Some thoughts on Jordan Peterson’s discussion with Stephen Hicks on Post Modernism

JBP Post Modernism – History and diagnosis

Video of discussion between Jordan and Stephen Hicks concerning Hicks’ book “Explaining Post Modernism”

22:40 SH “Our having legitimate cognitive processes to understand the world, that is exactly what we are arguing about in the first place.” That supposition does not seem to be challengable. If we do not have such a thing, then there can be no basis for communication or argument. The basis of language is communication about something.
Sure, that something may be our personal, imperfect, subconsciously generated, model of reality, rather than reality itself, and as such subject to all manner of social influences, errors and uncertainties; and unless one has at least that as a minimum, no communication is possible.

Acknowledging that our models and our understandings are subject to many different sorts of errors and limits of accuracy, is not at all the same thing as saying that all models have identical utility or accuracy (these are two very different and very important aspects).

22:58 “They will say that there is a circular reasoning problem that evolutionary epistemology finds itself trapped in.”
In a sense, yes.
And in the same sense, all forms of epistemology are subject to exactly the same sort of circularity.
Evolutionary epistemology at least has evidence to back it up, which none of the others do.
And evolutionary epistemology is extremely complex, with many levels of very complex systems.
Simple explanations always miss important aspects, and all explanations are essentially incomplete in important yet subtle aspects. It really does seem to be that complex.

47:22 SH “Enlightenment humanism, where we are going to take power seriously, but we are going to constrain power in a way that respects the individual and simultaneously enables individuals to form mutually beneficial social networks across time and so on.”

49:57 JBP “We shouldn’t fall prey to the illusion that there is necessarily any unifying matrix that makes all those different forms of power importantly similar except for the terminology.” … “A proclivity to collapse all these different modes of power into power itself. That’s not reasonable, because it is reasonable to note that many of the forms of power that you just described contend against one another rather than mutually fortifying one another.”
[Pumping the oscillator.]

51:01 SH “If you think by contrast, about the individual human rights respecting enlightenment vision that you are articulating and that I agree with as well, normatively that wants to devolve social power to the individual, and leave individuals with a great deal of self responsibility and control over their own domain.”

51;50 JBP “It also means, and this is where I think the post modernists are open to you might say conceptual assault, is that in order to have that freedom devolve upon the individual in that manner, the individual has to take responsibility for acting as a locus of power in the world. Actual responsibility, and cannot conceive of themselves or act in a manner that only makes them an avatar of a social movement.”

SH “Far left and right conceive as the individual as a vehicle through which social forces flow.”

54:20 SH “The individualism that is built into enlightenment humanism, we start to see it developing in Renaissance humanism, is to take seriously the notion that individuals have some significant measure of control over their thoughts, over their actions, the shape of their own character, the shape of their own destiny, and that is fundamental to one’s moral dignity as a human being. That view of human nature built into the ethics fundamentally, then all social relationships, have to be respectful of that individuality, and the consequently, when we start to turn to political theory, and we start to talk about very heavy duty uses of power such as the police and the military, then we want to have serious constraints on government power to make sure that we are respecting individual sovereignty.”

59:30 JBP “There is a performative contradiction. ….”

1:00:38 SH “So then we have a tension between what our intellectual theories are telling us, and what our empirical data is telling us. We don’t yet have a way to put those two together.”

That last statement is one I fundamentally disagree with.
We have evolutionary theory, which can account for the selection of systems that survive in different sorts of contexts – leading to all the diversity of life we see.
That same mechanism, in the realm of culture and human behaviour, seems to have selected the very complex sets of behaviours we call culture, language, and intellectual knowledge.
In software we have the possibility of declarative statements instantiating new entities, which is what we each seem to do to ourselves in the way we use language and declarative judgement to instantiate levels of higher awareness within ourselves.
We have Quantum mechanics telling us that at the scale of the very small things that are collected in vast collections to make us possible, that all is uncertain beyond Planck limits; that uncertainty seems to be a fundamental element of the fabric of being.
We have Wolfram and Turing and von Neuman and others exploring computational and strategic and complexity spaces that seems to be telling us that even very simple and fully deterministic systems can be beyond prediction (without allowing at all for quantum effects). Then we have the realms of probabilistic systems and chaos.

So it seems very clear to me that our empirical data and the theoretical frameworks referred to above are saying that we are very complex entities, with many aspects that will be forever beyond our full conscious awareness, and that at higher levels we can exert conscious influence on who we get to be, and what we do in the world, and that such choices matter.
It is the ability to choose, which embodies the ability to question (anything and everything), and to be responsibile for the consequences of those choices, in an eternal dance of influences across many domains simultaneously, that seems to be this experience of being human.

Nothing can be beyond question in such profound uncertainty.
And some things can be known with great operational confidence – like the need to hold individual sapient life and the liberty of all such individuals, as our highest values – and that liberty demands of each and every one of us responsibility in both social and ecological contexts.
These things seem to be required if we wish survival as an outcome. There are far more ways not to exist than to continue to exist (it seems to be a far larger infinity).
And David Snowden’s Cynefin Framework for the management of complexity is a very powerful simple framework that gives some useful ideas of how to respond to the profoundly different levels of complexity that seem (beyond any shadow of reasonable doubt) to exist in reality.

Morality matters.

Choices matter.

We matter.

Our freedom and our responsibility to act in reality matter!

Developing social structures and systems that both empower and enable individuals must be our highest priority.

It is not a matter of individuals or society.
It is a matter of individuals in society.
We are biological and social entities – entities of both matter and language.

We require both biology and social interaction.

We must exhibit responsibility in both ecological and social contexts.

We are profoundly complex in ways that very few have any real idea of, and my 50 years of interest in life, evolution, systems, computers, programming, cosmology, etc has given me some faint glimmer of an understanding of (a very broad brush stroke sketch, nothing more).

We need to honour our past and our present, and be open to profound change in our future.
And that does not mean that all things are equally valid.
Extinctions happen.
Reality does have very real rules and limits, even if they are defined in probability statements.
Peril is very real beyond certain limits.
Freedom must be valued, and it must be understood in the contexts of the physical, ecological and social limits that are currently in existence.

Avoiding the twin tyrannies (majority and minority) is not easy.
It requires responsible action from each and every one of us.
Responsibility in how we treat the environment, in what we release into it, in how we influence the biological systems we are so dependent upon, but few today have any real understanding of the profound connections and relationships present.
Responsibility in how we treat each other, in the need to provide everyone with a high minimum standard, and not ignore the problems that others face.

I have a personal desire to live a very long time (billions of years).
That has been a real possibility for me (if improbable) for over 42 years, since completing undergrad biochemistry studies and being confident beyond any shadow of reasonable doubt that indefinite life is the default cellular condition, and that the age related senescence we see in organisms like ourselves is an added layer of genetic control.
That means that with sufficient knowledge, control and life extension must be possible.

The real trick is all the other risk factors that are not cellular in origin.
Identifying and mitigating all other forms of existential risk has been the major focus of my life for the past 42 years.

The sort of “either or”, rather than “both and”, thinking embodied in this conversation are one of the very real sets of existential risk present; in terms of the intolerance generated by such thinking.

1:01:07 SH speaking of Enlightenment view “The big three: truth ideals and power”

1:03:28 SH “Power in then structured as a means to an end. And we want to empower people cognitively, teach them how to read, teach them how to think, so that they themselves can understand the truth and discover new truth. So Power leads to Truth.”

The idea of teaching people how to think can be a dangerous one if taken too far. We all use many different modes of thought normally.
What is powerful is teaching people about those different modes of thought, about the sorts of contexts that different modes are usually best used in, and the sorts of dangers one faces and benefits one can gain by using different combinations in different contexts. And beyond that, the modes of thought one actually uses must be a matter of personal choice.

1:05:55 SH “We don’t believe that human beings are capable of getting any sort of objective truth.”

That view I challenge.
I certainly dismiss the notion of absolute truth, and I dismiss it in several different senses.
I dismiss it as a simplistic approximation to something – useful in certain contexts but prone to failure if pushed too far.
In that sense, QM seems to be telling us that there are very real limits to degree to which the universe is knowable. It seems to be knowable only in the probabilistic sense, but since the smallest thing we can see with our unaided eyes contains many trillions of fundamental particles, they behave in very predictable fashions.
So the classical idea of Truth seems to have been falsified, beyond any shadow of reasonable doubt.
What we are left with is something much more powerful and useful, an idea of context sensitive dependability, and context sensitive creativity and freedom.

The sort of objective truth I have is one based in probability, where evidence sets and paradigms of interpretation contain uncertainties, and uncertainties are required in all things, yet in some things those uncertainties are so small as to be ignored in practical life – yet in intellectual life one must always be conscious of them.

If you think about it for just a very short time – even quite basic geometry points to such unknowability.
The ratio of the diameter to the circumference of a circle (Pi) is an irrational number. It cannot be known with certainty, only approximated to some useful degree.
If that doesn’t tell you something fundamental about the idea of Truth, then you really haven’t thought about it enough.

For someone like myself, with 50 years of interest in the biochemistry of life, in the structure and function of brains, in the concepts of information and algorithm and strategy, and the domain spaces resulting from the intersection of all the things I have investigated and contemplated; the idea of objective knowledge I have is based in uncertainties on dozens of different levels – yet because of that, it has a confidence in some areas that is a very close approximation to unity, while in other areas there remain profound unknowns and unknowables.

This seems to be the only sort of objective knowledge that reality has on offer, so we might as well accept it, and get on with life.
And that process of life, demands of us respect for the realities of existence.
Far more life forms are extinct than are living.
Reality seems to have its own rules.

We either learn them, or perish.

One of those rules comes out of the combination of evolutionary theory and strategy space, and that is that if we want a reasonable chance of surviving a long time, then we need to respect individual life and liberty, and we need to cooperate for our mutual benefit.

1:06:01 SH “We are just left with Power. And also, on the normative side, we don’t believe in justice anymore. We don’t believe that any sort of normative principle or ethical ideals can be objectively grounded. .. Power in the service of truth, power in the service of justice, that gores away – all we are left with is power.”

I certainly don’t believe that.
I do believe (based on vast evidence sets) that justice can be objectively grounded in survival of complex cooperatives.
I do believe (based on vast evidence sets) that ethics are based in the survival of complex cooperative social structures, and without them those structures will fail in catastrophic ways.

I don’t believe in gods or revelations from god.
I do understand many levels of the power of our brains, our subconscious abilities, and how those must have seemed like revelations, voices of gods, to our ancestors.
Most of the teachings of Jesus, in the ways in which he suggested we relate to each other, seem to me to be clearly supported by our current best understanding of the strategies most likely to deliver individual security and individual liberty, in practice.

But the understanding I have is not common, and has taken me decades to acquire.

1:06:23 SH “So, power in the service of Truth, power in the service of justice, that goes away, and all we are left with is power.”

That is a very simplistic understanding, and to my understanding has been falsified beyond any shadow of reasonable doubt – as outlined above.

1:14:40 JBP “If the objective facts are stacking up against your theory then it is time to mount an attack on objective facts.”

When anyone gets attached to a belief, a truth, a faith, at any level, and they allow that belief to be greater than their respect for individual life or individual liberty, then they become a threat to the rest of us.
To that degree, they must be restrained in a way that mitigates the threat that they pose.

That applies to any belief, capitalist, socialist, religious, objectivist, whatever.
If it cannot tolerate the diversity that must result from freedom; then it is a threat to freedom itself.
In as much as actions resulting from any mode of thought pose a significant direct threat to the life or liberty (responsibly exercised) of anyone else, then we all have a responsibility to restrain such actions to whatever degree we reasonably can.

I make the strong claim that only in such a world, do any of us have any significant probability of living a very long time.
Reality does seem to be that complex, that sometimes the outliers do in fact see something important for the rest of us (even if most of the time they are wrong).

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What attracted me to Act?

What attracted you to Act in the first place?

For me, classical liberal values of individual life and individual liberty, combined with pragmatic reality of the need for responsible action in ecological and social contexts.
Add in to that the inescapable logic that markets fail as effective measures of value when faced with exponential technology that is capable of delivering universal abundance of an expanding set of goods and services.

So it is the liberal values aspect that has me here, not any sort of faith in markets, and that is said acknowledging the huge utilities of markets in our past and the many very complex roles they play even now in terms of distributed governance, distributed information processing and the contribution those make to liberty.

Technology now promotes concentration of wealth in ways never before possible, at the same time as it makes universal high standards of living and security possible, market based thinking denies that possibility to the majority (which in the long term denies it to everyone).

The rapidly approaching reality of indefinite life extension adds a further set of dimensions to an already highly dimensional strategic landscape.

For the first time in history universal empowerment, universal liberty and security is a real option, yet in a market environment that possibility is a low probability outcome, as markets concentrate wealth and force every greater numbers into subsistence and insecurity.

For me – ACT has always been about those fundamental human values – Individual life (human and non human, biological and non biological) and individual liberty (for all individuals capable of claiming it – no exceptions). And that demands of us high levels of ecological and social responsibility – not any sort of naive freedom to follow whim.

As I see it, it is only such values that offer any of us a reasonable probability of a long and secure future.
This is the sort of conversations I had with Roger and Richard into the small hours, that had me stand as an Act candidate in the first two elections.

[followed by]

Hi Iwan,
The greater the level of automation, the less security any of us have, as the more likely it becomes that our current occupations and the security they provide will be automated out of existence, and the next job available will pay less, and have a greater probability of offering even less security.

I am not making any sort of claims for a static amount of wealth being present – quite the reverse.

I am making a strong claim (supported by economic data) that middle and low income people are seeing reduction in real income, and reduction in job security.

Some form of universal basic income seems to be the most viable transition strategy, as we move from scarcity based thinking to abundance based thinking, and that transition will be difficult for many.

[followed by]

Hi Iwan,
Can you substantiate the claim “Automation creates more desirable jobs”.

As someone who has owned and operated a software business for 31 years, I can see the end of software businesses rapidly approaching, as fully automated coding systems come online.

Driverless cars are now a physical reality, and as the legal systems adapt, driving will soon cease to be an occupation.

The only reason any of us pay for information is laws on IP – it is only legally decreed scarcity that makes information a marketable item.

The trends are clear – well documented.

Paradigms that worked in the past are failing in this new reality.

It is a non-trivial set of issues.

The only effective risk mitigation strategy I see is a strong set of values based on individual life and individual liberty, applied universally.

[followed by]

Hi Iwan,
First level automation was using water and animals to replace human labour.
Next level was automating manufacture to various levels.
Now we have fully automated information processing.
Advances in neural net technologies, explorations of strategy and algorithm spaces and reduction in power consumption mean machines are getting better than humans in ever more areas.

Currently we have jobs in the areas of complexity landscape that are above the rising tide of automation, but those peaks are relatively static, and the tide is rising ever faster. The last of those peaks will likely submerge inside 20 years.

This is different, fundamentally different, to anything that has happened before.

More people need to become aware of it, and need to start seriously considering what sort of world we want, and what sort of incentive structures are needed to create it, and what sort of choices we need to make now, to have the sort of world we want to live in in 30 years time.

In a noisy environment, where “noise” is at 5%, if you wait for an exponential trend to emerge above the noise, it is only 5 doublings from 100% – with doubling times in key technologies now under a year – that doesn’t give much time to respond.
One needs to see the trends long before they become obvious.

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Leibnizian Enigma

Foundations of Logic – Leibnizian Enigma

If nothing is the opposite of everything, what is the opposite of something?

This question is so context dependent.

If the term Nothing is the empty set, which category does it apply to?

Not all things have opposites – what is the opposite of “red”?

In the realm of positive integers, nothing is the start of an infinite sequence.
In the realm of all possible integers, positive and negative, then it is the center of an infinite sequence.

The more specific one is, the more easily one is understood.

Many people are deliberately non-specific, because it is not their intention to create clarity, but rather to obscure.

Many think they are being clear, when in fact they are using implicit assumptions that have been falsified beyond all reasonable doubt in the understandings of others.
So communication can get very complex, very uncertain, very quickly.

And in the realm of reality, there do in fact seem to be fundamental limits to clarity, beyond which fuzziness (uncertainty) is required.

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Pure Altruism ?

Sept 13 – 18 ’17 ~QofDay~ Something Good for Others… Pure Altruism?

If doing something good for others makes us feel good, can there ever be such a thing as pure altruism?

I think it depends very much on definitions.

I’m inclined to agree with Bhatta that the idea of pure altruism doesn’t seem possible, and it does seem possible to align values such that one’s own long term interests align with those of everyone else – which seems to be about as close as it is possible for us to approximate such a thing.

All of my actions must have a value for me, even if that value is neither immediate nor obvious to anyone else.

I have a certain mastery of delayed gratification, and not across all domains.

So yes – very interesting area to explore, as I have many times in the past few decades.

[followed by]

Hi folks,

It would seem that in both logic and in decision or control theory, there must be some benefit at some level, some target that is “desired” at some conscious or subconscious level, in order for us to act in a way that produces that outcome (unless it is a completely random accident – but then how could we call that altruism).

So in terms of decision theory, the question very much depends on the definitions one adopts of “altruism” and “pure”, and how one’s definition of altruism implicitly involves the notion of “intention” or “will” and the depth of understanding one brings to those terms.

To me, all such things resolve back to probabilities of influence in action between different levels of systems, and to result in the sort of systems that have produced this set of words, seems to require about 20 level of complex systems with levels of influence between systems all the way up and down the stack, as well as laterally between the systems in any particular level of the stack. And at most levels in the stack that involves many billions of individual systems. That seems to be what it is to be an embodied human being – complexity beyond any hope of anything other that the broadest of brush stroke sketches – ever. The numbers involved are beyond any hope of conscious level comprehension (in terms of the details, rather than in general terms of the sort of systems involved).

And within all that complexity, the systems do seem to follow sets of probabilistic rules that do involve what might be considered targets and feedback and projections and differentials etc; that at the highest levels do actually seem to be conscious level choices (at least for the most part, acknowledging all the levels of probabilistic influences in their levels of construction). The stack thus going from “mostly conscious” at the top, down to “mostly unconscious” at the bottom.

And exactly where one tries to draw hard boundaries in such complexity is always something of an over simplistic myth.

Differential survival of self replicating systems in several different domains, seems to have resulted in the complexity of hardware and software systems that deliver the experiential existence that each of us seem to experience.
In the control sense, it all comes back to selection of that which best survives, long term, over the greatest array of contexts.
We seem to be on the cusp of being able to see that our individual interests are intimately linked to the interests of all other people and all other life forms, and that the greatest probability of benefit for any of us in the long term requires guaranteeing life and liberty to all, at least to a level that we each consider reasonable (and that will encompass quite a spectrum, it is not a uniform function). Fairness and equality are very different notions.

So it is a very complex question.

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History of philosophy

Foundations of Logic, History of Philosophy

To me, the history of philosophy is interesting, as it seems to show an exploration of many different domains.

It seems that as individuals we come to consciousness whenever we do, and we find ourselves to be embodied, to be acting in what seems to be a reality, to be using language, to be having thoughts and feelings. We start to notice that we can predict some things with relative ease and good reliability, and other things not so much.
We find ourselves to be a part of a culture, that comes with sets of stories about what happened in the past, how relationships are, how they should be, what might happen in the future if we don’t think and act in certain ways.

Some people accept the implicit truth of such stories, some of us choose to question assumptions and evidence at different levels.

It seems that the stories of our deep ancestors were framed in the experience sets common to them – such that the complexities of their deep past were explained in terms of agents like themselves, yet bigger and stronger – gods.

As we started to distinguish more things, form bigger groups, we developed needs to record and transmit information about things more accurately over time and space than relying on human memory – we developed written language.
This seems like it might have started from a simple need for accounting, marks in clay tablets.
Initially counting systems seemed to be based around our physiology – 10 digits, or base 6 (5 digits plus a fist), allowing two hands to count to 36 rather than 10.
Once someone thought to add a symbol for the empty set, 0, mathematics as we know it was able to flourish in symbolic form.

Some people started to explore the infinities of mathematics, and the were drawn to the certainty of the relationships embodied in abstract mathematical forms. The simple geometry of Pythagoras was taken by many to embody the notion of absolute truth. People looked to explain things in terms of such simple mathematical *Perfection*.

Then along came people like Leibniz and Newton who gave us calculus and opened the description of more complex mathematical forms, so the ellipse came to replace the circle in astronomical perfection.

But as the experimentalists developed ever better abilities to measure things, the imperfections in *Perfection*, became ever more obvious.

So people developed ever more complex mathematical forms, to eliminate the imperfections.

Some people explored the ideas of relationships in their own rights, pursuing them into the realms of number theory, set theory, topology, uncertainty, statistics, logic, games theory, and into what clearly becomes infinitely recursive levels of strategy and uncertainty in action. And every time a new theory was found to explain a set of observations, a new set of observations was found that invalidated the absolute *Truth* of the past explanatory system, showing it to be but a useful approximation to something, that was useful in a context.

So now we have ideas from information theory, network theory, evolutionary theory, all embodied in highly abstract spaces, where each level of abstraction allows for infinite sets of infinities.

And in all of this, many people seem to still hold on to the ancient idea of *Truth*, rather than accepting that the evidence we have today seems to overwhelmingly point to fundamental uncertainty at the level of the specific, yet that allows us to develop profound levels of confidence at the levels of large sets or aggregates.

And some people have taken the insights coming from profoundly abstract thought and applied it in practice to the understanding of us, our modes of understanding, our levels of structure and pattern that deliver this embodied ability to model possibility, and to encode information about such projections into arrangements of symbols that have some non-zero probability of being interpreted as something like the patterns in the mind of the writer.

The great names of recent times might be names like John von Neumann, Alan Turing, Alan Guth, Richard Dawkins, David Snowden, Jordan Peterson, Ray Kurzweil, etc.

We find ourselves in profoundly uncertain times, existing in populations of people with profoundly different levels of awareness of different domains, like the domains of abstract understanding, the domains of self awareness, the domains of self mastery, the domains of integrity, the domains of economics, politics, technology, biology, strategy, law, planning, implementation, the domains of delayed gratification in the pursuit of extremely long term self interest – where such self interest becomes almost indistinguishable from altruism.

We live in a time of exponential change across a range of domains that very few people have any awareness of, much less interest in.
These domains, like all domains, hold the potential for both profound benefit and profound risk.

Much of the thinking that now dominates our dominant cultural structures seems to be based around simplistic formulations that worked near enough to be useful in our past, but are now moving into profoundly dangerous strategic territory that is now delivering existential level risk.

Two major errors are obvious.
One is the notion of evolution being based on competition. That is clearly false. Evolution can involve any level of mix of competitive or cooperative strategies (across any domain of time, space, distinction or abstraction). One thing is clear – competitive strategies tend to dominate in domains of scarcity, and tend to lead to simplicity and increasing risk. If there is sufficient resources for all, then cooperative strategies can lead to expanding complexity and security.

That segues into the second major error, that markets are a useful measure of value. Markets require an aspect of scarcity to deliver value. Anything universally abundant has zero market value. Thus markets are internally incentivised to destroy any universal abundance, and to make it a marketable scarcity. Our current laws around Intellectual Property and precisely that. Thus markets tend to destroy security in the presence of full automation.

Our existing economic systems are fundamentally competitive, and fundamentally based in scarcity, and pose severe risk in our current environment of exponentially expanding automation that is capable of delivering universal abundance of a large and rapidly growing set of goods and services.

So philosophy, in as much as remains captured by ideas from our past and is not pointing clearly to the dangers in our present and probable futures – appears to me to be part of the problem, rather than part of the solution.

[followed by]

Dirk Henninghaus
Hi Dirk,
The tree example is a good one.
A tree left alone, will tend to grow to a height that it overshadows the grasses etc, and will not grow any higher than is required by the needs of its basic genetic programming, thus reducing the cost of transporting material to the top branches, and reducing the risk of damage by high winds etc.
Trees competing for light with other trees grow to great height, because of such competition, but in doing so the increased metabolic cost of lifting water, the increase risk from earthquake and wind, etc, all increase the probability of catastrophic failure in the longer term, but the risks of the moment dominate.

So if you plant trees at a wide spacing, they tend to grow low, and be resistant to earthquake, storm, drought, plague etc.
If you plant them close, then they become more vulnerable to failure from a wide array of risk modalities (climatic, geological, biological).

I own a small forestry block, and have for several decades been an acute observer of failure modalities in forestry systems along the 300 miles or so of the Island I live on. I am also engaged in the highest levels of biosecurity and biodiversity strategy in this country.

And neither of those senses was what I was pointing to in my initial assertion.

What I was pointing to was the more abstract realm of long term evolutionary strategies.

If you look at evolution on the very long term, then it is clear that nearly pure competitive systems maintained the simplicity of bacteria for several billion years. Then around a billion years ago, in a very unusual set of circumstances, sets of bacteria got together to form the colonial organism that was the first eukaryotic cell. That strategic level of cooperation (which seems logically that it must have occurred in a very uncommon situation where the risks to survival came far more from factors outside of other members of the population of things you could breed with than from within) allowed for a flowering of complexity that wasn’t possible from bacteria acting solely as individuals. It led in a sense to a loss of individuality of some classes of individuals but to the emergence of new levels of complexity in the new level of individuality so created.

Evolution is not necessarily about competition.
Evolution is about differential survival.
Often competition is a major factor in differential survival, and not always.
Sometimes cooperation is the major factor in differential survival.
In conditions where cooperation dominates, we observe expanding levels of complexity. Without it, the drive is to optimise for simplicity.

That seems to clearly be recursively applicable across all levels of abstraction, all levels of system interaction.

We see in ascidians (sea squirts) that once they attach to a substrate, their brains are reabsorbed and the metabolic energy once used by brains in moving through a complex world, is given over to reproduction in a static world of an individual fixed to a substrate.

All this leads to very complex multidimensional probability spaces when considering the multiple levels of simultaneously instantiated strategy in action that seem to be embodied in all the levels of complexity instantiated on this planet currently (some 20+ levels in the systems I am employing in this specific conversation).

It is a recursive notion.
It takes time to push it deeply to high orders of abstraction, such that it become intuitively useful in conversations such as this.

[followed by]

Sigurd Vojnov
Hi Sigurd,
Just to get to the level of cell requires several levels of cooperation.
It is a long conversation.
The biochemical and systemic aspects of evolution have fascinated me for over 50 years, and I have followed developments with interest.
Yes – bacterial cells can cooperate in some contexts, and in a deep sense we are exactly that – many levels of it.
And it is the levels thing that is important.

Bacteria need to cooperate to the sorts of levels that instantiates us for literature to emerge as a systemic property.

It is profoundly complex, and there is also some profound systemic simplicity in the major trends – as with most things – all probability and contextually based (of course).

And of course, anything to do with reality has an aspect of conjecture, and the more deeply separated in time the greater that must be (and we’ve been down that bunny hole a few times in the last few months).

[followed by]

Dirk Henninghaus
Hi Dirk,
Thinking “intention to survive” isn’t the way to think about it.
Just think, “what survived”.

Then consider all the different types of context, and the risk/reward ratio of each sort of strategy in each sort of context. Then think about the sorts of mechanisms for context sensitive strategy selection, and the probability that each of those mechanisms will select a strategy appropriate to context.

When you start to build that sort of probability landscape, then you start to get “a feel” for the sorts of strategic associations that you are likely to find present at any level of evolved systems.

We didn’t have the option of “intending to survive” until very recently in our evolutionary history, and in a sense that intention is only a “thin skin” overlain on all the other many levels of genetic and mimetic systems within us. To the degree that we can recognise the influence of those older systems, then to that degree we gain some influence over their expression probabilities.

Yes certainly – we inherit many levels of behaviour, genetic and cultural (in the widest sense of cultural – including intellectual culture), and that is essential in a sense, none of us is smart enough to entirely create language and culture on our own – we need the combined intelligence of all those who have gone before to pick and choose from, then add our little bit of creativity to that mix.

Yes, certainly – many of those systems are not always triggered in appropriate contexts, and lead to less than optimal outcomes.
In a very reals sense, that is how evolution has always worked – create a massive diversity, and see what survives best in each generation, repeat.

The very real issue now, is that now we have the tools to make mistakes that eliminate all diversity – not just our tribe, or our district, but the entire planet load of human diversity. Those are existential level risks, and there are far too many of them. We don’t have the option of breeding from whatever survives.

These are not trivial issues.
They are deeply systemic issues, buried deeply in the implicit assumptions that very few people examine or think about.

I have two core values – individual life, and individual liberty, and I acknowledge the necessity of those being expressed responsibly within ecological and social contexts – so not naive freedom, but responsible freedom, that isn’t an unreasonable risk to others (and yes the definition of unreasonable is intentionally fuzzy, and must involve sets of conversations and negotiations).

In today’s context, I see that the scarcity based value measure created by markets is an existential level risk – in the planning sense rather than the distribution sense. A useful transition strategy would seem to be some sort of Universal Basic Income, and it is only a transition strategy, not a stable final strategy.

I see the twin tyrannies (majority and minority) as high risk issues, and the only effective countermeasure is distributed governance, all levels, and distributed public information – a lack of privacy in public spaces.

So I understand how evolution has worked in the past, and that isn’t stable into our future.
We need to step the game up a couple of levels.

So yes – intention to survive is relatively recent, and not all that common across all levels of society – most operate on older, less intentional systems most of the time, and all of us do so some of the time (no matter how aware we think ourselves to be). It is an extremely complex problem space, and any form of centralisation is by definition high risk. There must be massive decentralisation, distributed decision making, distributed risk assessment and mitigation strategies – all levels. And I acknowledge the role that markets have played in doing that (as per von Hayek et al), and we need alternatives with different incentive structures.

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Foundations of Logic – existential risk

Foundations of Logc Group – Existential Risk

Stop reading if you are prone to anxiety.
Shall we let the games go on?
What is your approach and what game do you play on the issue of the survival of our species?

Using best available data and systems and paradigms to identify possible risks, evaluate likely probability, and develop appropriate strategies.

Risk mitigation strategies come in two major forms – those that remove the source of risk, and those that improve resilience leading to survival and recovery.

Stop reading now if you are prone to anxiety.
I have been a student of existential level risk both to me and to humanity as a whole for over 40 years. My engagement includes groups like Lifeboat foundation, CSER (Cambridge Center for Study of Existential RIsk), Oxford Martin School, Ray Kurzweil’s Accelerating Intelligence group, London Futurists, Transhumanists, as well as local regional and national level civil defense and disaster recovery within New Zealand.

In 1993 I published the website, as a strategy to avoid what I saw as the major sets of threats facing us as a species. The strategy remains substantially the same, though some variants have been added.

Why worry about such risks?
Because as I completed my undergraduate biochemistry in 1974 the logic of the possibility of indefinite life extension became almost certain for me – having seen that from a “cells eye” perspective, every cell alive today would consider itself to have been alive for some 4 billion years – so indefinite cellular life must be the genetic default, overlain by other systems that induce age related cellular senescence in organisms like ourselves.
Having accepted that as a possibility the question became – what sorts of social political and technical institutions are required to give a potentially very long lived individual a reasonable probability of living a very long time?

All else came from following where that question led.

In terms of risks, they fall into four major categories: cosmological, tectonic, biological, and systemic (which I take to include technological and cultural).

I don’t have time this morning to enumerate all the many subcategories, and they are many (as I have to leave for a couple of days of meetings out of town).

Most of the really nasty stories in our cultures seem to be echos of instances of near misses of some of them (in the sense that at least some few individuals survived, and our species continued).

Far from being rare, in the longer timescales of our evolutionary and even our cultural history, such things are disturbingly common.

I am confident that we have the technical capability of developing effective risk mitigation strategies for most of them, and I am also clear that aspects of “cultural drag” (failure of accepted cultural truths at many different levels to accept the reality of either the risk or the most effective mitigation strategies) is itself the greatest risk, and chief among them is the idea of using markets as an effective measure of value, but a close second is the very idea of *Truth*.

And that will have to do for now.
Gotta go.

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Evonomics – Fairness

Evonomics – People Don’t Actually Want Equality. They Want Fairness.

The invisible hand of egalitarianism.

Good article Paul – as far as it goes. Agree with most of what Mark writes, but while much of what Dick writes is accurate, it seems to me his conclusion in not warranted.

We all cherish our differences. Very few people actually like total equality, being forced to be and do exactly the same as everyone else is a nightmare for most of us.

And the idea of fairness means that when there are sufficient resources, then we all expect to get enough of those resources to be able to express our individual freedom and creativity in socially responsible (and individually different) ways.

And there are many levels and modalities present in the spectra of human understanding and behaviour, and some of them are far less tolerant of diversity than others.

The critical change that we now face is that fully automated systems make it possible to meet the reasonable expectations of every person on the planet to a high standard of living and choice and freedom, yet our market based systems value such abundance at zero, as any market measure of value has a scarcity component, and when scarcity drops to zero, value drops to zero.

That isn’t necessarily a problem on the distribution side, but it is a fundamental issue on the planning side.

So long as everyone has a high minimum standard (including material wealth, security and freedom), then asymmetries in the higher end of the distribution are fine.

And our psychologies and physiologies are far more complex than most people have any real conception. Jordan Peterson does a good job of explaining many aspects of the embodiment of cognition, how evolution selects sets of systems that produce outcomes in practice that are far ahead of our conceptual understanding of them in many instances. We are amazingly complex entities, even singularly, far more complex than we can possibly understand.

For all the many levels of very complex and valuable services markets have given us over recent centuries, the current explosion of computational capacity, and the automation and productivity that flows from it, are pushing markets out of the familiar and largely beneficial territory of our history and into territory that contains profound existential level risk profiles across an exponentially expanding set of domains.

I am confident that the future can be empowering for individual life and individual liberty, but only if we move beyond markets and their abstract construct of value (money), and into conceptual territory that does actually, in practice value and promote individual life and individual liberty, where all such individuals acknowledge the social and ecological responsibilities that are an essential part of existence our in the very complex sets of systems that is our expanding technological, philosophical and cultural existence.

We need to acknowledge that the competitive aspect of evolution drives systems to minimal complexity, whereas the cooperative aspect of evolution allows recursive emergence of ever more complex systems.

Evolution is a profoundly complex systemic, strategic and computational domain that emerges from a remarkably simple set of systems.
And to understand evolution, or time, or complexity, one must be prepared to examine far from equilibrium systems. One cannot understand evolution in terms of equilibria, however many near equilibrium sub-systems one can distinguish. That applies at every level, all systems, all domains.

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