simple, and doable.

Let us do it!

[followed by – in response to Gaja Vasisht – civilisation and destruction 2 sides of the same coin.]

Not really.

Sure there seems to be a fundamental balance between order and chaos at the root of existence – we seem to live in a universe of unpredictability within probability functions.

And life seems to have existed for some 4 billion years on this planet (without disappearing), with new levels of complexity and order emerging from time to time (as new levels of cooperation stabilised), including us, and our civilisation(s).

And sure, there is no guarantee of life, and we can increase the probabilities substantially with a bit of serious directed effort.

There is no requirement for civilisation to go to chaos, and it is a definite possibility, particularly if the myth that competitive markets are good for freedom survives (as it is demonstrably the case in mathematics and logic that freedom is optimised in cooperative contexts, and minimised in competitive contexts).

So there is certainly a sense in which destruction is possible unless there is far greater awareness generally, and far greater individual responsibility generally. And there are some real indications that such is happening. So not all doom and gloom, actually quite a bit happening that contains real positive probabilities for life and liberty generally – provided that everyone accepts that liberty contains responsibilities and life demands some restraints on liberty.

Posted in Longevity, Our Future, understanding | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Quora – What do younger generations like Millennials think of climate change and their future, and the generations before them?

What do younger generations like Millennials think of climate change and their future, and the generations before them?

Younger people generally tend to have simpler models of the world around them, but those models often have different sets of assumptions at their bases from older people, and there is no way that any group thinks, all individuals think differently, so every group has a distribution of thoughts/models of reality; so there is some utility in the question, and the group think assumption behind it is a big part of the problem we currently have.

If we are to solve climate change and all the other serious issues that we currently have, then individuals must be willing to think for themselves, and to challenge the assumptions of the past (respectfully), to take independent action (in a manner that respects the lives and liberties of others, and the integrity of the ecosystems around us) and to be able to live with diversity.

Individuals must get as comfortable as they can with change (all levels).

What we see in society today, is a competitive scarcity based economic system driving people into new levels of anxiety, which decreases their ability to handle complexity, and thus tends to drive them back towards old models from cultural pasts.

What we need is a cooperative based system that meets the reasonable needs of everyone (everywhere on the planet) for both security and freedom, while respecting the complex boundaries necessary to maintain cultures, technologies and ecologies. We cannot get there by going backwards, as such a thing has not yet existed at scale.

We must go forward, we must do so with trust, we must do so with eyes open for the possibility of cheating strategies present (all levels, any concept set can be weaponised to distort sensemaking – so distributed trust networks, and a willingness to test things for oneself are essential components of stability), and we must do so in a fundamentally cooperative mindset, if we are to have any significant probability of having a place we would like our children (or their children….) to live in.

Competitive systems cannot deliver stability. The mathematics of that are beyond any shadow of reasonable doubt.

We are the most cooperative species on the planet, and we can certainly compete if the context demands it of us.

We are complex – each and every one of us, deeply more complex that most stories give any real indication of.

The technology to support global cooperation and global abundance of all reasonable necessities is relatively easy, we have all the automated systems we need, what we currently lack is sufficient levels of awareness generally.

Most people are still captured by some version of faith or loyalty or patriotism that has been turned from the virtue it can be if used in the service of all, to being a weapon in the service of some subgroup (essential a cancer on body of humanity).

The only real security for any of us exists in acknowledging that for all our many and cherished differences, we are all far more alike than we are different.

We all need to look deeply within ourselves for such things, there will be many levels of them hiding there. Awareness is the only reasonable response. The price of freedom is eternal vigilance.

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

Quora – Why do humans seek so much for division?

Quora – Why do humans seek so much for division?

The notion of truth divides.

All binary notions divide.

When one imposes a simple binary model onto a complex reality, it necessitates division.

If there is a range of temperature, from absolute zero to hotter than any instrument can sustain or measure, then dividing it into hot or cold is essentially arbitrary, and it will likely be influenced by various physical aspects of the thing making such a declaration.

We must all start our life with simple models of the world around us, we have no other logical option.

We must all use simple models when we have to make decisions in short time frames (ie when under stress).

Evolution didn’t have to deal with forms of stress like mortgages, market instability, nuclear weapons, bio-terrorism, etc. We now live in an age where media systems capture our attention with threats, that add to our stress levels, that reduce our ability to hold complex models of complex realities, so we end up simplifying them down to some version of right or wrong, good or bad, us or them; rather than accepting that reality is complex, we are the most complex things in reality, and we must all make an effort to respect and accept diversity, at the same time as we make the effort to identify and remove cheating strategies on the cooperative that is human society, and to accept the limits on freedom that are required for complexity to exist.

So it is not so much that we seek division, but much more that our biology and necessity tend to push each of us to over simplify things in order to make complex decisions in the time we have available; and that often gets the added complication of various groups exploiting various aspects of such systems for their own benefit at some scale. And that gets deeply complex very quickly (20 plus levels of complexity).

Not all hierarchies are power hierarchies, and power does exist and it can exploit. Nothing simple there.

All perception requires categories, and all categories become traps that tend to capture things that don’t quite belong, and blind us to the diversity present.

So division is something that is sometimes useful and necessary, and sometimes dangerous, and the more conscious and responsible we can each make ourselves about the multiple levels of complexity present in that, the better off we all are. And a big part of that is recognising the many levels of such tendencies that we all necessarily have, and being as conscious as possible about their expression in any particular context. The deeper one looks within, the more complex we are seen to be, and the more uncertainty and unknowability and randomness we see present (and necessarily so). It is not a comfortable journey, and it is a necessary one.

Our modern tendency to over-use things like texts and tweets, to insulating ourselves in social echo-chambers, to over simplification of extremely complex realities, is dangerous, and must be countered.

Our society absolutely requires trust, and it cannot be a naive trust, as that is too easily exploited. We must each be responsible at every level we can distinguish, and we must all do so imperfectly, so we must also have degrees of compassion and understanding and acceptance – which are in the deepest sense the best antidotes to division.

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

Quora – Many people are now aware of the ill effects of pollution, but still we are being told that our future is in danger. What are the reasons behind this?

Quora – Many people are now aware of the ill effects of pollution, but still we are being told that our future is in danger. What are the reasons behind this?

Arun Basu has part of the issue, and part is much deeper and more complex.

One major problem is the ideas we use to make sense of the world.

In some aspects these ideas are influenced by systems deeply distilled by genetic evolution over many millions of years, in the shape of the subsystems of our subconscious brains that deliver the experience we as conscious entities have, that are our experiential realities. One of the hard things for most people to get is that reality must be very much more complex than we experience it to be.

The more stressed we are, the simpler the reality our subconscious delivers.

Everyone has to deal with that, somehow.

Another aspect of it is cultural, the sorts of stories we learn, the things implicit in language and culture that are rarely (if ever) explicitly discussed or questioned.

Some cultural forms or sub forms have explicit mechanisms that prevent questioning of assumptions, these have names like faith, belief, trust, loyalty, patriotism, devotion that are prized in various cultures. Each of those things demands a suspension of questioning at some level, which is a suspension of freedom, and can be easily co-opted into some form of captured servitude at some level. And not everything about culture is capture or servitude, as all cultures are complex forms, and all levels of complexity have boundaries that are required to maintain structure. So there is an eternal and complex balance that we must each judge and maintain (to the best of our limited abilities) as to what is necessary for survival of all, and what is capture for the benefit of some minority – and there will always and necessarily be uncertainty at such boundaries, they are necessarily that complex and sometimes overlapping.

So there are two senses in this that impact on an answer to the question.

One sense is that for many people the older stories of culture prevent them appreciating the newer stories of the new forms of danger, and the old boundary systems that have given the old cultural forms structure through time actively prevent the sort of change that is required for the new ideas appropriate to our ever changing reality, to take hold. Such things are not all bad, and they do present levels of threat in new and deeply complex realities.

We must all start our personal growth in simple stories, there is no other logical option.

Some of us have been fortunate enough to have had no real limits on the things we have been allowed to question and explore. Such freedom is normally only granted to those who demonstrate a certain level of respect for the old ways, and acknowledge that such ways can carry many levels of deep and hard won lessons from history. So there has to be a sense in which all freedom is balanced by this sort of respect, of consideration of and exploration of potential depths in the older ways of being, even as we simultaneously explore new levels of complexity and possibility that are beyond anything history could possibly have encountered in the explicitly stated stories.

That segues into the idea of money as a measure of value, and the idea of markets as giving a useful proxy for human value more generally, and the many other levels at which money and markets impact us individually and collectively. Markets perform many levels of complex functions, but they have a problem that is becoming critical. All forms of market value have a scarcity component. When most things were genuinely scarce, this was entirely sensible, and did deliver a reasonable proxy of value. However, as the level of automation has increased, many things can now be produced in universal abundance, and that fundamentally breaks markets, as anything universally abundant has, by definition, zero market value. When the set of things universally abundant was basically just air, then it was not a major issue. But with the exponential advances in fully automated systems (which advances we absolutely require to address a range of threats that have no other solutions) then the market tendency to destroy or limit universal abundance to create market value sets up multiple levels of perverse incentives that pose existential level risk in the deep instabilities that they generate. This specific issue does directly impact on pollution, at multiple levels, and multiple systems at each level.

So a lot of the pollution we see is a result of the very idea of markets and the value they measure (aka money), and money has been a very important part of our past, but now poses high risk (something many people find very difficult to see).

A lot of pollution is due to old cultural practices that worked well at low density, but impose exponentially increasing risk as density increases.

So solving the pollution problem is deeply more complex and challenging than simply saying that pollution is a problem, it requires deep changes to social structures at many levels that will be deeply disturbing to many people who have been deeply trained to be limited by notions like faith and belief and truth.

It is always deeply disturbing at multiple levels to leave behind “truth” for the eternal uncertainty of science, and there can be multiple levels of structures that resist such transitions (both within us and around us).
It is a very complex problem, and one that we must all accept responsibility for addressing, to the best of our (necessarily) limited abilities.

Posted in Our Future, understanding | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Quora – What are the prominent milestones that have led to the understanding of biological evolution?

What are the prominent milestones that have led to the understanding of biological evolution?

That is really complex.

Yes Charles Lyell published “Principles of Geology” in 1830 (but it was based on ideas in Jame’s Huttons 1788 work “Theory of the Earth”, and of course that process goes back millennia, as people thought about what they saw and made up stories about it, and those stories mixed and mingled).

Charles was undoubtedly influenced by the idea of evolution championed by his grandfather Erasmus.

One can go back to Plato and Aristotle, and they too had their predecessors.

Darwin had read Lyell before doing his trip on the Beagle (1831-36), which lead him to start writing and eventually publish (1859) “On the Origin of Species”.

And of course there were problems, as Kelvin had reasoned that the Earth could not be older than the sun, and had calculated that the sun if sustained by burning something like coal could not be more than 10,000 years old (not long enough), and if sustained by gravitational energy could still only be less than 100 million years old (based on earlier work by Helmholtz and others).

In 1903 Wilson announced to the Astronomical world that the Curies’ work delivered a mechanism for a heat source that allowed for a much older sun and earth.

Later (1946) Hoyle would refine the idea and provide a mechanism by which all matter heavier than lithium was created by stellar nucleosynthesis.

And of course there were many other threads to the story of a modern understanding of evolution.

Mathematics and logic are fundamental to building complex models of anything, and the story of their development is long, going back millennia, and exponentially increasing in complexity as time progressed.

Einstein relied on Hilbert, who relied on Riemann, ……

Quantum mechanics is fundamental to understanding molecular biology, and it is founded in probability, which goes back to Bayes and beyond.

Thousands of people have made contributions to a modern understanding of mathematics in all its many forms, all of which are fundamental to a modern understanding of biology, which is a system of recursive complex systems with many aspects of mathematics that contain many different types of fundamental uncertainties.

Mendel’s (1850s+) work on heredity pointed towards some binary mechanism at the heart of life.

Watson and Crick used the work of Rosalind Franklin, and she was part of Wilkins’ team, and all of their work was built on the work of others, and one cannot leave Linus Pauling out of any discussion of a modern understanding of the chemistry of life.

It takes thousands of hours of immersion in mathematics, nature, contemplation, history, independent thought, practical experimentation, practical systems development, and vast amounts of reading, to begin to get an appreciation of the depth and complexity of biological evolution. It involves physics, chemistry, mathematics, cosmology, … and demands that one accept fundamental and eternal uncertainty.

It has the fundamentally unsettling characteristic of forever exposing that the more one learns, the more one learns there is to learn, and the less certain one becomes about many of the things one once accepted as foundational truths. It is nothing at all like one expects as a child when one starts out on the journey. It is deeply, more complex, unknowable and uncertain than that.

And of course, one does pick up some useful heuristics along the way that can be very handy in some contexts.

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

Quora – Is diversity our greatest strength?

Quora – Is diversity our greatest strength?

Redirect – Is diversity our greatest strength?

If the fundamental social/philosophical context is cooperative – then yes.

If the fundamental social context is competitive (eg founded in market based economics) – then no.

Games theory is actually quite clear. Competitive contexts always drive systems to some set of minima on the available “complexity landscape” – translated into practice, that means minimising diversity.

Only in cooperative contexts is diversity free to expand – which translated into another way of looking at it means, that only in fundamentally cooperative contexts can there be any real freedom (freedom to explore new domains) generally.

Competitive contexts will, in practice, reduce the options available to most to some minimal set.

The idea currently dominant in many circles, that free markets are the bastion of individual liberty is actually wrong. About as wrong as any idea can possibly be.

And it is deeply complex, there is no gross simplification that actually gives reliable answers.

There is a very real sense in which diversity is required for our long term survival, and in which market based incentives are now posing direct long term threat in the many ways that they are tending to restrict such diversity.

And that too is deeply complex, as there must always be real limits on freedom if it is to survive in reality; and exactly where those limits lie is an eternally changing and uncertain function – all simple approximations will necessarily be wrong in essential and important ways.

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

Quora – Can one person really make a difference in climate change?

Can one person really make a difference in climate change?

Every person makes a difference in climate change, but most are completely unaware of how much.

Climate has gone through many changes in the past, some of them significant enough to take out all complex life on land.

How much humans will alter the “natural” changes is an open question, and it is definitely significant on current trends.

I strongly suspect that if we manage to establish a form of global cooperation that is not global control, but is real cooperation, with real respect for individual life and individual liberty, real acceptance of diversity and error, then we will be able to manage the climate to within reasonable limits that prevent the worst of disasters, and keep sea level stable. The technology to do that is relatively easy, but the social consequences of using such technology in a competitive context are very high risk.

There is the possibility of ideas spreading that move us towards this sort of high level cooperative context.

Every individual that picks up, and makes a conscious effort to hold and spread such ideas, makes a difference, in ways that many have no real ability to appreciate in detail, yet they do make a real difference in reality. Reality seems to have that attribute, and every single human being is far more complex than any human being can possibly appreciate in detail; yet many are “captured” by relatively simple behavioural structures in many common contexts.

And there are very real tipping points, where all those seemingly tiny and insignificant changes do actually create major systemic change. And often they are very difficult to see, right up to the point that change happens.

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