Hutton’s Shearwater

A facebook post from Kaikoura Notice board 22nd March 2018

Fledging season for Kaikoura’s endangered Hutton’s shearwater/titi

For most of those birds crash landing, it is their first flight, ever.

They spend about 3 months in a dark burrow underground, being fed every day or two by a parent returning, but otherwise alone in a deep hole. (The parents can fly half way to the Chathams and back to find food, or as far south as Timaru, and bring back 50g of food to their chick.) The chicks get fat.
Then the parents stop coming.
The chicks get hungry.
They get lighter.
After a few days or weeks the urge to find food overpowers the security of their burrow.
They emerge, at night, flap their wings for a few hours, then take flight.

On their first flight, they either find the ocean, or they die.
Most make it.

They have never seen rivers, trees, roads, ocean.
They can’t see the ocean.
Often they are taking off in thick cloud and they can’t even see the mountains.
They are driven entirely by instinct.
Some sort of feeling that they need to go “that way”.

There is nothing in their instincts to prepare them for roads or street lights or cars or people.

Is it any wonder they crash and appear confused.

Anything we can do to help – to get them to the ocean where their instincts have prepared them to survive – helps.

60 years ago there were 10 wild colonies known, now there are only 2 remaining.

There isn’t another bird like them on the planet, that nests in the high mountains but feeds up to 30m underwater in the ocean.

They are seriously unusual animals.

They are born only here in Kaikoura.

A week after their first flight as chicks, they fly off to western Australia for the winter.

They are stroppy little things. They might take a bit of skin off with their sharp beaks if you are not wearing gloves, but I have lost lots of skin to them, the skin has healed and I’m still here.

I kind of like their attitude to life, a mix of exploratory, self sufficient, cooperative and ready to defend if required,

Every one we keep alive helps to keep these amazing birds around.

Keep your eyes open, if you are out at night and it is damp, then over the next couple of weeks you will probably see some, particularly over the next 2 nights.

FledgingSeason pdf version.

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Scientific attitude

It seems to me that even more than what you are researching, it depends upon what you think the scientific attitude is.

To me, the scientific attitude is one of eternal questioning, and eternal reliance on the evidence of experience to determine which of the candidate explanations available seems to meet all the available evidence within the uncertainties present in the experimental systems.

As such, the scientific attitude has two major foci:
1 understanding ourselves, our systems, the biases present within us, and finding effective tools to mitigate the effects of those biases; and
2 developing useful understandings of the rest of this reality within which we find ourselves.

Both seem to be potentially infinite paths.

The old Zen Buddhist saying that goes roughly like – for the master, on a path worth traveling, for every step on the path, the path grows two steps longer – is a great description of the necessary consequence of exploring any infinity, let alone an infinite nest of infinities.

And on this path, we must all start with the defaults delivered by biology and culture, and we must all be responsible for the paths we choose from that start. All such starts have many sets of simplistic heuristics that worked over some sets of times for our ancestors. That fact contains 3 major sets of risks:
1/ the risk that the simple understandings that were close enough for the past, may not be close enough for the present or future. So we must abandon all notions of Truth, and adopt probabilistic interpretations in all things.
2/ the risk that we underestimate the complexity and utility of lessons from our deep past encoded in our biology and culture, and in so doing dismantle something that has existential level value built in. A degree of humility is demanded.
3/ the risk that discovering something new that invalidates some aspect of our older systems then blinds us to other aspects of what is present.

And in doing modern science, we must be willing to question everything, and it pays to show respect when asking such questions. Both as individuals and as cultures, we are deeply complex, far more so than any individual human is capable of understanding in detail.

The science is now clear, that we never have direct access to reality. All of our perceptions are of a subconsciously generated model of reality, never of reality directly. Thus any understanding we may form is already a map of a map in a very real sense.

So there is a lot to gaining and maintaining a scientific attitude:
keeping a sense of childish wonder;
retaining uncertainty even when we are very confident;
being alert for the subconscious intuitions from our neural networks that all might not be as it seems;
being prepared to question the things that have served us best, if there is evidence that such questioning might be required;
being prepared to be a lone voice against the consensus if the evidence is that strong to us personally;
actively searching for sources of bias and uncertainty at every level of process and comprehension.

Having a scientific attitude is not necessarily a socially comfortable thing.

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Quora – Natural Selection – Altruism

Is natural selection more than fitness? Is there truly altruism due to the similarity of a species’ genes?

Natural selection is simple in a sense, and it can rapidly get profoundly complex.

Natural selection is about the differential survival of variants of replicators in different contexts.

It tends to primarily work at the level of individual replicator, but can also work at the level of populations of replicators. Which effects dominate depend on the specifics of the context.

In one sense, evolution is always a context sensitive balance between order and chaos. Too much order, means not enough variation to survive the changes in context that inevitably happen from time to time. Too much chaos, and the necessary boundaries required to sustain the levels of complexity present fail, and the system dies.

At another level, there is a tension between competition and cooperation. If the threat to individuals comes largely from other things like self, then competitive strategies tend to dominate, and the system as a whole is driven to some set of local minima on the complexity landscape. If the threats are largely from factors outside of the population and there is something that can be done to mitigate them, then cooperative modalities can emerge, and be stabilised with attendant strategies to detect and remove “cheats”.

Rarely is any real environment all one or the other all the time, so real organisms tend to embody both sets of strategies at many different levels, and have some set of heuristic triggers that works well enough for the population to survive.

It seems that all new levels of complexity result from new levels of cooperative strategy.

It seems that in our evolutionary history many levels of cooperation have emerged. RNA molecules to allow for protein synthesis. Then RNA, DNA and proteins to form lipids and sugars and cells. Then groups of prokaryote cells to form eukaryote cells, then groups of cells to form bodies, then complex organs within bodies, then populations.

Anything with a brain sufficiently complex to learn behaviours and identify individuals then provided and environment for the emergence of a new level of replicators – memes.

In our cultural evolution memes seem to have gone through many levels of complex cooperative systems to produce most of what we know as culture and science and art.

It seems that any level of boundary that can deliver survival advantage to the group it defines, can be an agent in the multi-leveled process of evolution. And usually one level tends to dominate all others, and not always. Sometimes the situations are profoundly complex.

So there can certainly be genetic tendencies towards altruism in some organisms that express in some contexts, and there can be cultural tendencies towards altruism that can act in concert with the genetic, or can be entirely separate. And all of those tendencies will be the survival of something at one level, that appears to be altruistic at another level of being.

As human beings we are the most complex and cooperative entities we know of. And most of us can compete or punish cheats if the context demands it of us.

We seem to have the option of using technology to take this ability to cooperate to a whole new level, and our current reliance on markets to measure value seems to be the single greatest barrier to the emergence to such cooperation, as anything universally abundant has no value in a market.

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June 3-10 ’18 ~QofDay~ Purpose

Thanks Shar – a really great collection of images and thoughts to start with.
Thanks Mendy Lou for the question and your response.

For me, this is one of the deepest questions possible.

For about 7 months I have been in an enquiry with Trick Slattery – author of a book “Breaking the Free Will Illusion”, who denies the existence of freedom.   I find it deeply comical in a sense, yet he is serious, and there are many others like him, but with variations.

To me, it seems very probable that this universe we find ourselves in is at every level in a fundamental balance between order and randomness (I want to use the word chaos, but it has an ordinary meaning that is disorder, and a technical meaning that is unpredictable order – which is not quite the same thing).

It seems to me that every level of life is some sort of replicator, with some sort of contextually sensitive balance between order and novelty (disorder) present.   That balance seems essential to survival at every level.   Too much order, and there is insufficient variation to survive the changes that inevitably happen.   Too much chaos and the boundaries required to sustain the levels of complexity present cannot survive.

Life at every level seems to be an exploration of boundary regions, and changes in the nature of the context present can mean huge changes in where survival is optimised within that broader boundary context.

How is this related to purpose?

It seems clear to me, that all levels of biology and culture and self awareness are evolved entities – things that have survived over time, and have been shaped and selected by that process of survival.

It seems clear that we as embodied human beings are very complex entities, with at least 16 levels of complex adaptive systems present in every one of us.
We are vastly more complex than we can ever appreciate in detail, and we can get some useful “broad brush stroke” sketches of what we are.

It seems clear that the conscious bit of us is only the tiny tip of a vast computational system made up of vast numbers of complex molecules, cells, and arrangements of networks of information.   Most of what we do, we do without conscious effort, mostly without even conscious knowledge.

Part of what we are is social cooperative primates.   We need language and culture, and we do not and cannot create those alone, we get those and most of our knowledge and understanding through our interactions and relationships with others.

All social groups require structure.

Hierarchies of competence occur at all levels of biology, it is a very simple and effective way of organising available resources efficiently.   And when hierarchies become more about power and less about competence, then they can become destructive entities.  Just one of the many levels of balance within and between all of us.

It does seem to me that we have many levels of freedom, many levels at which the things we do are not entirely determined (though they are necessarily influenced) by the events of the past.

It seems that we have many levels within us of reasons and systems that are oriented to the longer term survival of various sub components of our systems that we share with others of our species.

It seems that at the highest levels, we are capable of choosing purpose for ourselves, though such choices are never entirely free of the influences of our past, and they can achieve substantial degrees of freedom when it seems safe to do so.

So survival of many different levels of things, biological, cultural, intellectual, seem to be deeply embedded in the nature of who and what we each individually are.   And to the degree that we create awareness of such things, then to that degree we can attain additional degrees of freedom in the choices of purpose we make.   And in the absence of such choices, the defaults given by the implications of our biology and culture will be present.

In this sense, my sense of purpose is to understand what I am, explore the nature of what is possible, and to do what is required to sustain life and liberty (individually and universally).    And respect for liberty in this sense demands acceptance of exponentially expanding diversity.

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Riding the rails

Riding the Rails

Where was your best-ever hiding place?

Hi Laurie,

My best ever hiding place for hide and seek as a kid, was in the cupboard over the top of the hot water closet in a house we rented in the hills behind Waitakaruru. It was a deep cupboard, and I could open the hot water cupboard, climb up the shelves, open the top cupboard, climb in, close the bottom cupboard door, get in the back of the top cupboard, and stack lots of towels in front of me, so that even if someone did climb up on a chair to look in, they would have to take out two rows of towels to see me.

No one ever found me there.

Many years later I had a “bolt hole” in an old abandoned gold mine shaft in the Coromandel range. Fortunately I never had to use that one.

These days I am hiding in plain sight – here in Kaikoura.

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Quora – Source of variation

What causes variations among individuals of the same species?

Get a modern text book on biochemistry, and another on computational theory, and start reading.

There seem to be an infinite class of possible causes of variations, chemical, behavioural, environmental, in any and all combinations.

It is still a matter of great debate as to what is the fundamental nature of such variation.

Is there actual randomness present in reality or is all the variation the result of some fixed but hidden deterministic pattern?

To me, the answer to the latter question seems, on balance of probability, to be most likely to involve fundamental randomness at some level, though always in a balance with more ordered systems.

It does seem that in such a universe, that is a fundamental balance between order and disorder, that evolution can recursively explore that boundary region between order and chaos, and individuals with the sort of complexity we have can develop very high degrees of free will.

And the balance between order and chaos is very important to evolution – all levels (atomic, molecular, cellular, multicellular individuals, populations, ecosystems, social, cultural, abstract intellectual, etc).
Too much order, and there is insufficient variation in a population to survive the changes in environmental context that happen from time to time.
Too much chaos and the boundaries necessary to sustain the levels of complexity present cannot survive.

So survival for all life, all levels, seems to be an eternal exploration of those (and other) orthogonal sets of threats and possibilities.

Quantum mechanics seems to hint at (though not prove) that such a balance may be present at the level of the fundamental entities that make up all that we call matter and energy.

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ANG Freedom

May 20- May 27 ’18 ~QofDay~ Freedom

What is “freedom”? Are animals freer than humans?

The question “what is freedom” is one of the most profound questions I have approached.

In approaching a topic this complex, it is often useful to look at what freedom cannot be.

Can freedom be a lack of all boundaries?

Something without boundaries is without form.

It seems that it is boundaries that allow form to emerge.

We seem to be the most complex entities that we know.

Every level of complexity requires a level of boundaries.

So freedom cannot be an absence of boundaries, though it must be an acknowledgement of all the necessary levels of boundaries required to sustain the complexity present, and no more than that.

And it seems to be more complex than that still.

Complexity theory shows that there can exist complex adaptive systems that are open, and have a constantly evolving structure, and that we embody many such systems.

And part of the question as to the nature of freedom is looking at the nature of understanding itself.

It seems that all understanding is some sort of map or model of the thing it purports to understand.

It seems that all understandings start from relative simplicity.

It seems that some sorts of understandings are encoded deeply into our brains by the process of evolution.

This encoding of systems by the deep time of biological and cultural evolution seems to be deep and broad – many levels, many sets of systems.

So many of the things we just accept as common sense seem to be these really complex and very ancient evolved systems.   Systems that have survived all manner of weird and unusual contexts that happen from time to time.

And as one asks layer after layer of question, almost all the assumptions one started out with, like the idea that “Truth” may be known, seem to fall away.

The more deeply one looks, the more it seems that every level of existence is in some sort of fundamental balance between order and chaos (in the non mathematical sense).

Life is certainly many levels of this balance.

Too much order, and there is not enough variation to survive the changes that happen from time to time.

Too much chaos and order cannot sustain itself.

Between those boundaries lies the area that can sustain life, all levels.

And those boundaries are very sensitive to context, and that context is eternally evolving.

It seems that to be human is to be this amazing collection of some 16+ levels of such complex adaptive systems.

It seems that our conscious awareness is just the tiny tip of this vast array of complex computational systems.

It seems that Quantum Mechanics is compatible with the idea that existence itself is a similar sort of fundamental balance between order and chaos.

So, in all of this complexity, what sort of approximation might we consciously be able to make to understand something like this?

It seems to me that freedom is something that exists on this boundary between order and chaos, something that one can claim.

If one acts according to rules, then that cannot be free.

And it seems that one can freely choose to follow any set of rules, or not.

The idea of a free selection, after, and not based upon, reason or consideration – is a very powerful one.

It seems to me that humans have access to degrees of freedom that animals generally do not.   And there are certainly no shortage of traps that can remove that freedom by imposing rules that prevent individuals from freely questioning the relevance of any particular set of rules to any particular situation.

So it seems that freedom necessarily comes with a responsibility to sustain all the necessary sets of boundaries that allow for the emergence of that freedom.

And respect for individual life, and individual liberty, demands responsibility in social and ecological contexts.

In the sort of complex reality we seem to exist in, over simplification, and over confidence, are dangerous.

Freedom, if it means anything, demands of us that we respect the diversity that real freedom must logically create.

[followed by]

Hi Bhatta,


Enjoyed the poem.

Have had an ongoing “discussion” with a guy Trick Slattery about the nature of freedom for over 6 months now.

In my understanding, he is so bound by the rules he has accepted that he can no longer see even the possibility of freedom – and the site we are arguing on is called “Breaking the free will illusion”.

And as yet, he has not seen.

And as Don McClean (Vincent) would say “Perhaps he never will”.

[followed by]

Hi Mendy Lou,

I agree with you that Trick makes too many assumptions about the nature of reality.

He assumes that reality always follows logical principles.

I am reasonably confident that it does not.
It seem very likely that reality is at every level in some sort of fundamental balance between the lawful and the random, between order and chaos.

That is certainly the case for all life forms, and it seems clear to me that Quantum Mechanics allows for it to be a fundamental aspect of the substructure of being.

The most useful models I have of reality are largely based in understandings based around information flows.

I am clear that every individual human is unique in many very complex ways that we only have the most broad brush sketches of at present.
We seem to be sufficiently complex that should I live the rest of eternity, and should I continue my interest in and investigations of the nature of intelligence, that I will be forever finding out new things about the nature of being human.

So I am a sort of materialist, but my understand of matter is mostly in terms of the information it contains and exchanges (vi light) with other matter.   And it is “a bit” more complex than that, and that is a good first order approximation.

[followed by]

Hi Bhatta,

It seems clear to me that all living organisms are unique in many different senses, but the levels of complexity present in human beings takes that idea of uniqueness to a whole new level that few other organisms come close to.
We are so long lived, so cooperative, so socially complex, so intellectually capable of abstraction and creativity.

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