Greatest Leader

0 Apr 15 ~QofDay~ Greatest Leader

According to you, who is the greatest leader in the history of humanity and why?

This topic has so many dimensions to it that it is almost impossible to answer.

I love the Lao Tzu quote “When the best leader’s work is done the people say, ‘We did it ourselves.'”

Leadership can occur at so many different levels, and does, simultaneously.

Some individuals are so far removed in conceptual space that their motives are impossible for others to distinguish, so often they appear as foolish to the majority – this concept is captured in the Tarrot deck where the Fool and the Magus are next to each other (which also captures the flip side of the same thing, that when someone’s focus is so far from the normal they often miss things that are obvious to most others).

Evolution is an amazing process. It doesn’t know or care about process or theory, it only works with results. What survives, what doesn’t? What leaves offspring that go on to reproduce, what doesn’t?

This evolutionary process seems to have been working with genetics (RNA and DNA, ours and every other living organism) for billions of years, going from relatively simple molecules to all the diversity of life we see.

In the last few thousand years a new form of replicator seems to have been exponentially expanding – memes – (ideas, behaviours, cultures, conceptual systems, abstractions, institutions, technologies are all different forms of meme expression in reality) following the same general laws as genes as to their exploration of the possibility space available for recombination and expression.

It seems that leadership can be represented in this generalised topology of possibility space as the generation of attractors (deformations of surfaces within possibility space to create pools where patterns collect or channels through which patterns flow).

It seems that for each of us, we gain in leadership to the degree that we are able to distinguish the levels at which we and others are operating, and the degree to which we actively choose to operate at those levels (or beyond).

It seems that at the most generalised level, this possibility space is infinitely dimensional – plenty of room for an infinite number of participants to forge an infinite number of new paths.

So yes – as others have said – developing our own leadership skills.

At the most basic level this seems to involve creating a space between impulse and action.

At every new level of awareness, one can cultivate this gap between impulse and action – can create a space in which awareness and choice can be cultivated. And at every level, it seems to be the choice of context which is the most powerful determinant of one’s actions.

As my old flying instructor used to say, any time you get an aircraft some place that your mind wasn’t at least 3 minutes previously then you are in trouble. Keep your conscious attention well out in front, making choices of context, then let your subconscious control the body (and the aircraft when flying) in real time. So in this sense, of having one’s highest level of awareness leading one’s actions in space and time by a significant time, one can be said to be leading ones self. This concept seems capable of infinite recursion, and extension.

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Best part of aging

9 Apr 15 ~ QofDay ~ Best of Aging

What is the best part of growing older?

Continuing this amazing experience of being.

The continual broadening and deepening of the distinctions I have to see the world through, and the discovery of new distinctions and abstractions to add to the richness of experience.

Today Ailsa and I are celebrating 21 years of marriage – we did a trip up the coast to a nice little cafe, called in to several beaches, watches dolphins, fish and birds of many sorts, took photos and videos, then came home and had sushi.

Now catching up on websites neglected for several days due to being away on a business trip.

Every day, every breath, every new instant, both alike and unlike all those that have gone before. Just staying in this game called life is the best of all.

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8 Apr 15 ~ QofDay ~ Misunderstood

What’s something other people think about you that you don’t agree with?

I don’t really know what other people think about me.

I only know what they say they think about me, and how they react physically when I am around.

I long ago accepted that I think and perceive quite differently from most people.

And it seems clear to me that every person is far too complex to be understood be anyone (ourselves included), so the best any of us can hope for is some sort of useful approximation most of the time, and we are all going to get it seriously wrong from time to time- we are all that complex.

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Fly a kite

Go Fly a Kite

Have you encountered triumph through turbulence?

Hi Laurie

As you know, had more than a little turbulence in my life, cancer and wind and many other forms.

It’s just over 4 years since my last tumour, and 5 weeks away from the 5th anniversary of being told my cancer was terminal and I could be dead in 6 weeks. And yes – a very turbulent experience, facing death, accepting death, then surviving.

For twenty years I was a keen pilot, gliders, fixed wing, and helicopters – many a tale in that of the power of wind and turbulence. Gliding in wave cloud at 20,000 ft at 120 knots is one of the smoothest flying experiences of my life. Getting down out of the wave was quite a bumpy ride.

In my younger days I sailed all sorts of things, including a 34ft vessel on the leading edge of a cyclone.
I’ve been at sea in excess of 80 knots of wind 3 times – in some truly mountainous seas.

I live in a place where the wind blows over 70 knots several times most years, and over 100 knots most decades. So even at home we have many “turbulent” experiences.
Those experiences certainly do go a long way towards shaping who we become. I have certainly learned a lot about what I am capable of through them.

The fact that I am here, writing this, is probably my greatest triumph.
Thank you for your assistance in that – a certain rock is in my left trouser pocket as I write, even though I’m in a corporate office 300 miles from home – awaiting the start of the working day.

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7 Apr 15 ~ QofDay ~ Honesty

Is honesty the best policy always?

It is interesting, that the term honesty comes from the term honour – that which is worthy of esteem.

In this sense, being truthful is usually worthy of honour, and sometimes not. Sometimes being truthful is not in keeping with one’s highest values (if one values life above all else for example).

Thus, it seems to me, that honesty is always the best policy, in terms of always being true to one’s highest values (that which brings the greatest honour to self in one’s own estimation), even if occasionally that requires being less that truthful, or truer to a higher sense of understanding than the recipient of one’s words is capable of understanding at that time.

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What is Wealth?

6 Apr 15 ~ QofDay ~ What is Wealth?

What is wealth?
Should all wealth be common amongst this species?
What is an ethical or appropriate wealth of our kind?
If all life spans are unique, whilst common to all life forms…is this not the most significant wealth to appreciate as abundant and common in a universe?
To what extent does the representation of wealth in the physical shell of civilization (built environment), enhance the quality of minds in the quality of life and how should we grow this shell between the present and future if as a kind we are all in this together?
Is the meaning of wealth fit for the purpose of a living kind, if all life is wealth decreasing, between generations?
Inter generational cosmic wealth, distributed fairly within the concept of legacy and heritage…but, how?

It seems to me that there is profound paradox built into the most common sense of the word wealth.

The Oxford English Dictionary defines:

1 The condition of being happy and prosperous;

2 Spiritual well-being;

3 Prosperity consisting in abundance of possessions; ‘worldly goods’, valuable possessions, esp. in great abundance: riches, affluence;

4 Economics. A collective term for those things the abundant possession of which (by a person or a community) constitutes riches, or ‘wealth’ in the popular sense;

5 Plenty, abundance, profusion.

In the first two senses, it seems entirely possible to generate conditions that support every person on the planet being happy and prosperous, secure, and with a reasonable balance of personal and communal interests in their decision making.

It also seems entirely possible for us to produce technologies that deliver an abundance of of the material needs to every person on the planet, and deliver on the 3rd and 5th senses for all.

The really profound paradox comes in the most common sense, the economic one – number 4.

In the market based economic sense, the more everyone has of something, the less it is worth in a market. So the more abundance we deliver, the less market value is present.

This clearly demonstrates the major difficulty present in allowing markets to determine value in a context where universal abundance is a real possibility.

This is the sense that the promise of market based systems fails to deliver.

The more abundant we make something, the less market value it has.

So it is clear to me that Ghandi had not really thought through this issue – his thinking was scarcity based, because his situation was one of genuine scarcity.

We need not have scarcity.

We have the potential to deliver universal abundance – and the major obstacle to it is market values (money).

Really a very strange situation.

[followed by]

Hi Paul

This is a really complex topic.

To me, it is clear that rights are a human invention, an attempt to create both security and freedom.

Jefferson spoke in the terms of the conceptual sets available in his day. For him the terms made sense, for me talking of a creator and inalienable rights makes no sense, and I can see the roles that such ideas played in the path to the sorts of ideas that seem sensible to me now (which may well not seem anywhere near so sensible to me in 20 or 50 years time).

To me, I see evolution of ideas, percepts, concepts, strategies; abstraction upon abstraction upon ……

It seems clear to me that the only path that delivers individual security and freedom to any in the long term is to deliver it to all as quickly as possible.

It seems that the ideas expressed in of the right to life being only a right to work are not stable.
In a time of scarcity, there was an essential competitive survival reality – some people had to die. Now we live in an age of technology that allows us to create abundance for all, yet most of our cultural and institutional patterns have evolved in times of real scarcity, and are adapted to that reality, and cannot deal meaningfully with universal abundance.

Using automated systems, we can now deliver universal abundance, which does in fact mean delivering enough food and water and energy and materials to every individual to empower them to do whatever they responsibly choose. Sure there are limits on the amount of energy one can use here on the surface of planet Earth, and if one has projects that really require a lot of energy, then we will need to do those in space. And there is plenty of energy here on earth for every person to have high quality housing, and the freedom to travel hundreds of kilometres every day if they so choose.

The concepts of markets and money which served us so well in times of genuine scarcity are now the greatest threat to the delivery of universal abundance and universal security. We need to transcend them.

The pursuit of happiness is a strange thing.

Happiness as most people experience it is largely a genetically controlled set of feelings, a tendency towards actions which averaged over vast spans of genetic time have served our ancestors well, but can often lead us towards danger in our hugely changed modern times.

The greater the level of choice one is able to create, the more one can choose happiness independent of circumstance, the more freedom one has. When one masters this discipline, then happiness can be thought of as an extension of freedom, a matter of choice.

For me, politics is mostly about history.

Some define politics as the art of the possible, some see it as force in action, some see it as power at play.

The political institutions present today seem to be, for the most part, an expression of the interests of a very small subset of humanity – those with the most money (the 1% of the 1%).

There is often a “cover story” framed in terms of “public interest” which is plausible, but when one analyses the flow of money that results from the implementation of the policies, the real objectives are abundantly clear.

So I very sceptical of government. I see that often governments are simply pawns in the power plays of very powerful individuals.

And to the degree that we each cultivate awareness of such things, and the willingness to act when action is required, then to that degree we can bring about change.

All government, all centralisation of power, contains inherent dangers.

Real security lies in decentralisation, and in the formation of networks that allow for free cooperative action on an “as required” basis. Such networks, to work, require that individuals are prepared to act (at all levels, technically, morally, physically and mentally trained – self trained) in order to deliver security. Most often, simply being prepared is sufficient to prevent the need to act.

As Sun Tzu said “The supreme art of war is to subdue the enemy without fighting.”

It seems the most powerful way to do that is to be able to demonstrate that working together for mutual benefit is far more advantageous than competing.

[followed by]

Hi Paul

As I have said elsewhere, I see many risks, many threats in life.
It is impossible to deal with all simultaneously, so we must each do our risk assessment and develop risk mitigation strategies for those that seem to be the greatest and most immediate threat.

I used the Sun Tzu quote in a highly metaphorical sense. I do not see individuals as enemies, and I see that some of the thought forms that are common in individual minds (what I call memeplexes – complex ecologies of memes – which had real survival value in our not too distant cultural history) are now, in our age of potential technical universal abundance, a serious threat, both to the development of that abundance and through that to the lives and liberties of most of us.
To me, in a very real sense, I see people whose minds are infected with such ideas very much the same as I see people infected with the common cold. Given time they will probably get over the cold, and if I need them to be productive quickly, I have treatments that can eliminate the symptoms of the infection, and allow them to function at near normal output (Vitamin C in the case of colds, other ideas in the more metaphorical case).

So to me, it is the cold virus, and the memeplexes that are the “enemies” in a very real sense, not the human hosts that just happen to be carrying them for the moment.

I agree with some aspects of the comments you referred to.
We certainly need to become much more aware of our relationship to nature, and to give it far greater respect than most city dweller demonstrate today. We have wwoofers from all over the planet stay with us. Mostly I do it to meet the people. This year, from a productivity standpoint, they have been a disaster. Mostly city kids, with no real experience of living systems. So I have lost probably 80% of this year’s crops due to the kids not understanding even what I would consider the most basic of instructions, and not being willing to say that they were uncertain, resulting is massive damage. 4 different sets of wwoofers managed to destroy 4 different crops, by weeding them inappropriately, and did so in 4 quite distinctly different ways. Each time I took pains to explain to the next group the errors of the previous groups, and each time they managed to make new errors that were so basic, it never occurred to me that someone might not know them.
So yes – we have problems.
Life in our modern technical and social world is so complex that most people have little time or energy or interest for the complexities of the natural world. In my role as chairman of the Kaikoura Zone Water Management committee I see this in a hundreds of different ways that people behave. People don’t intend to poison the waterways, they just want to have their compost piles and grass clippings away from the house, so they put them down by the back fence, at the edge of the creek, where much of the nitrates and phosphates end up in the waterways. It’s not intentional, it is just ignorance. And often things are much more complex – like farmers using urea fertilisers to nitrogen force production, and the leachate from that taking 20 or 40 years to percolate into groundwater systems and show up in wells and springs many miles away. Complex systems with delays that take decades or centuries for the effects to show up (both harmful and beneficial – if and when we do change our ways).

So yes – very complex time, very complex sets of systems, very many systemic incentives working against us, most particularly money and market based values.

And for all of that, people are doing stuff. Committees like those I chair do exist. Farmers do come to meetings, fertiliser suppliers are starting to take responsible actions, and there is much more that needs to be done – at so many different levels across our society.

Striking a balance between delivering individuals as much freedom as possible, and using as little coercion as possible to actually change behaviours where there is evidence beyond reasonable doubt that behaviours do need to change, is not an easy thing.

Sometimes, the memeplex infection in particular minds is so strong, that the mind is simply incapable of recognising that an issue exists. The more abstract the issue, the more common that problem is. By the time one gets past 8 levels of abstraction the problem is close to universal. On some issues I have pushed my explorations to 12 levels of abstraction.

You always have the freedom to ask questions.
I always have the freedom to choose if, and at which set of levels, I respond to any question.

My ability to respond is sometimes limited by the urgency of my need to respond in other areas – so sometimes I simply have to say I don’t have time to adequately respond. That is a big part of why I capture as many responses, and as many thoughts as possible on my blog site.

I foresee a time in the not too distant future when I may have very little time to respond to anything but the most immediate of serious issues; and I hope that others may be able to gain some understanding of why I am doing what I am doing from consideration of responses such as this.

[followed by]

Hi Paul

While there are many similarities between genes and memes, there are some very big differences between the genetic and mimetic development.
In terms of levels of abstractions, they do not take us to any sort of mimetic inheritance, they take us in the other direction, into the exploration of an infinite set of infinities (the realms of the possible), any dimension of which could occupy anyone for the rest of eternity.

It seems to me that we all share a common beginning in a sense (in the birth of this universe, and the evolution of life on this planet), and if we really look closely at the long term options, it seems that the only real security for any of us is to deliver security to all of us. And it is relatively simple to use technology to deliver universal abundance and security, and universal freedom (once we get ourselves outside of the trap of scarcity based thinking that are imposed by the assumptions behind using markets and money as measures of value).

Being human doesn’t seem to be limited in any real sense. We each seem to have the potential within us to explore any part of infinite possibility “space” (at any level we choose).

There is a sense in which we need to confine our explorations of the possible on this planet to the limits of the energy and material needs of life generally.

As to consensus, that is an interesting thing. For about a decade now I have been involved in a consensus process for fisheries management. It takes a long time, and it does produce results.
The danger I see is that people mistake consensus for a tyranny of a majority. Real consensus means that every person has to be able to live with every outcome – that can be an interesting process – not quick.

There are some real issues: like where is the starting point for discussions?
Does one start with the existing cultural set of restrictions on freedom, and work from there?
Does one start with a completely empty set of restrictions on freedom?
What is the start point for consensus development?

Transition issues, from one system to another, are always the most difficult, because often there is no clear correlate from one system to another.

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Ideapod – Enlightenment

Ideapod – Longing for Enlightenment

I don’t do beliefs, I do probabilities, things that seem to be useful and reliable in most situations.

It seems clear, beyond reasonable doubt, that using the idea of “purpose” with respect to evolution is a category error.

It seems that the universe itself just is. It has no meaning and purpose. It just exists, as it does, a mix of the lawful and the random at different levels – shaped probability distributions that make individuals unpredictable and collections quite predictable, at many different levels.

Purpose seems to be something that self aware entities bring to existence (either by choice or by cultural conditioning).

It seems clear to me, beyond any shadow of reasonable doubt, that the idea of god was a useful heuristic to help explain the mystery that is existence, and to control people at different levels. The more we understand of the complex recursive nature of evolution the less sense the idea of god makes – and few people are interested in questioning.

If you seek enlightenment, study. Study history, study biology, cosmology, mathematics, systems theory, games theory, evolution, politics, economics, psychology, philosophy, logic, computing.
Don’t just study theory, but get out and do stuff.

Train that amazing thing that is you human mind. Give it as much diverse input as possible, and see what sort of intuitions and abstractions (voices of god) appear to you.

Learn about the sorts of algorithms that we have discovered that can produce such classes of thought.
Read Plato, Kant, Adam’s Smith, Bacon, Darwin, Dawkins, Russell, Wittgenstein, ….
Check out Kurt Goedel’s work, and Stephen Wolfram’s.

It seems clear to me that the road to understanding is infinite, and all that any of us can hope for is a useful approximation.
God seems to be a useful approximation for the start of the journey, and the utility of the idea degrades rapidly if one is willing to go beyond cultural boundaries, going where-ever the questions lead.

[followed by]

Hi Damian

But the evidence is clear that there isn’t any teleology.

It seems very clear that what we see from evolution is essentially a filtered random walk through probability space.
If one is looking just at complexity, from any point on the spectrum of complexity, evolution of any particular species is almost as likely to lead to less complexity as it is to go to more complexity.

The vast bulk of life on earth is simple and we’ve all been evolving for the same length of time.

Purpose implies intention.
If I had the intention to design something, I would actually design it, not leave it all to blind chance.

We are now moving beyond chance and into the realms of design and intention.

Teleology implies seeking.
There doesn’t appear to be any evidence of seeking, just systems, doing what systems do.

Check out Stephen Wolfram’s work – it really is quite profound, and it takes a bit of work to understand.

[followed by]

Hi Damian

Why would you ask what it means?

That seems to me to be a clear category error.

To ask what something means implies an intention behind it.

What if there is no meaning, no intent?

What if it simply was a random exploration of the possibility space available to the systems?

What if it really is that simple – as all the work of Wolfram and Dawkins and many others seems to clearly imply?

The term “meaning” implies intention. If there were no intention, then there cannot be meaning.
The evidence to me is overwhelmingly in favour of the thesis that there was no intention.
Stuff just happened.
Given a basic set of probability function, and enough particles and time, we happened.

Once we started languaging about ourselves, the game changed, then we had real intention – awareness aware of itself, and making plans. Models within models within models.

We really are very complex.
Just to see all our cells, at 3 per second, would take a million years.

[followed by]

Hi Damian

In a sense the why is easy – it seems clear that there was no why, only how.

The how seems to be simply what happens when one gets a random exploration of the space of the possible, starting from the simple, and exploring in the directions possible.

It seems that it is only once that process leads to something roughly as complex as us, that the question “why” starts to exist.

And I really do get how difficult it is to stop thinking in terms of why. We are self conscious entities. Why makes sense to us, it is a fundamental part of us in a very real sense. It is very hard to get past that, it just feels so natural. And if you give it a chance, spend a few thousand hours programming, and let Wolfram’s stuff seep into your intuitions, then it really does make sense.


And it is a very uncommon sort of sense – not at all “common sense” – and entirely sensible and intuitive once one gets it. (I started programming in 1973, my income since 1986.)

[followed by]

Hi Damian

I completed undergrad biochem in 1974.
Evolutionary biology at the molecular level was what got me interested in computers.
I have retained an interest, and scan abstracts and delve into things that take my interest. (My old biochem lecturer came to my birthday party 20 years on.)

I think I understand the recursive nature of the evolutionary process fairly well (far better than most).

Can you get specific about exactly what you mean?

I see nothing in that literature that requires invoking (or even suggesting that it may be sensible to invoke) intention.

The molecular systems are complex certainly.

The subject is sufficiently complex that I strongly suspect we will still be learning subtleties in a thousand years. And the major pathways are reasonably well mapped out.

And it seems very probable that it is a process.
It seems beyond reasonable doubt that it is a how, not a why (in the sense you were implying earlier).

[followed by]

Hi Damian

Perhaps it may make sense to you if I express it this way.

It now seems clear (beyond any shadow of reasonable doubt) from an understanding of the biology of perception that we have no direct perception of reality.
What we experience as reality is not reality, but is rather a model of reality, constructed from perceptual information past and present, available distinctions, available abstracts and concepts {recursing – no end to that potential}).

It seems clear that we are software entities living in a software model of reality (that is our subjective experiential reality), encased in a hardware system (biological body/brain system that is complex beyond the ability of any mind to deal with in detail – just looking at the dendritic connections of the brain, at 3 per second, would take a million years, and would tell you nothing about the complex interactions of all those synaptic connections running at about 100 cycles per second).

We are complex systems !!!

It seems clear that most people have the metaphysics inverted.

There does in fact seem to be both a subjective and an objective reality. We have very little access to the objective reality.

What we normally call objective experience isn’t.

We can have a huge influence on our subjective experience, not normally so much on the truly objective reality – that takes a lot more effort.

Most thinkers on the subject have too little experience of biology and computing to understand what we are.

Metaphysics is, it seems clearly to me, for the most part built on false assumptions.
Most metaphysical narratives are demonstrably false.

Can you be specific about something.

I can deal with specifics.

Give me an example of something that to you falsifies what I am saying, and let’s discuss that.

[followed by]

Can you write what you see that I don’t?

All I see in what you have written is cultural ghosts.

What is your background?

What are you most familiar with at a practical level?

This sort of discussion needs a point of focus, then we can zoom out and back to any scale, and compare notes.

[followed by]

Hi Damian

Your argument is typical of philosophy.

Sure levels of complexity arise when new forms emerge. We could not get atoms and atomic behaviour until they condensed from quark soup. You have to get RNA to kick replication off.

And in a very real sense, any why question already assumes an intelligence, something with intention. If that isn’t there, all you have is how questions.

It only makes sense to ask why if you really think there is a god there supplying whys. If you ask why, then you have already implicitly assumed god. If you ask how, then look and see, is god likely or not?

If you just look at the details, then there is no real evidence for god(s) at all.

Sure, if you just look at the surface, and use “common sense” then it does seem to make sense to ask why questions.

But when you do look at the details, then it becomes clear that why questions are all the result of category errors. Like Laplace said “I have no need of that hypothesis”.

[followed by]

How much do you understand of chemistry?

How much work have you done on the structure of cytochrome C between species (as one example)?

How much work have you done on DNA variation?

“Why” can only emerge from how if there is intention.
In all other cases it is simply a how.

One must have evidence of intention to apply a why?

I get that for people who don’t understand the detail, the intention seems obvious. Amongst those of us who have spent a few thousand hours in the detail, intention seems very improbable indeed – something with a very warped sense of humour if it does exist.

[followed by]

Hi Damian

Seems like not much point in further discussion, as you are delivering neither evidence nor logic.

Your argument seems simply based in faith. Once you accept that why is a valid question, you have already accepted intention – otherwise putting the why there is a category error in logic.

I have not seen sufficient evidence for such a claim – it seems very low probability to me.

Give me evidence and logic, or admit your argument is entirely faith based.

[followed by]

Sorry Damian – no – no evidence.

I have many friends who live by faith, I have no issue with it.

I do have an issue when people claim faith is science – which it isn’t.

Evidence is specific as to time and space.
Logic works from premises.

Just examine what you have written here, and see if you can see either.

[followed by]

Hi Damian

I have studied disciplines from subatomic through to cosmology, biochemistry, through to politics – I do understand that each level of organisation has its own sets of characteristics, and I also understand that each level is built upon the levels below, and that the boundaries between levels are “semi-permeable” – information and influence flow up and down levels.

And at the level of intention, a system to be said to be intentional has to be able to model the system in which it exists (including self), and be able to model some aspects of some set of future states, and be able to choose between possible future states on the basis of some chosen value set.

The intentional system must then be able compare the expected outcomes of possible choices and to choose those most likely (in its view – however accurate those probability estimates may be) to deliver the desired state.

Only when all those conditions are met, can we draw a distinction between “why” and “how”.

[followed by]

Hi Damian

What specific evidence do you have, that leads you to that conclusion?

What do you mean by the term teleology in this context?

[followed by]

Hi Damian

When I look at the universe as a whole, I see no teleology – just pattern doing what it does.

In the 80s when computers were based on TTL circuits, they used to short out and catch fire often (I used to take my soldering gear and spare components to every computer club meeting). The magic smoke theory of computer operation became quite popular.
People could observe that when the smoke escaped from the computer, it stopped working. It was there for all to see. Obviously it was the magic smoke that caused them to work, because when it escaped, they stopped.

Without a knowledge of all of the processes and systems, such classes of understandings are common.

You have demonstrated no actual evidence, no testable hypothesis.
To me, what you are saying seems much more like a “magic smoke” hypothesis than it does anything one could call science or understanding in the deepest of senses.

[followed by]

Hi Damian

I have contemplated many different sorts of teleology, and I have found low level mechanisms that adequately explain all the data I have seen without any indication of any higher level interference.

I have looked, believe me.

You have said that you have information, but not actually specified what it is or why you think it is more than anything accounted for by the mechanisms already mentioned.

[followed by]

Hi Damian

One of the things I hate about Ideapod is the 1,000 character limit – it means making multiple posts and inserting inappropriate breaks if one is to discuss any really non-trivial issue. This is the first of 12.

There are five very different major sets of concepts that to me are central to this discussion. They are about equally import to the conceptual framework I use – so in no particular order of importance:

1/ Number, complexity of life and systems. As humans we don’t deal with large number easily. Most people are essentially innumerate past a few hundred. Few people have any real feel for numbers like 10^8, 10^13, 10^28, 10^220 (these are {round figures} the number of seconds in a year, the number of cells in a human body, the number of molecules in a human body and the numbers of quantum states that have existed to date in our universe).
Our experience of reality is such a tiny fraction of what is present. We have to make simplifications, and we do, and few people are aware of the degree of those simplification.

The numbers in life are huge. Just to glimpse each of the cells in our own bodies for a second, it would take us 100 thousand sleepless years to see them all.
Within each cell is roughly 5 times as many molecules as there are cells in our bodies. Within each cell we have already identified several thousand major complex systems (involving switches, amplifiers, sensors, feedback, motor response etc), and I strongly suspect that there are many thousand (perhaps many million) far more subtle systems yet to be discovered.

Between cells we have many levels of interaction, new levels of systems. Between collections of cells, yet more levels of system. I am aware of roughly twenty levels of systems within human beings.
I am aware of many of the major general classes of those systems, and their interactivity, and I strongly suspect that what I know is way less than 1% of the systems that are actually present and interacting in very subtle ways.

So in similar fashion to the fact that I am sitting here and typing on a keyboard, and viewing characters appearing on a screen, I am confident that there are many levels of software system in the text editor, and the windows operating system below that, that make it happen; I am also clear that I do not know all the specifics (of computer or life more generally). I did build a computer in 1980 from a design in the magazine Electronics Today International, based upon the RCA COSMAC CDP1802 chip-set. I wrote programs for it in hexadecimal. I then pre-ordered the first TRS-80 Model III computer in this country, and wrote programs for it in Assembler and BASIC and ForTran, then I wrote a language for it (an extended basic).
I’ve owned about 30 computers since, and written software at all 7 levels of the ISO model, as well as being team leader on a major government system development – though mostly I have just owned and operated my own small software business, leaving me free to spend most of my time exploring the wider questions around the nature of being and evolution and values and possibilities and choice.

2/ In 1974, as I complete my undergrad studies in biochemistry, it became clear to me that the default mode of life is immortality – in the sense of getting older, but no degradation of function with age. Certainly all life is mortal in the sense of being able to be killed, but the idea of life having a fixed lifespan is actually only restricted to certain lines of cells in some multicellular life forms (like ourselves). Most organisms don’t age in the sense of losing function with extended time.
All organisms alive today appear to be part of an unbroken chain of life going back several billion years. In a very real sense many bacteria can be said to be several billion years old.
My thinking in 1974 went – that being the case, it ought to be possible to understand the structure of our genome (2002), work out how the 3 dimensional structure of proteins are formed based on the RNA strand derived from DNA (2012), then determine exactly what is the clocking mechanism of aging in humans (in progress), stop and reverse it. We are not quite there yet, and I am confident it will happen soon. Perhaps not soon enough for me, and perhaps I might just make it.
Whatever, the question then became, what sorts of social political and technical systems are actually present, and what sorts of classes of such systems deliver the sort of security and freedom required to allow potentially very long lived individuals to actually live a very long time (perhaps billions of years)?
That is, once one removes the genetic constraints on lifespan, what are the other major risk factors, and how can they be mitigated?
These have been the major intellectual drivers of my thinking for the last 41 years. During that time I have engaged with many groups, at many levels, scientists philosophers, theologians, academics, adepts, mystics, politicians, theoreticians. I have consciously chosen to become as much of a generalist as possible in the realms of both theory and practice. A practical farmer, fisherman, carpenter, engineer, sailor, pilot, cyclist, martial artist, politician, scientist, policeman, servant, leader, hardware and software developer … alongside the theoretical. Training both conscious and subconscious in as many disciplines as possible. Training my body and mind in as many disciplines as possible, testing limits, exploring boundaries, at all levels.

3/ Uncertainty – Heisenberg, Goedel, QM and the tension between our knowledge and our fundamental ignorance.
On that journey, I have many times gone through the process of making initial distinctions, gaining knowledge and confidence, only to find that my initial distinctions were only gross simplifications of far more complex and subtle systems at deeper levels. At every level, certain knowledge had been destroyed by uncertainty, leaving only a confidence born of practice and familiarity; with a constant uncertainty and a constant questioning.
In all realms of the real, we have errors of measurement and distinction. Beyond that we have Heisenberg uncertainty, the impossibility of knowing both momentum and position of any particle. Beyond that we have Quantum uncertainty. In the realm of logic we have Goedel incompleteness.
In the realms of systems we have infinities of systems, and the impossibility of knowing or exploring any infinity, let alone an infinite class of infinities.

4/ If one starts exploring the “abstract space” of all possible strategies, and one starts from a zero point – the first distinction one can make is binary. The first strategies are binary. Further out in that “space” of strategies one can discover infinite dimensions of more complex strategies.

A random walk through that space, must in a sense move on average towards greater complexity, because it started from simplicity and everything further away from the start point is more complex. Such increases in complexity of systems over time is not necessarily, nor does it necessarily imply, teleology (a seeking). It can be simply a random walk. One needs to examine the details very closely to determine which.

When one does that examination with respect to life forms based upon the ribonucleic acid family of molecules, the evidence clear favours the random walk hypothesis, beyond any shadow of reasonable doubt.

When one looks analogously closely at the evolution of culture and cultural artifacts (like pottery and language and philosophy) one comes to the same conclusion. The evidence sets clearly favour the random walk hypothesis over the intentional. And certainly, in more recent times, there is much more evidence of the exponentially increasing influence of the intentional.

5/ The distinction between how and why.
When one looks at life, from the sets of understandings I have, it is clear, beyond any shadow of reasonable doubt, that if one is to draw a distinction between how and why, then it seems that “why” are distinguished from how’s by the presence of intention.
It seems that intention derives from software aware of its own awareness.
It seems that awareness derives from software (at some level) being aware of a model of the “reality” within which it finds itself, models itself (including the model of reality that it experiences as reality – note the levels of recursion accumulating), and then models possible future scenarios, and possible value systems, and makes choices amongst these, and takes actions accordingly. Why questions are only different from how in as far as they can be demonstrated (on balance of probabilities) to be the result of actions taken in accordance with choices towards a chosen goal.

And standing back, at the highest levels I have been able to achieve, the evidence seems clear to me to come down in favour of the hypothesis that – in respect of human development on this planet – there is no directed activity controlling human evolution towards a goal. In this sense, this world and this solar system seem to be without meaning or purpose.
It seems that, on balance of evidence, and on balance of probabilities, this planet and all life forms upon it just happened, as the result of essentially random processes – a random walk through probability space, as sorted and selected by that amazing process of evolution by natural selection, where the processes of life and death, or differential survival, of competition, of cooperation at ever higher levels, lead to emerging complexity over time, and eventually to systems capable of awareness and speech and conceptual thought – and of asking “why” in a meaningful sense.

So certainly in respect of human action, we can now ask why.
And the evidence is overwhelmingly clear, that in respect of the evolution of life on this planet, the use of the question “why” is actually a category error.
Using why in such a situation makes no sense because it seems that there was no intention involved in it.

And I get how natural it is to ask why questions. We are intentional beings. Whys are a fundamental part of what we are, and the evidence is clear, beyond any shadow of reasonable doubt, that whys do not belong out in the universe as a whole – out there it seems that for the most part only “how”s exist, not whys.

It seems that the wider world is devoid of meaning.
It seems that meaning is something we bring to the world, not the other way around.
It seems clear, beyond any shadow of reasonable doubt, that Marcus Aurelius and all similar thinkers were just wrong. They did the best they could with the limited information they had, and in the light of the information we have now, it is clear that they were simply in error.
And they make interesting study.

[followed by]

I feel like I am talking to someone who is so invested in the idea of soul and universal spirit that he is unable to clearly contemplate any alternative explanation for the beauty and mystery and magic of this experience of life we find ourselves in.

I similarly find that you fail the Turing test by simply repeating the same statement without argument or evidence (at the level of detail required to support your assertion).

The evidence is overwhelming that Marcus Aurelius used a set of heuristics that worked at a practical level in his time, yet fail completely in the light of modern knowledge.

And I get how hard it is to see, and to break free of the cultural constrains of our birth.

I get how uncomfortable the levels of uncertainty I live with are, and how attractive at so many different levels are the levels of certainty you are displaying.
And comfort is just that, it doesn’t mean anything more in reality.

[followed by]

If you are interested in debate about god – as you claim above, then you must start from a position that admits of the possibility of no god.

If you ask a “why” question, then all “why” questions implicitly contain the answer “god”.

Thus one cannot debate about the existence of god with “why” questions – it is a logical impossibility – it is a category error class of questions.

Can you not see the logic of that?

[followed by]

Hi Damian

Have you stopped beating your grandmother yet?

Simple question.
Simple yes or no answer.
Answer it?

Most people can see in the example above, how the implicit assumption in the question is that the grandmother is being beaten, and any answer “yes” or “no” affirms the implicit assumption. So people in that case can clearly say – “I cannot answer that question because I never started beating my grandmother.”

You are asking me to ask “why”.

Now there are two common modes of using why.
One mode of using why is seeking simple cause and effect reasons for something (in as far as they can be said to exist). This is the mode I am willing to explore in.

The other mode, the mode you are using, is to look for meaning, to look for intention, for purpose.

In this second mode, of looking for purpose, the implicit assumption is that there is a purposeful entity existent.
Simply by asking the question in this mode one has already made the implicit assumption “God”.

As soon as one adopts the second mode, one has implicitly assumed God as an article of faith.
Such a mode of questioning is not an exploration of the possibility of god, it is a statement of faith – just as the question “have you stopped beating your grandmother yet?” is a statement of faith that you were beating your grandmother.

I have most certainly spent a lot of time exploring the question – does the balance of probabilities of the evidence available indicate an intentionality in the operation of this universe or the evolution of our species?
I have explored that question in great detail, with a very open mind as to the possibility or not of a god.
And the evidence from those explorations is, beyond any shadow of reasonable doubt, in favour of the hypothesis that there is no intentional design in the living systems we observe.

If there is no intentional designer, then asking mode two why questions is a category error in logic.

[followed by]

I have many friends who have faith in things, they don’t make any pretence to being open to logic or evidence, so are honest in that sense and I respect that. We get along just fine.

I have no issue with someone choosing faith.

I does seem to me to be fundamentally dishonest to pretend to be open to argument, yet to reject both evidence and logic as tools of argument and to come back to faith as the only basis for argument.

You made a claim that “reason and scientific understanding” support the claim of God, yet when I invoked both and demonstrated the improbability of God, you defaulted back to faith.

Your arguments are theistic and circular (the very sort you declared in your opening statement you were not interested in) – as I have clearly demonstrated in logic.

Perhaps someone else may gain some clarity by reading this interchange.

[followed by]

Hi Damian
Can you not see that if you ask a why question (in the sense of purpose), then you have already accepted the implicit necessity of an intentional entity at the other end of the question?

It is stage one level logic.
Do you understand logic?

The hierarchical evolution of the universe is the necessary simple logic of any system.

Systems can only evolve to greater complexity in such a hierarchical manner.

Do you understand anything of systems theory?

Asking why – in the purposeful sense of why, does take you to god – yes that is true – and it is true only because it is tautologically so – the answer is implicitly framed in the question and has nothing whatsoever to do with the evidence.
So in this sense, to ask such a question in the first place, one has to have faith that there is a god there.
If one does not have such faith, then it is a category error in logic to ask such a question.

I do not have faith.
I have questions and evidence and probabilities.

And I get that why questions of that sort are natural for us to ask.
We are intentional beings.
We deal in such why questions all the time in our dealings with other intentional beings.

This seems to be a major factor in why the idea of god is so intuitively appealing to many.

And if one is critical, and does the work of investigating, (all that detail stuff you disparage), then the probabilities come out very strongly in favour of the hypothesis that no god is required to explain any aspect of observed phenomena, and therefore asking why questions of the universe generally is inappropriate.
Simple logic.
And there is a lot of work to be done to establish those probabilities.
If you wish to invoke the name of science there is no substitute for doing the work.

If not, then call it what it is – faith.

[followed by]

There seems to be many levels to this reality we find ourselves in.
When we see someone do something, it is sensible for us to ask why they did it.
When we see a rock fall, rather than simply float in the air where we released it, we accept that gravity made it fall, and we don’t asked why the rock chose to fall.

Gravity is a sufficient explanation for the falling of a rock.
It explains all observed phenomena.

The universe is huge.
We will never know all there is to know about it.
It will always contain mystery.

You are correct in a sense.
If one steps away from causes, and forgets about things like gravity, chemistry, logic, systems, etc, then it really does seem sensible to ask why questions about why the universe is as we see it (why in the sense of purpose that is).


The evidence is now overwhelming, from many disciplines, that this tendency to ask why questions comes in part from the structure of our brains, and in part from the necessity of systems theory, and in part because of the fact that we are social entities. In the context in which we and our cultures evolved, the other entities around us really do have intention.

However, we have been developing tools to increase our level of understanding of this world we find ourselves in. That process has been exponentially expanding. We have learned more in the last 50 years than in all prior human history.

There is now more that we as a species know than any single human can possibly learn, and the rate of increase of information continues to increase.

For all our knowledge, we are now becoming ever more profoundly aware of our ignorance.

We are learning the sorts of mistakes that our ancestors made, and the sorts of mistakes we all make.

Science does not deal in absolute certainties.
Science deals in probabilities.

The only things sacred in science are the need to question everything and the need to test theories with experiments.

With millions of people performing millions of tests over many years, we have learned some things.

It is now very clear that it is highly unlikely that there is any intentional entity behind the universe we find ourselves in.
It is now clear beyond any reasonable doubt that progressive levels of evolving systems following relatively simple and elegant rules can explain what we see.

Certainly, if one ignores all that science, then sure it looks like there is a god there, and it looks like god has a purpose for everything.

But if you actually do the work to understand what the science is actually saying, then the picture is very different.

You want to ignore the detail, yet claim the mantle of science.
Sorry – that is not allowed – it is an error.

[followed by]

Hi Damian

Why is certainly one of the most important questions we must ask ourselves, and we need to ask it of ourselves, and other intentional entities.

We are intentional entities.
The question makes sense for us.

Sometime soonish the question will most likely make sense to AI entities, non-organic sapience.

It is a really important question.
Why are we doing what we do?
Why do we allow the myth of money to rule our existence?
Why do we allow millions of people to die each year from easily preventable causes?
Why ……………..??????

Really important questions – for us, and things like(ish) us – things able to make choice, to choose values, to model possible futures and choose amongst them.

Why is a really important question for sapient entities.

Why is a really stupid question to ask about things that are not sapient.

The only way to be confident about what is sapient and what isn’t is to get deeply into the detail.

Why is a question for people, a question about choice.

Why are we choosing what we are choosing?
What values have we implicitly or explicitly accepted from culture that may have been useful in our cultural history, but are no longer useful?

There are many useful questions we can ask ourselves.
We can make choices about such things.

It seems very clear that the universe just does what it does. It seems very clear that the universe doesn’t do choice as we know it, so asking why of it is a category error.

Ask of ourselves – most certainly.
In implementing choices, ask how questions about the universe.

[followed by]

Sentient beings are a complex set of systems.
Sure, systems are built upon systems.

We are mostly water.
We don’t ask a glass of water why it wants to be drunk by us.

Yes the universe as a whole contains complex systems, but that does not mean the universe as a whole is sapient.
Do you understand nothing of how the process of evolution works?
The process is the filter that creates intelligence, it is not itself intelligent, it does not require an intelligent matrix.
This is basic science – basic logic.

You are making absolutely basic logical errors – errors of basic set theory.

It is a serious error to have one’s mind so open that basic logic falls out of it.

Certainly, stay open to possibility and evidence.
Certainly come up with new ideas, then be prepared to do the work to test those ideas out, and see how they relate to the results of those tests.
Read what others have done then test some of it for yourself. That is how science works.

[followed by]

Hi Damian

This is going nowhere – I give up.
You have abandoned science and reason completely (if you ever really had any grasp of it) – by quoting Marcus Aurelius as any sort of authority.

Every statement in that quote is full of demonstrable errors. Every concept has been shown, beyond all reasonable doubt, to be false.

You keep making the same basic errors of logic – and seem uninterested in anything other than disparaging real science and justifying faith in outdated ideas with pseudo-science.

I have better things to do with my time – I really tried, but you have gone around in a circle and are back to where you started.

If you ever do develop an interest in understanding this reality in which we find ourselves, there has been some really great work done, but you have to be prepared to give up most of the concepts of culture that you currently hold so dear.

Best of luck.

[followed by]

Hi Damian

I hope Ideapod does stay around.
About 10 years ago a similar site started (out of Austin Texas) called Zaadz. I put thousands of hours into that site over 4 years, then the owner (Brian Johnson) sold out to Gaiam, and after another year they shut it down – and I lost most of what I had done there.

Now I copy everything I write to my own site, as well.

You say I create an epistemological cage, which is true in a limited sense, in the sense that it is based upon experimental evidence and logic.
The weird thing is, in refusing to consider evidence and logic you create a cage that allows self reinforcing errors to propagate throughout your thinking.

I feel sad. I sense from your use of vocabulary and sentence structure that you have a powerful mind, but it has been captured by a set of self reinforcing ideas that discount evidence (a working definition of “faith”).

I prefer the freedom to question and test over the strictures of faith (at all levels).

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