On narcissism and classification

Daniel posted a link to The 15 types of Narcissism (and their characteristics)

[ 18/June/22 ]

Hi Daniel,

A few years ago a psychologist gave me the label “Autistic” and my wife the label “Neurotypical”. To some extent, those labels have been useful, but they seem to generate almost as many issues as they solve.

We all need systems of understanding and classification, but all such systems become traps, tending to hide the subtlety between classification states, and thus potentially hiding entire realms of abstraction or domains of relatedness.

I could easily see many “neurotypicals” stuffing “autistics” into a narcissistic classification, and never really being willing to question it thereafter.

And the years I spent studying biochemistry, and the 50 years since that I have kept skimming abstracts and occasionally reading papers; and listening to various speakers as I drive places (the nearest big city is 2.2 hours drive away, and some weeks I might go there 2 or 3 times for meetings, and our small farm is 7 hours drive away), all build upon the idea that human beings are more complex than any computational entity can deal with in anything remotely approaching real time. The evidence from neuroscience over the last 5 or so years is that the human brain is capable of searching a space of some 10^50 patterns per second (using intrasynaptic protein complexes as pattern integrators).

So yes, we do have major and minor systems, and yes there are multiple levels of attributes of those systems that can be issues, particularly if they are denied, or they are over simplified; but over simplification, particularly the over-reliance on any system of categorisation, holds at least as many issues as it solves for. {In this sense, the classical notion of rationality is a simplistic trap, even as it can be very powerful in some contexts.}

We all need to be willing to dwell in uncertainty with respect to anything and everything from time to time (as contexts allow), so that we can have at least some finite (however limited) probability of going beyond the systems of understanding and classification that define our current experience of being.

And it can be really hard, when there is so little shared experience with others that communication about those things one finds truly interesting has such low probability that most would think it impossible.

So yes, certainly, be alert for pathologies, most particularly within ourselves, but also within those within our networks; and always be willing to grant that no one is ever one thing all the time – we are all necessarily much more complex than that, and we are all capable of being more (or less) than we normally are.

The Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn quote has been with me a lot in the last few months, as it seems to be that he was very close to truth when he wrote “The line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties either – but right through every human heart…even within hearts overwhelmed by evil, one small bridgehead of good is retained. And even in the best of all hearts, there remains…an uprooted small corner of evil.”

In as much as good and evil have any reality, they seem to me to be limiting cases of spectra of deeply parallel and dimensional complexity.

I guess my key message is, classification is essential, and over doing it, being over confident about it, creates at least as many issues as it solves.

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Matthew 26-52

[ 17/June/22 “And Jesus said unto Peter, Put down your sword and and pick up an AR-15, for it has vastly superior firepower.”]

{King James version -}”Then said Jesus unto him, Put up again thy sword into his place: for all they that take the sword shall perish with the sword” reads more to me something like “you need to have your weapons, but they are to be used only in the most dire of needs. Resorting to swords early in any conflict means a lot of people die needlessly”.

And I get it was a joke, and at the same time it is a deep lesson that strategists in every nation, every army and in every economic institution need to understand.

Looked at not from a biblical perspective, but from the perspective of someone interested in maximising both security and freedom from an evolutionary strategic perspective, the message is essentially the same – any form of competition that is not firmly built on a cooperative base is necessarily destructive of both security and liberty. And any form of liberty without appropriate levels of responsibility is similarly necessarily destructive.

Every human is more complex than any human can possibly understand in detail (that is proven beyond any shadow of reasonable doubt), thus we must all, of necessity, make simplifications; but over simplifying anything to do with people necessarily leads to failure.

The only path with any reasonable probability of survival is one where all individuals practice responsibility, to the best of our limited and fallible abilities – and we are all, necessarily, going to make mistakes from time to time. The first necessary step in cleaning up after making a mistake is admitted that a mistake has been made – and that is hard for everyone, and very hard for some. And in order to clean stuff up, you need to be alive.

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Facebook link to Greenpeace – Stop the Feedlots

[ 17/June/22 ]

Feedlots, in and of themselves, are not the problem.

If done well, feedlots can eliminate the problem.
If done badly, they can make the problem worse.

The issue is not feedlots in and of themselves as a concept, it is how the specifics of the particular system actually operate.

The issue of nitrate pollution of groundwater from intensive dairy has two major aspects to it:

One is that cows tend to stand still when they pee, and they drop quite a few liters of urine in one spot on the ground. This is more urine than the plants in that place can rapidly use, so if there is a rain event, then some of that nitrogen can get flushed through the root zone of the soil and enter the groundwater system. Putting cows in feed lots means that we can capture all of that urine (and other waste products – faeces, methane, whatever) and treat them appropriately, before returning them to the pasture system in appropriate concentrations such that they are used effectively by the pasture. There is no guarantee that a feedlot system will do that well, but there is potential for it to be done far more efficiently and effectively than is possible with any form of open pasture grazing system. And there are a lot of ways to do it badly.

The second major class of issues for groundwater (and to a degree surface water runoff) pollution by nitrates is nitrogen forcing production. One of the many influences on plant growth is the concentration of available nitrogen near the plant roots. If this is high, then it tends to promote plant growth. The issue with running high nitrogen levels throughout the soil profile where the plant roots are is that any excess of water in the soil system will tend to push some of that nitrogen below the lowest of the roots and into groundwater. One of the issues with soil is that it is never a perfectly homogenous thing, it is variable at every scale you look at it. So that it doesn’t matter how perfectly you try to apply water to a soil profile, there will always be places where it flows through faster than you want it to, and other places where it goes too slow (so some areas deep in the soil will be too dry, and others too wet as against the optimum you are trying to achieve – if in fact the operator is trying to achieve the optimum for minimum environmental impact, as against simply going for maximum production at minimum cost). Perversely, attempts to “optimise” water use, tend to make this aspect of the problem much worse, as when such flushing to groundwater events happen, they tend to be small and at high concentration, rather than large and at lower concentration. Lowering the amount of free nitrogen in the soil does reduce the the total protein production of the pasture. However it is done, there must be an acceptance of some degree of reduced productivity or increased water use (by injection of flushing flows below the root zone on an as required basis), if groundwater nitrate levels are to be kept low (and by low I mean below 1, not below 7).

So the “problem space” of humans and ecosystems coexisting is deeply complex, and if feed lots are done well, then they can be part of an effective solution to the problem of ground water pollution, and it is also true that doing feedlots well is not simple, and there are many more issues of animal welfare that need to be effectively addressed than simply looking at groundwater pollution.

So no – I cannot be against feedlots as a concept.
Going backwards to low productivity technologies actually requires more land area, and thus in the big picture leaves less opportunity for natural systems – if we are to feed the people we have.

We need high tech, and high tech by itself can just mean bigger problems if it is not done in ways that do actually manage all of the potential issues effectively. Left simply to market incentives, then yes, feedlots create massive environmental issues if they are being simply optimised for maximum output at minimal cost.

If however, feedlots are used with a lot of very high technology that is constantly monitoring and adjusting and optimising for maximal animal welfare, minimal environmental impact and producing a profit, then they can be orders of magnitude less impact than any form of pasture production, simply because the outputs of the animals can be contained and processed appropriately.

Feedlots done badly – big problem.

Feedlots done well – near optimal solution possible.

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The idea of Good and Bad people is too simple.

Good and Bad People

[ 16/June/22 ]

I was listening to Rory McIlroy’s interview over the LIV golf, and there was one thing he said that I think was far more problem than solution; and that was when he said “there are good and bad people everywhere”.

To me, that is a dangerous over simplification.

It seems clear to me that every person does some things that appear clearly “bad”, and others that seem clearly “good”, and for most of us most of the time we are really not certain, we are just making our best guess.

I’ve mentioned the Solzhenitsyn quote a few times lately – about the line between good and evil going through the heart of everyone. Anything less than that awareness is a dangerous and inappropriate simplification.

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Lex interviewing Robin Hanson

Robin Hanson: Alien Civilizations, UFOs, and the Future of Humanity | Lex Fridman Podcast #292

[ 14/June/22 ]

I’ve had my share of arguments with Robin over the years, and I give him full respect for his knowledge of economics; but his knowledge of biology and particularly the strategic underpinnings of evolution is woefully inadequate and just simply wrong on multiple levels.

Life is complex – really complex.

Human life is the most complex and the most cooperative life on this planet (which also happens to mean, “that we know of at this time”).

While there are certainly many aspects of competition that are eternally part of any evolutionary system, in terms of the emergence and survival of new levels of complexity; it is true to say that their emergence is empowered by cooperation and their long term survival is predicated on the long term maintenance of that cooperation, and that demands an evolving ecosystem of cheat detection and mitigation strategies.

And in my understandings, one of the most powerful characterisations of life, is “search” for survivability across the space of possible systems and possible contexts. That leads to the most general case of life possible which is systems capable of real time adaptation to changes in contexts and recursive search through systemic and logical spaces for novel solutions to identified problems, and novel opportunities. And when one delves into the theory of search, the most efficient search possible for a fully loaded processor is the fully random search (which does lead to an interesting set of conjectures about how neural networks as necessarily biased as human neural networks may approximate random search in different classes of contexts, and how evolution may have embodied such things into our neurochemistry).

Unusually, I find myself getting really annoyed and frustrated by the multiple instances of over simplification of the truly complex leading to entirely inappropriate conclusions — at least in the first 80 minutes of the interview.

The latter part of the interview I find Robin is often at his superb best – but he still over simplifies the constraints required to get long term survivable outcomes from markets (particularly betting markets).

Agree with Robin that most ideas become more obvious over time, as information accumulates. So agree that Einstein deserves some celebration for doing it first, and others would have done it later if he had not. That is clearly evident when one views life as “search” (eternally).

Agree completely that the lesson of AI is the view-quake that perception is hard!!!

But the thing from biochemistry is that life is complex – deeply complex, and subtle.

The chunkyness of AI is defined by the biochemistry of the computational systems of brains. I developed one solution in 1974, but some things are too dangerous to release.

Around 3:17:20 Robin speaks about emulating the power of the cells of the brain – that is an inadequate model. What one needs to do is emulate the computational systems of the brain. Some of those are at the cellular level, some are at the synaptic level, and some are at the level of the protein structures within the synapse. Computation occurs at all of these levels (and at others, within the body, and the various “organs”). We are the embodied whole of that. Getting some feel for the computation possible in the quantum aspect of protein structures is fundamental to getting a reasonable handle on just how complex we are. I started from biochemistry in 1973, and the conceptual sets available from biochemistry have increased substantially in the intervening years. Search across the space of pattern through time (at scales from millisecond to 500ms) is where much of the action happens in human brains, and it is at the molecular level – and it is both subtle and powerful – and the search space coverable is vast – of the order of 10^50 patterns per second. And what we get to notice is the differences between expectation and delivery (at least at some scales, in some contexts – and the vast bulk of it is subconscious, necessarily).

3:24:20 The power of markets in complex spaces; yes, provided certain conditions are met. If agents do not have reasonably equivalent tokens of value to engage in markets with, then what markets solve for gets skewed towards the most tokens, and that tends towards a leverage spiral, and can lead to systemic failure.
At the larger scale, the scale of survival on the very long term, there are existential level risks created by the short term heuristics embodied in our neural networks, that are no longer appropriate to the scale of complexity embodied in our systems.
That is not getting sufficient attention.
No market can overcome that inherent bias, in and of its own internal incentive structures.

And yes – Markets are very powerful in some contexts, and deliver existential risks in others, and we are in one of those transition zones. This is deeply NOT simple!!!

The definition of rational is deeply complex.

Aumann’s agreement theorem is predicated on shared priors.

When individuals have been using random search across vast search spaces, then there can be very little that is in the class “shared priors” – so in a sense, the very concept of “rationality” fails – as there is no step wise “cause and effect” linkage. What there is are jumps to concept sets that do manage to pass enough tests to be worth keeping in the toolkit, and there is ongoing search. One can imagine that there must be a stepwise “rational path”, but one does [not] have the time to search for it – too much else needs doing.

Totally agree with Robin that we do need to actually try stuff. We need multiple instances of some version of “safe to fail” experimentation – all institutions, all levels, all systems.

And this is the antithesis of any level of hegemony.

Completely align with Robin’s advice on life course.

Total agree with Robin, about at every moment having the option of keeping going, and would add that I would like to tend to experience increasing function, and increasing resilience with time, rather than those reducing as I currently experience.

The final argument of Robin’s about competition is straight out of the heart of economics, and makes sense in that context, but it fails in the wider and much deeper context of biology and the systemic strategic constructs of the the evolution of complexity.

In that context, yes, there must eternally be competitive aspects, and any level of competition that is not firmly based in cooperation, necessarily self terminates.

This is my prime candidate for the “Great Filter”.

The evolutionary pressure to select and bias for simplicity is entirely predictable, and if not seen for what it is, does prevent the possibility of even experiencing the levels of complexity present in life. It is like a recursive form of confirmation bias deeply embedded in our neural networks.

Competition, without a cooperative base, self terminates – necessarily, in every class of logic I have explored.

Tunicates give us ample evidence that brains are there primarily for navigation.

Embodiment is an essential aspect of human cognition, and intelligence.

When one views life as recursive levels of search across strategic spaces for survivable systems, it should not be a surprise that most systems fail. The number of systems that are not survivable is vastly greater than the subset that is. It is somewhat analogous the Wolfram’s ruliad, yet different.

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Dangers of over simplification

[ 14/June/22 ]


It seems clear to me that Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn was very close to truth when he wrote “The line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties either – but right through every human heart…even within hearts overwhelmed by evil, one small bridgehead of good is retained. And even in the best of all hearts, there remains…an uprooted small corner of evil.”

We are all far more capable than we would like to admit of doing things we would not like to admit to.

There is no justice in the genetic lotteries of our conception, and little more in the early development of our brains. Precious little more in the societies of our birth and childhood, and even now in our social order.

And the fact that we are all here, are all alive, and can use this technology to communicate, is hard evidence of the fundamental cooperative nature of all human beings, and we can all compete if the context demands it of us. Yet it is cooperation, not competition, that is the fundamental glue that makes social interaction possible.

Our social systems are far from perfect.

Every human being is far from perfect.

It is our tendency to over simplify that which is actually truly complex that leads us to simple classifications like good and evil. We are all vastly more complex and nuanced than that.

We need social and economic systems that embody justice, not ones that perpetuate injustice. And that is a deeply complex subject for which there are no simple answers possible. Any workable answer has to accept fundamental uncertainty, fundamental respect for diversity, and an eternal need for conversations and change. Nothing less is survivable, long term.

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High speed rail

Proposed route of train from Los Angeles, California to London.

[ 14/June/22 ]

To get across the Bering Strait there are only 2 40km tunnel segments required.

The big issues isn’t the strait, it is the tectonic activity of North America. If you want a really high speed train, then you need to put it in a vacuum tunnel (reduce air resistance). Once you do that, and you get the speed up, then the effects of even quite small lateral shifts in the track can generate massive G forces inside the train. So you need to base isolate the track to cope. If you are near a fault zone, then that can requires some large engineering. I live in Kaikoura New Zealand, and 5 years ago we had a big quake here (7.8), the maximum displacements I have personally inspected are 7.9m vertical and 12m lateral. It takes a lot engineering to be able to isolate in 3 dimensions for 12m displacement. The alternative is to reduce speed through such zones.

The technology is relatively trivial, compared to changing levels of understanding and dogma present. Most people still have “faith” in stories that have been disproven far beyond any reasonable doubt, and the vast majority of those who have gone beyond faith into the eternal uncertainty of science, are still operating from very simplistic models that have competition at the base of their understanding of the evolution of complexity. The reality seems (beyond any remaining shadow of reasonable doubt) that all new levels of complexity are base upon, and sustained by, new levels of cooperation. And while there is eternally a set of competitive aspects to any evolved system; it is much more accurate to say that the evolution of complex systems is fundamentally based in and sustained by cooperation.

Current social dogma that competition outweighs cooperation will necessarily self terminate. It could not be more wrong if it tried. It is sustained by a form of confirmation bias aided by very strong biases in our neural networks to prefer simplicity to complexity (which are entirely understandable from an evolutionary perspective, but also have a very strong tendency to self terminate at higher orders of complexity – and are my prime candidate for the “Great Filter”).

So as others have noted, it is doable, in an engineering sense, and it has some strong engineering challenges, and some of the sections will be quite low speed (under 150km/hr).

If we get cooperation between diverse social systems on Earth (not any sort of hegemony or “one world order”, but a universal acceptance that real freedom results in diversity in all dimensions, necessarily), then developing and deploying near fully automated manufacturing systems to the moon would allow us to construct most of such a network in orbit using solar energy and lunar mass, off planet, and then land it on earth and essentially bolt the segments together and have it operational in a relatively short period. Easily achievable in a decade if we get remote manufacturing on the moon doubling in capacity every month.

But it requires that all levels of self aware agents accept that hegemony and freedom are polar opposites.

If any agent values freedom, then they must, of logical necessity (in any class of logic) accept and respect any diversity that results from such freedom that is not an actual and unreasonable threat to their existence.

[followed by]

Hi Brian,

2 different things.

Most people do not currently think they have much chance of living indefinitely, so don’t really think through long term risks. I have understood since 1974 that I have a finite if small probability of living for the remainder of eternity. So I tend to look for long term (billions of years) minimal risk options.

I don’t really class any current “high speed” trains as a really high speed train, as they travel in air, so can’t go really fast due to resistance and heating effects (they are essentially restricted to subsonic speeds). If you place a maglev train in a vacuum then no such restrictions apply, and you can get much faster than air travel speeds. That to me is a “high speed train”, greater than Mach 5.

[followed by 15 June – separate subthread]

Vaughn Bresheare
Unfortunately that is an outcome of a system that does not accept that there is a fundamental need for cooperation to sustain complexity. Such a system can sustain itself for a while, but the internal strategic and systemic forces breaking it apart build up, as you are experiencing.

Any social system that is to survive has to meet the reasonable needs of all of its citizens. Part of the reason the Roman empire lasted so long was that they did (for the most part) appreciate at least that much.

We are all, as human beings, deeply complex.

Even the worst of us has aspects that are good and noble, and even the best of us have aspects that are deeply on the “dark side”. There is no simple divide between good and evil that is applicable to individual people – we are all deeply more complex than that. Political systems that intentionally over simplify that reality to build partisan support must eventually self destruct.

The only real counter for it is for individuals to start taking responsibility, to cooperate as and when it is appropriate and safe to do so. To build relationship and trust with those most different and most easily demonized.

It is hard, and potentially dangerous, and needs to be done with full awareness; and it needs to be done.

Respect is fundamental to coexistence.

Diversity is the necessary outcome of any real freedom.

And even here in Kaikoura there are righteous forces demonizing other groups. It takes a fair amount of effort to mitigate the worst of the tendencies, and maintain communication (at least such as it is).

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Quora question on improving society

If you were 1 of 30 people given the responsibility to improve today’s world by each of you choosing to remove a different person from it, who would be your choice? (Only 1st 30 picks here accepted, prior to (us) creating a new world without them.)?

[ 13/June/22 ]

An utterly inappropriate question.

None is my answer.

The problem is not people, it is the strategies and understandings they are using.

If we are to have any chance of long term security and freedom, then we need to respect the lives of all individuals.

Some strategies are not survivable, or appropriate, and agents employing such strategies may need to be restrained until they can see the error of their ways – but eliminating the agent is not an option – not if security for any is the desired outcome.

A failure to understand that is a failure to explore the question to sufficient depth.

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Technology and survival

Ken asked – How many Lifeboat readers think that only advanced technology will solve our ecological problems – and how many think we can only solve them by using less technology?

[ 12/June/22 ]

I agree in part with Aric and Ken and Matthew and Ron.

We need technology to solve many classes of well characterized long term risk that cannot be solved without very high technology, but the current forms of social organization and many of the systems of understanding in common use are not sufficiently advanced to allow the deployment of the necessary technology safely.

Like Ken I have clear memories of when there were just over 3 billion people, of sitting on a hillside in October 1962 listening to the radio reports of the Cuban missile crisis, and starting to think deeply about the strategic context of the future of humanity. A lot more thought and a lot of investigation has happened in the intervening years.

Back then I held some things to be true.

Now all of my non trivial understandings in respect of reality involve uncertainties and probabilities. Some particular logics and some particular mathematics allow for certainty within their restricted domain spaces, but Goedel showed that those spaces are limited, and not general.

It seems beyond reasonable doubt to me that the universe in which we exist contains multiple classes of fundamental uncertainties and unknowables. And there are many more classes of logic than the simple binary logic of True/False, with consequential strategic topologies.

It seems clear that most people have very simplistic models of most of that reality, and for most those models contain various sets of Truths and Faiths that may not be challenged, and thus limit their ability to explore possibilities and comprehend uncertainties.

There are certainly multiple levels of selection pressure in evolved systems to minimize energy used in computation, and to minimize time to solutions of computations (particularly strong when under stress). We all have multiple levels of such biases in our neural networks, necessarily. Becoming aware of them all, and overcoming their short comings, takes a great deal of work, and few have the time or inclination to embark on that process.

So it seems beyond any remaining shadow of reasonable doubt that we all live in our own personal subconsciously generated models of whatever reality actually is, and all will be inaccurate to various degrees.

That happens at multiple levels, necessarily.

We all have strong biases to prefer simplicity over complexity, even when the complexity is real.

One of the limiting simple ideas is the idea that evolution is all about competition.

Competition is certainly an ever present aspect of evolution; but when one looks deeply at the strategic contexts of the emergence and survival of new levels of complexity, it is true to say that the emergence of all new levels complexity are predicated upon, and sustained by, new levels of cooperation.

In this deep strategic sense it is far more accurate to say that the evolution of complexity is all about the emergence and stabilization of new levels of cooperation.

The current dogma present in economic and political circles that competition is fundamental to survival is actually wrong, deeply so; and poses existential risk to our species.

We must have competition. The competition of ideas is part of freedom in a sense, and we all need appropriate levels and degrees of freedom. And at any level, all out competition destroys freedom, complexity and security.

At every level, there is a fundamental systemic strategic demand for cooperation if there is to be survival. Any system that fails to achieve that in reality will be eliminated by the process of natural selection in reality, given sufficient time and variations in context.

We, as a species, need to accept that we need fundamental cooperation at all levels of diversity.

At any level, every level, enforced hegemony is the polar opposite of freedom.

And also at every level, any level of freedom that fails to acknowledge the necessary sets of boundary conditions required for the maintenance of complexity at that level, is destructive of complexity.

Freedom without Responsibility and Cooperation necessarily self terminates, all levels!

So yes – we need high tech, in order to be able to mitigate many classes of well characterized existential risk; but one of those classes is; that technology without appropriate levels of cooperation and responsibility, necessarily leads to destruction.

Current political and economic dogma does not contain adequate levels of either cooperation or responsibility.

That must change.

It must change quickly.

That is possible, and it requires building diverse sets of trust networks, so that required concepts can actually be transmitted through those networks as needed.

We all need appropriate degrees of both freedom and responsibility.

Central control removes both, and is not a survivable option (long term).

What is required, is cooperation and diversity.

When I look at life in the most abstract way possible, what I see is random search across the space of possible systems embodied at recursively more complex levels.

If we are to survive the unknown unknowns, then we must continue to search, eternally, and that search is not without risk. Yet if we are to have any possibility of long term existence, either as individuals or as a species, then we must continue to explore the unknown, for solutions to the already known risk as well as for risks we are currently ignorant of.

This is the only way to minimize risk, and it requires accepting that risk is an eternal part of existence, and can only be minimized by eternal exploration. AI doesn’t change that, and will, like us, still be faced with eternal search of an infinite class of infinities; though it can certainly search some classes far faster than we can; it will eternally remain true that for a fully loaded processor, random search is the most efficient search possible (recurs as deeply as you are able).

So yes, we need high tech, we need responsibility, each to the best of our limited and fallible abilities; and we need fundamental change to economic and political systems such that they accept that cooperation to maximize security for all levels and classes of agent is a fundamental precondition for long term survival of complexity such as we are. We can build any levels of competition we like on that base, but that base has to be secure and sacrosanct.

Once we have that base, the technology to clean up the many levels of mess we have made is relatively trivial; but without that base, such technology would create more risk than it would solve.

Once we have that base, we need to accept that we need to close all of our loops of material usage. Recycling needs to become a part of all manufacturing and biological processes.

Our political systems need to be explicitly designed to distribute as much decision making and responsibility as possible to every level of agent present. Governance needs to be explicitly about identifying the boundaries of responsibility, and about setting up appropriate structures for exploration at and beyond the boundaries. There can be no hard boundaries in complex systems, such boundaries as must exist need to be eternally iterative and permeable and responsive to changes in context.

And we all need to accept that we are both individuals and social entities, and that both natures are essential parts of being human – eternally. Both come with demands for both freedom and responsibility, if they are to survive.

[followed by Ron replied “The question was: “To solve ecological problems, do we need more or less technology?”
Your answer was that we indeed need more technology, but we also need to change our economic and social systems.
I’m not saying that you’re wrong. But the last part is outside the scope of the original question, which is why I didn’t touch it.”]

Agreed – more technology is necessary but not sufficient.

[followed by Aric replied – if there was a major threat to humanity, say, a giant asteroid on a direct collision course with the earth, and the estimates are that if it hits, nobody would survive, how would that impact how countries behave?]

Hi Aric,

For me, the probability of such a thing is asymptotically approaching unity. The when of it is entirely uncertain.

For me, it is a risk that must be mitigated, if we are to have a truly long term future.

That requires some very high tech.

Technology of that power requires a universal acceptance of the need for cooperation in diversity that respects the life and liberty of all agents that are not a direct and unreasonable threat to the life or liberty of any other agent.

And liberty in this sense has to include a notion of responsibility across all of the identified classes of boundaries required for the levels of complexity present.

Developing such technology without an acceptance of responsibility at these recursive levels instantiates far more immediate risk than the risk one is attempting to mitigate.

Cooperation really is fundamental to survival – long term.

There really is no escape from that.

It is only some form of willful ignorance, usually perpetuated by some class of agents upon other classes of agents for the short term benefit of a few; that allows the current state of blindness to this fact of strategic existence. It is a form of suicide for short term gain.

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A Joke cartoon about kings and corruption

[ 10/June/22 Joke cartoon about kings and corruption]

Applies to many of the kings of economics, politics, Wall St, military, industry, universities, and most institutions.

We need effective mechanisms to identify and remove cheating strategies at every level of complexity and organization; and we need the will and the duty to implement them.

All that is keeping society together is the fact that most people in these systems are generally of good character, and do find ways around the worst of the systems they are forced to work within.

We need to reformulate systems, with a clear hierarchy of values, starting with individual life, then individual liberty; and we need to recognize that any and all rights and freedoms necessarily generate responsibilities if they are to be survivable long term. Most people do seem to sense that, but our systems lag far behind in terms of complexity appropriate to scale.

Hard rules are never appropriate to truly complex systems; as boundaries always need to be sensitive to context, and contexts are always changing, evolving, emerging.

The biases necessarily with the human brain to prefer simplicity over complexity need to be recognized for what they are, necessary for growth, but in adulthood inadequate to deal with the real complexities actually present.

Over simplifying is every bit as dangerous as over complexity. And there must always be elements of art and luck and uncertainty in finding a survivable balance in those considerations; which is one reason why diversity (many different approaches to the same problem at the same time) is so important to survival.

Any real expression of liberty results in diversity. Any diversity that is not an unreasonable threat to existence must be accepted and respected. Those are necessary conditions for safely searching the unknown and the unexplored when one is actually dealing with complexity and uncertainty. The unknown holds both threats an opportunities. And while ignorance of threats may feel safe, it isn’t actually safe. In order to be able to mitigate threats, we must have some reasonable degree of understanding of them (recurs that to every level you are capable of).

Competition is only survivable if it is built on a fundamentally cooperative base that does actually respect and support diversity (all levels, all classes, all instances of agency).

That is about as far from simple as it is possible to get, and it does seem, beyond any shadow of remaining reasonable doubt, to be where we are. If we fail to accept and respect it, then the human experiment seems likely to end. Contrary to that thought, it does seem more likely than not that most people can actually accept and respect it to some useful level of approximation. So the outlook is generally optimistic, if far from certain.

[followed by Michael Ward “You seem fairly dogmatic about how to “improve” society”…]

Gravity is “dogmatic” in that sense, yes.

There is a very old saying, reality to be commanded must first be obeyed.

If our conceptions of how reality work are not aligned with how it actually works, then our systems based on those conceptions will fail – no logical escape from that, not in any form of logic.

So I am rather insistent (rather than dogmatic – I do not classify myself as dogmatic, because I make a great deal of effort to always be open to evidence, which is the opposite of dogma), that the simple notion many have of evolution being all about competition could not be more wrong if it tried.

The reality is deeply more complex.

Yes, certainly, there are always aspects of competition present in evolutionary systems, but if you actually look closely at the evolution of complexity, it is necessarily the case that all new levels of complexity are based in cooperation, and any level of competition that breaks that cooperative base destroys that entire level of complexity.

So in terms of complex systems, (and we currently know of nothing more complex than human individuals in human society), it is (to a reasonable first order approximation) true to say that survival is based in cooperation.

That is contrary to current political and economic dogma (and there is no shortage of real dogma in both economics and politics).

So I can be both persistent and insistent on this issue. Keeping it as simple as I possibly can, and at the same time being explicitly clear that it is actually a very long way from simple.

The human bias to prefer simplicity is understandable at multiple levels, and it has definite limits on its utility. Past a certain point, it does actually impose existential level risk.

We are actually at one of those points in history – right now!

We do not have decades, we may have a few years; but the situation is urgent, and fundamentally uncertain in ways that defy accurate prediction – a bit like earthquakes.

And the 7.8 earthquake here in Kaikoura 5 years ago is a good example. Most people thought – it’s unpredictable, don’t worry. I thought, it is certain that it will occur, but unpredictable as to when, so I prepared fully immediately. As a result I was the only person in town fully prepared for it, with alternative power, water and sewerage systems ready to go and food reserves for 4 months on hand (and all functional within 8 hours of the quake hitting).

So I get I am unusual.

I get that I am a math geek who actually understands probability intuitively, in a way that lets me do simple first order approximations to most things about as fast as I can read them. And I have been in the habit of doing that for all numbers I read for 60 years – actually checking that the math is somewhere near what is claimed – and it often isn’t – often it is orders of magnitude out.

Insistent – yeah – I’ll own that.

Persistent – yeah – I’ll own that too, would have succumbed to cancer over a decade ago if I was not.

Dogmatic – no – doesn’t really fit. I constantly question everything, dogma doesn’t do that!

[followed by]

If you want an example of dogma, then that quote from Thatcher is a perfect example.

The level of ignorance embodied in that is profound.

The risk from that ignorance existential.

Society exists at multiple levels.
It is responsible for way over 90% of the technology we enjoy – including all of this technology that allows us to communicate in this fashion.

Complexity in evolutionary systems is a recursive set of functions that can be usefully conceived of in many different ways (like the blind men and the elephant myth).

In part life is the embodiment of random search across domain spaces.

In part it is recursive levels of cooperation.

In part it is new levels of creativity and freedom. (And every new level of freedom necessarily comes with new sets of constraints if it is to survive.)

[followed by]

Hi Michael,

I really don’t understand your statement:
“If you know what you’re looking for, inquiry is unnecessary. If you don’t know what you’re looking for, inquiry is impossible. Therefore, inquiry is either unnecessary or impossible. People see only what they can.”

That is clearly overly simplistic nonsense.

For me, life only makes sense (at every level, from the atomic on upwards), as the embodiment of random search within sets of constraints.

Enquiry is a thing in itself.

One can posit the question: what is this? And start a potentially infinite process of enquiry, allocating such time as one can when one can.

If one has a reasonably enquiring mind, one gathers a large class of such questions, and one keeps on “time slicing” between the needs of the now, and the depths of enquiry.

That has been my existence – some 18 hours a day for 60 some years.

I have nothing certain.

I have rejected all dogma that most accept as True.

I have sets of probabilities; thresholds of accuracy and confidence and evidence, that allow me to operate on a daily basis, and everything is open to question with sufficiently strong evidence.

Why would anyone think “enquiry is impossible” if you don’t know what you are looking for?

I simply have no idea how anyone could imagine such a thing.

If you know nothing of life outside your house, then open the door, put one foot after the other, open your eyes, and you are in the process of enquiry. You are searching the unknown, the unexplored.

This planet is a big ball, lots of space for search at many different scales. The solar system is larger, the galaxy larger still, then a whole universe of galaxies.

The universe of conceptual and logical systems is larger still. The possible ways of interpreting reality exceed the size of reality by infinity. (Ockham’s razor is an essential tool to avoid an infinite {and easily available} set of halting problems, but it does not solve all halting problems, infinite classes of more complex variants exist.)

If one actually starts seriously exploring mathematics, then the space of all possible logics, then the space of all possible computational systems, and one actually puts some substantial effort into exploring biology, from the sub-atomic scale up to our scale, then one looks at the evolution of systems and complexity, then the evolution of social systems and understanding itself; then it is a space of search recursively embodied.

The quote above is just simplistic nonsense – words without meaning.

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