A day of celebration.

This day 26 years ago Ailsa and I got married.
22 years and 3 days ago the title for this house changed into our name (with a mortgage, which has been gone a couple of years).

Today is a special time for me, for us. I have never ceased loving Ailsa, even when her actions are at their most incomprehensible to me. And in a weird sense, that is part of the attraction – we are so different.

I don’t think either of us are easy – we have often made the joke that we met in that little pile of people who slid off the end of the bell curve.

We are two weeks into coronavirus lockdown. I have been to the supermarket 3 times in 16 days.

We will take a walk around the block together later.

I will cook pizzas for dinner tonight (I am not a great cook, nor do I normally cook, but I can cook a reasonable pizza – vegan wholemeal for me, but cheese and salami for Ailsa).

Have been spending a lot of time over the last weeks coding and debugging, getting ready to deploy a major language upgrade to clients, which has posed some interesting challenges.

The Hutton’s Shearwaters had mostly gone at my last visit to the colony.
I will probably go out an download everything from the data-loggers this weekend, and pack things away for the winter. I can do that walking from home without going near anyone.

An idea that keeps coming back to me is, that after this lockdown ends, there will still be the people, and the goods and services present. But the distribution of numbers (money in digital accounts) will not aligned with the needs of people. We will need to shift some numbers around to keep the system limping along until real reform is completed; and a real long term plan for transition to responsible abundance is in place (and continually monitored and reviewed).

The economic system we have in is need of major change, it is no longer suited to our changing conditions.

We need to value a lot of different things:
individual life;
individual liberty;
social systems;
ecological system;
goods and services;
the lessons of deep history;
the novelty of creative possibility;
independence; ….

All of these things are important.
Finding balance between order and chaos at every level, in every context, is important.
No simple set of rules can do that.
Responsibility is demanded of all of us.
Economic efficiency robs us of liberty and creativity, yet currently the economic system performs many levels of essential function.

These are really challenging times.

How we respond is really important.

We all need to do our best, accepting that we will often get it wrong, and we need to extend the same to others, while also being alert for those few who are actually cheating on the system (because some few do – and we all have a responsibility to identify them, and to incentivise them to change their ways).

Interesting day.

Interesting times!

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London Futurists – The world after coronavirus – key dimensions for decisions

The world after coronavirus: key dimensions for decisions?

[ 9/4/20 ]

If you frame it as either/or(s) you see a set of possible patterns as points on a line.

If you frame it as all things being necessary, in different densities in different contexts, then an entirely different sort of geometry emerges.

The critical problem we face is one of over simplification of situations that are in reality deeply complex.

There can be a sort of simplicity that emerges after the complexity is accepted, and our uncertainties are acknowledged, but it is not possible to get there by trying to simplify too early in the process.

We need to value individual life, and individual liberty, and social structures, and technologies, and moralities, and ecosystems, and the lessons of the past, and the novelty of the possible, and ……

The future can be so much better than most imagine possible, but not by over simplification of the very real complexity that really does exist.

The time of the dominance of value in scarcity, value in exchange, must end. We must acknowledge that individuals have value in and of themselves.

If we are to retain an exchange mechanism (a money system), which is probably a good idea, at least for the next few decades, then we must change the way that the system works, and rather than creating money as debt, create it as universal dividend on the accumulated capital of human endeavour, and then let it redistribute as it will.

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Quora – Are humans confused as to their own free will?

Are humans confused as to their own free will?

[ 8/4/20 ]

Necessarily, as there is no agreement about what it might mean.

Many people are in a group that believes that all events are preceded by necessary causes. In such a world, there can be no free will.

Another group of people argue that even if there is not necessary prior cause to all events, that free will is still impossible.

I am not in either of those camps.

It seems clear to me, beyond reasonable doubt, that this universe in which we live, and biology at every level of evolution, is a balance between the lawful and the random.

At the most basic level we currently have any glimmerings of an understanding of, quantum mechanics at the level of individual quanta deals only in probabilities. Anything can happen, but some things are more likely than others.

When you get large collections of such things (and even a single tick of a cesium atom is some 10^30 Planck time units – which is a fairly large collection) then they can form a very predictable distribution. So even with this fundamental unpredictability, we can still build things like computers that are very reliable – provided that we keep them within appropriate limits of temperature, voltage, current, magnetic field, cosmic ray density, etc.

So it seems that reality contains many levels of fundamental uncertainty, and at the same time can be very reliable and predictable in some sets of contexts. This seems to give us the best of both worlds much of the time (computers and freedom) – though occasionally we can get the worst of both – reality can be like that.

Trying to get some sort of concept set of just how freedom might emerge in such a context is not at all easy.

I am something of a geek, who aced my math tests at school, but was lucky to pass an English test. I got seriously interested in biology, in evolution, in biochemistry, which forced me to gain some sort of an understanding of quantum mechanics, and enough math to be able to work through Hilbert, Einstein, Goedel etc. I started working with computers, and have done enough work with complexity theory and computational theory and some reasonably complex math; that I have a reasonable model in my head as to how it all works, but it requires at least 15 levels of systems (15 levels of abstraction), with a lot of connections between all levels of the structure, that it is not at all easy to explain to anyone else. I have not managed it yet, despite putting in quite a bit of effort.

But at the end of all that, the sort of freedom that emerges is not at all simple, and not what most think of as freedom.

If most think of freedom at all, they think of the ability to follow whim or fancy; and they think of anything in the way of that as a restriction on liberty.

For me, whim and fancy are not freedom – they are the expression of genetic and cultural systems selected over deep time by evolutionary pressure that contain many levels of random inputs to whatever that output is.

So if someone tries to claim that freedom is following whim, then to me they are not free, but are slaves to aspects of biology and culture about which they have little or no awareness.

And that is not to say that whim and fancy are always inappropriate. Clearly, if that were true then our ancestors wouldn’t have made it this far.

I am not saying that whim and fancy are always wrong.

I am saying that they are tuned by experience to the conditions of our past.

In our rapidly changing present, that means that they are not always appropriate.

There needs to be an additional level of test applied to pass for freedom.

And this is where it gets deeply complex, and I wonder if anyone else will understand how subtle and recursive this notion is.

Freedom cannot be an absence of influence from the past. The many levels of the complexity that is our embodied being demands influence from the past.

What freedom can be, is an ability to question everything about our genetic and cultural defaults; to model and test possible sets of alternate structures, and to bring some of those into reality in a responsible way that acknowledges our social and ecological realities.

If the mathematics of quantum mechanics is somewhere near correct (and it seems to be very close indeed), then all things influence all other things, but not in a hard deterministic sort of way, but in a softer, probabilistic sort of way.

Thus everything we do influences everything else, but in most cases the influences are so small we can treat them as zero in practice, but not always – and we need to be alert for those exceptions.

If freedom is to survive, then it must be constrained to the class of actions that are survivable. In the past evolution has done that, and in a sense that will continue as a limiting case. Differential survival of individuals does change things. And we have other options.

We can learn,

We can accept that all freedom comes with responsibilities if it is to be survivable.

If it is not so constrained, then it must, logically and inevitably, lead to destruction.

Is there any infallible way of knowing exactly what responsibility is in any particular context?


Reality seems to be sufficiently complex and contain sufficient classes of things which may not be known in advance by any computational agent; that all any of us can do is give it our best try. And sometimes, it really does need to be our best – and not anything less.

And if we each look, we all have a fairly reasonable idea of what is needed to keep society working, to keep people interested and peaceful and to have a balance in life that allows us to both be part of our groups, and to be free and creative individuals.

And there is always and necessarily a tension present in every level of that.

So yes – I’d say many people are very confused about what freedom is, and have accepted a form of slavery as freedom (in an Orwellian fashion – be it in slavery to an idea or a group or a culture or money or anything else {the ideas of money, or markets, or nations, or religions, or any forms of righteousness, etc)).

And it is far from simple, as reality seems to be so complex that all of our understandings of it are necessarily simplifications, our experience of it is of a subconsciously generated model, not the thing itself (like a subconsciously generated virtual reality). Added to that is the frequent need to make rapid decisions on little information, which demands further simplification of something already simple. So there is a reasonable case to be made for having simple models in some contexts; they are in fact essential.

The big question is around specific contexts and specific models, and that can get very tricky when many people have very low resolution models of probability (the lowest being simple binaries like right/wrong, true/false – when reality seems to be much more subtle than that in many contexts, but often denies us the time to explore such subtleties).

Freedom seems to be a very complex and subtle thing, that demands of each of us the greatest degrees of responsibility if it is to reach anything remotely approximating its full potential.

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On my Facebook link to the Portal 27 episode above

Hi Mark,

These are two of the smartest guys I have come across, talking about the most complex and difficult issue of the greatest importance to everyone alive; in a way that should be available to most people if they give it their full attention.

In 3.5 hours they give a reasonable introduction to the major issues present right now. I only have one major gripe – their failure to acknowledge the necessary evolutionary conditions for the emergence and stabilisation of complexity. But other than that, an excellent discussion – well worth the time.

I have not spoken to Eric directly myself (but have probably spent 50 or so hours listening to him in conversations with others), but I have spent a couple of hours in conversation with Daniel (just the two of us), and we have exchanged quite a few ideas directly by email and comment over the last few years (plus probably a hundred of so hours of reading and listening to him online).

Watching some of David Snowden on complexity is a great intro.
These Wikipedia article and two videos are a great start:

Getting your head around Jordan Peterson is another essential piece, and there are no shortcuts with him – I spent about 300 hours reading and watching – both his books and all his video lectures. But if you had only 20 or so hours, then his latest Maps of Meaning series on youtube will give you 70%.

And I say this being clear that I don’t believe anyone or any thing. All of my understandings are based in balance of probabilities, and the only person I have ever read that I did not find significant errors in their thesis was Kurt Goedel.

And maybe the fact that I have spent about half of my time over the last 50 years thinking about these issues makes me more than a little weird.

And I still highly recommend listening to these two in full, even if you lose the thread from time to time. You should get it back again.

And any of these guys give you tools to go deep, as abstract as you want to go.


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Why is the scientific method important in humans’ efforts in gaining scientific knowledge?

Why is the scientific method important in humans’ efforts in gaining scientific knowledge?

[ 6/4/20 ]

While I agree with Marty Fouts, that science done in reality is vastly more complex than anything taught in secondary school or undergrad classes, there is a general theme in the method that is important, and fundamental, and to which everyone returns at some point.

That fundamental thing about science, is letting reality (whatever it is) be the final arbiter on questions (rather than any form of Truth or dogma).

And real science deals in probabilities in all cases, and in practice all scientists will have some set of things sufficiently well tested that they don’t think about uncertainties, they treat them as truths in practice.

So the general form being, come up with some set of hypotheses to explain something observed, design an experiment that should give a reasonable probability of distinguishing between them as to which is more useful, then carry out that experiment.

And it can get extremely complex, as different individuals can bring fundamentally different sets of interpretive schema to an issue.

A good scientist will acknowledge that all models are probably wrong, but some are vastly less wrong than others.

It’s most often useful to be using the least wrong model available.

And it is more complex than that even, as different models have different computational costs (thence time required), and if there are deadlines approaching, then simplifications must be made in order reach a conclusion. That problem is potentially infinitely recursive through the space of all possible models and all possible logics, and causes a vast number of real issues in society today (politicians are usually working to deadlines, and usually like simplicity – even where it does not exist).

So anyone beginning the journey into science has to start with relatively simple models. Some people like to hold onto such simplicity. Exactly where one sets the boundaries on that is a major determinant on how far one gets on any particular issue. It is easy to get lost in complexity.

There is usually a fair degree of pragmatism and a fair number of useful heuristics employed in any practical scientific endeavour.

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To a comment from Joe Brewer on Daniel’s Portal post

Comment from Joe Brewer on Daniel’s Portal post

[ 6/4/20 Joe wrote – “… The collapses ARE inevitable—they are part of the self-organizing dynamics of pattern formation inherent to the globalized economy as it came to be structured.”]

Yes, but that doesn’t mean that the current structure is appropriate for the structure going forward.

And I get that is a seriously complex topic, and it is one that must be addressed if we are to have any reasonable probability of a secure future. The existing system simply is not appropriate.

It must change.

Whatever comes out must be decentralised, resilient, and based in abundance and cooperation (rather than scarcity and competition). And of course it can have competitive aspects.

Whatever it is, it must embody the values of individual life and individual liberty first and foremost, and it must also embody ideas of social and ecological responsibility. Those are the basics, inescapable.

We need a serious replacement for Bretton Woods that takes full cognizance of the advances in strategic and evolutionary understandings since then. That is doable, and it is extremely complex.

[followed by]
Portal Podcast – Episode 27

Hi Daniel,

Now that I have taken the time to listen to the podcast in full, and to contemplate on what was said – I say as always we align on far more than we differ, and you both did great, and to me there was one massive hole in the conversation.

At around 2:36:00 and again at 3:33:30 the topic of Dunbar number came up; and to me the major reason for it was missed both times; and getting it will bring many mathematicians like Eric on board much more quickly.

To me it is clear that the major limiting factor on cooperation embodied in the Dunbar number is an ability to remember interactions well enough, over a long enough period, to be able to accurately identify and remove cheating strategies on the cooperative.

Cooperation will only occur in biological contexts when it is advantageous to do so.

This can occur when it allows for the defeat of a common threat that cannot be mitigated individually, or when there is a resource that similarly cannot be accessed individually. Often aspects of both exist over time and context.

And maintaining cooperation demands effective strategies to detect and remove cheating strategies on the cooperative.

We have a name in biology for the unrestrained growth of some subset of a cooperative at the expense of the whole (and eventually to the subset also) – it is called cancer.

It is almost always the result of a failure of a signaling pathway that normally inhibits growth and keeps the systems in balance.

The fact that we can clone animals from any tissue proves that there is nothing inherently special about germ line – it is simply a subset of the cooperative with a particular role – a particular set of signals producing a particular set of structures and behaviours.

We have to accept the reality that we are a global cooperative. We can be nation level cooperatives also, and district level, and community level, and street level, and household, and any number of other groups we belong to (golf clubs, cycle clubs, conservation groups, philosophical groups, production groups, whatever…).

We have to accept that there are many threats that require global cooperation to combat, and this covid-19 things is a tiny taste of it.

We have to accept that we can do far more cooperating together than we can competing in a race to the bottom.

The financial system has to be like the blood system, delivering all that all the cells (people) reasonably need, which is highly variable.

Individual life and individual liberty need to be prime values in social cooperatives, and they must be accompanied with social and ecological responsibility. Nothing less can survive.

Technology now gives us the ability to identify, track and remember interactions across any number of people the solar system is capable of supporting. We can transcend Dunbar’s number. It is not any sort of hard limit. We just need to understand the dimensional depth of what it is.

Some high points of the conversation for me.

35:50 “You can’t keep externalising damage in an exponentialy growing system.”
38:00 Daniel – WWII first time we had existential level technology.
41:50 Daniel “Technology is a lever on our ability to choose.”
43:00 Eric – “Missing Stingers (100)”, “Poisonings and shooting low”
46:20 James Demore situation
48:50 rivalrous dynamics result in exponential increase in risk.
50:20 Russell conjugation – disinform without lying – easy to influence by sharing partial data and hyjacking limbic system.
59:30 Almost everything we do produces negative externalities so they have to be disguised.
1:25:00 contact with the unforgiving
1:26:00 civilisational collapse drivers, loss of generator functions
1:30:00 how the dominant system defines normality
1:41:10 an economy of shame and terror
2:29:00 markets can die from abundance
2:32:30 rivalrous – red in tooth and claw .
2:36:00 other side of the Dunbar number [Mostly about being able to stabilise cooperation by effectively identifying cheats. Cooperation can be stabilised.]
2:45:40 designing systems
2:48:30 multipolar trap
2:58:40 protopian – moving in the right direction
3:01:00 sensemaking
3:02:12 the biggest problem with discussing sexuality is that sex is sexy
3:03:22 the engine of human behaviour, natural vs sexual selection
3:05:40 fundamental rivalry
3:07:20 positive deviant analysis for proof of concept.
3:08:30 minimal requirements for game B
3:20:40 Pleasure
3:22:40 something like spiritual growth that is essential for survival.
3:33:30 Dunbar number again.

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Quora – What does evolution act on?

Quora – What does evolution act on?

[ 5/4/20 ]

Evolution, as in the modern synthesis of understandings of the process of evolution by natural selection, acts on replicators in environments through differential survival.

Thus it requires something that can replicate, and variation – both in the thing that replicates and in the range of environments in which those populations can survive.

And once that process becomes recursive, it gets exponentially more complex in some environments. And that bit gets extremely interesting – exactly what is it about some environments that enable the emergence of new levels of complexity while in other environments the older simpler systems carry on just fine?

So there are two key things:
Replicators; and

Both get complex.

There can be many levels of replicators together.

A single strand of RNA can copy in an appropriate context.

A group of strands of RNA can get together to create a context that enhances their ability to replicate. This level of cooperation seems to have led to cells, then cells to bodies etc.

Every new level of complexity is predicated on a new level of cooperation between replicators at the old level to bring a new level of replicator into being.

By the time we get to our modern human society, it seems that we have at least 15 levels of such recursive cooperation present in each of us – by the time you add up all the levels of molecular through to conceptual replicators that seem to be present in the ability to create and transmit these symbols and the patterns implicit in them.

And it gets extremely complex, because at every level there is a context sensitive balance between order and chaos that delivers an appropriate amount of variation.

Every level of pattern has a minimum level of order necessary for its survival.

The variability present (or coming) in any environment demands a sufficient level of variation in the population that enough individuals can survive to maintain the levels of complexity present.

By the time you get to our modern complex technological society, that gets extremely complex; in ways that very few minds are able to get any sort of intuitive feel for.

This eternal search for appropriate balance brings a necessary tension at every level between what we can think of as the conservative and the liberal incentives within each of us (within every level of complexity – necessarily). The hard thing for many to get is that one isn’t right and the other wrong, both are eternally essential; always, all levels.

Freedom will eternally have an aspect of going beyond the known, into the unknown; and that always has both dangers and opportunities. Often it is the only way to solve problems for which no solution is known.

It gets really complex. By the time someone has conceptually repeated that process 10 or more times; one ends up with a very different set of relationships to uncertainty and knowledge than one started with.

And some things remain true across all levels. There is always a need for responsibility, to be alert to dangers present to existing levels of complexity; at the same time as there is a need to explore new levels of complexity. Those operating at those boundaries have to deal with levels of uncertainty that would drive most people insane. And that seems to be eternally true – all levels.

So evolution seems to be this amazing process of exploration of creativity and freedom; that brings with it levels of responsibility.

Freedom without responsibility is suicidal.

And there can be no hard and fast rules about what constitutes responsibility in any particular context – there does in fact seem to exist that degree of uncertainty – eternally, all levels.

And there do seem to be a set of values that are necessary for responsible action – to value individual sapient life first and foremost, and to value the freedom of individuals to act responsibly following that. And there will always be uncertainties of interpretation about what constitutes responsibility in any particular context. We see the depths of complexity involved in that starting to emerge in the covid-19 debate.

We seem to be the most complex thing we know of that evolution has produced. We have a lot of replicators in our systems that are not sustainable, and have analogs in any number of pathologies. Most of our finance and economic systems seems to be closely related to “cancer”. Money can be a very useful tool, until it assumes a value over human life. Right now we are in a transition phase that poses many levels of danger.

Biologically, we cannot continue to expand populations indefinitely on a finite planet. And we can certainly give everyone on the planet a lifestyle that any in the west would accept, provided we keep the birth rate down. We are starting to get close to that limit, and we need to give it serious consideration.

We have grown beyond the ability of the existing market based systems to adequately cope with the complexity of values present. And it is deeply complex, because the market systems currently support many levels of complex function which are essential – so transition is not a trivial task.

Thus evolution works on all of us, all levels, all the time.

One thing to really appreciate is that in terms of the survival of complexity, cooperation is far more important than competition.

Once you really understand the mathematics and strategic spaces of evolved systems, it is clear that competition is the enemy of both freedom and complexity; and that any real measure of either demands the highest levels of cooperation (and it cannot be naive cooperation, there must be consequences to cheating – all levels).

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