Updates to a June Post

I have added two new replies to this post:
https://tedhowardnz.wordpress.com/2016/06/11/medical-breakthrough-and-market-failure/

The final point is very clear and explicit.

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Alzheimer’s

Anti-inflammatory drug reverses memory loss in Alzheimer’s-disease-model mice

Agree with Erik – the precise mechanism is important.

Woodrow Monte has done a lot of very good science on the dietary model of Alzheimer’s, which works.

Mice fed a diet containing low level methanol develop Alzheimer’s symptoms.
http://www.whilesciencesleeps.com/

Monte has identified two major dietary contributions to methanol -coming initially from canned vegetable matter – the incidence of Alzheimer’s does seem to track the invention and spread of canned foods, then later the introduction of aspartame as a sweetener – again the timing and incidence matches closely.

The biochemical mechanisms are well characterised.

A bit tough, when added sugar is clearly responsible for most of the diabetes and cancer we see, and the alternative sweetener seems to be responsible for most of the Alzheimer’s. Pandering to that particular evolutionary hack (a liking for sweet things) hasn’t worked out so well for us as a species. And having given up all added sweeteners, I can attest to it taking a bit of will power – to not cheat – ever.

Agree with Alvaro1 that we are on the cusp of removing all disease, and it does seem clear that to do so, we will need to exercise some will power to overcome many of the aspects of our being that worked in the context of our deep evolutionary past but are not at all appropriate to our modern existence.

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Comfort Zone

Your Comfort Zone May Destroy The World

Sadly, staying in our ideological comfort zones has put us on a path to world destruction.

Your comment “Living in an echo chamber is not an evolutionarily stable strategy” is not necessarily true. If the echo chamber presents a stable environment, then evolutionary theory suggest that life forms will evolve to live there.

“Death of Truth” – the idea of “Truth” hasn’t died yet – it needs to.

It is now clear, beyond any shadow of reasonable doubt, that none of us have “Truth”. Reality is so complex, that all anyone can have is some reasonable approximation to something that is usually fit for current purpose. Nothing more than that is even logically possible once one comes to terms with the shear numeric scale of reality, with Heisenberg uncertainty, with chaos theory, with maximal computational complexity, with complexity theory, with games theory leading to generalised spaces of algorithms and strategies which both appear infinite, with an infinite set of infinities, …..

Agreed that comfort zones are dangerous, in the bigger picture, and they are also, by definition comfortable. They represent a low point in the particular topology that is the multiple stable state equilibria defined by the particular sets of genetics and experiences and probabilities to action that defines the many levels of systems that are any particular individual.

Completely agree that “The best way to get the world back on track is to do our best to understand each other.”

That is a really complex thing.

I’ve spent a lot of time over the last 12 years in one particular community consensus decision making project developing a coastal management strategy (within which I hold the treasurer role amongst others). I chair one charitable trust, one recreational interest group, one national body, and a district body charged with developing a water management strategy through a consensus community process. I’m also active in the AI community, several economics communities, several political groups, several conservation groups and in several existential risk communities internationally. And as my day job I run a software company.

I have been actively working for over 40 years to disinvent the concept of money, which is clearly, to me, a construct based in scarcity, which was arguably of benefit when our environment was characterised by real scarcity, but in our current age of exponential advances in automation, a scarcity based value set (based in markets and exchange values) actively works against the long term interests of everyone. It is now, clearly, to me, with the particular sets of conceptual understandings I have, the single greatest existential risk facing humanity. We need to transcend it. And doing so is not simple. Doing so requires persistence.

So yes – in a sense your thesis does accurately model aspects of our current reality, and it completely misses a much more important, and much deeper reality.

There is a very real sense in which everything you describe is actually the natural systemic outcome of a scarcity based set of values operating in minds that evolution has, through the deep time of our ancestral past, tuned to preferentially focus attention on threats rather than opportunities. That fact has been exploited by many levels of our current scarcity based economic system and past based political systems.

Using the past as a predictor in times of exponential paradigm change is not a stable strategy, however much it may be comfortable to our monkey brains.

Once one takes the time and effort to develop a probability based understanding of understanding itself; to build a model of ourselves that sees our experience as being of a subconsciously created (and slightly predictive) model of reality, rather than of reality itself; then that level of abstraction – of modelling models within models – builds a very different sort of understanding from that one gets from accepting the Platonic notion of Truth (and living in that particular echo chamber).

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Rock On

Rock On!

Have you ever built a cairn?

Hi Laurie

I’ve built hundreds of cairns, mostly when tramping, to mark places where for some reason the path is difficult to find, and some help is needed.

We have a beach a few miles south of here where for some reason people started building cairns, and they have become a miniature forest. Have built a couple there myself, just because.

I like playing with rocks, both in the coastal space, and in active riverbeds.

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Evonomics – Capitalism

Evonomic – How Capitalism Actually Generates More Inequality

Why extending markets or increasing competition won’t reduce inequality

The first line of argument simply couldn’t be any more false.
“At least nominally, capitalism embodies and sustains an Enlightenment agenda of freedom and equality”

Freedom, if it is to have any real meaning, involves the presence of actual, real choices.
In a market based system, anyone committed to universality, either as an ethical or a religious principle, or as the most powerful survival strategy available, rapidly finds that market based systems value universal anything at zero.
Anything based in markets is antithetical to anything being universal.
So anyone actually committed to freedom, applied universally, is forced to conclude that universal freedom, is not compatible with a market based system.

As for equality.
Anything equally distributed has no market value either.
Again, markets require difference to function.
In one sense markets can be thought of as flows of goods and services from areas of high concentration to areas of low concentration (capital can accumulate due to asymmetries at every step in such flows).
There is an aspect of markets that do the same in the realms of information and strategy, but that is far more complex, many levels more complex, and already has well developed technologies and strategies to deliver universal abundance.

The article goes on to suggest in respect of Wilkinson and Picket “They suggested that inequality creates adverse outcomes through psycho-social stresses generated through interactions in an unequal society.” Which is a part of the picture.
Another part of the picture is that at the bottom of the distribution curve, you are getting the lowest quality of everything available – information, food, housing, environment, education, …..
Individual people are not stupid. They may be ignorant at some levels, and everyone has a highly intuitive aspect.
Crowds can be stupid. Crowds can be wise about things that are within the common domain (like weight, or time), but truly foolish about more complex domains like abstract strategy.
Wisdom of the crowd depend very much upon the knowledge base of that specific crowd. The more abstract the conceptual system, the less likely the crowd is to display competence.

Inequality isn’t simply “endemic” to capitalism, it is the foundation upon which capitalism is built.
Without unequal distribution, markets cannot function.
Historically, that wasn’t a significant issue, because the inequalities of distribution were structural to reality, and markets were tending to smooth those out. In that context, it could clearly be argued that markets worked towards equality – and they did.
What has changed is that we now have the power to automate a large and expanding set of such systems such that, at the functional level of human experience, it can no longer be argued that such inequality is necessarily structural to reality.
We now have the technology to remove such inequality, universally.

What is now at issue, is that many of the dominant strategic sets that underlie that major systems in our society are based in the notion of structural inequality – markets being the most obvious one.

No one, who is truly committed to freedom, or who is really interested in their own long term survival probabilities, can any longer support the notion of markets as being a reasonable dominant tool in our tool-set, in an age of automation, except through willful ignorance (the defense of a notion that is logically indefensible in our current context).

The article asks:
“What are the mechanisms within capitalism that exacerbate inequalities of income or wealth?”

Then he misses the “core driver” completely.
Sure the tendencies he identifies exist, and are a part of the picture.

And the “core driver” is simply a statistical one. In any system subject to variations, in parameters that determine survival, then the ultimate driver of survival will, periodically, force those without sufficient reserves to devalue all their other values simply to survive. Recessions invoke something of a “feeding frenzy” amongst the top end of the capitalist strategic set of predatory strategies. Same can be said at all levels of the system, right down to the personal, where banks foreclose on individuals who lose their jobs (even if those very same banks funded the corporate raid that led to the job losses).
In one sense, all such strategies mean the bigger players tend to win, just as a house limit on a Crown and Anchor table ensures that the house will win, as it limits the strategic sets available to other players.

Agree completely that the removal of liberty in the name of communism is to be resisted, every bit as much as the removal of liberty in the name of capitalism is to be resisted.

What does liberty mean?
Capitalism seems to say that everyone is free to play the game of capitalism, but no one is supposed to mention that for some to win, the vast majority must lose.
Under capitalism, no one can survive unless they play the capitalism game.

I say, we now have sufficient technological capacity to automate processes that we can now, at no real cost to any individual, ensure that every individual on the planet has all the resources and real freedom of information and travel and technology, to do whatever they responsibly choose.
And responsibility in this context is a deeply recursive set of complex domains that seem to be potentially infinite – so no clear certainty, only balances of probabilities – sets of individual judgements.

Respect for individual life, and individual liberty, universally applied, must be at the core of any strategic set that has longevity as a desired outcome – if Wolfram has shown us anything, he has demonstrated that.

[followed by]

I am very aware that I am using a different definition of freedom.
As I am aware that I am using different conceptions of “evolution” and “complexity” and “strategy”, and a fundamentally different conception of “knowledge” (one based purely in probability).

So yes – your criticism is valid in that limited context, and that is not the context of my argument as a whole.

And yes – I acknowledge that this is a very complex realm, and it is very easy for misunderstandings to occur (far more probable than not).

I am definitely not restricted to the enlightenment conceptions of freedom.
Those concepts are over 200 years old.
Since then we have had general relativity, Heisenberg uncertainty, quantum probability, Turing computation, Wolfram and general algorithm and logic spaces, and the recursive nature of evolution in the deepest of strategic senses.

So I am a very long way from the conceptual spaces of the “Enlightenment”, and the very many errors of fundamental assumptions they implicitly adopted.

I am concerned with freedom in the context of the spaces we are dealing with here and now – in the context of emerging Artificial General Intelligence, chaos, maximal computational complexity and the possibility of indefinite life.

If this paper were concerning itself only as a historical document relating to the enlightenment, then your criticism would be completely valid.

But that is not what this paper claims to be.
This paper claims to be relevant to our present.
As such, it _must_ be relevant to all the contexts I have outlined above.

All of my pointing to trains of abstraction and realms of logic are in that context of contexts.

[followed by]

I promise, that within my own conceptual understanding of the relevance of Hodgson’s assertions to our modern context I stayed very much on topic – and I fully understand that not many people may have understood that.

Freedom is a complex topic. We could spend a long time on it. I don’t want to right now.

Hodgson claims that capitalism embodies a concept of freedom.

In the context of the 200 years ago, when most things were genuinely scarce, one could make a reasonable case to support such a proposition.

In the intellectual and technological context of today, when we can fully automate the production of a large and exponentially expanding set of goods and services (potentially making them universally available), then a claim that capitalism embodies freedom cannot be substantiated (in today’s context).

Trying to give some weight to such a claim, by using conceptual sets that are 200 years old is kind of like trying to teach thermodynamics using the caloric model of heat.
There is a place for talking of the caloric model of heat – in works like John Gribbin’s History of Science, but not in a modern understanding of physical processes involving heat.

The idea that capitalism embodies freedom in today’s context of exponentially expanding automation has about as much intellectual validity as the caloric model of heat in modern science.

It is, beyond any shadow of reasonable doubt, falsified.

Similarly, most of the enlightenment concepts of freedom (and there was no one concept, but a whole ecosystem of concepts) owed much to a set of assumptions which have now been clearly falsified, and worked (in as far as they did) in contexts that are no longer relevant.

So it is a very complex picture, and taking a broad brush to that very complex picture – I stand by the original assertion I painted.

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Modern feudalism

Oligarchy, Predators, and Parasites: What the New Feudalists Would Be Doing Now, if They Had Sense.

The smartest billionaires today want nothing to do with feudalist trends

A great deal of truth in all you write David.

Yet you do not explicitly reference the 18ft caterpillar on the coffee table: which is the fact that anything that is fully automated has zero market value, and that the set of goods and services that can be fully automated is already large and is exponentially expanding.

Markets only measure unmet demand.
Markets can only work where people don’t have all they need.
So poverty is structural to a market system.
That wasn’t an issue when most things were genuinely scarce.
It is very much an issue (a core issue of injustice, that is becoming far more generally known) in an age where most things can be automated to universal abundance.

Most people don’t need a lot.
If you have fully automated climate controlled greenhouse production, then 100 square meters can feed a person easily. It takes about 20 square meters of solar cells to deliver enough energy to produce 1.5T per year of steel, while 1 square meter can supply the energy to deliver 15g of semiconductor grade silicon. 100 square meters of solar cells delivers plenty of energy for a very high standard of living. Allowing another 100 for sundry other requirements – 300 sq m / person – and leaving half the land area in its natural state, the continental USA could hold twice the world’s current population.

We are not short of land, energy or materials.

There is no need for poverty, anyone, anywhere.

No market based system, in and of its own internal incentive structures, will ever eliminate poverty. Adam Smith knew that. It is almost 250 years since he published his Theory of Moral Sentiment, which for all its many errors is still a profound work, as is the Wealth of Nations.

I agree with all you wrote above, and what I am saying here is deeper than that.

There are many people who really do want to live a very long time.

Those at the peak of the capitalist heap do not want to be an impediment to that – that is a very dangerous strategy – for everyone!!!

I am not suggesting that everyone have the same – quite the opposite.

And I am demanding that everyone have a high minimum – what most alive today would consider a high minimum – 20 KW continuous power over and above subsistence, with all the distributed redundancy of automated production and service delivery necessary to ensure security for all.

And I acknowledge it will take time to deliver, and that time has to be less than 10 years, preferably less than 5 – 2020 is a good target date.

 

[Followed by]

 

Hi Sally,

Yeah – Drexler had some great ideas. I attended the 25th ForeSight conference at Google’s Headquarters a few years ago.

I am definitely no fan of central control at any level.
I am also clear that markets have passed their peak utility.
The problem with markets is that they cannot deliver a positive value for anything that is universally abundant. Thus no market based system can ever, of its own internal incentive structure, incentivise universal abundance of anything. That means that in practice, markets will always have meta level incentives to prevent or remove any universal abundance that does develop. In a very real sense, that is all that IP laws are.

So while I am all for individual freedom and individual empowerment, I am no longer the fan of free markets I once was.

I see clearly now that markets are not the great friend of liberty that many think.
We now have far more effective ways of decentralising and empowering distributed decision making and communication more generally.

So for me, free markets are not the opposite of government control.
For me, both free markets and central control pose unacceptable risks to life an liberty.
We need a different paradigm.
Fortunately there are an infinite set of possibilities, some quite close in the possibility space of all possible strategies. And many of them are relatively trivial to implement with modern technology.

I align with a lot of things Peter Diamandis says, but not with his unquestioning acceptance of market dogma.
Companies are not inventive – some of the individuals they employ are.

 

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Culture?

The One Culture: Four new books indicate that the barrier between science and the humanities is at last breaking down

While I generally align with the main thesis, to me some of the core conceptual steps and linkages have been left out that mean it is still opaque to most people.

These come under the following 4 major headings:
The nature of evolution;
The nature of human beings;
The nature of reality;
The nature of complexity.
And also include many subheadings.

The nature of evolution:
Most people think of evolution in terms of competition. That is not at all accurate.
Evolution is about differential survival of variants in different contexts.
Sometimes competition is an important aspect of a context, at other times cooperation dominates as the most important aspect in survival. The key to understanding evolution is getting that it is all about survival. Cooperation and competition are just two of the factors influencing survival probabilities – there are many others.

When it comes to thinking about cooperation, Axelrod demonstrated that raw cooperation is always vulnerable to exploitation and overwhelm by cheating strategies, so suites of attendant strategies (“Policing strategies” in a sense, a limited sense) are required for cooperation to work.
It seems that all major advances in the complexity of living systems can be characterised by the emergence of new levels of cooperation.
That appears to be a potentially infinitely recursive process, with every level requiring a potentially infinitely extensible suite of attendant strategies to prevent cheating. That idea can cause some headaches, and it is worth spending some time on.

Another key idea is that levels of selection entity may vary over time and space, and all levels present are acted upon simultaneously by all the “pressures” present. These levels include atomic, molecular, cellular, etc right up through levels of culture to levels of individual abstraction and awareness beyond (or in advance of) anything generally culturally available.

The nature of human beings:
We all have deep cultural and genetic selection for cooperation or competition, depending on context. Human beings are not simple at any level, though in certain contexts behaviour can be remarkably consistent. Beware of generalising such observations beyond the contexts present.

We all have both a physical and “spiritual” existence in this sense: It seems that we each have physical bodies, with brains that exist in the cosmological/physical reality that we all share, and it also seems that we each, as experiential entities, only get to experience the slightly predictive subconsciously created model of reality that our subconscious biological brains assemble for us.
So in this sense, we each get to experience our highly personal and greatly simplified model of reality that is for the most part kept entrained to reality by the sensory information supplied by our senses. And under some conditions the degree of entrainment can vary substantially, sometimes approximating zero.

It is important to get that all understanding seems to be of models within models. We must all start out with simple models. The simplest of models contain binaries – ideas like true/false, right/wrong, hot/cold, light/dark etc. As our models mature such simplicity must give way to complexity in all dimensions, leading to probabilistic understanding in all things.

Eleizer Yudkowski has done an interesting collection of many of the biases that human beings are prone to “Rationality: AI to Zombies”, it is an extensive list (1813 pages), and it is only a start.

And it is important to get that all understanding involves heuristic “hacks” – rules of thumb that work in practice at some level in some contexts. It is often difficult to distinguish when such things are out of context, particularly when they are part of the subconscious systems that create our experiential reality.

The nature of reality;
Reality is really complex. The numbers involved in each of us are mind numbing. Just to see all the people on this planet, all 7 billion of us, would take about 70 years if they ran past single file, 3 per second. We are each composed of about 10,000 times as many cells as there are people on this planet (meaning at 3 per second it would take a million years just to glimpse all our cells). And inside every cell is about 5 times as many atoms as we have cells in our bodies. And most of those atoms are moving fast. If we could somehow take a movie of action at the atomic level, and slow it down so that we could see the action at a single enzyme site, such that the average water molecule took about 1 second to cross the screen, then it would take about 30,000 years to watch one second’s worth of live action at that one molecular site.
The idea that anyone, ever, could ever have certainty about something that complex, is a logical nonsense.

The nature of complexity.
Complexity is worse than being human.
Wolfram has shown that all classes of computational spaces contain examples of maximal computational complexity – like Rule 30 in the case of a simple one dimensional array.
Biology seems to include a large class of instances of such complexity, and as such is, in many aspects, not predictable, even in a theoretical context where one has perfect knowledge, let alone in practice where all aspects of knowledge come with fundamental uncertainties.
It seems that reality contains many classes of aspects that are fundamentally unpredictable at any and all levels. So the very idea if perfect prediction is a logical nonsense.

It seems that we humans had better start developing systems for cooperation at the highest levels we can find (and everything below), and keep on searching the spaces of possible algorithms to use as stabilising strategies for our cooperative(s) – as the price of liberty is eternal vigilance.

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