Are we being controlled by something else?

Are we being controlled by something else?

[ 18/6/20 ]

What do you mean by “controlled”?

Of course we are influenced by many levels of “stuff” that most of us are only vaguely (if at all) aware of.

Many levels of those influences are essential for our survival.

We breath, mostly as required, mostly as a result of CO2 buildup. That allows us to get rid of the gases we don’t want (mostly CO2 but some others as well) and get more of the gases we need (mostly O2, and sometimes others as well).

We drink, as a response to thirst, which allows our bodies to maintain our body fluids at appropriate concentrations most of the time. We need to excrete a certain amount of urine to balance nitrogen in particular, and we also lose a certain amount of water from our lungs when breathing and from our skin when we get hot.

Lots of things are like that.

Many levels of social and cultural pattern are like that.

Many of them happen at higher levels, as social cues. We react to things we are not conscious of. We are attracted and repelled by things that we are not consciously aware of.

In today’s age of AI agents monitoring our likes and dislikes and feeding us more of what keeps our attention on a screen for longer, many of us are no longer getting a balance of information that allow us to make reasonably accurate models of what is happening. Our models are being influenced and biased to make someone else a few dollars.

Social media platforms are now driving people more and more into extremes, as many levels of subconscious bias that are necessary for us to make any sense of anything are being reinforced in an “unnatural way” that drives many people into belief structures and understandings that are a very long way from reasonable or balanced approximations to reality.

And we all need to accept that reality is sufficiently complex that any understanding we may have of it is necessarily incomplete and uncertain in many different ways.

And many of our modern systems are distorting our sense-making, and feeding us many different levels of false or inadequate information purely to make more money for someone in some context at some level – without any thought as to the long term dangers of doing so.

Sense-making is getting exponentially more difficult for most people.

Not all things are conspiracies, and there are many different levels of “agents” out there trying to achieve different objectives (which is in a sense what conspiracy is about).

Reality is far more complex than anyone can deal with consciously, so we must all use different levels of assumptions, simplifications, heuristics and habits to make our way in it.

The more aware we become of them, and the more we notice the many levels of systems that are attempting to influence us to behave in particular ways, the more choice we have in the ways we actually act in any particular context. And that can be a deeply recursive process, and nobody is capable of doing everything consciously, we are all far too complex for that, and reality is far too complex for that.

So yes – certainly – there are many levels of influence out there, and many sets of agents attempting to create influence at those levels; and the more aware we become of ourselves and others, the more freedom and choice we have. And all freedom comes with responsibilities, as all levels of complexity are based on levels of cooperation (real complexity, and real freedom, can only exist in cooperative contexts – the mathematics and logic of that are beyond any shadow of reasonable doubt). And even the simplest human capable of speech is an instance of very complex systems that are at least 15 levels deep, with thousands (and sometimes billions) of complex systems at each level. Just mind numbing complexity when you seriously look closely at it.

Most of what we recognise as simple in reality says more about our model of reality than it does about reality itself. Understanding something about how our many levels of subconscious process simplify down the complexity around us to deliver an experience of being that makes some sort of sense is a step in gaining awareness of the internal processes that “control” us at various levels. The levels of influences outside of us are now starting to compare in complexity to the levels within us.

It is fascinating, and it is new, and it has many dangers and many opportunities. And if we are to survive it, we must have systems that are fundamentally cooperative at base – that is beyond any shadow of reasonable doubt.

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What evolutionary advancements are taking place in the human species?

What evolutionary advancements are taking place in the human species?

[ 16/6/20 ]

As others have noted, evolution is not about advancement, it is about differential rates of survival in different contexts.

Right now, in terms of genetics, most people are surviving past reproductive age in the developed world, so the gene frequency changes are not being driven by differential death rates but by differential birth rates. I will leave you to follow that line of thought for yourself.

Genetic evolution is slow.

Mimetic evolution is far faster.

We have all seen in the last few weeks how a single well publicised event (a policeman killing a civilian by kneeling on their neck until they died) can cause mass change in social behaviour and attention.

That nobody present intervened demonstrates that human life has a very low value in American society today. It showed in practice that human life is way down the order of priorities for almost everyone, in practice, in reality, in real situations. Despite the USA claiming to have “life and liberty” as primary values – the evidence is clearly otherwise.

That level of cognitive dissonance is difficult for most people.

Under stress, we all resort to simple models, that is hard coded into our neuro-physiology by hundreds of millions of years of evolution.

So what is evolving rapidly if not genes?


What are memes?

Memes are to information and behaviour what genes are to atoms and bodies – units of transmissible and recombinable information.

For every level of complexity one sees in the complex of life in genes, from atoms through to ecosystems; one can see equivalent levels present in the world of memes.

As we can see on social media platforms like facebook, twitter, instagram etc, memes can move and recombine and replace others very quickly.

In many cases, people now have very little agency in control of their own behaviour, as most of the probability functions contributing to that behaviour have now been analysed and are being directed by AI algorithms with very simple outcomes they are targeted to achieve – time on site being the major one driving advertising revenue. So those algorithms have now analysed the biases of individuals sufficiently well to be able to curate material to them that will capture their attention and keep them on site.

The larger scale outcome of that is people are being driven to extremes by this incentive structure – it is removing the ability of groups to communicate with each other, as most people are now so far removed from reality that they are essentially living in virtual reality that they are sure and true and that everyone else is wrong.

Me – I live with uncertainty in everything, and some probabilities that are very reliable in most contexts.

So in this sense, the incentives of the market place are moving the mimetic structures towards irrecoverable failure modalities that unless more people start waking up and acting, threaten the survival of all of us.

In a very real sense, it is now memes driving the survival of genes.

Evolution is alive and well, and progressing at a pace that very few people have much idea of at all, and we are all at risk because of that fact.

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Tom again on understandings

[ 16/6/20 Tom again on facebook, in a thread I have been in for a bit, but I am separating this as a standalone]

Now you are simply generating insults.

I have been trying to explain some of the ways in which human brains tend to make sense of the world, and how they have evolved at different levels, and how those levels interact.

For the major purposes of this discussion, we need to consider two of the very different classes of things that seem (beyond any shadow of reasonable doubt) to be present:


A human being, any human being, is a finite entity, with finite computational ability, but with access to a vast array of infinities.

Any finite entity may only instantiate a very small subset of any infinity.


There seems to be an infinite array of classes and types of complexity.

David Snowden simplifies that down to 4 classes to make it workable for managers: Simple, Complicated, Complex and Chaotic.

Simple systems can have input and output classes specified, and all states in between characterised, and can be optimised by classical management methods.

Complicated system behave mostly like simple systems, but actually are more complex, and require the use of tuned neural networks to key people into useful pathways. Thus a doctor for example may use intuition to decide what is probably present, then follow a checklist to see if that is actually present.

Complex systems are always changing. Every time we interact with them, they do something subtly (or not so subtly) different. Our neural networks are so tuned to categorise, to identify known pattern, that we usually miss those subtle differences. Thus we all have a strong tendency to be trapped by our own distinctions from seeing other things that are also present. Often we can do this for a very long time (many people {most people} their entire lives) without noticing.

Chaotic systems have no pattern, by definition. There are many classes of them already well characterised. They are almost impossible for humans to notice, because our neural networks are so heavily biased to notice pattern that we see it even where it does not exist.

Most living systems exist in the class of complex systems. So does quite a bit of geology.

One interest law to come out of complexity theory is Goodhart’s Law – “Any observed statistical regularity will tend to collapse once pressure is put upon it for control purposes”.

Most people fail to appreciate this.
For most people, most contexts occur as simple.
For most people, the idea of laws, of rules that may be followed with invariant results, makes sense.

This is so because each and every one of us lives in an experiential reality that is a model of reality that is generated by the subconscious processes of our brains and wider bodies. We each live in our own personalised Virtual Realities within the wider “reality”. The mechanics of this are now very well characterised and beyond any shadow of reasonable doubt.

In the wider reality within we exist are many levels of “structure”, sets of incentives and dispositions, that have evolved and been generated at many different levels – some randomly, some intentionally, by many different levels of agency and non-agent systems.

We all exist in this milieu, and we all attempt to make what sense we can of it.

At base, quantum mechanics and a wide variety of other disciplines seem to be indicating that it is a balance between order and chaos – in one sense, randomness within probability functions.

At every level of structure, sets of boundaries are required for the survival of that order of structure, and at every level there exists fundamental uncertainty in those boundaries.

Even the simplest human being embodies at least 15 levels of such boundaries, and within each level many different classes of complex systems interacting (thousands of them at most levels).

That we can make any sense of it at all is close to miraculous, and is the result of a vast set of collections of hacks, heuristics and simplifications that have, over the deep time of our biological and cultural history, worked well enough for our ancestors to survive.

None of our ancestors lived in conditions remotely resembling the contexts that fully automated systems make available to us now.

Most particularly, automation breaks the systems of markets and trade that we have become dependent upon, in ways that are invisible to the heuristic that most people use to make what sense they do of the reality within which they find themselves.

The idea that anyone is “in control” of it all is itself a failure to understand the degrees of complexity actually present.

Anyone who thinks they are in control is, by definition, dangerously deluded.

What seems to be beyond any shadow of reasonable doubt is that we are all in this eternal “dance” with uncertainty and unknowability together.

When I read Rumi, it is through this lens that I find beauty in his words.
This lens was not available to him, he was using a vastly more simplistic model of reality to make his interpretations. To the degree that I am able, I attempt to compensate for that.

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Why do we need ethics and culture?

Why do we need ethics and culture?

[ 15/6/20 ]

For me, ethics is a subset of culture.

Ethics seems to me to be some evolved approximation to a set of prescriptions on activities that are either required to be performed or required to be avoided, for the survival of a cooperative society.

In that sense, the stories that we have about ideas like right and wrong seem to be narratives that keep the behaviours present and active in our societies. Those that actually work, long term, are the ones that have stood the test of time.

And we live in exponentially changing times.

We need to start to seriously appreciate that our security and freedom are optimized in cooperative contexts; but it only works if we all accept that we have social and ecological responsibilities, and their exact nature will always be uncertain, and require us to work at figuring them out (which has kind of looped back to ethics again – biology tends to do that, if you look into it deeply enough).

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Is humanity entering problems that no one has the ability to solve?

Is humanity entering problems that no one has the ability to solve?

[ 15/6/20 ]

Shaun Mootoo has most of it.

Most problems have solutions that can be approximated at least well enough to survive.

David Snowden does a great job of simplifying infinite complexity down to four classes – simple, complicated, complex and chaotic.

Simple and (to a reasonable degree) complicated problems can be solved using classical problem solving methods.

Solving anything in the class of complex systems demands an iterative approach, because whatever you do to the system, it will respond in unpredictable ways that you will need to adapt to. So plans have to change and adapt constantly.

The only thing one can do when in a chaotic system is attempt to get out of it. A random path is often the shortest.

As long as one is prepared to accept both of those last two classes of solutions as required, then anything is soluble – in a sense.

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Strata in society?

Quora – At which point in time did we have the most dramatic imbalance in culture and intelligence between the different strata of society? Is it growing bigger?

[ 15/6/20 ]

Strata is a marginally useful notion.

The discrepancy now between those with the least useful and those with the most useful models in any specific context is in most cases more than 10 orders of magnitude.

Anyone considering any sort of investment strategy should understand that they are going to lose eventually – the AIs are so much better than any human.

It is time for fundamental changes to the systems.

The information ecology is broken.

AI driven social media optimising feeds for attention (thence advertising revenue) are driving extremes ever further apart, and playing to the worst aspects of our natures (creating serious social risk for all).

Right now is seriously dangerous.

Money is no longer a good measure of value.

Institutions can no longer be trusted.

We are in a seriously complex and seriously dangerous time, which may yet become the greatest age of peace and security, or could go entirely the other way.

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Tom and Polarity again

[ 13/6/20 Tom’s Facebook page]

I understand that you are committed to your interpretation in a way that admits of few alternatives, and I’ll give it another try.

Consider an alternative interpretation of the same phenomena you observe.

Yes – there does appear to be polarity between groups like democrats and republicans, and that polarity can result from an over simplification of a complexity. The simplest model we can make of anything is a binary.
We can take any large collection, even any infinity, and divide it into two. Such a simple division is the simplest possible, and therefore the most likely to occur in any neural network.
Thus people using simple models tend to form polar groupings.
Consider that the space of possible geometries and constructs and relationships is infinitely larger than that, and that is the simplest possible one, and therefore one that can be seen everywhere if one takes the simplest possible interpretation (at whatever meta level one approaches any particular subject).

For me, the reality is very different.

For me, clearly, most things are in reality extremely complex, and what seems simple is so because of the necessity of our perceptual and computational systems simplifying them down to make them computationally accessible within the computational ability and time available.

Goodhart’s Law (from complexity theory) is well worth recursive contemplation in this context of dealing with complex systems – “Any observed statistical regularity will tend to collapse once pressure is put upon it for control purposes”. When you consider this in the context of our legal and cultural and conceptual systems, it becomes clear that all attempts to regulate and codify that we see expressed are a failure to comprehend complexity.

To get any sort of reasonable handle on complexity one must be willing to enter the dance with the system of constantly probing, assessing, responding, and part of the response must be developing new probes and new schema for interpretation of results. Only in this fashion may we successively refine our models and approximations and become successively less wrong.

And it seems clear to me that reality is sufficiently complex that any computational system attempting to model it (human or AI or AGI) will be essentially wrong in important aspects – eternally. Infinities have that unsettling characteristic.

The biggest trap we face is being too certain of our “answers”, because in that certainty we stop looking for alternatives, and if any infinity exists, then logic demands that alternatives exists. And the evidence I have indicates that it is very probable that an infinitude of infinities exist (and that idea can be a might disconcerting when anyone first gets a real handle on it).

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Sensemaking with Daniel

Daniel Schmachtenberger’s Facebook post

[ 12/6/20 Daniel linked to 2 videos – saying we must watch both:



Both demonstrate classic failure modalities in sensemaking.

Both oversimplify complex situations.

You cannot simplify a person down to good and evil, right and wrong.

We all contain multiple levels of complex motivations all the time.

What gets to express in any real situation is always the result of the superposition of thousands of different potentials, modulated through the perceived contexts (which are themselves deeply complex sets of discriminator functions and selected biases without which we could make no sense at all of the deep complexity that we are and within which we exist).

Trying to simplify any person or situation down to a binary – good/bad, right/wrong, good/evil, friend/foe – is a failure to comprehend the complexity present.

Understanding why people consistently do such things requires understanding the evolutionary drivers to produce rapid assessments of situations and the selection of a survivable response under stress. Understanding how and why our brains do that is important.

Understanding the evolutionary drivers behind the many levels of cultural constructs present in our complex society is important, and cannot be simplified down to binaries like true/false, good/bad.

Any response that contains such simple binaries is necessarily wrong, and is necessarily a failure modality.

Complexity and diversity demand of us that we accept infinities.

Infinities cannot be reduced to binaries.

Yet faced with the need to make rapid responses all human brains do in fact reduce complexity to simple binaries – it is a totally subconscious process, and it happens at every level of perception, model construction, and evaluation.

The systems that construct our experiential reality do it for us, without any conscious input on our part.

Urgency (and or stress) demand it of us.

It is hard coded into the physiology of brain – all levels of living systems – no other logical option available.

When we have social and political structures that attempt to reduce all complex constructs to good/bad or right/wrong – we are in a systemic failure trap.

When we have economic and political and religious incentive structures that force such failure modalities (by creating and maintaining stressful situations) we are in a failure trap.

The only way out is accepting that binaries are not applicable.

We may need to make rapid decisions from time to time, and we need to accept that in doing so in complex and novel contexts we are doing something that is a very close approximation to random (not “True”, not “Right”, just essentially random).

We need to avoid such situations if at all possible.

Random search has a valid place in any strategic environment, and that is a deeply complex topic.

One thing that comes out of all of this, beyond any trace of reasonable doubt, is that our existing social and economic systems are no longer reasonable heuristics in the context we find ourselves, and need to be fundamentally reformed. And that is a very deeply complex subject, that cannot be approached with binary notions (like right/wrong, good/bad).

The only approach that works in such complexity is an iterative one that demands of each and every one of us that we accept diversity and uncertainty, and in the face of knowing that we will make mistakes from time to time, we use all the powers of our complex brains to make our best guesses at what being accepting, loving and socially and ecologically responsible actually looks like to us – personally, irrespective of what anyone else thinks or believes. And that is always hard – as parts of our brains are tuned to social agreement with others.

Daniel does a great job of many aspects of approaching that complexity – and it is deeply more complex than anything I have heard him explicitly approach to date.

People under stress cannot hear such complexity.

Whatever is said or written will be reduced to a binary, and assessed as right/wrong, good/bad.

Those of us who are capable of altering systemic patterns must do so to create contexts that are as stress free as possible, if we are to get real systemic change.

And in doing so we must do so from a place of respect for individual life, individual liberty, and must reinforce the notions of social and ecological responsibility, and to the best of our abilities do so from a position that accepts that we are in a reality with at least 15 levels of complex adaptive systems, and sometimes 20+ levels; and that some of the communications may have 10+ levels of abstraction encoded within them.

And we cannot ignore the hard won lessons from history that are encoded in many levels of our biology and culture, and nor can we be entirely constrained by them. We must give them due respect and attention, while still being able to responsibly express our creativity.

Communicating even second order abstractions is extremely difficult and uncertain. Any beyond 3 is going to occur as essentially random noise to most.

Yet that is the reality of our present existence.

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Quora – Why do humans collaborate to the extent that they do?

[ 8/6/20 ]

Some aspects of the answer given here by others.

It seems clear to me that the answer is deeply complex and contains some genetic elements, some cultural elements, some logical elements and some strategic elements.

Part of it is that we have very long childhoods, in which we are not capable of surviving without help. Thus we must have strong social bonds for the species to survive.

Another aspect is that our species is defined by its use of technology. We trace human development through the fossil and archaeological record by the fragments of the tools and technological products that we leave behind. Most technologies work better in collaboration. One person can learn to do many things, but if you have to start a forge every time you want to repair something metal, then it will take much more time and effort and resources than if you have a forge running continuously and are doing many different jobs for many different people.

Another aspect is that there are many different classes of threat that can be most effectively combated through cooperative effort. And that comes with the twist that naive cooperation is always vulnerable to exploitation, and thus requires sets of attendant strategies to detect and remove and “cheating” strategies on the cooperative. And that can evolve in complex strategic ecosystems at every level.

Another aspect is that all new levels of complexity require a new level of cooperation to emerge, and because of the need to counter cheating strategies, that gets complex. We human beings seem to be the result of at least 15 levels of such complex adaptive cooperative systems.

The complexity of our language, culture and technology cannot be created by any single individual, and require fundamentally cooperative contexts to sustain them. Viewed from a systems perspective all moral systems can be seen as some approximation to a required set of boundary conditions for the survival of complex cultures. We are so technologically competent that all out competition is self terminating and must be avoided (a great danger from competitive market systems in the presence of automated technologies).

Another aspect is that freedom always finds its greatest expression in cooperative contexts. Looked at systemically, competitive contexts always tend to force systems to the lowest available space on the complexity landscape. This is the exact opposite of freedom. Cooperative systems allow the exploration of new “spaces” of complexity (which comes with both risks and benefits).

It is deeply more complex than this simple overview suggests, and it does point in some strategic directions that those interested in systems and strategy can follow if that is their interest.

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Facebook – The scientific way of thinking is the only one that can be real, convincing and without illusions

[ 8/6/20 ]

Slight correction.

Scientific thinking isn’t without illusions, it almost certainly contains many illusions, but it also contains mechanisms that should eventually identify those illusions and replace them with some model which is a closer approximation to reality and more accurately aligns with the datasets available.

Science seems to be a potentially infinite process of model refinement and developing more accurate and more useful models (and sometimes time constraints mean that more useful isn’t necessarily more accurate, but may contain heuristics that deliver more reliable results more quickly). Looked at from within an evolutionary context most of religion and philosophy makes sense from this “useful heuristic” based view of time critical decision making.

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