JBP – Free Will

JBP – Free Will

Philosophical question.
Background: I listened to a podcast of Sam Harris and Jordan Peterson. As we know – Sam Harris says that free will doesn’t exist and Jordan Peterson is in opposition to that. I was thinking about it.
Does existence of free will matter at all? Can we, bounded by our human bodies really tell if we have free will? Will existence or lack of it really change anything?

This is to me the most fundamental question of life.
I think Sam and Dan make several logical errors, that are very common in philosophy, and physics/mathematics.
Put most simply, if there is hard determinism, then there is no choice, everything that has happened, will happen, ever, was already there in the first instant of existence. In such a universe, morality and choice are illusion.
That is a possible mode of existence, and it seems to have been invalidated by the balance of evidence – but Sam and Dan and many others are so attached to the notion that they cannot see past it.

What seems to actually be the case is that this universe we find ourselves in is a balance of the lawful and the random. It seems that at all levels there exists constrained uncertainty (randomness within bounds of probability).
This seems to be what quantum mechanics is telling us about existence.
When you look at such systems over long enough times, or large enough collections (both of which involve large populations of instances) then the probability distributions become so well populated that they deliver very predictable outcomes in aggregate (even as they are unpredictable in the individual cases).

It now seems clear, that only in a world that is such a constrained balance of the random and the lawful can we have both sufficient predictability to have such things as engineering and computers and biochemistry leading to all the levels of complexity we see instantiated around us, and also have the possibility of free will.
And the sort of freedom that can exist in such systems is extremely interesting.
It is not a freedom from all influence, but rather a freedom to create influence.
By default, everything follows from the influences of the past, and in every distribution of pattern, at every level (both within individuals and within populations), there will exist outliers and relationships that are finely balanced at some boundary.
It is at those boundaries, in those balances, that our real choice lives.

To me, as a skeptic, as a trained scientist, as a geek who started a software business 31 years ago that I am still running, as someone who has been looking into existential risk at every level I can discover (and effective mitigation strategies), I find Jordan to have the best understanding I have encountered in another of the evolutionary significance, and mythological understanding of the importance of this ever evolving boundary between order and chaos.

I see in our modern society a tendency to order, to systems, to law, that is a fundamental existential level risk to us all, as it completely hides and masks the very real uncertainties and risk present in that failure of balance at many levels.

When I read Dawkins’ 1976 classic (Selfish Gene) in 1978, it was the most profound work I had encountered, as it was the first clear exposition of the evolution of cooperation I had encountered.

I am now clear from a strategic systems perspective how evolution works, and that the emergence of new levels of complexity is predicated upon new levels of cooperation and creativity, and that competition always tends to reduce complexity and drive systems to simplicity. And naive cooperation is always vulnerable to exploitation by “cheating” strategies, and so at every level there emerges a complex evolutionary strategic “arms race” of secondary systems required to detect cheating, expose it, and return the cheats to the cooperative. And that latter aspect of returning those individuals using cheating strategies to using fundamentally cooperative strategies is something that is absolutely required for long term stability, and something that is captured in the essence of Christianity in many readings. So in that sense, I see enormous power in Jordan’s expression of the power of the unknown and the “divine” within each of us to give us profound insight into what is required in reality.

Our modern systems of money and law are now taking us into profoundly risky territory (in their imposed order, and lack of acceptance of chaos and novelty), and need to be balanced by a profound respect for individual life and individual freedom, which must be expressed in the universal provision of opportunities of life (water, food, shelter, education, communication, transport, medical support, security, freedom); and those must be balanced by individual responsibility in both social and ecological contexts, both of which are profound and eternal explorations of uncertain territories.

So I see in Jordan’s understandings and explanations one of the best possible simple explanations of the profound uncertainties and responsibilities and opportunities in existence, that to me are evident from explorations of evolutionary biology, cosmology, geology, complexity, information theory, and the nature of infinities.

An essential part of that was, for me, seeing that mathematics was a system for creating models and maps of this territory we call reality, and they are the best maps we can have, and they are not necessarily the territory itself. Even with the most profound knowledge of mathematics and logic possible, there can remain eternal uncertainty. Wolfram’s NKS is a clear pointer in that direction.

So I love Jordan’s mix, of respect for the past, for the deep lessons of culture, mixed with the explorations of the possibilities of the present, mixed with an acceptance of the eternal need for outliers that create the new paths to safety. And there must exist risk and uncertainty, particularly at those boundaries that are so distant from the common understanding of our social groups.

[followed by]

Steve Russell
Hi Steve,
Actually, what you said makes no sense, in maths or logic or reality.
What we find is that “laws” are approximations to something, that work at certain scales.
The idea that the earth is flat is close enough if you are building a house with lumber.
The idea that the earth is round and the stars are fixed is close enough if you are sailing around the planet using a sextant for navigation.
The idea of Newtonian gravitation is close enough to predict the orbits of earth and moon and planets to within a few meters over a few centuries – which is close enough for most purposes.
To get a constellation of GPS satellites to give us accuracy at centimeter level we need relativistic space time.
Each level of successive approximation is useful in its context – so in that sense they remain “laws”, and each has limits of utility.

It seems clear that all of our laws are useful approximations to something at certain scales and in certain contexts.

And at some scales and some contexts they can be very useful indeed – as evidenced by the systems that make this communication between us possible. The layers of systems present that reduce the probability of error in transmission and display of these symbols, and the meaning encoded within them are indeed amazing- few people have much idea just how complex they are, how contextually sensitive and constrained their reliability, the narrow ranges of temperature, voltage, frequency, etc, required to sustain them. So many levels of systems and constraints and checks required.

So yes – in a sense, our laws work in the contexts that they do, and to the degrees that they do in those contexts. They are very useful and valuable tools, and it is a deep mistake to go beyond that.

[followed by]

Hi Steve,
To my understanding, QM seems to be telling us that at the base level, one cannot know pairs of quantities, like position and momentum. The more you constrain one, the more dispersed (randomised) becomes the other. And there seem to be fundamental limits to the degrees that things may be known.
It really does seem to be more than simple “approximation”.
QM seems to be saying that there is fundamental randomness, fundamental uncertainty, present.
And within those constraints, given large samples, one can derive some aspects of collections over time with very high confidence.
That seems to be the nature of this reality we find ourselves in.

If some of the mathematicians are right, and there really are infinities within the finites we can sample, then there must be a real sense of randomness present in such things.

[followed by]

Of course QM applies.
Electronics, transistors, rely upon quantum tunneling.
Many macroscopic devices rely upon quantum effects – all life in fact – many of our biochemical systems rely upon quantum processes.
The notion of free will can only make sense if there is the possibility of cause and effect not always having the same relationship, if there are in fact probabilities, rather than hard necessities, in relationships.
It is only in such systems that the notion of freedom has any real meaning.
If hard causal rules always apply, then there is only necessity.

That does not seem to be the case in our reality.

It does in fact seem to be the case that there is a fundamental probabilistic aspect to all relationships.
We do in fact seem to have the power of choice, if we claim it.
Morality does in fact seem to be something real.
Our choices, or lack thereof, do in fact seem to have real impacts in existence.
It matters what we choose to do.

A little over 7 years ago I made a choice to do what I could to change the probabilities of my survival. I had not planned on having an oncologist send me home “palliative care only”, after being told I could be dead in 6 weeks, and there was nothing known to medical science that could alter that.
I challenged that.
I read a lot.
I tried a lot.
I am still here, 6.5 years free of tumours.
That took a lot of persistent choices, a lot of overriding the defaults of my likes and dislikes in respect of food.
For me it worked.

Few have the discipline not to cheat, even once, for thousands of days.

That was (is) a choice.

[followed by]

Steve Russell
Hi Steve,
Completely agree with you about the pseudo-science of mind over matter being nonsense – that is not what I am talking about.

What interests me is the effect of systems on probabilities, how software can influence hardware, and the degrees of independence that can occur in very complex systems.

That is what free will looks like to me.

As someone who started with a passion for biology, and delved deeply into the connections between atoms and behaviour, then got into computers, complexity, chaos, complex adaptive systems, far from equilibrium systems, etc, the often very subtle ways in which systems interact and influence each other, across all levels, started to fascinate me. I grew up on farms, learned to hunt early, so had some practical understanding of animal and plant behaviour before getting into the theories available.

It is a really complex set of topics, with really complex sets of relationships and interactions, and after 50 years of immersion in the topics, it is very clear to me that those boundary regions, the regions where the illusion of hard determinacy clearly breaks down, are fundamental to many aspects of being. All creativity, all choice, can only come from delving into those regions. And there are real dangers there, real chaos, they are, by definition, beyond prediction. And we need them.
Look at the history of the transformation of understandings we see in just the last few thousand years of human understanding, then the last few hundred, then the last few decades, then the last few years, the last few months.
None of those transformations were possible by sticking strictly to the previous paradigms.
Each required going beyond what was known and accepted as “Truth”.
Each was, by definition, heretical.

Not all claims that are beyond the bounds of the known are valid – most are not, and some are.

Being prepared to look, to test, to look carefully at the results of those tests, is important.

Most people seem to prefer certainty to existence.
In the last 7 years, since I managed to cure myself of “terminal cancer”, it has amazed me how many people would rather die than change their diet consistently, no exceptions.
The sort of discipline required to do that, and the will to execute it, in the face of no agreement from those in authority, seems quite rare.
And to me, who has never known anything else, that seems strange.

I am me, not anyone else.

I cannot give another my experiences, my intuitions, my abstractions.
I can only point in the direction of those things.
I can never have the experience of being other than me, and being married is about as close as I can get to that.

So I can say things, suggest to people that they do what it takes to read and understand Einstein, Goedel, Feynman, Darwin, Dawkins, David Snowden, Wolfram, etc; but I cannot make people read those things in the way I did, going over and over until I was confident that I had all the relevant concepts and understood what was being written about; then integrating them all, and developing further levels of abstraction. I don’t have the time to write all that out, too much that needs doing.

And I can leave conversations like this, as a sort of “trail of breadcrumbs”, for anyone who is interested to follow (human or non-human, biological or non-biological).

For me, JBP added something to the puzzle, something not at all easy to explain, deeply metaphorical.

And part of it is in the notion of freedom, and part of it in the notion of responsibility that must come with freedom if it is to survive very long in this reality we seem to find ourselves in.

Posted in Ideas, Philosophy | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 83 Comments



What are you looking forward to with great anticipation?

Hi Laurie,

Fully automated machines capable of copying and maintaining themselves, and capable of delivering a large and ever expanding set of goods and services.

Indefinite life extension for everyone who wants it. Live with a 25 year old body for as long as you want.

Global cooperation in a post scarcity, post money society, where such decisions as are needed are made by consensus.

Every person empowered to do whatever they responsibly choose, where responsibility means taking the reasonable needs of other people and the ecosystems that support us into consideration in all choices we make,

Mitigation of all major risks to life and liberty.

Lotsa good stuff like that.

Should all be possible in the next 15-20 years.

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


Oct 23 -30 ’17 ~QofDay~ Privacy

Is privacy a right?

A really complex question.
Too much privacy becomes a serious danger to social cooperation, as it allows cheats to avoid detection.
Too little privacy and individual liberty is seriously at threat, because authoritarian groups within society (religious, legal, political, whatever) get too much power and influence.

And all of us tend to behave better when we know someone else is watching.
So it becomes a very delicate balance between individual liberty and creative freedom of expression, and a minimum set of rules necessary to maintain social cooperation.

Rights seem to be inventions of social agreement.
We need to have a right to privacy, and it cannot be so strong as to become a cloak for the worst aspects of human behaviour to shelter behind.

And I tend to be more open with information than most people, as the about page of my blog site ( http://www.tedhowardnz.wordpress.com ) demonstrates – with all relevant medical records available for anyone who is interested.

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Foundations of Logic – foundations of mathematics

Foundations of logic – In Logical terms, which is your preferred Foundations for Mathematics/Logic?

Without it, we would not have brains capable of making mathematical abstractions.

[followed by]

Hi Robert,
That is not as I see it.
It seems that there is an infinite set of possible logics, and an infinite set of possible theorems.
We are exploring low integer instances of most of those domains.
They are conceptual constructs.
Some of them have predictive utility in modeling aspects of this reality we seem to find ourselves in.

Our ability to conceptualise is the result of evolution.
The things that we are conceptualising are evolving.
Some of us are instantiating ever more abstract systems, and that is itself an evolutionary process.

It seems that everything is an evolutionary instantiation of systems, of relationships of information.

Evolution does seem to have a very real claim to being the foundation of mathematics – at many different levels.

[followed by]

Mathematics is a set of constructs.
We postulate a set of relationships, and then see what results from the application of those rules.

In the first instance it seems that we got the idea of mathematics from counting things in reality.
We then started to wonder about the idea of counting, and the systems that result.

I said nothing about arbitraryness.

[followed by]

Set theory is a set of relationships, based on a simple set of postulates, and certain outcomes happen if one follows that set of rules.

It isn’t “Real” in the sense of physical reality, and it is real in a systems sense.

Reality appears to be something.

Mathematics is the best modeling tool that we have.

Thus mathematics gives us the best models of reality that we have.
That does not mean that reality necessarily follows the rules of any particular mathematics in a particular situation, and it gives us very useful approximations in most situations.
And anywhere that irrational numbers like Pi or e appear in an equation, then all we can ever have is an approximation, as those numbers may never be computed completely – only ever to some useful approximation.

I am not sure why you are being so defensive and aggressive.

I have been using mathematics daily for well over 50 years. I rely on it in many ways. And I am very conscious that in any non-trivial instance it only ever gives us approximations to reality, and that those can be very useful indeed in many situations, and not so useful in some.

In terms of the more purely abstract pursuit, of postulating particular rule sets, and seeing what happens when one instantiates instances of them, and the higher order relationships that emerge; that is something that Wolfram explored nicely in NKS.

[followed by]

Thank you Manju.
I was not aware of that particular piece of background.

My apologies to Robert Mosimann if I misinterpreted his intentions.

What I am trying to point to is not trivial.

It is something that someone who has been thinking about these things for over 50 years considers “interesting”.

I am not a specialist logician or mathematician.
I am by choice a generalist. I have done a lot of things in practice, and explored a lot of theoretical frameworks, so I am very used to taking constructs from one domain to another and seeing how they work in both theory and practice. I have worked as a lab technician, a teacher, a fisherman, a programmer, a consultant, an engineer, a carpenter, an auditor, a politician, a law enforcement officer, a director, and have started and run two moderately successful businesses. Not a master of anything, and with a certain knowledge of what works in practice to go alongside my understandings of theory.

On the theoretical side my undergrad work was in biology, biochemistry and marine ecology major interests, but also some courses in psychology, electronics, physics, chemistry, geology, computing, cybernetics, philosophy. I have studied a bit on my own time, working through Riemann, Hilbert, Einstein, as one line of questioning. Also worked through Godel, and quite a bit of the AI stuff. Looked at some of Wolfram’s work. Lots of other stuff (thousands of hours of it).

So definitely not on the cutting edge of math, and not entirely ignorant either.

And I am reasonably confident about the broad brush picture of the evolution of intelligence, and the subtle ways in which evolution both requires and tunes error rates in duplication systems to provide the level of fidelity the is optimal for survival in the specific circumstances of the history of any particular line of organisms, or substructures within more complex systems.

I am very clear how systems based in constrained uncertainty can deliver a very close approximation to hard causality in large aggregates.

So it very much depends upon what one means when one uses the term “REAL”.

Is one referring to the cosmological conditions that we seem to find ourselves instantiated within?

Or is one referring to some set of logical constructs – some set of rules based in some set of assumptions, and simply exploring the relationships that emerge from that rule set?

And I like the example Wolfram uses, of the simple case of a one dimensional array of bistate elements, where the rules about what happens next can only derive from the state of a cell and its 2 neighbours, and what emerges from rule 30 (of the 256 possible rule sets) is very interesting.
That is a very simple demonstration that things can be lawful yet not predictable, from a very simple system.

How much worse when things are fundamentally uncertain, and only approximate lawfulness in aggregate (which is what QM seems to be telling us about the reality we find ourselves in).

So I am definitely a yes to studying and using mathematics, and to maths delivering the best tools we have to model “Reality” (whatever it actually is), and at the same time I am a strong caution against any hubris that any particular mathematical construct is necessarily useful in dealing with reality in any specific context. Reality seems quite capable to delivering exceptions to any and all models.

And at the same time, I am very conscious of the degree of reliability involved in the computer systems we use to record, transmit and display this and other information (and the fact that quantum tunneling is fundamental to the operation of all of these machines). So it is a very strange mixed world we find ourselves it.

And I am just trying to point to something fundamental about the nature of us, and our ability to explore the sets of postulates, rules, and theorems that are possible (as Turing and others postulated, and Wolfram and others have instantiated).

[followed by]

Hi Robert Mosimann

Then we are operating from completely different paradigms, in a very real sense.

I can certainly see some truth in what you say, from a certain perspective.

Yes certainly, if one accepts a set of axioms, and one is capable of applying the relations of those axioms, then it matters not if one is human or anything else, the relationships implied will be instantiated by the application of the appropriate relationships to specific instances.
In that sense, yes – I entirely agree with you.

However, there is another sense that is implied by the use of the term “REAL”, and that relates to the matrix of our existence.
The idea that the matrix of reality necessarily follows any hard set of entirely predictive rules in all situations seems to be implied in what you have written.
If I am mistaken in that – then please say so.

If I am not mistake in that, then it seems to me, the foundational assumptions of that perspective have clearly been falsified (beyond all reasonable doubt – by the experimental evidence available).

Thus it really does seem to be clearly the case that it is the process of evolution that has instantiated the conditions that allow for the existence of systems capable of postulating the theorems of set theory (or any other branch of logic or mathematics – be they instantiated in Zermelo or Fraenkel or Godel or anyone else).

And I get it is something of a twist I am getting at here.

What is more fundamental, the possibilities of any instantiated set of axioms (recursively applied and instantiated), or the instantiation of something capable of conceiving of those axioms in practice?

Which of those systems is more fundamental?

[followed by]

Kurt Godel could not resolve CH.
I am not in his mathematical league. It took me a year of study after work to go through his incompleteness theorems to the degree that I was satisfied that there were no errors.
I have not worked on the CH conjecture, nor do I intend to any time soon.

That is not what I am trying to point to.

I am pointing at the uncertainty principles of QM, and what they seem to be telling us about the nature of this reality within which we find ourselves (and the supporting evidence sets of course).

The notion that one can build confidence without accepting certainty seems to be recursively applicable to all domains of conjecture.
Godel’s incompleteness conjectures seem to point in that general direction (though with a distinctly different flavour).

The process of evolution, the differential survival of variant systems in variant contexts instantiated with varying probabilities over time, seems to be what has instantiated us and our abilities to investigate logical conjectures.

And I can get that it can be really difficult to see outside of a box when you are so deeply embedded within it. (And I get that is a large part of why I am not prepared to put serious effort in the CH conjecture at this time.)

[followed by]

Hi Robert,

You made 3 claims:
“1 this whole discussion followed from your view that mathematics is mere human construct or conception or procedures with no underlying Reality as subject matter”
That is not the meaning I was trying to convey.
I get it is the meaning you interpreted.
There must be a way that you constructed that meaning from what I wrote, but I cannot see what it is, too many uncertainties in all candidate explanations I have explored.

“2 you stated 1 hour ago explicitly that the foundation of mathematics being universally applicable has been empirically falsified”
What I tried to be explicitly clear about is the distinction between mathematics and reality.
The conjecture that reality is knowable with absolute precision seems to have been falsified. It seems to contain uncertainties of several different types and at several different levels. The evidence sets for that are vast.

As I stated earlier, it all depends on what you mean when you say “Real” and you have not made any effort to clarify what you mean when you use the term “Real” – I offered two different possible meanings, and asserted that I could accept one, but not the other.

“3” I haven’t been called out for making false statements.
I stand by my statements.
I do assert that my statements have not been understood.
That doesn’t make them false.

I am also quite clear that I do not understand the relevance of your statement in respect of the issue of cardinality between N & R.

I cannot find the link to understanding reality in an asserted difference between two infinities. You will need to be somewhat more explicit in your asserting if you want me to get what you are pointing at. Right now I don’t understand what appears to be significant in the assertion.

I am not slow, and I do not have your experience in the realms of mathematics and logic. I am not without experience, and mine is substantially less than yours. I have quite explicitly stated that I am a generalist. That choice has strengths and weaknesses (as all choices do). I attempt to be as conscious as possible of both.

I answered the lead question with an assertion from a domain space you appear to be less familiar with. I acknowledge that it probably appears nonsensical to you. Be assured it does not so appear to me.

[followed by]

Hi Farhan,

What I am trying to point to is not simple.
Several very distinct domains (at least 3) seem to be collapsed in most people’s thinking, and I was attempting to make them distinct.

Looked at purely from a systems perspective – as a set of relationships, then mathematics has a set of rules that any entity capable of modeling abstract entities should be able to discover and follow. In this abstract sense, the rule sets can be thought of as existent in a space of potentially discoverable relationships that any entity that looks may find. In that sense, they are not the ontological creation of any particular entity, and they do need to be instantiated in some specific entity to be “known” – that is the definition of knowing.

The sets of rules available to construct systems seem to be infinite.

Those that have currently been instantiate as knowledge in any human mind seem to be relatively small numbers in that infinity.

This may seem unrelated but it isn’t – One of the interesting things to come out of database theory this century is that the fastest possible search for a fully loaded processor is a fully random search. How one most efficiently approximates randomness is a quite different question.

Using fully random searches across multiple domain spaces individuals or systems can find solutions to problems without necessarily “filling in the gaps”. This seems to be what evolution does and it also seems to be what intuition does. We seem to have many levels of such systems instantiated within us in the 20 some levels of cooperating systems embodied in each of us (genetic, cultural and conceptual).

What I am clearly saying, is that one can make the strong case from a systems perspective that evolution is the most fundamental construct in the construction of mathematics and logic, for without it there could not exist systems of sufficient complexity to enquire into the nature of relationship itself, and explore the sets of conjectures present in the realms of logic and mathematics.

It is an alternative framing of the question that incorporates cosmology and biology from a systems perspective.

I simply offered it as an alternative.

I wondered if anyone else would get it.
It seems not.

[followed by]

Hi Robert,
See my reply to Farhan above for part of the answer.

For the other part, I have studied the history of philosophy and mathematics and understanding, and have seen a succession of people make claims as to the the world following simple mathematical rules, only to later find the rules to be approximations to something more complex. It would not surprise me if that process continued indefinitely – that does seem to be what some interpretations of QM point to.

I accept that mathematics and logic have the forms and rules that they have.
I accept that both are potentially infinite.
I accept that they give us the best modeling and predictive tools we have (in those instances where prediction is possible). I also accept the notion of maximal computational complexity, such that even in a fully deterministic world, some things cannot be known by any method shorter than letting them do what they do.
And it seems very probable to me that this universe within which we find ourselves is a very interesting balance between the lawful and the random.

Just as the process of evolution requires a delicate balance of fidelity in copying (too much fidelity and not much happens, too little fidelity and chaos results – there is a context sensitive range in the middle that allows life like us to appear), so it seems that our universe requires some randomness at its foundations, but not too much.

So I think we do have a very fundamental conflict of understanding as to the nature of our being, and the nature of its relationship to mathematics, and perhaps not.

[followed by]

Hi Robert,

What do you mean by universal?

Within the rules of mathematics, yes: 2+2=4.

In reality – not necessarily.
2 women + 2 men will most likely = 4 people, and there will be distinct and decreasing probabilities of it equaling 5, 6, 7, 8. 9. 10, 11, or 12 people. Numbers beyond 12 while possible are unlikely to be instantiated under normal conditions. Conceptions happen, gametes fuse to form zygotes and new instances instantiate themselves. These events can happen in the time between one reading or writing the left side of the equation and the right side of the equation. Time isn’t universal in that sense, it is both real and local.

Reality has that unsettling ability.

It happens in the sub atomic realm as well.
Something from nothing.

The word “mere” is your own – you introduced it – not me.
It adds a tone I neither intended nor implied.

[followed by]

Please, read very carefully what Ted’s view is:
If we are talking purely about the realm(s) of mathematics and logic and information; realms which can by definition have strict boundary conditions, and strict rules, then in such realms Truths exist.
For me, the evidence sets from many areas of enquiry, including sub atomic physics, cosmology and biology, suggest that the “Reality” within which we find ourselves is a balance of the lawful and the random, balanced in such a way that in many instances it very closely approximates hard causality at the scale of normal human perception.

The question I have repeatedly asked, which to my understanding you have not directly addressed, is:
does your assertion of universality apply just to the realms defined by the strict boundary conditions; or is it being used in the wider sense to encompass the arena of existence that encompasses us, our galaxy, this universe, and all within it.

If it is the latter, then I make the strong assertion that such a claim has been falsified beyond all reasonable doubt.

I am not making the claim that mathematics or logic is mere social construct.
I accept that both follow from the boundary conditions specified (whether one specifies such conditions in terms of information, sets, or any other systemically equivalent structure).

My initial claim, for evolution being the foundation of mathematics, is made in the sense that it seems clear, beyond all reasonable doubt, that it is the process of evolution (differential survival of variants at ever more complex emergent levels of cooperative entities), that has given rise to brains and cultures capable of conceptualising the abstract sets of boundary conditions necessary for an awareness of mathematics.

In this sense, in this reality, it seems to be foundational.

Such a claim is a very different beast from the claims of post modernism as generally portrayed in academic circles, though it comes from quite similar roots.

[followed by]

The intentions of mine were invariant.
The interpretations of symbols and their relationships is what has varied.
Such is often the nature of attempts at communication, particularly when high order abstractions are involved.

If one is sticking strictly to the abstract domain of mathematics, and the strong constraints present in that domain, then yes – 2 + 2 = 4 is invariant.

I make the strong claim that the moment one applies such a construct to anything real (such as counting people, or quarks), then that invariance is gone, and must be replaced by a probability statement – as per my specific example of 2 men plus 2 women (as instances of the class people), being equal to 4 with the highest probability, and also having distinct probabilities of being higher numbers – particularly in the range 5 to 12.

As to infinities, it seems that universe within which we exist is finite within certain probability constraints, and thus doesn’t support instantiating any infinity in totality.

[followed by]

What evidence do you have for the continuum hypothesis applying in reality with 100% certainty???

Our best scientific theories – in respect of QM, seem to be giving us probability distributions.

How you manage to translate those to absolute certainty is beyond me – seems to be a category error in logic.

Throughout the ages, philosophers and mathematicians have made absolute claims about reality, only to have them disproven by subsequent evidence – and have the be revealed as delivering a useful approximation to something in certain contexts.

That seems to be the history of understanding.

I have no doubt that mathematics helps us build our best models of reality.

I have substantial doubt that any of those models, ever, will be 100% accurate. And they will be very useful in some situations.

And human beings have to exist in reality.
That comes with constraints on time, energy, computational ability etc.

Evolution seems to have embodied within us many levels of useful heuristics (like a love of truth) that may not necessarily be applicable to our exponentially changing reality.

Might be time to let go of absolutes, and accept best available approximations, and the humility that logically comes with such things.

Posted in Ideas, Nature, Philosophy | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Project for Progressive Ethics – Ethical Framework

Current Model for the Ethical Framework (Multi-part)

Hi Dil & team,

I have a suite of issues with the proposed ethic of “[i]Do what you wish, unless of course you experience some doubt about the ethics of what you intend. In this case, consult the public Ethical Framework and see what it has to offer in the way of considerations you might bring to bear in resolving your concerns.[/i]”
It is not responsible.

The universe is not devoid of rules.
Gravity exists, as do the other 3 fundamental forces, and all the systems that evolve from them and the fundamental uncertainties present.

Evolution seems to have assembled us by a process of differential survival.
What few people seem to get is that every life form alive today (from viruses to us), is equally the result of that same evolutionary process – just that the contexts and timings of events have been different in the life histories of the different populations.

Evolution hasn’t preferentially selected us.
Evolution has selected all life now living – equally.

It is now clear, beyond any shadow of reasonable doubt, that we human individuals are very complex entities, involving the instantiation of some 20 levels of cooperative systems (both hardware and software).
Within each level, and between each level, systems influence each other, and have operational limits beyond which they cease to retain coherence (and we become unconscious or die).

This seems to be the physical reality of our existence.

Yes – there certainly is a sense in which we can act in any way we choose, and there is also a very real sense in which most possible actions have negative existential outcomes (lead to death in the short to medium term).

If one is choosing to optimise anything at all, and one is in a situation where technology seems to be delivering more powerful tools, and greater opportunities and greater security with time, then whatever it is one is trying to optimise, one is more likely to do so by continuing to exist. Thus existence, continued life, is foundational to all other things.

Thus one can derive an ethical foundation that is below choice, which is existence itself.

Thus – one gets to the ethical premise:
1/ value individual sapient life (human and non-human, biological and non-biological), and take all reasonable steps to mitigate any unreasonable risk to any sapient entity.
2/ value the individual freedom of all sapient entities, provided such expressions of freedom do not pose an unreasonable risk to the life or liberty of any.

Given that our existence as thinking entities with language is predicated on developing language and technology (and all other such abstract modes of thinking and or communication as we manage to instantiate) in social and ecological contexts, then our existence in such social and ecological contexts demands of us a level of responsible action in these contexts.

The evidence is clear (beyond any shadow of reasonable doubt) that there are not, nor can there be, any hard and fast rule sets that work in all contexts.
The evidence is that at all levels there exists fundamental uncertainty, randomness, and novelty.
We exist in an open complex system, which has components that are far from equilibrium, and are infinitely extensible into novel territory.

So promoting the idea of simply “doing what you wish” is not responsible, not ethical, and not sustainable.

Sure we all have our wishes.
Sure there is no absolute standards of anything (other than existence itself, whatever that may be, and no guarantees of it continuing).

And the evidence is beyond all reasonable doubt, that the default systems we inherit from genetics and culture have been tuned by survival of our ancestors to the conditions of our past, and are not necessarily applicable to our exponentially changing present and future. So simply following our default “feelings” is not any sort of guarantee of survival.

And there is a really complex balance here.
None of us has perfect information.
All of us, however deep and abstract our understandings, have those understandings based in necessarily simplistic heuristics (reality is far too complex for any human mind to deal with in anything other that contextually useful simplifying heuristics).
So it doesn’t pay for any of us to get too hubristic, and be too overconfident about what is possible and what isn’t, what is safe and what isn’t.
We all have to be conscious of the very real uncertainties present – always.
We need to be prepared to have conversations about risk, and not necessarily accept any particular set of rules as being contextually relevant, but don’t dismiss them lightly either – an art, a responsibility required.

So there must always be an aspect of art, and an aspect of “best guess” to all our decisions – however much logic and computation and systems knowledge we employ.

Sure, we have to leave the absolute certainty that our ancestors craved in history, and accept profound uncertainty as our constant companion.

And accepting that uncertainty does not absolve us from a moral responsibility to care for life and liberty.

Ethics is, always has been, always will be, a whole lot more than simply “do what you wish”, and what we wish has to be a very important part of it; along with the existence of ourselves and others, and all the uncertainties, unknowns, and unknowables of existence.

Ethics must involve an aspect of social and ecological responsibility in all choices.

The more we know, the more we know we don’t know, and the less confident we become of the things we were once absolutely certain of.

The thing I am most confident of, is that the lack of absolutes and the presence of uncertainties does not mean that “anything goes”. If “Ethics” has any meaning at all, it means that we need to be even more responsible in making our best guesses at the likely long term outcomes of our choices; and we need to be responsible for the likely social and ecological consequences of those choices (short, medium and long term).

No system of rules can do that. It will always involve individual choice, individual responsibility; and that is a very different thing from an unqualified “what you wish”.

[followed by]

Hi Dil, Cedrick and team,

Interesting points both.

I spent and hour yesterday in a skype chat with Daniel Schmachtenberger. We both have a long history of enquiry into existential risk, and effective risk mitigation strategies, and the discussion got quite abstract quite quickly.

We both agreed the general thesis that given that narrow (ish) artificial intelligence has now beaten the best human player at Go, that any competitive system that can have an outcome specificied can now be gamed more efficiently by AI than by any human “player”. This applies to all existing financial, political and “sales” (advertising) systems (abstract to any level desired).

Apparently there have already been active agent models scenarios run that have a rather short (less than 2 decades) existential threat level outcome on all competitive scenarios.

That doesn’t surprise me in a sense, and I am surprised that someone has already done the modelling and run it (median 12 years).
I have been consistent about the threats from competitive systems for some time.
My major focus has been on effective transition strategies, and the urgency of their implementation.
I hadn’t realised just quite how urgent that is.

From a games theoretical perspective, Ostrom et al have catalogued a suite of examples of stable systems in practice; and while I find her 8 principle insufficient, they do point in the general direction of something.

I have been thinking about and investigating existential risk and risk mitigation scenarios (with all the epistemological and ontological intertwinings therein, for a little over 55 years).
Crowley, particularly his intersection with Machiavelli has been a concern, and there appears to be only one semi-stable solution “eternal vigilance”.

I am clear, beyond any shadow of reasonable doubt, that our survival as a special requires the adoption of a cooperative framework that is strategically structured in a way that is not gameable or captureable by any single entity. With the instantiation of narrow superhuman AI, any primary competitive game poses existential level risk.

We are a cooperative species.
A new level of strategic cooperation is required.
It cannot be naive cooperation, that is capturable.
Recurs this structure as far one chooses (potentially infinite).

It is clear that one cannot use rule based systems based in any approximation of lowest common denominator, as that imposes unacceptable risk in and of itself.

So we are, as Jordan Peterson so masterfully shows, back on the eternal boundary between order and chaos. As a society we have gone too far into the domain of order and that order itself now poses immediate and immense existential level risk.

All of the points that Dil and Cedrick raise are real and valid, and they pale in the face of the current existential level threat posed by competitive systems and super human narrow AI.

We need to have systems that do in fact work to mitigate the risks from the twin tyrannies (majority and minority), that empower both individuals and communities – and that is a non-trivial issue in terms of strategy and complexity.

It seems beyond reasonable doubt that viable solutions will involve trust, openness, integrity and reasonableness; and there must by real systemic solutions to the real systemic risks.

Transition strategies are also going to be a major issue.
It was great to see Ray Kurzweil coming out in favour of a Universal Basic Income, two months ago, and I can only ever see that as a semi-stable transition strategy with a relatively short life.

We do definitely need to go far beyond that, and David Snowden has many important insights in that area, as does Jordan Peterson, and to my taste both stray a bit too far in direction of religion, and I can certainly understand why that is so.

The sorts of “implicit heuristic knowledge” that are deeply encoded in the genetic and cultural aspects of our being need to be seen as what they are – heuristics that worked in our past, and are not necessarily relevant to our future.
We ignore them at our peril.
We are at peril if we rely upon them too heavily.
There is a very deep, and very delicate balance that we must achieve, and soon.
And it is one that must be ongoingly instantiated, it is not something that one can set and forget (that is something that Friedman and the rule based guys got terribly wrong).

So yeah – interesting times.

And I come back to the simplest possible formulation:
Life and liberty, in a context of uncertainty and humility and responsibility and non-naive cooperation.

[followed by]

A naive solution is any attempt at cooperation that does not include active (open) strategies for the detection of cheats, and with sufficient power to remove all advantage gained by cheating, plus a little bit (but not too much more – a fairly narrow band there that actually encourages individuals to rejoin the cooperative).

The really difficult problems then become around distinguishing real novelty from cheating, as they may be indistinguishable from the old paradigm, and require transition to the new paradigm for evaluation – and that can get highly recursive and have hidden risks.

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Next platform Problems

The Next Platform

There are real issues in the above.

Block chain is hugely computationally complex. At present a maximum of about 1,000 additions per second are possible – not enough for a global system of exchange or trust. Something less computationally intensive is required.

I am all for open and transparent, and the cloud as currently instantiated is not that – it is centralised and open to central control and capture and single point failure.

Reliability demands decentralisation, and massive redundancy.
“Trust” demands reliable secondary strategic systems to prevent invasion and capture by “cheating” strategies. We need to be able to trust, and we need systems that backup that trust that deliver a reasonably high probability (approaching unity) that cheats will be discovered and appropriately dealt with (all benefits plus a little bit, removed, and returned to cooperative activity).

Transaction is an interesting word.
I prefer agreements – which implies conversations and ultimately demands consensus in all but the most dire of existential level threat situations.

So I like the general direction of this idea of collective intelligence, and a lot more attention needs to be made to the details of games theory, complexity theory, network theory, and stability of complex adaptive systems in open, far from equilibrium, conditions.

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Evonomics – Tim O’Reilly – Rewrite the rules of Economy

Tim O’Reilly: It’s Time to Rewrite the Rules of Our Economy

The economic game is enormously fun for far too few players, and an increasingly miserable experience for many others.

Tim has correctly identified that the key issue is “Asking the right questions?”

And while he has asked some interesting questions, there are others more important and more interesting that he hasn’t yet asked.

While I can sympathise with Alan in a sense (the sense of resisting threats to freedom), there is a far greater and deeper sense in which the existing accepted rules have become a greater threat to a greater value – that of life itself (the value upon which liberty is predicated).

If one wants to fly, one does not deny either gravity or air resistance, one understands both and uses them to create machines that allow us to fly. By acknowledging the systemic necessities of reality, one can create almost any outcome.

The process of inquiry, of testing assumptions, of looking to the rules that seem to actually be at play, those that are necessary and those that are not, leads to a series of view changes (seemingly potentially infinite).

Many people have confused the notion of markets with the notion of liberty – that is an error with existential level risk implications.

In this world we find ourselves in, some things are available in universal abundance, some are not.
For most of us, air is the single most important substance for our existence, yet the fact of its universal abundance means it has no exchange value in a market.

The fact that markets cannot give a positive value to universal abundance incentivises the erection of barriers to universal abundance – all of our Intellectual Property (IP) laws now fall into this category. In most cases today (given the internet and digital copying of information) the only reason for IP laws is to create scarcity, and thence market value – for the benefit of the very few, and at cost to the great majority.

The fact that our information technology is on a double exponential expansion of capacity, and is now moving from purely information more deeply into matter manipulation, means that an exponentially expanding set of goods and services are now joining the class of things that can be provided in universal abundance, and the only reason they are not is the fact of the economic (measured in dollars in markets) impact of doing so.

Thus, clearly, economic values and human values are now directly in opposition (for the vast majority) in an exponentially expanding set of of instances.

Thus, while it is possible to make a strong case for the historical association of freedom and security with free(ish) markets; that case cannot be sustained into the future.

What we do about that is the great question of our age.

I hold individual life, and individual liberty as my highest values (applied universally).

And holding those values, in a knowledge set based in science and history (evolution, biochemistry, cosmology, quantum theory, relativity, economics, complex systems, far from equilibrium explorations of infinities, etc) demands of me responsible action in both social and ecological contexts.

I am clear beyond any shadow of reasonable doubt that both indefinite life extension and abundance of all reasonable essentials of life and liberty can be made universally abundant, and that demands responsibility from each of us.

Unlimited expansion of population is not a viable option. The closer we get to 1 child per couple for people on this planet, the better off we will all be, as one example. We can sustain higher breeding rates for those prepared to leave earth in space ships (large habitats capable of sustaining millions of people in abundance) for a thousand years or so, but even then there are limits that we will hit. Long term, we need to be responsible for such things.

Right now, responsibility must express as some means of delivering a reasonable probability (something very close to unity) of life and liberty to all.

In the short term, as we transition from scarcity to abundance, some sort of universal basic income seems to be the most viable strategy (least risk) – and it can only be a temporary transition strategy – longer term something else is required.

The major focus of intellectual activity must be on creating fully automated production systems that are not self aware, but are under human control, capable of delivering all the essentials of life.
Development of full Artificial General Intelligence is a very different issue – one for separate discussion and development. The current economic imperative for a headlong rush in that direction is a substantial source of existential risk (in our current social state of clearly not valuing human life or human liberty very highly at all – as any objective look at the social condition of most people clearly demonstrates).

So the major issue is not how to improve market economics, but how to go beyond market economics, and into a form of management of our global (and beyond) house (Oikos – all 3 senses). UBI is a step in that direction in that it demonstrates in practice that sapient life has a value simply because it exists – rather than our existing practice of predicating the value of life on its productive capacities.

If ethics has any meaning at all, this step cannot be avoided.

[followed by]

We are getting into some very complex territory.
There are ecological limits, that we need to be responsible for, and are not yet doing a great job of. Simply increasing money supply without environmental safeguards could be a recipe for disaster.

Coal will soon become one of our most valuable commodities, and we will regret the amount that we wasted by burning (it is the most condensed source of carbon and hydrogen, two elements rare on the moon and required to build living habitats in space). The sooner we move to solar power (either direct photovoltaic or second hand wind power) the better.

UBI at $60/day would be a good start.
We are not short of jobs that need doing.
Giving people real choice about the sort of job they might want to do seems a reasonable response. Most people do want to do something meaningful.

[followed by – Grumpy replied to my post, then deleted his reply – which prevented my reply below being posted]

A few things seem to be missing from your scenario, which is why I can agree with what you say, if that was implied in what I wrote, but it wasn’t.

The thing few people yet get is that automation makes the very notion of employment redundant, and delivers in practice the degrees of freedom implied in the famous 1978 conversation between Milton Friedman and Edward Lupinski – where the notion was raised that socialism can only work if everyone has two servants, including the servants.

I am not a socialist.

I am more of an eclectic individualist who acknowledges that my individualism is only possible in social and ecological contexts (thus demanding of me social and ecological responsibility in my choices of action), and is clear that my individual security can best be guaranteed in the long term by ensuring that everyone has such security. Advanced automation makes that possible. And it raises some very high level issues as to the nature of freedom and the nature of responsibility, that appear to be potentially infinitely recursive through levels of abstraction.

Both my epistemology and my ontology are based in evolution and probability in spaces of complex information systems that have “fuzzy” non-deterministic boundaries, and contain unknowable and chaotic aspects.

I do not want to get into details of who gets to create money and how in this conversation, as they are temporary details. I see no way of creating any sort of long term stability in any market based (money based) systems. I see UBI only as a transition strategy to a post scarcity (post money) existence (so such temporary details are almost irrelevant in a very real sense). That post scarcity existence will require some quite profound conversations between very different paradigms, and would seem to demand consensus, rather than majority, decision making in all but the most dire and immediate of existential threat situations (anything less seems to itself pose existential level threat – one of those recursive systems I have pushed through several levels and am now very confident of).

Our security demands indefinite life extension.

Our security demands advanced automation, including automated construction of large orbiting habitats made largely of matter from the moon (accepting that most carbon and hydrogen – as coal) will need to come from earth to create the ecologies within those habitats.

Both of those technologies become relatively trivial in the quite near term – based on existing exponential trends in computational ability.

The geology of this planet and the cosmology of this solar system pose risks that cannot be effectively mitigated by any lesser sets of technologies.

The biggest issues are not technical, they are conceptual.

Our existing cultural paradigms largely force most people to accept simplistic heuristics to survive (ideas like Truth and God and Patriotism). Reality seems to be so complex that it takes decades of study (tens of thousands of hours) to get a reasonable handle on the sorts of things that are actually present in the complex systemic and strategic mix that is our existence.
I am not in any way trying to oversimplify that complexity, and I acknowledge the reality that all individuals need heuristics that allow them to make decisions in the face of that complexity – me as much as anyone else.

My heuristics come at a cost of many tens of thousands of hours. Few people have the luxury of such “free” time – most are forced by economic conditions of employment to devote their attention to other issues.

Envy politics and faux economics are side issues.
All economics is faux in the sense I am pointing to.

That particular emperor is clearly without clothes.

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