An email exchange about creating our future.

An email exchange with Marc Sanders – in full with Marc’s permission

03:30 a.m. 27/05/2015

Hi Ted.

Hope you’re doing well.

We had a very brief e-mail exchange in January, regarding your willpower to continue in the face of overwhelming odds. I’ve continued reading your new blog posts and find that I am curious enough to ask a few more questions. If you have the time to reply, I’d appreciate reading your responses.

1. I realize that most of your blog posts are in response to others’ questions, but I haven’t seen much by way of your thoughts on planned causal sequencing. I ‘get’ that biological life is far too complex to describe, step-by-step, or to even simulate via computation (are you familiar with Douglas Adams’ “Deep Thought” and notion of the Earth as the computer to answer the question of “Life, the Universe, and Everything”?), but I’m intuitively drawn to the concepts of “initial (prerequisite) conditions” and (attempted) design and control of human environments as a means of shifting the probability distributions in favor of a better future for humankind.

Hi Marc

Thanks for the email.

I’m doing very well – all things considered.

I am familiar with Douglas Adams’ thoughts and writings. 42 is a number I often consciously select, in honour of Doug and his thoughts (though I disagree with him at a very fundamental level, I always found his writings interesting and humourous). I am aware that Richard Dawkins was one of his best friends, and delivered an amazing eulogy at Doug’s funeral. I never corresponded directly with Doug, and I have had several correspondences with Richard, and one face to face meeting.

It seems to me that the notion of meaning is restricted to entities with an ability to model reality and themselves as players within that reality, and thus doesn’t apply to reality itself. Such ability to model must be an emergent property of very complex evolved systems, not a starting condition as many older cultural paradigms insist. And it is easy to see where such confusion came from, given a total absence of systems thinking and evolutionary biochemistry prior to about 90 years ago, and the exponential explosion of both over the last few decades.

I guess my question is “have you written down (or otherwise recorded) any (project) plans for transition from our current socio-economic mess to a human (or trans/post-human) society that values life and liberty as you do?”.
If you have and you’ve previously published them online, please give me a hint as to where I may look. If you haven’t, perhaps you’d consider doing so sometime in the not-too-distant future?

I wrote down over 20 years ago.
I continue to engage in many different fora, trying out new combinations of ideas (memes) looking for ones that both stick and replicate. Limited success to date, and I am nothing if not persistent.

And yes – I am on my 6th draft of a book. The last draft got to 125 pages before I scrapped the approach.
Draft 6 is still in the planning phase, and I am much happier with the current emerging design than with any of the previous versions.

2. I’m not clear on the sense in which you use the term “probability” (and its plural).
My admittedly limited understanding is of its statistical sense, which I take to mean something like “the frequency with which something has occurred in a set of data”, and, if the system in question behaves in a deterministic fashion and all of the factors that have caused the occurrence are sufficiently understood, then that probability may be used to estimate the likelihood of future occurrences.
Again, I guess I’m caught up in causality.

It seems to me that hard causality is an illusion in a very real sense, and is just another level of expression of our brain’s addiction to simple binary concepts, a recurrent theme you will have met in many of my posts – like

When you dig deep enough, you run into all sorts of things – like Hiesenberg uncertainty, Goedel incompleteness, and Quantum Mechanics.
I haven’t read anyone who has a really useful interpretation of quantum mechanics, and John Murphy comes closest ( (I introduced John to Rachel Garden {Bertrand Russell’s granddaughter and one of the finest minds I have met {John’s no slouch either} about 18 years ago).

It seems clear to me that the sort of universe we find ourselves in can only exist where there is a balance between the lawful and the random. It seems that this balance can be found in the notion of probability distributions (over both time and space) at the most fundamental level. If everything were strictly lawful, then the ideas of free will or morality could make no sense, everything would be fixed consequences from initial conditions. We would all be living in the illusion of free will. This doesn’t actually seem to be the case. It does actually seem to be the case that we can experience freedom and that freedom can have causal consequences – but that requires a level of a-causality with the system, to allow such breaks in causality to occur.

That brings one to a very deep consideration of the notion of causality (think of Neo’s final encounter with Smith in the Matrix).

So in this sense, probability seems to be a boundary in time and space that reality imposes on randomness. Exactly how I don’t know, and the equations of QM seem to be very accurate in their descriptions of the what. Those aggregated probability distributions give a very close approximation to hard causality at the scale of material objects that are visible to the unaided human eye (which objects are made up of vast collections of very much smaller particles).

Your clarification would be greatly appreciated.

3. Might I inquire if you have any plans for cooperation / collaboration on any projects beyond your local (south Island) level? If not, might you share your reasons with me? The reason I ask is that I’m torn between acting locally – knowing that my immediate (rural) environment is vastly different than high-density urban areas – or to try to engage with others beyond my locale. I value your perspective on the matter.

I am constantly exploring new avenues for cooperation.
One avenue is A New Gaia Network, another is Ray Kurzwel’s Accelerating Intelligence site, another is the LifeBoat Foundation, another is another is the London Futurists, another is my involvement in politics. Later today I will be chairing a meeting of the Kaikoura Zone water management committee, and tomorrow I will Lync into a discussion in Auckland on Marine Amateur Fishing, yesterday I applied to be a speaker at the next TedX in Wellington.

I do what I can, where I can – a mix of both random and planned explorations of possibility space.

That’s all for now, except to say that if you find any of my questions sufficiently interesting that you’d like to publish your responses on your blog, please feel free to do so (and I’ll not be offended if you don’t).

Thanks for that permission, I will most certainly do so.

Thanks Ted.

Marc Sanders

As an aside, you’ve indirectly inspired me (at last!) to become a Vegetarian/Vegan. It’s been seven weeks, and the “Vegetarian” part has been much easier than I anticipated. My parents were raised on dairy farms and fed their children in kind, so elimination of milk-based products was a bit harder. My last hurdle is chicken eggs – I raised my own free-range layers a few years back and despite my theft of their eggs, they seemed healthy and ‘happy’, so, because my change in food consumption is more philosophical than physiological, I’ve not yet completed my journey to a 100% plant-based diet.

The evidence is quite clear, that provided your total calories from animal products is under 10% of total calorie intake, then you have no significant increase in risk from cancer. Mine was about 80% when I got my terminal diagnosis. The easiest way for me to get it below 10% was to go to 0%.
That worked for me.

If you can go below 10%, you’re probably fine.

If you actually get cancer, then I would stop eating all growth promoting foods (eggs & dairy in particular – they have evolved to assist growth of new life, and if you have tumours you want to stop them growing).

So well done!



[followed by]

04:08 a.m. 29/05/2015


thanks again for your thought-provoking replies. I especially intend to visit John Murphy’s site and want to thank you for the lucidity of your comment on the (what should have been obvious to me – but wasn’t!) role of growth promoting foods in cancer.

But, I do wish to continue our dialogue on causality and potentially favorable planned sequencing of human-initiated actions. I apologize for not better framing my questions in my first e-mail – your reply reminded me that your mind functions on so many different levels of abstraction that I will need to be more thorough and precise in my inquiries if I want an answer to a specific question.

Hi Marc

This could be a long chat.

Have you ever come across the question – “Have you stopped beating your grandmother yet? – simple question, simple yes or no answer.”

The problem with all questions are the implicit assumptions contained within them.

Sometimes, the implicit assumptions are so accepted and unquestioned that they simply don’t occur as assumptions.

So this may be a rather longer journey than you anticipated, and I will go just one step on what is a potentially infinite journey on each of the major points.

Please allow me to try again.

Frame of reference and action: individual and social human behavior

Time frame: from now until a super-human general machine intelligence emerges

Question: In your estimation, which is more probable:
– Violent, widespread, emotion-driven upheaval
– Intelligence and technology-based solutions to the world’s most pressing problems?

Please consider the domains of Why, What, and How.

I hasten to add that I am not presenting a binary choice, but rather am positing two ends of a spectrum of future events. I also don’t presuppose linear, continuous, or uniform progress/regression.

Starting at the first diversion.
Your assumption, and Ray Kurzweil’s is that a superhuman machine intelligence is possible.

In one limited sense I agree, and in a far deeper sense, the one I think is hidden in both your and Ray’s assumption sets, the idea seems fundamentally flawed to me, on two very different levels and sets of logic.

At one level – there is no such thing as a singular level of human intelligence.

It seems that there may in fact be an infinite set of levels of abstraction available for exploration.
It seems that each level of abstraction may contain an infinite set of infinities that may be explored.
No finite entity can explore any infinity in any finite time, let alone an infinitude of infinities.
It seems that each infinity, in as far as it relates to actions within our existential matrix we often call “reality” (as distinct from the experiential reality which appears to be a software model of some subsets of that existential matrix, informed by our perceptual and recall and pattern recognition systems that is our reality in a very different sense).

So while an artificial general intelligence may be much faster than any human at solving certain classes of problems that are soluble by relatively straight forward mathematical processes, there will always remain many classes of problems where any artificial intelligence will find itself up against exactly the same classes of heuristic constraints as we face. So it will be different, and not necessarily in any significant way more powerful at exploring the really interesting classes of problems than any human mind.

And currently, human brains are vastly more power efficient than the best of our artificial systems – and that will change – eventually.

From another perspective – there will be a vast population of variations on a theme of human and AI cooperation.

So – putting that assumption to one side, and looking at possible and probable futures, I actually see that the second option is more likely (and by no means certain)

“- Intelligence and technology-based solutions to the world’s most pressing problems?”
In one sense, that is exactly what we have been doing, and we have been doing it within particular contextual paradigms (mostly culturally derived).
The exploration of the space of all possible strategies has been remarkably limited, and the ability to run simulations using those strategies has also been somewhat limited, and those constraints are now being removed, very rapidly. We no longer need to rely on Darwinian trial and error style natural selection at the societal level to test out new sets of strategies – we can do digital simulations.

The why is easy – self preservation, that most ancient, deep and primal of motivations.
And it is hard to argue with the idea that one can only explore if one is alive to explore, and I like exploring (within appropriate ranges of risk – I am not a bold pilot, and I am a pilot).

The major risk is some disaster that overwhelms our systems, and triggers some sort of mass panic and grab for limited resources, with vast amounts of resources being destroyed in the process, too many for recovery.

Provided we do not have any of the many possible sources of such problems, it seems likely to me that we will be able to develop the technology to actually deliver universal abundance.

We are already developing automated networking tools, that allow for the real time linkage of distributed trust networks, delivering individual security at levels not previously possible – cheating becomes a very high risk strategy.

Within the same frame of reference, timespan, and clarifications as the previous question:

Question: Guided by a principle of parsimony, do you think it any more probable that focusing concerted (but necessarily somewhat covert) attention on the education of the next (and future) generation(s) of Homo Sapiens will be more ‘successful’ than attempting to alter the social structures and environments of the existing population?

The education I’d propose is radically different than any widespread methods in place today, placing teaching of ethics and science as early as possible, all within the context of cooperation before individualism (however, firmly based on the understanding of every person’s inherent individuality). I define “success” quite similarly to your previously-stated values of life and liberty.

I also understand that some alterations to “the social structures and environments of the existing population” would be prerequisite to such an educational system, but I believe they would be far smaller in scope and scale than the broad changes that would be needed to implement a world guided by an ethos of “life and liberty” with the population our current societies have shaped.

Those changes have been going on.
Look at the books and movies – Isaac Asimov’s Foundation series, the Harry Potter series, Phillip Pullman’s “Dark Materials” series, Larry Niven’s Ringworld series, the movies Avatar, Matrix, Star Wars, Guardians of the Galaxy. Look at the messages in those very popular stories.

Look at organisations like Landmark Education. Their Forum (originally known as EST training) is extremely powerful at generating transitions, yet it is still embedded in a scarcity based matrix – given a fully abundant, cooperative based framework, there could be very rapid mass transformation.

Even Plato’s republic is well worth a read.
He sees only two levels in society, he doesn’t realise that the entire structure lends itself to infinite recursion; and two is a lot better than one (the one and only truth).

Conversations like this one are becoming more common.
Change is happening.

And most people are still very afraid of their own power.
Once one realises that one is a very nearly infinitely creative entity, then there comes a responsibility to exercise that creativity. That thought terrifies many into staying small, and feeling safe in the traps of their own making.
And if it really is safe, then that can actually change quite quickly.
And it isn’t yet very safe.
Many different power structures in our social systems are not really very interested in many people challenging the social conventions on the limitations of the expression of power.
So certainly some interesting challenges.

The is a very real sense in which society goes post cultural when the members of that society see the possibility of life beyond cultural boundaries, even if most are still firmly within those boundaries at the operational level. We are very close to that tipping point.

So, to tie things back to my original questions on probability, causality, and sequencing, I wasn’t really trying to ‘pick your brain’ on the fundamental, universal (multi-versal?) aspects of each. Rather I was trying to ease into my more specific questions, at a level I thought most amenable to your most recently published thoughts.

The thing about causality and probability and sequencing is that it is really important in terms of understanding the idea of freedom, and the fundamental basis for a respect of sapient life, to get how deep this balancing act between the lawful and the random goes, and how it emerges and recurses at every new level of strategic thought. The random and the lawful (intentional if you like to look from that particular perspective) must exist in some sort of tension at every level – it they don’t then in a very real sense we are all just automata.

And while no absolute proof of anything in reality is possible, the massive evidence base of science is enough for me, gives me enough confidence to continue the journey – exploring as we go.

Lastly, I’m trying to find a way through my obsession that I must help put an end to that most fundamental root cause of “Man’s inhumanity to humanity” (that was the phrase supplied by my English literature teacher some 40 years ago): lack of understanding (of Everything!) – before I can satisfy myself that my life has not been an entirely meaningless random phenomenon of the vastness of the universe (multi-verse).

Strike that last thought. It’s more that I need to be able to accept that my life has been an entirely amazing random phenomenon of the vastness of the universe (multi-verse). It’s the randomness that still ‘gets’ me.

There is a distinction you are not getting.
Our lives are not random.
Our lives have meaning and purpose at many different levels, because we choose it to be so.

The trick is in seeing that in the first instance, the concepts of meaning and purpose arose from a series of systems that were selected on the basis of survival, and the specific attributes of each of the subsystems were generated in the first instance by essentially random events.

There is certainly randomness in our lives, at many different levels.
And there is also intentionality and planning in our lives at many different levels.

The process of evolution by natural selection allows the intentional to emerge from systems consisting of many levels of systems selected simply because those systems left more viable offspring than the randomly generated variations that made up the rest of the population at some past time.

Take care,


[followed by]

02:49 a.m. 30/05/2015


thanks for taking the time to respond to my fumbling, stumbling inquiries. You’re correct in your insight that I was looking for a quick fix. I’ve allowed the circumstances of my life to get the better of my rationality and in my desperation I was reaching out to the only person I’ve found who makes sense to me (that’d be you).

A little more than 5 years ago (just after I’d turned 50), I slipped and fell to the bottom of a flight of stairs in the house I’d built for my wife and myself. Three months after that, I was bending over at the waist and suddenly felt the most searing, knife-like pain (in my lumbar region) that I’d ever experienced. After two days of constant pain, I finally gave in and had my wife drive me to the emergency room. After some 3 hours in writhing agony, I was finally given some morphine and was able to lay still enough for a CT scan. The scan seemed to indicate (I never was allowed to see the images) that I had torn a small section of a spinal erector muscle immediately adjacent to a spinal nerve root. The muscle was spasming uncontrollably, leading to the pain.

I was in convalescence for several months, the first month of which I was practically immobile. During this time of enforced immobility, I rather suddenly realized that my entire conception of reality – my entire life – had been an enormous misunderstanding – by me! I realized that I had been educated in half-truths and lies – and the worst part about it was my complicity. In the back of my mind, I had ALWAYS known that something wasn’t quite right with the world, but I went right on along with the lies, so long as they didn’t impinge too much on my personal freedoms.

To make a long story shorter, I’ve made much progress for a ‘5 year old’: I’ve pretty much superseded notions of ‘right and wrong’, ‘truth and falsity’, and ‘absolute reality’. I understand that the vast majority of Homines Sapientes are not (sapient, that is). Not because they intend to be or were predestined to be, but because of the combination of their current, near-past and long-past environments (i.e., evolutionary biology). I ‘like’ your Venn diagram of reality vis-a-vis our consciousness. I concur with your values of life and liberty (as opposed to democracy, scarcity-based economies, violence, dominance, superstition, etc., etc., & so forth).

This is perhaps all by way of attempting to explain my pent-up frustration (55 1/2 years) in combination with my apparent emotional maturity of a 5 year old!

But, my mind being trapped in organic hardware (with its limited memory and computation power – at least for the purposes for which I’d like to use it), I find the only approach that doesn’t drive me to despair is to contemplate solutions based on manipulating our world at a ‘material’ level (yeah, I know I really have to try to get my head around Quantum Mechanics – right now a quantum computer seems like alchemy or perpetual motion machinery to me). Atoms and molecules are sufficient for the attainment of my longed-for better world for all.

So, thanks again for the ‘therapy sessions’. Just one more thing, the subject line of this e-mail, a question:

I abhor the idea of ‘reinventing the wheel’, especially when it comes to computer programming. But, I have found it difficult to find code I’m reasonably certain does exist, probably because I’m searching at a functional level too concrete for the levels of abstraction of the modules in code libraries.

Have you had any success finding and using pre-existing code? If so, could you share any insights you might have gleaned? If not, could you outline a strategy you might employ if you were to initiate such a search?

My best wishes for you and yours,


Hi Marc

So many things in this email.

Perhaps most important – emotional maturity – its a myth!

We all carry all of the developmental history of neuronal development and links to emotional systems – it really is all about context at the highest level.
Anyone can switch back to the emotional level of a 1 year old, or 2 year old, or 5 year old, or …. if they get an appropriate set of triggers. And we all have many different layers of mechanisms to manage the contexts of our brains to modulate the probabilities around such patterns triggering.

The more awareness one can generate of such things, the greater the probability of generating and exercising effective mitigation strategies – and one of the things our subconscious does is to effectively hide the expression of such strategies from our conscious awareness – so it is a recursively difficult path, involving ongoing work at every level.

One of the things that anyone who embarks upon such a journey quickly discovers is that what ends up as good news inevitably starts out as bad news. It is only as we become conscious of the levels of expression that we actually exhibit (which are rarely as pretty as we think), that we get the opportunity to do something about it. And one often useful strategy is to continue expressing the same patterns at the same frequency in our interactions with others, and to build awareness and ability to control (without necessarily acting on that ability) – and sometimes it can be very powerful to use the other extreme – to remove a particular response pattern completely from actual expression (catch and divert it at some level with 100% effectiveness) – both extremes of strategy are very effective strategies for “hiding in plain sight” – as they are undetectable externally, and there is the usual infinite spectrum between those poles.

So – do not judge yourself harshly.

Acceptance of all things, as they are and as they are not, is the most powerful possible platform upon which to build anything.

In respect of pain – I suggest reading John Sarno’s work on the influences of mind on pain (Mind over back pain). Fred Amir also has some useful protocols derived from Sarno’s work.
I suspect that damage done initially by being hit from behind by a charging ram at 3 years old, and flung over a fence into the next paddock, has had something to do with lifelong back pain – and there were some later aggravating incidents from racing motorcycles and working on boats that had me using walking sticks 20 years ago.
After reading Sarno’s work, and adapting his protocols, I am now back playing golf and riding mountain bikes, and I turn 60 in July (I also take Glucosamine daily – a chiropractor started me on it about 15 years ago, and it helped a lot – Sarno’s work made it even better).

Writing of which – time I went to golf – our club’s annual Men’s Open 36 hole tournament tees off shortly, and I need to prepare.
Back again – played poorly and with even worse luck – 100 – worst round in a long time.

Back to pain.
It seems that we do get genuine pain from real injury in the first instance, and then our brains start to do stuff with it. We start to fear it, and anticipate it, and what we experience loses all contact with reality. We tend to tense up to try and protect and injury, which is often the very worst thing we can do for it.

Agree with you re QM. I don’t have a very good feel for it, and I don’t see any explanation of it that works for me, most of those taught at university seem demonstrably to be utter nonsense. And I am not arguing with the numbers, just the interpretations.

So yeah – as far as solutions go, atoms work just fine for me too.

Before I can give any advice as to code, I need a lot more specifics.
What language?
What platform – windows, linux, apple, ???
What conceptual area?
What is your purpose?

Github is generally a good place to start (not that I use it).

Most of my programming I do in xBase++ – as I have about 10MB of source code stretching back to dBase 2 and dBase 3 days, then through Foxpro, Clipper and now xBase.

And I do play a little with python, and have worked with CoBOL, BASIC, ForTran, Pascal, C, C++, Forth, several different assemblers, Eiffel, Java and played a little with many others over the last 40 years. Only really current in xBase++, and a little in Python.



[followed by]

03:04 a.m. 31/05/2015


sorry to hear about your rough golf outing (I used to say that my worst day golfing was better than my best day at my job).

Thank you for the intelligence and kindness in your latest reply. Not to be fawning, but I suppose the reason I keep coming back at you is that I see in you the person I wish to be more like – and am hoping that macroscopic coherent quantum entanglement does exist at or near IUPAC Standard Temperature and Pressure (or something like that).

My question on code libraries was one that was on my mind in a quite general sense arising from some specific instance I no longer clearly recall. You may take it as direct evidence of my current lack of impulse management. I thought, “Let me ask the oracular Ted; he’ll have an answer.”. I estimate my odds of resuming my activity in programming at slightly less than 50-50 (I haven’t written a line of code in more than 3 years). The Wolfram Language has piqued my interest, but insufficiently to actually try it out.

Good luck on your TEDx application. Oh, and it was nice to hear your voice (the audio of your presentation posted on your blog).

To end this message, I’d like to ask a very-well-impulse-controlled question that I will understand in advance if you choose not to answer:

Awhile back in one of your blog posts, I believe you mentioned that you could foresee a time in the not too distant future where you may no longer be able to be as active in responding as you have been. As I’m currently overly-empathetic with those to whom I’m sympathetic, I was concerned for you. But I’m uncertain if what you were referring to would be net ‘good’ or ‘bad’ for you. Could you please assuage my concerns and curiosity?

Thanks again,

Hi Marc

Not sure about entanglement, synchronicity, intention, I think mostly just our brains are pattern recognition systems that often see pattern where it doesn’t exist. – and that is a concern, at all levels. In history it led to things like human sacrifice, and that tendency is still present (see it to a lesser extent in politics, many good people sacrificing themselves). I want to avoid that 😉

Right now, I am doing lots of things, and putting a little energy into most of them.

When I do finally get this complex of memes into a form that manages to generate sufficient agreement to get this project under way in a coordinated fashion, then I am likely to be too busy with that to be able to do many of the things I do now.

So one of the things I am doing now is recording and publishing as much as possible that seems like it might be useful to others, if and when they have the interest (but I don’t have the time).

And I hope to always be available for a certain amount of essentially random communication.

I have a friend in Auckland, Scott Macindoe, who has essentially devoted over a decade to recreational fisheries management. He is a total workaholic, millionaire, and devotes large amounts of time and money to maintaining a team of very good people that does some great work. And without Scott it wouldn’t happen.

I don’t want to be a Scott in this project, and it may end up having to go that way for a bit – a few years. In terms of an analogy to reaction kinetics in chemistry, I see it as a sort of activation energy required to initiate a stable self sustaining system, and I need to ensure that all the minimum sets of elements are present at all levels to keep the system self sustaining.

And I know my own limits. I am not a workaholic. My emotional “tank” can run to empty quite quickly unless the environment is very supportive – and that certainly isn’t the case right now. So one of those judgement calls on my part, as to how much effort I can put in and sustain to build an environment where I can sustain greater focus and get it spreading.

Right now I would love some billionaire to come along and commit to giving me $100k per year for the next 20 years, and a further 200 million to get this thing seriously under way with a solid core team – but it aint happening, so I am on the look out for other mechanisms.

So nothing more profound than that. And there is a certain level of profoundness in that, if it actually works !



About Ted Howard NZ

Seems like I might be a cancer survivor. Thinking about the systemic incentives within the world we find ourselves in, and how we might adjust them to provide an environment that supports everyone (no exceptions) - see
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