Thoughts driving home from meeting Richard Dawkins in Christchurch

Attended Richard Dawkins event in Christchurch, and had a short conversation with him at the meet and greet afterwards

These are transcriptions from 3 recordings made driving home Saturday morning, while driving home, listening to a lecture on the development of greek philsophical thought.

If you simply criticise something, like from a perspective (whatever that perspective happens to be, whatever that tradition happens to be, whatever that logical schema happens to be), if you don’t suspend for some time, your prior judgements and prior patterns, and actually take on and try out, the schema under discussion, then you really cannot understand the schema from within the schema itself.

So there is a great deal to be said for trying out many different things, always being alert for things that are in fact dangerous.
Its like – you really need a fairly good virus scanner, before you try programs randomly downloaded from the internet.
Its the same thing taking on different cultural constructs.

There can be worms and viruses that once instantiated in your system can fundamentally destabilise or capture some of what it is to be a human being, that cannot easily be dislodged.
You need to be conscious of such things, to evaluate such risks to the best of your abilities, and then make a call as to whether or not you are going to try out any specific system. And it really is very difficult to criticise a system effectively if you haven’t actually tried it out for yourself.

One of the things to become very clear from being with Richard last night; I really enjoyed most of Richard’s presentation. He showed a degree of compassion and understanding, he was genuinely skeptical, but when I was in the meet and greet afterwards and I mentioned Jordan Peterson, the change in demeanor was significant, he was not at all happy.
He was quite explicit that he hasn’t seriously explored Jordan’s thesis. I requested that he do so, and publish his results. And that I would be very interested in reading them.

So Yeah – That’s where I am there.
That thought was actually generated by considerations of Cicero, and his place in the evolution of thought, on the nature of philosophy, the nature of understanding.

I had a though on how to encapsulate that in book form.

How to get us through this next decade or so?

How do we question the nature of knowledge?
How we move people from “Truth” as something hard, to truth as some sort of approximation to something. [To eternally have some shadow of doubt.]

And it has always had both meanings. The extremists take it as something hard, the more liberal give it a probabilistic form.
Got to spend a bit more time on ontology and epistemology.


I stepped back from economics, looking at what it is that defines modern economics.

It is defined by value in exchange, which is always some function of desire or need (which is effectively a branch of the same thing) multiplied by scarcity. And looking at what happens when the scarcity disappears, when technology enables full abundance.
So, looking at that aspect, which is the fundamental logical presuppositions of the nature of value that is measured in a market. That is one aspect.

The other aspect is the nature of being human that is presupposed in economic models. So – looking at the various sorts of natures that human beings have, and the contexts that trigger the expressions of those natures, and the strategic relationships of various levels of those natures, and why, if one is looking to create a low risk environment one needs to be very conscious that any level of competency (so this involves an exploration of the nature of hierarchies, that hierarchies are fundamentally about competence, and that can be competence in any domain, and that within particular contexts particular hierarchies dominate). Someone may have no knowledge at all about the intellectual content of a debate happening, but if one is a competent martial artist in that debate, and you see one of the debaters as a risk to your existence, then one can destroy that debater, even if that debater is the most competent debater in the context. Even if that debater would have won the argument had they not been taken out by the actions of the martial artist.

You cannot ignore any particular domain just because you think the context doesn’t apply.

The context can shift very, very quickly.

Just a matter of a few inches difference and safety becomes threat.

Real safety can only exist in distributed trust networks, and distributed cooperation, where every individual is conscious of the benefits that they get by behaving cooperatively in that context, and the risks that are present if they fail to operate from a fundamentally cooperative context.

And that needs to be recursively true at every level.

There is no way out of that.

The price of liberty is in fact – Eternal vigilance.

What does liberty look like?

It is secondary to life.
The primary value is life itself.

That demands responsible action from all individuals to protect the lives of all.

It is only when that is done that liberty can see its greatest expression.

Any attempt to give liberty fuller expression prior to the guarantee of life for all is a failure of principle, a failure of morality, and a very very high risk strategy.

That is entirely achievable.
It does not require uniform distributions and it does require a high basic level for everybody. And I mean – SERIOUSLY High, several kilowatts per person.

I am cruising along in a little vehicle at present, at 100km/hour. If the vehicle was totally optimised the vehicle could do this on a couple of kilowatts. I don’t need to be so moving on a continuous basis. We probably need 10 KW per person continuous. That is a lot of slaves at 200W per slave 10KW is 50 slaves. That is pretty good going. Reasonably straight forward to produce. 250 m2 of solar cells.
Back to Cicero.


The idea of Lucifer as being the opposite to god, in terms of consciousness – the thing that rebelled. It seems very likely Lucifer means the light that fell from heaven. So if you have a meteor come down, and it hits an area it turns that area to stone. It melts it. it obliterates it. It causes suffering, it causes heat, it destroys crops, the suffering goes on for ages.
Something that could be very real, and very physical, could be seen by later ages to point to something unreal, because they had no knowledge of the reality, no way to imagine such a reality.

So they could only think about it in mythic terms.

That transition, from something very physical, something very real, something immediate, to something mythic, across generations, particularly with low population levels, for where there are lots of follow on disasters, such that there isn’t a great ability for reliable transmission of that information, there is a very low resolution transmission over time; and then an attempt to reconstruct, reconstructs the mythic rather than the physical.

So it seems very probable to me that Lucifer (gods fallen angel) was a meteor, quite a large one, did quite a bit of damage, caused a lot of angst. Took a lot of people with it to the underground. Quite literally. Melted a city or two.
That sort of thing happens.
Like 1908 Tunguska – though that happened where there wasn’t any people.
The rock that came through 2 weeks ago, and passed between the moon and the earth. We only spotted it a day out, one day before it went past. There was no response time. Had that thing actually been headed for the earth, it could have taken out half of California and everyone in it. And done trillions of dollars worth of damage to the economic infrastructure of the planet, if one is measuring things in terms of dollars.
Tens of millions of lives lost, of information, of thought, of relationships, of networks, of infrastructure. All that it is that make modern humanity what modern humanity is.

The networks, the contacts, the information flows, the novelty generation, the systemic resolution of that novelty. All of that layer upon layers upon layers of complex adaptive systems.

There is such a phenomenally complex reality.
It is such a low resolution model of reality that our subconscious brains create and present to us, but it works.
Here I am in a car at 100km/hr.
Driving along on a wet road in the rain, from the reliability of this machinery. It gets me there.
Or at least it has done today.
This little machine has done 161,000 kilometers.
And it is still powering away.
It is almost magical in its reliability, compared to Henry Ford’s creations it is so reliable, but it is so, so much more complex. In the infrastructure that supports it. Componentry from all over the planet, brought together invisibly by networks or organisation that are both (well – they have technological aspects, they have physical aspects, they have information aspects, they have strategic aspects, they have political aspects, they have motivational aspects, emotional aspects; the whole system of systems of complexity that actually achieves these outcomes). And here I am, driving along in the rain.
Cars coming towards me, any one of which could cross the center line and destroy me, but none of which do.
Just passing the dead trees of Hawkeswood, passing Homestead gulley.

It is such !!!
The difference between being it, and conceiving of some low resolution approximation to the complexity of it. It is just so vast.

It is like we are so, so, so, so complex that it is really, really, really hard – if you look at all the complexity that reality is, the magic of existence. If you open yourself to experience it as something more that the simple model that our neural networks conditioned by experience present to us, as our experiential reality, then the idea that Richard Dawkins and Trick Slattery bring – that we have no free will, is just wrong.

It is wrong on so many dimensions.
Certainly, we are not absolutely free. [To that extent both are necessarily correct.]
To be absolutely free is to be the cosmic background radiation. It is just randomness. That is what freedom means. An absence of structure.

We are highly structured entities.
The form that we have demands structure, demands boundary.

Thought demands level, upon level, upon level, of complex systems. Every system requiring boundary constraints.

Those boundaries are not hard. They are not crystaline.
They are flexible and context sensitive and open to influence by the states of the systems surrounding them, within them, within which they are embedded.

That seems to be the nature of this reality within which we find ourselves.

Quantum mechanics gives us very accurate predictions about populations. It says nothing about anything in particular. If you try and tie anything down to a hard place and a hard time using quantum mechanics it “fuzzes” out. If you localise position then you lose its momentum.
If you really tie down where it is now, then you have no idea where it is going to be next.
What quantum mechanics does, in terms of understanding, is tell us that reality defies hard prediction.

But when you sum those probabilities over reasonable populations, you get things that are very, very reliable.
You may not be able to tell where within a particular sphere an electron is going to be, but once you look at 50 billion instance of that electron, then the shape of that sphere is very well populated. With 50 billion instances, there is a regularity present. If you throw 50 billion heads or tails [coin tosses], then you get a distribution that looks like it is exactly even. But if you look at it very closely, it is highly unlikely to be exactly even, there is likely to be variation most of the time. If you look at the distribution of the digit 3 in the first million characters of Pi there is actually a sequence of 179 3s in a row. So if you only looked at that sequence, then you could say that Pi is made up of a string of threes. But, if you look at the distribution of all digits across that entire population, then it is very closely even (to one part in a thousand) – the same number of instances of each digit.

So it very much depends how you look at things.
If you look at things only in aggregates, then things seem to be very dependable and predictable and they are, and that is a great thing, because that allows complexity such as ourselves to exist.

But if you try and push that idea that things are dependable and causal, and you push it down to the level of the individual, it fails.

It fails consistently at every level.

At every level there is uncertainty at the boundaries.
And that uncertainty at the boundaries is important.

And when you start to understand evolution as the survival of things that can replicate, over deep time.
And you start to understand that competitive environments always drive complex systems to some local minima of complexity, and keep it there, and that cooperative systems allow for the exploration of new strategic territory, then it is very clear, that to be human is vastly more about being cooperative than it is about being competitive.

If being human was just about competition, then we would be bacteria, we would not be human.

It is that our ancestral line, repeatedly, recursively, explored the possibilities present in cooperative strategies, with all the necessities for secondary strategies to prevent invasion and destruction by cheating strategies. It is that recursive level of cooperation, that defines the levels of complexity, that enabled the level of complexity that is us.

We could never have gotten here by competition alone.

It is only through cooperation that we could have gotten to this level of complexity.

And our survival as a species, as thinking entities capable of degrees of self determination, is fundamentally predicated upon our ability to cooperate, at every level.

But it is also fundamentally predicated upon our ability to detect and remove cheating strategies on that cooperative.

It is now beyond any shadow of reasonable doubt, that most of the economic and political structures currently in place fit very closely the definition of cheating strategies.

NOW – to be VERY, VERY CLEAR – that is not to say that we need to eliminate any politician, or any economist or any bank manager.
But it is to say that all of those individuals need to be made aware of their fundamental self interest in adopting a cooperative strategy, and the fundamental errors of the strategies they have been operating, and the ethical need (the ethical demands) that are present, that predicate the survival of humanity.

And one needs to see evolution in the context of a balance between order and chaos (and that is not using chaos in the strict mathematical sense of something deterministic, but using it in the more general common speech sense of something that is not predictable, something that is outside the boundaries of the known and the predictable – and may in fact be fundamentally unpredictable).

So – evolving systems are always seeking an optimal balance between order and chaos. If there is too much order, if things become too constrained and too regular, then there is not sufficient variation in the population to survive when the external conditions change, as external conditions always do periodically.

So, society cannot become too ordered at any level – biochemical, physical, emotional, economic, political, conceptual, ethical. There has to be variation, every level, every system.

On the other side, there cannot be so much variation, that the necessary boundaries to maintain necessary structure, are broken, and the ability to support complex structure is lost.

So there is always this balance between the requirements of exploring chaos for novel strategies to survive novel conditions, novel threat, and maintaining sufficient order to maintain the structures, the subsystems, that support the complexity that we are.
And that boundary is constantly shifting.

That is where I love Jordan Peterson’s conceptualisation of that as the snake. That which winds through time and space as the boundary between order and chaos. It is not a constant thing. It is not something that you can find and eternally hang on to. That is the ordered version of balance, that is not the balance. The Tao that can be named is not the Tao.

It is something that must be experienced, embodied, created, searched for, ongoingly.

And that balance will be different for every individual.
And the diversity that results must be accepted by every individual.

No individual has the right to impose a level of order that is any greater than the base order required for survival.
Now that becomes a very, very complex question.

That’s what we are seeing here in Kaikoura with the reconstruction of the road and rail corridor.

What are the levels of risk?
When you have one group that quite happily accepts the risks to life of surfing in wave conditions on a rocky boulder surf break, that has a reasonable probability of dying. Surfers die. They crash off waves, their heads smack into rocks, they get trapped by a big wave and can’t get up to breath. Surfers die surfing.

Now – if one was taking the idea that one must protect people from the risk of their own choices, then one would prevent surfing.
But that can never be a viable option.
One needs to highlight the risks.
As long as people adopt the risk, that is their choice.
No existence is devoid of risk.

We can make reasonable efforts to minimise risk in shared spaces, and we need to do that.

And the balance of what is reasonable will always depend on the context, will always be in part depending on the conditions and the technology present.

So having a roading authority which refuses to allow people to adopt a level of risk that is reasonable for them is not reasonable.

Whereas we can certainly move towards absolutely minimising the risk of using roads. So that we not impose risk, we do not force people to take risks, but there is a world of difference between forcing someone to take a risk as a condition of employment for example, or falsely representing the level of risk present in a particular situation, such as driving a particular piece of road, and allowing people to adopt a level of risk that they feel comfortable with and are willing to accept.

And we haven’t got that balance in our current systems.

One of the things that was a very big problem after the Kaikoura earthquake was that the roading authorities just flatly refused to give locals access to areas. They said it was too dangerous.

Well yes it was dangerous. And some of us live in such dangerous conditions, more dangerous conditions, continuously. And provided the authority makes clear the nature of the danger (makes it really clear – yes this is dangerous) then, to me, it is entirely reasonable that there should have been bidirectional access, made available, every day – twice a day, morning and evening access, so that people could have got through in the early morning, and got through in the late afternoon. One convoy each way. And it would have been entirely reasonable to make that 4WD only, and perhaps even locals only, or in convoy with local that you know. Because there are complex competing needs about safety and the need to do dangerous things in the reconstruction process. So that the work crews need to be able to do the stuff that is dangerous that minimises the danger to everyone. So having incompetent people traveling through doing incompetent things is not good for anyone. But the current very low resolution models of just saying no – no access, comes with a very high cost. And presents a great many dangers.
We need to get beyond those models.

People need to be able to adopt the risk.

The risk might be such that, if you go into this area you have no insurance cover. If your vehicle sustains damage, then you are responsible for the full cost of repair or replacement.
You are not going to get insured.

When I go up Skipper’s that is the case. I do not have insurance cover in Skipper’s. I probably don’t have it when I go into Clarence reserve. And I’m happy with that. It is why I bought an old 4WD. It doesn’t matter to me. It does matter, and it is a risk I am happy to accept. Going to those places is that important to me.

I can certainly accept that there are many people who would not have done what I did post quake. Who would not have climbed on their mountain bikes, and cycled through rail tunnels and carried their bikes over boulder fields in active fall zones while listening very carefully for any indication of further rock fall, and constantly reassessing the escape paths as to where I could go if I had to abandon bike and get out of the way of a big rock. But you are constantly doing that sort of thing when you are mountain climbing, and people die mountain climbing.
I lost a very good friend here in Kaikoura who died doing what he loved doing, climbing mountains. His choice, his life. While his wife and his family miss him dearly, I don’t think any of them would have tried to constrain Pete from doing what he loved to do. He wouldn’t have been Pete if he wasn’t doing that.

So – complexity and freedom and randomness are all tightly linked. They are ideas that have uncertain boundaries.
When one explores any infinity, however much one has explored of it, what remains to be explored, makes what has been explored, look like a close approximation to nothing.
And that is actually a really difficult idea to get you head around successfully.
You have really got to spend a bit of time going back over that one, thinking about it.

The notion that we could have high confidence about any open system is a nonsense.

And we are an open, complex, adaptive system.

We seem to be a system that contains some 20 levels of sets of complex systems, many of which are open, recursive, complex adaptive systems; potentially exploring infinities that have no upper boundary.

Many of the classical ideas, like the classical idea that the stars were fixed and immortal and constant, eternal unchanging.
They are incredibly violent atomic reactions. They are almost unimaginably far away. That light, travelling at 300,000 km per second takes hundreds of years to get to us, to give us these little points of light in the sky. They can be moving at speeds, they are these violent balls of gas that if we got anywhere near we would incinerate. They are just so changing, so violent, and yet their extreme distance from us, and the shortness of our lives compared to their lives, makes them appear immortal and unchanging. But they are not. They are so very, very far from it.

That old idea of immortal and unchanging is just nonsense.
But, it was a useful heuristic in its context, an approximation to something.
It was an approximation to the idea that there are vast variations in both complexity and reliability, and some things can be reliable over very long times.

The stars are a very long way away, and they appear very reliable. But like with most things, the closer you get to them the more uncertain they become, and often the more dangerous they get. It is not a good idea to go snuggling up too close to a sun. It is not a good idea to take anything as being fixed and unchanging.

One needs to explore the probability distributions of risk and how they change with context and time; and how one can instantiate effective risk mitigation factors.
It is a very, very complex world.
We over simplify it at our peril.

And here is Kaikoura. Coming down the hill towards Oaro. A shower across the ocean just off South Bay. My house on the peninsula in rain. But it is dry here in Oaro. Looks like it hasn’t rained at all here today. Looks like it has skipped around and gone out to sea. Raining heavily in Christchurch. Raining on the Peninsula. Dry in Oaro. That is the nature of complexity, can never quite guarantee what it is going to do.


And a day later:

The idea that mythology is a mix of real stories from the deep past, and mythic interpretations that have crossed domains, and have survived in doing so (been subject to evolution in the mimetic sense).
Given the ancient idea that the heavens embodied perfection.

And given the idea that we have probably as a species been telling stories for well over a million years, and there would have been thousands of meteor impacts in that time that were big enough to destroy large villages, and create regional chaos – then it is not surprising that this mythology comes from many different traditions.

Add in the idea that such destruction is evidence of the capriciousness of the Gods.

And you have sufficient heuristic utility to support survival.

In the context of the evolution of cooperation, for hundreds of millions of years, our mammalian ancestors lived under ground and were subject to predator pressures from the dominant dinosaur species. That was a very strong external threat. Great conditions for developing very strong cooperative systems.
The Chixilub extinction event (a very big rock hitting the earth and creating conditions sufficiently hostile that every single large carnivorous dinosaur on the planet was destroyed, all species), seems to have given the mammals a chance to flourish in a new environment, but the 65 million years that have past since that event couldn’t undo all of the 200 million years of cooperative evasion of dinosaurs that preceded it; and set us up for the possibility of living cooperatively as naked apes in cold climates.
The deep evolution in the nature of our brains that supported social cooperation over that period, seems to have left enough of a mark that we are able to exist as we do. And that alone isn’t enough. Necessary, and not sufficient, for our continued survival.

We need to take cooperation to the next level, or competition will very probably destroy us. Our technology is that powerful.

I love Richard Dawkins’ writing.
It is so clear, and so true in a sense and so clearly incomplete in a deeper sense.
His writing makes that incompleteness so clear, at least to me, at the same time as it really does make the degrees of truth present clear also.

I love both Richard Dawkins and Jordan Peterson, for the clarity of the ideas they present, and I have genuinely learned ideas of great interest to me from both of them.
And both still seem to me to contain serious errors of omission.
Yet I hate criticising either, because the primary ideas that both express are so essential to understanding what we are, and there are failures at other levels that are important.

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Evolutionary Values

CI 2.0 governed by meaning and evolutionary values

Hi George,

It doesn’t appear to me that our existing crises are in any significant way a manifestation of intelligence verses emotions, the situation appears far more complex than that; and seems to have two major modalities present, and a third major logical issue.

1/ The idea of Truth. The idea that we can “know” something and rely upon it absolutely in all situations. That idea seems to me to have been falsified beyond any shadow of reasonable doubt. Evolutionary epistemology now allows us to see all knowledge to be heuristic at base, having its initial instantiation as the survival of something over time and context. This has certainly been recursed to many levels in higher order abstract thought. And the nature of the relationship of abstract thought to “reality” is a matter of great debate. To me, it seems beyond reasonable doubt that abstract logic and mathematics gives us the best modeling tools available to deal with the more esoteric aspects of reality, yet there is no requirement for reality to actually do anything other than approximate our modeling tools (or looked at the other way, for our modeling tools to be contextually useful approximations to reality – whatever it might actually be).

So people holding on to the idea of “Truth” is a major danger when the context changes in ways that a “heuristic” that had worked for hundreds of generations meets conditions where it fails to work sufficiently adequately for survival.

Relying on the past is often, but not always, a useful predictor of future utility. The greater the rate of novelty production, the greater the probability of the failure of heuristics that were reliable in our past.

So that fact is a major problem in systems that are built on the assumption the “Truth” is knowable and known – however reliable any such system has been in our generational past.

2/ The utility of markets and money, and the many levels of distributed complex computational and productive systems embodied in our current market based systems is real to a degree. And all market values are predicated on scarcity. When scarcity was natural then the concept of justice could work with market systems even if the results were far from evenly distributed.
That has now changed fundamentally.
Fully automated systems now make it possible to meet the reasonable needs of every human being, but creating such abundance would break the system of values embodied in the scarcity based measure generated by markets.
The general response to date has been to create artificial scarcity to prop up the system.
This has been done under many guises, Intellectual Property laws, health and safety laws, etc.
While it can be argued to have held the money system together after a fashion, it has fundamentally broken any relationship between markets and justice. Now it is not simply a matter of natural inequalities, it is a matter of artificially mandated scarcity, where the only reason for that scarcity is the needs of the system of market values. The injustice embodied in that leads to deep and destructive social tensions that are exponentially rising.

Universal Basic Income offers a realistic transition strategy, but ultimately there must be deep systemic change for any sort of reasonable probability of continued existence.

3/ The idea that competition delivers security is deeply systemically flawed. Competition viewed systemically drives systems to local minima, destroying diversity in the process. Diversity can only flourish under cooperative systems.
If freedom is to have any real meaning, then our systems must have a cooperative base, and can then have competitive aspects build upon that cooperative base.

In this context, it seems beyond any shadow of reasonable doubt, that long term survival demands a values hierarchy that is based in:
1/ Individual sapient life universally (human non-human, biological and non-biological); and
2/ Individual liberty universally (acknowledging that exercising such freedom demands responsibility in social and ecological contexts – it is not sufficient to follow whim at any level, one must exercise reasonable consideration of the likely consequences of action, and take reasonable actions to mitigate any risk to the life or liberty of others).

Any other values one may adopt must be built upon these two.

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Qora – shocking proof

Quora – Shocking proof

What scientific theory do you think will be proven wrong and shock the scientific world? Or what new scientific theory will shock us all?

For me, the implicit assumptions behind the question are themselves disproved.
In my understanding, the essence of science is to question everything, and be willing to examine all sets of evidence, physical, mathematical, logical, intuitive.
The idea that anything would shock everyone seems remarkably naive. Many – yep – certainly, that I could believe; but “All” – no – that makes no sense.

My understandings of reality are now all probability based. All contain uncertainties.
For me, all knowledge is heuristic – bounded by context as to its usefulness.
The idea that the world is flat is a perfectly useful approximation provided you are not interested in anything more than about fifty miles away. Carpenters and builders still use it every day, and manage to build houses that can stand up for centuries. But it wont let you sail a boat around the planet.
Newtonian mechanics is a good enough approximation to work in a far broader range of time, space and velocity. Good enough for projectile trajectories, or jet engines, or planetary orbits over a period of a few hundreds of years. But it wont let you build a system of GPS satellites – that requires the equations of relativity to give reasonable results.

Science seems to be this process of successive sets of approximations to something that are useful in ever stranger environments.
In a sense, we have always lived on this third rock from the sun, but for most people they only ever lived and traveled on a very small part of it. So the heuristics that worked for that small part were much simpler than those required to deliver accurate positions from a constellation of GPS satellites.

I conjecture that should we live the rest of eternity, we will still be dealing with fundamental uncertainties, and successive sets of contextually relevant approximations to something fundamentally unknowable. And in that process we will be able to create technologies and understandings that are indistinguishable from magic to most living today.

For me, the classical notion of “Truth” has been disproven, beyond all reasonable doubt. It seems clear that all that we can ever have is some sort of useful approximation, and that there must always be degrees of uncertainty at the boundaries. And some of those approximations can be very useful indeed – with very high degrees of reliability in the contexts for which they have been developed.
And the very idea of “Truth” was one of those useful heuristics that was useful in getting us to the spread of conceptual paradigms that currently exist in the population of people on this planet (which is a spectrum of many orders of magnitude).

It seems that this universe is, at every level, in some sort of fundamental balance between order and randomness, between the known and the unknown, between searching the unexplored for solutions to existing threats, and discovering new threats in the process. Infinities have that unsettling characteristic, that no matter how much of them you explore, it is a close approximation to nothing compared to what is left to explore. That which we don’t know, and don’t know that we don’t know, must be forever vaster than both what we know, and what we know that we don’t know.

It seems that a good definition of life is that which can replicate, and find a balance between order and chaos (in the non mathematical sense of chaos). Too much order, and there is not enough variation to survive the uncertainties of existence. Too much chaos and the necessary boundaries required to sustain complexity cannot be maintained. Between those excesses lies the virtue of survival.

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Aging issues

Cause of the Month – Issues of the Aged

Continuing from last year

So many dimensions to this question.

We have a friend staying at present who is a teacher in our largest city.

In her experience, she see’s exponentially more children’s potential being destroyed by P, as parents whose lives are already badly effected by drugs and economic poverty face children being born addicted to P in the womb and unable to be comforted as a result. Those children then disrupt not just their peers but every adult they encounter.

The spiral of abuse and antisocial behaviour goes out of control.

Many otherwise normal people cannot emotionally deal with the dimensionality of the issues present, and so retreat to using the “rules” of the system. Then the illusion that the rules work is broken.

No rule based system can ever work on its own – we are too complex for that.

Rule based systems only ever work because most people within them are honest and actually want the system to work, and do what it takes through informal networks to actually make the system work.

But when that becomes “too hard” then the entire structure is at risk.

But one of the key systemic issues is that all “cheat detection” strategies have an element to them that requires accurate memory of transactions over time, and as such memory fidelity reduces, the probability of cheating being detected exponential drops. So the impared become become vulnerable to all manner of depravity – and not all from external sources. We all carry our own internal demons, and detecting and controlling them is every bit as much a function of effective memory as is dealing with the external “demons” of others. So it becomes a very complex set of issue, without simple definition or remedy, and simple remedies often tend to become cures worse than the disease. Deb is right about male aggression and male sexuality. The difference on average between men and women is only small, 60/40, but at the extremes of such distributions such small difference in the mean make huge differences in the tails of the distributions. And those distributions can occur over quite small ranges of time and context.

So as higher order functionality degrades, the ability of individuals to culturally modulate their own internal drives also degrades – and all such things seem to be probability based.

For me, the biggest issue is ensuring that I live for one more day, every day.

Next after that is ensuring that I have maximal probability of continuing to do that.

Next after that is maximising the degrees of freedom possible, at the same time as acknowledging the necessary limits required to maintain the structures to support both my existence and my freedom – social and ecological responsibility.

And it is so much more complex than that, but I am out of time for now.

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Stars in My Eyes

What motivates you?

Hi Laurie,

That is such a profound question, one I have given many hours of deep thinking time over the last few weeks and months, mainly through an ongoing discussion on Trick Slattery’s site about the nature of free will.
He claims it is illusion, and I can see how, from the perspective he takes, it must seem to be such.

As someone who has been fascinated by the systems of life for well over 50 years, it appears very different to me. It seems to me that we have free will to the degree that we claim it; and of course reality to be commanded must first be obeyed – it has rules we cannot break without consequence.

I can see that we are so complex, that there are aspects of our own internal machinery that must be forever mysterious to us.
I see in myself a tendency to rationalise what I do, rather than to act rationally, and I accept that as a necessary part of living in the real world and responding to things in reasonable time frames – full rationality is far too slow for most real situations.

But that leads into a far deeper investigation of the many levels of valence and motivation within us, and the many levels of synergy, conflict, and arbitrage that happens between them.

I’m really not all that confident about what exactly what motivates me in any particular context, and there are a few lead contenders that are usually well up there in contribution rankings:
a sense of justice (and injustice);
a desire to make a difference;
a delight in discovering new things;
a profound joy in building coherent understandings of complex issues;
an appreciation for the beauty and complexity present in natural systems;
a love of people, and their power to overcome adversity and maintain cooperation;
making things work – building machines and systems that work as I imagined they might;
explaining complex concepts to others in ways that work;
being responsible in ways that contribute to the ecological and social contexts I exist in – aiming to achieve universal abundance.

I can get joy from splitting a log for the fire (provided I don’t hit my thumb with the sledgehammer), or from watching birds, dolphins, whales, etc, or watching the water in a babbling brook.

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Free will with Trick continues

Free will again.

Things got heated, and it looked like the debate on Trick’s site would be effectively closed.

Anyone interested can follow the links below, and see which comments Trick has chosen to publish, and which he withheld, and can see his and rom’s comments in detail.

For me this discussion has been extremely difficult.

When I write, I try always to write for as wide an audience as possible.
As soon as one approaches any non-trivial topic, the cone of possible interpretations widens and deepens, and trying to localise to any particular interpretation within that very deep (and potentially infinite) set, becomes extremely difficult.

The task is essentially impossible within a 500 character message limit.
So that is one very real issue, and it is the lesser of the two major issues.

The most important issue, for me, is the entire thesis present, that Trick is championing – that free will is illusion.

If free will is illusion, then the very idea of making an effort to be responsible, is illusion; which seems to lead inexorably (in the simplest interpretation that most are likely to take from that) to taking the easiest path at the easiest level.

And that, to me, imposes existential level risk upon all of us.

The idea of morality, the idea that we have choice, and that our individual choices matter, at some level, is predicated on the notion that choice exists.

To me, as a systems geek, morality is one of those necessary sets of attendant strategy sets required to bring stability to higher level cooperative structures, and the notion that it is illusion, is fundamentally destructive of social cooperation.

The idea that we can make choices, that making those necessary choices can be difficult, and can have very high short term costs, does seem to be fundamental to our social structure; fundamental to maintaining any sort of real diversity. That seems to be a concept firmly entrenched in international jurisprudence by the Nuremberg Trials, as well as being fundamental to that stability of higher order complex cooperative systems (which in some interpretations is just saying the same thing in different words – though many can and do argue that point).

And it seems to me that I can see the logic of where Trick and rom are coming from, but it appears to me that the premises of their argument are not well aligned with the best current understanding of reality.

And it seems clear to me that Trick has not understood any of the analogies I have used to try and make that understanding available to him; and given the clear strength of his conviction, that is quite understandable.

He seems to be very confident that he is right.

It seems to me very likely that the heuristic structures he is using are not reliable in the context he is applying them (ie – he is probably wrong in a way he does not yet seem to distinguish).

One of the deep issues present is that he does not seem to distinguish knowledge generally as heuristic structures – they occur as truths. And I do get that for most people, truths are real.

I do get, that in rejecting all truth in favour of heuristic approximations (even this one), that I am unusual.
And it is a fundamental aspect of my understanding of free will.
For me, it does seem to link to a non-deterministic interpretation of QM – of the sort that Feynman championed.

For me, it seems that this reality we find ourselves in is balanced between determinism and indeterminism at every level – at every level there seems to be a necessary balance between order and chaos (using the word chaos in the ordinary mythic – non-mathematical sense).

For me, it seems clear that the freedom I experience is the result of about 20 levels of complex adaptive systems, with every level having many instances of complex systems. Everyone one having some degree of influence on every other one. In the reality of such complexity, there must be aspects of our own motivational substructures that are deeply mysterious even unto ourselves.

And acknowledging all of that reality, there really does seem to be a very real systemic sense in which we have choice if we claim it as such.
That “act of will”, the bringing into being something real, in the instant, does seem to be very “real” and not at all “illusion” as Trick claims.

And the existence of that reality seems to this individual to be the most important single factor in our continuing to exist as a species.

And as Jordan Peterson so clearly points out, we often need to embody wisdom long before we consciously distinguish it as such. And that is a very deeply dimenisional journey, for those willing to repeatedly make the very uncomfortable and dangerous journeys in the unknown.

One can find links to the earlier parts of this discussion here

from 1 May 2018 –
Tricks Determinism debate continued and now seems effectively over, in that even if it continues, it is likely to be years before it gets to anything I consider “interesting”.

Trick asked – Given the “complex” system you propose, could the “willer” (the person willing) have willed, thought, or done otherwise – of the willer’s own accord (meaning the otherwise output would have been ultimately “up to willer” and not due to some event out of the willer’s control)? Yes or No?

Have you stopped beating your grandmother yet Trick? A simple yes or no answer – please!

Implicit in your question is an acceptance of the very system I am questioning.

In my world, which is a world defined by probability functions, neither yes nor no are accurate.

The answer is always – to some degree, and the degree depends upon the context, and both the context and the degree are important, and uncertainty is always a big part of every context.

In my world, the philosophical position you take is logically equivalent to that of Derrida, just in a different domain (the flip side if you like).

In my understanding, both are grossly irresponsible in their willful over simplification and ignorance of the deep lessens of history.

Both deliver existential level risk if they gain popularity in a significant fraction of the population at large.

[followed by to Trick – This type of unfocus is exactly why I have the character limit. Adding in terms such as “heuristics” and “oracles” adds in nothing new to the point about how those are freely willed, even though you make the non-sequitur to that. You do this with the term “predictability” as well, but the free will debate is not about whether something is predictable or not (or to whom it is not predictable for, etc.) – that seems to be your misunderstanding of the topic. Same with complexity, more complexity (with sets of boundary conditions) does not equate to free will.

So to focus down on where you make the non-sequitur leap:

“It can mean a level of self determination that includes levels unpredictability from the perspective of external agents.”

None of this is freely willed “self-determination”. These “heuristics”, “oracles”, “predictability”, “unpredictability/randomness”, “complexity”, “boundary conditions”, “rules”, etc…ALWAYS stem to events that the person has no say over…whether that be a causal lines that ultimately stem outside of the person (and hence is not “self-determined” but driven by antecedent variables), or causal lines that stem to indeterministic/truly random events that the person has no say over (and hence is not “self-determined” but driven by non-willed truly-random variables)…and any interactions between the two can never lead to a system that has freely willed “self-determination” because the very interaction is dictated by the EXACT product of these lines.

“To will is to show some disposition, some preference, at some level.”

The point is, that “will” could not have been, of the person’s own accord, otherwise (the free will of concern). Any otherwise that comes from indeterminism would be entirely out of the control of the willer. This is the same for ANY of those complex processes that you use to obfuscate this point.

Whether or not something is predictable to an external agent is entirely irrelevant to the topic of free will.

Instead of keep reiterating what you had in multiple comments, I’d like to focus down on a “yes/no” question if answerable to you:

Given the “complex” system you propose, could the “willer” (the person willing) have willed, thought, or done otherwise – of the willer’s own accord (meaning the otherwise output would have been ultimately “up to willer” and not due to some event out of the willer’s control)? Yes or No?]

The question is loaded Trick – but you cannot see that, which is a big part of why communication is not working.

All questions are loaded, in a very real sense.

Communication happens when the loadings are accepted on both sides, in our case they are not.
I am not operating on the same set of assumptions you are.
For me, their use in this context is outside of their domain of utility.

You will not allow discussion of the substantive issue as you have not distinguished it as such.

And in the context you supplied in 2443 characters – the answer is Yes – and it is only yes to the degree that the individual making such a choice claims it as such.

Without that claim of independence, it is determined by other causes.

And every choice so claimed will of necessity have aspects of influence from many levels of other factors.

And the mechanics of it are deeply complex and non-binary, and seem to me to extend to the very substructure of the matter from which we are made.

Note how you break your own rules (I’m not a great fan of rules, and I acknowledge the necessity of a minimal set, and the definition of minimal is uncertain).

And I can sort of get the point, that we need to focus on the substantive issues.
But we are nowhere near the substantive issue.
And it took over 2,000 characters to make a simple social point.

I doubt we will get near the substantive issue this year – at this rate.

[followed by to rom – Ted here is my perspective I have asked repeatedly how indeterminism (a cosmic dice shaker) provides free will. You assume indeterminism exists. I might not as there are deterministic interpretations of quantum phenomena. eg Sabine’s Superdeterminism. Never heard of superdeterminism? How does complexity and recursion make it free?]

Hi rom

I don’t assume anything, other than existence (whatever it is – cogito ergo sum).

Everything in my world is some function of evolution in the first instance, and some function of a balance of probabilities derived from the examination of sets of observations and conjectures.

Mathematics and logic seem to be the best modeling tools we have, and there does not seem to be any requirement for reality to exactly align with any model we may make of it.

So it seems entirely probable that our models will always be essentially heuristic.

Freedom seems to exist in a system that does not have hard determinism, but rather has context sensitive degrees of influence – which is one of the many possible interpretations of QM.

We are never entirely free, because complexity requires boundaries to deliver form.
But nor are we necessarily entirely determined.
There does seem to exist a balance in there, not reducible to a simple binary.

[followed by to Trick – and his answer to my Why are you having this conversation question]

It was a deeply recursive question – very “tongue in cheek”.
It seems to have elicited a surface level “ego” response.
I was hoping the humour might get you to look a few levels deeper.

[followed by to Trick]

No Trick, from my perspective you are not granting the possibility of indeterminism, because you keep looping back to binary cause and effect.
You keep trying to reduce complexity to binary.
Something essential is lost whenever that happens.
I am arguing from a non-binary space.

[followed by to Trick and rom – and rom’s Ted should be able to state his position clearly and coherently, that is he has the will to do so and it is free to do so.]

Any system must start from relative simplicity, and build to the more complex.

Any system of understanding must start from simple conjectures.

The simplest possible distinctions are binaries.

We all had to start there.

Some people get so comfortable in the simple binary space of true/false that it is difficult for them to even conjecture the possibility of non-binary truth values, let alone spend significant time exploring such systems.

I am not in a binary space.

[followed by to rom – “We might apply boundary conditions to simply the complexity. Boundary conditions are useful approximations nothing more. Which of the four fundamental forces don’t extend to infinity?”]

A gradient can be an effective boundary, if at some region of that gradient a threshold of action is effectively crossed.

And boundaries can be much more complex than simple gradients.

All that is necessary for evolution is for something to be sufficiently boundary like to alter survival probabilities with sufficient reliability to influence the frequency if variations present in the population. And the definition of population is also similarly probabilistic.

Seriously not simple.

[And thus it seemed it would end, but it limps on.
From my perspective, deeply troubling.
Both Trick and rom are clearly very intelligent, and reasonably well read, yet appear unwilling or unable to examine the paradigm I have been trying to make available. Having been through that process quite a few times now myself, I can empathise with their responses in a real sense, and even understand the insults, and none of it makes it easy.

So I have been keeping my responses as simple as I can and still retain any shadow of the depths I am trying to make clear.

To Trick’s response and question following my:
“No Trick. False on every count.”

Good, that gives us focus. Let’s start here:
Q: Given the “complex” system you propose, could the “willer” (the person willing) have willed, thought, or done otherwise – of the willer’s own accord (meaning the otherwise output would have been ultimately “up to willer” and not due to some event out of the willer’s control)? Yes or No?
You claim this is a loaded question, which means no matter how you answer Q, it presupposes that you X.
Please fill in X.

The use of the term “ultimately” is what makes the question difficult.

Will in this sense isn’t ultimate, it is instantaneous.

A system complex enough to exhibit “will” must of course have many necessary components present that allow it to have the form that it does.

So if you are in search of an “ultimate”, then everything in existence ultimately traces back to big bang.

“Will” of the sort I contend, can only exist if the causal chain is soft (probabilistic) rather than hard.

[Followed by]

I cannot answer that question from my perspective, because the terms “control” and “own accord” are too hard.

In my understanding, none of us have strict control of anything, the best we have is degrees of influence, and in some cases those may closely approximate (but never equate to) strict control.

In my understanding the willer could have altered the likelihood of that particular outcome in that particular instant, and that was the outcome that occurred.

[ Trick asked – Do you have ANY degree of influence over the outcome of any indeterministic event (e.g. whether a particle in the system collapses or decoheres to a 30% chance area over a 15% chance area, etc.)? Y or N]

Can you be a little (lot) more specific?

I can push a graphite control rod in or out of a nuclear pile and alter the output of the system, without knowing how or if it affects the probability of any specific atom decaying.

I cannot tell when any specific atom will decay, and I can predict within quite useful limits the response of the system as a whole.

It is analogous to that, but several levels more complex.

[In response to Trick – 5/5/18]

I do not accept the assertion that all quantum indeterminism is in “over how the wave function of the superpositioned state will collapse”, though that is an important idea.

Heisenberg uncertainty (related) seems to be important also.

The very idea that mathematical models can capture what is going on accurately seems to be at issue.

Degrees of approximation seem to be allowed, nothing more.

The mathematical technique “sum over life histories” seems to point to deep influence.

[In response to Trick’s – Do you agree that the “uncertainty” in HUP is NOT the same thing as true randomness / no cause? Y or N]

Still not that simple.

At least two aspects present in HUP.

1/ HUP gives indeterminancy to all measurement – regardless of if underlying mechanism is deterministic or has random aspects. So from the perspective of the knowability of the universe – HUP introduces indeterminance.

2/ Is the conjecture that any mathematical model accurately models reality, rather than simply giving us the best heuristic approximation. Irrational numbers point to mathematical models being heuristic.

[In response to Trick’s – Do you agree that the “uncertainty” in HUP is NOT the same thing as true randomness / no cause? Y or N]

If consciousness is an information system, then indeterminancy of information is every bit as random, from the perspective of that information system.

So giving a simple yes or no answer to the question seems to be off topic, if the topic is the freedom of an information system rather than the freedom of any level of substrate upon which that information system is operating.

From an information perspective – HUP delivers indeterminant measurements – Random, within limits.

[Trick asked- Imagine a universe where EVERY event (ontologically) has a cause (there is no event that is not the specific product of antecedent causes), HOWEVER there are aspects that make it so we cannot assess the specifics about certain causes (there is uncertainty, meaning a lack of knowledge about a cause). In that universe, could you have done otherwise? Y or N]

That universe cannot logically exist.
As soon as uncertainty becomes translated to information then it delivers randomness to some degree.
That lack of predictability, then introduces a degree of freedom to the system.
If a system is of sufficient complexity that it can condition that (bias it in some way), then the internal state of that system can become separated from hard causal predictability of the whole.
Any level of “noise” in a system can do that.
This requires complex systems.

[To Trick]

Can you prove your claim that a lawful computational system whose state is determined by its consistent rule set applied to inputs according to its program, can have outcomes that are predictable when one or more of the inputs are not predictable?

HUP gives fundamental limits to predictability.

No amount of repeated measurement can get past HUP.

[To Trick]

No Trick

My position is both epistemological and ontological (repeatedly stated as such).

I do not accept your assertion that the position of a photon is deterministic. The twin slit cannot work if it is. It must have a plank degree of indeterminism.
The math says it is probabilistic.

Can we prove absolutely ontological indeterminism?
No – no more so than we can prove determinism.
HUP is non deterministic on that issue.

I agree with you in the sense that it is possible to construct a deterministic model of anything that works within the margins of error present in a system.

And having had both the physical and intellectual experiences I have, it seems probable to me that the universe within which we exist is at every level a balance between the lawful and the stochastic.

In that universe, free will can exist.
In yours it cannot.

And by definition, there is no reliable way to distinguish between them.

[To Trick]

Are you familiar with the idea of an “Oracle” in computational systems?

A system that delivers a workable heuristic by having a random output within a set of constraints that have a reasonable probability of surviving in that context.

With the insertion of an unpredictable output from an oracle, a system can become decoupled to a degree from the necessary relationship to the external causal stream, in as much as such causality exists.

And this will need many sets of 500 characters.

[To Trick]

No Trick

You are making an assumption of ontological causation.

That is your bias, your belief.

It is not actually supported by evidence.
Evidence sets we have all contains uncertainty.

The best evidence we have indicates quantum mechanics gives the best approximation to reality, which is uncertainty within limits, that over large collections delivers a close approximation to a regular distribution.

And that distinction is important.

It seems to be as Heisenberg said.

[To Trick – 13 May – he stated – I am not making an assumption of ontological causation, I’m saying that the only evidence of an uncaused event is in quantum wave function collapse IF we accept an IIQM. ]

I can say something exactly equivalent Trick.

To me, the evidence is clear, that all knowledge is approximation, that the very idea of Truth – of absolute causation, is illusion.

Look at the evidence of recent centuries.

We started with the idea that absolute knowledge was possible.

Newton was certain of Truth.

He was wrong.
His mathematics was later proven to be nothing more than a useful approximation to reality in some contexts.

Why do you hold onto a disproven idea?

[To Trick]

I get that in your reality, your statement:
…”lack of a causal variable for wave-function collapse. Period. There is no other theory for an ontological lack of causation.”
does make sense.
I can see how that appears to be so, from within the paradigm set you seem to be using.
And yes – in a sense.

You do not yet seem to appreciate how my statements might be valid in a different paradigm set.
And that is the issue.

I can point to any number of ladders.
I cannot make you climb them.

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Quillette – Internet complete?

Quillette – Is the Internet Complete?

The internet is not complete, cannot be, ever. And it will ever more closely approximate it, just as science (at its best) is continually becoming less wrong (though unlikely to ever be “right” – just a more useful approximation at some level).

The internet is a network communications infrastructure.

It’s basic protocol (TCP/IP) was developed by DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency) to allow reliable battlefield communications as long as any possible communications path remained in tact on the battlefield (ie, when paths were coming and going frequently).

Aspects of today’s infrastructure are highly centralised for a variety of levels of “economic” and “security” reasons.
Alternatives to the existing “internet” are possible, even probable, and certainly under development.

One of the major issues, that happens with all complex systems, is that as the complexity of the system increases, the impact of any innovation on any particular part of that complexity decreases, so that we see smaller and smaller improvements coming from any particular innovation (when looking at the system as a whole). When that system is embedded in an economic system that has to show a return on investment, then the rate of implementation of innovation decreases, as the return on investment slows. Couple that with the need to maintain backward compatibility to older, but still functioning, devices out there in the real world, and we see what we have.

Those of us who have been in the coding world for a few decades know that most of the banking infrastructure is still on a CoBOL code base. “If it aint broke – don’t fix it” rules – particularly in the more conservative institutions.

Cars are also changing, rapidly.
Self driving cars are real, if not yet common. I saw my first Tesla Model S on a rural New Zealand road two weeks ago.

Flying cars are unlikely to ever be common – the combination of risk profile, required energy density, and weight restrictions imposes extreme complexity (itself a risk factor) for those of us that value life highly.

As we move from fossil fuels to solar power, with very high speed internets, then we may see surface vehicles that are much slower and lighter taking us places extremely safely, extremely reliably, extremely efficiently, while we immerse ourselves in whatever communication medium takes our interest. Risk of serious injury in vehicles traveling less than 20 miles per hour is almost zero. If all goods vehicles are unmanned, what does it matter that they take a few more minutes or hours to get where they are going.

High speed travel is likely to be on underground maglev trains in evacuated tubes – no air resistance – 1g acceleration to half way, then down again to destination. With local feeders to major nodes no place on the earth would be much more than an hour’s travel from the closest local node – which would likely be within a few minutes travel of a 20mph surface vehicle. (For those who are willing to accept the slightly higher risks of high speed travel).

Fully automated systems are changing things exponentially.
That rate of change is increasing.

When we achieve fully automated systems capable of making a copy of themselves using local rock and solar power, then if it takes the first two weeks to make the second, then within 2 years there can be one for every person on the planet, and the very notion of value in exchange (market value) is not simply redundant, but becomes the single greatest source of existential level risk to us all (with all the conceptual “drag” that comes with it). {The energy requirements of the last few replications mean that the process would probably best be done in orbit using lunar mass, but that is a another story.}

And that is the sort of transformation speed that is possible – poverty eliminated within 4 years.
Every individual on the planet with practical access to the sort of life choices available only to the most wealthy today, and full recycling and ecological responsibility in a post market “economy”. A literal global village.

Not to say that it will happen, and it is most certainly a technological possibility.

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