The importance of metaphysics


Hi Paul

Agree with much of what you wrote and all that Don wrote.

A few things I see as relevant and missing.

It seems that there are three different realms that are usually distinguished only as one by most people, and being able to distinguish them as 3 separate realms with their own characteristics is very powerful.

First it seems that there is a physical reality, and it has various sets of attributes at various scales of organisation. At the scale of normal human perception it seems to very closely approximate a causal system – effects following from causes most of the time. And at the scale of the very small, that is not so, the system is much more loosely constrained, and seems to be random within certain probability distributions. That mix of the random and the lawful is very important, as it allows for the possibility of acausal action (choice, freedom etc) within certain very specific sets of conditions.

The second thing is our experience of reality. This seems to be a domain very distinct from reality itself. It seems beyond reasonable doubt that our experience is of a very slightly predictive model of reality (about 200ms usually) created by our subconscious brains, that is the only access our consciousness has to reality. It seems that the model is assembled from experience (past and present) and is under normal circumstances very accurate, and kept entrained to reality by sets of predictor neurons using current sense data.

The third thing is meaning (or significance). Meaning is very important to human beings, it allows us to quickly navigate through the choices presented by both the model of reality and the possibility spaces we see as being present. It seems that both the model and the possibility space are constructed and conditioned by past experience, which experience includes information from our deep genetic past carried in our genetic make-up and the way it conditions experience, information from our cultural past in all aspects of culture, and our choices and declarations. It seems that the entire system of human cognition usually has between 12 and 20 levels of interconnected systems, often with many instances of competing and cooperating systems at each level, and with information and influence flowing both between and within each level. It is very complex (in complexity theory terms) and is dispositional rather than causal in many contexts.
It seems that evolution has developed the heuristic of meaning to allow near real-time response to complex situations that if we had to stop and rationally think about them to make a decision would result in us either starving from inaction or being killed by some looming threat.
It seems that reality is complex in ways that requires a lot of familiarity with mathematics to be able to make sense of, with numbers like 10^7, 10^10, 10^22, 10^40, 10^50, 10^220 all being very significant, in very different ways. Yet to most people those numbers are simply big, if they are understood at all. So it seems clear that long before such numeric notation existed, operational heuristics were required to navigate reality.

Thus it seems that:
Reality exists, but we have no direct access to it;
We can experience only our model of reality, which is usually a close fit to reality itself at the scale of normal human perception; and
Reality itself is devoid of meaning, it has only existence, and we bring meaning into our models of reality as a necessary survival heuristic.

And for most people, throughout most of history, these three things have been collapsed into one. Existence, our perceptions of it, and the meaning it has for us, all wrapped up together as a whole.

Unbundling that package is an essential step on the path to building a more useful model of the reality within which we appear to find ourselves, and the classes of options and possibilities available to us.

[followed by]

Hi Paul,

I don’t see any evidence for any sort of “knowing” aspect of the cosmos, except as a set of complex systems capable of recursively modeling self (using their brains).

I do see a lot of evidence for levels of complexity, and emergent properties from many levels of complex systems evolving and interacting.

I see evidence for really complex behaviours coming from organisms with brains.

For organisms with brains that create predictive models of reality, that then have language evolve, there appears to be strong evidence for the existence of self aware software operating within such brains that experience the ability to be consciously purposeful. But nothing more fundamentally different than that, and that is very different from one perspective, and from another perspective it is “just” the next logical level of emergent properties from a particular class of complex systems.

I see evidence that we have choice about interpretation and purpose, and in the absence of active choice, such voids are filled by cultural defaults, the stories and implicit assumptions of the language and culture we happen to be born into (whatever that may be).

I’m a long way from my cultural defaults on most such issues. I have been actively questioning and challenging many of them for well over 50 years.
[followed by]
Hi Paul,

The statement “Nothing exists if nothing knows its exists” is just bunkum.
Just consider the reductio ad absurdum of it.
If nothing can exist without something knowing it, then how can knowing come to be?
If one accepts that premise, then it tautologically proves the existence of awareness as a primary, but it is nonsense in that sense, as it proves nothing except where logic applied to ill founded assumptions can lead.

It is simply a statement without grounding in reality. A false set of assumptions.

One needs to be very clear between the distinctions, existence and perception.
If you look up at Betelgeuse (the second brightest star in the constellation of Orion) then you become aware of the existence of that giant sun some 625 years ago, and no entity there could possibly have any knowledge of your or my existence as yet (not for another 565 years will my birth be observable from there).

Existence just is.

Our awareness of it, the occurrence of a model something within the subconsciously created model of reality that is our experiential reality, is something else again – it is a beast of a very different nature.

As to choice.

If reality is wholly deterministic, then choice is illusion, all talk of morality or value just empty words determined in the first instant of the “big bang”.

Fortunately, the evidence from the study of the very small is that this reality in which we seem to find ourselves is not strictly causal (which is great news for morality and discussions where individuals such as ourselves think we have some degree of choice in what we do).
It seems clear that at the lowest levels, reality is a complex system, a stochastic system constrained by sets of probability functions.

Fortunately, such a system does allow for free will, for actions that are not entirely determinant, yet has some levels and contexts that approach determinism to such a high degree that the difference is less than the measurement error of our best available tools. So we get the best of both worlds – engineering and choice.

The evidence is clear to me, beyond any shadow of reasonable doubt, that mathematics and logic are great modelling tools, and given that our perceptual reality seems to be a model of something, making our qualia of experience a model of a model, it is not surprising that we find these tools useful. However, it is a mistake to think that they necessarily describe reality as it is, and they do seem to deliver the best descriptions we have available (limited as they probably are). And I get that there are a few twists in that mobius loop of logic, and it has taken me close to 6 decades to come to that conclusion with confidence.

[followed by]

Hi Paul

Thank you also for being willing to state your case so clearly.

You commented that “the point of the post has drifted away from the divorce between philosophy and metaphysics toward the divorce between science and philosophy” which is in one sense correct, and in another sense couldn’t be further from the what I see as the closest approximation to truth that I have.

For me philosophia – the love (or more closely tending towards friendship, but with passion and commitment) of wisdom, is what this is all about.
Metaphysics, is about the nature of being in the world, and is a part of philosophy.
All of science, came out of the philosophical tradition, of enquiry, and to me saying anything about the human condition requires a reference to the best knowledge base that we have, which is science.

It is now clear to me that all understanding is based on sets of distinctions, abstraction, and relationships.
This understanding has come to me from studying many different domains:
the development of philosophy, of history, of the context of thinking, from many different traditions;
the development of the understanding of logic, of complexity, and the types of relationships that are possible;
the development of our understanding of the physical world, from cosmology to chemistry, quantum mechanics to computers;
the development of our understanding of living systems, evolution, RNAs, cells, multicellular systems, evolution of control systems;
the development of understanding computation, algorithms, the distinctions between probabilistic and deterministic domain spaces.

I have grown up and had intimate experience with all these many different domains simultaneously.

From a very early age (as early as I can recall – age 3) I was rewarded for challenging accepted wisdom and creating new ways of doing things.
I have never been particularly constrained by social acceptance, at any level.

Sure it is nice when social acceptance and agreement happens, and it has been such a rare thing in my life that I am very used to living without it.

So it is in this context, that I see the modern distinctions many claim between philosophy, metaphysics and science as being completely illusory, as they are all part of the same system.

And sure, as every individual must traverse the space from simple approximations (binaries) to more complex approximations (large sets more closely approximating the infinities that are being modelled), then every individual has to pass through stages of simple approximations to understandings and beliefs, there is no other way possible in either logic or practice. And with adequate intention on developmental contexts, it should be possible to reduce the time individuals spend in such simple domain spaces from the currently norm of decades to something more closely approximating minutes. And that will be a major change in pedagogy (educational practice) at all levels – which being part of a highly interconnected system implies changes in culture, economics and politics that very few have yet contemplated – and (as is not unusual) I jump many steps to what is clear logical consequence for me, but may not be at all obvious for anyone else, who has not challenged the cultural assumptions that I have.

So it is in this sense, that most of what has passed for metaphysical thought over the last few centuries may be true enough within the implicit assumptions that all engaged accepted, but is to me essentially irrelevant, because of the results of enquiry into the very fine structure of physical reality, and enquiry into the nature of complexity and computation more generally, have clearly falsified that unexamined set of implicit assumptions.

It is now very clear to me, that the universe within which we find ourselves is not founded on hard causal rules.
Sure, much of what we experience, much of what we see and test, seems to be a very close approximation to following causal rules; except that when we get down to the scale of the very small, the rules seem to change, and the level of complexity present seems to deepen beyond the binary, and into the stochastic, within probabilistic boundaries. There are rules, but not the hard rules of true and false without exception. It seems that in some domains there may be infinite gradations of truth values.
The thing to get, the most difficult thing to get, is that both science and logic have proven, beyond any shadow of reasonable doubt, that Idealism itself is Bunkum. It is such a simplistic model, it is kind of like trying to build a functioning space ship, complete with computer guidance and rocket motors, using only Lego bricks.

The assumption set of Idealism is not how reality works. That much is clear.

The thing to get about paradox, is that the presence of paradox is an indication that the existing explanatory framework has come to the end of its utility and it needs to be transcended. Paradox is an indication that one must go back to foundational assumptions, question them, and start again.
It is always an uncomfortable process, but after doing it a dozen or so times, one starts to get used to it, and one starts to see that life is likely to consist of some approximation to an infinite set of such experiences, should one be fortunate enough to live long enough to experience them.
Having been involved in both developing computer systems, and in understanding how the human brain works, for over 40 years, I have a different perspective on Wittgenstein’s duck/rabbit drawings. Nothing particularly profound there for me, just an aspect of pattern recognition, distinction and association. Many different algorithms available to deliver the same functional outcome.

To give a feel for what I am getting at (and what I believe Hawking is getting at), just consider the simplest possible non-trivial set of cellular automata. If we have a simple one dimensional array of cells (of potentially infinite length),and we allow only two states (present and absent) and we say that the state of any cell in the array in the next iteration is some function of the state of the cell in the last iteration, and the states of its two neighbours at that instance, then that is 3 cells of two possible state, of 2^3 which is 8 possible states. There are 2^8 possible combinations of those states which amount to the total domain space of system rules for that system.
That is a really simple system space. A 1 dimensional array, 256 possible rule sets.
One would think that such a system would deliver simple outcomes.
But rule 30 doesn’t.
Rule thirty delivers a system where starting from just a single present cell, the pattern that develops is very complex. The left side is quite regular in a sense, the right side less so, but with still some degrees of pattern emergent, but the centre region is essentially without pattern – a very useful approximation to random.
So from very simple systems, it is possible to get behaviour that is not predictable.
How much more so from systems as complex as us?

It seems to me that it is perfectly fine to investigate any system of logic. That is a possible use of ones time in existence.
It does not seem to me to be valid to try and apply the results of any such speculation to reality without the use of the tools of science, and the deeper exploration of the tools of domains of logic and domains of computation.

David Snowden is a complexity theorist who has developed a wonderful little simplification of complexity that he calls the Cynefin (pronounced Kin-evin) framework. He does a great introduction to it in a youtube video:

When one marries that, to Feynman’s approach to quantum mechanics, and Wolfram’s approach to the exploration of domain spaces and algorithm spaces more generally; and then brings all of that back to an understanding of evolution in biological systems, working in both the genetic space of molecular systems, and in the more abstract mimetic space of computational and behavioural systems, working within the very complex systems that are the human brain, then one begins to get the shadows of an understanding of just what we might be, and just how infinitely complex and unpredictable and creative we can be, if we are able to transcend the limiting assumptions that were required to get us to each stage of awareness (as Nietzsche spoke of with his ladder, but he had no real idea of brain structure or function and no real glimmerings of understanding of computational spaces more generally).

For me, I love the old Zen Buddhist saying, that for a master, on a path worth walking, for every step he takes forward, the destination gets two steps further away.
I get that.
An understanding of infinity (any infinity, let alone an infinite set of infinities that are all interrelated) is like that.

I also get very clearly what was meant by the saying “it is never too late to have a great childhood”.
Aspects of my childhood were not at all pleasant, but I can see clearly now, that I would have been highly unlikely to be what I am now, had I not had that set of experiences at that time. And that is not any sort of acknowledgement of Karma or anything even remotely similar, it is just acknowledging complexity and probability and the evolved systems that are a human being in a human culture in an ecological context.

So your assertion that my “arguments are naturalistic and non-philosophical because they lack an understanding or appreciation of this philosophical poetry” do not ring true for me. To me, that sort of argument is an attempt to avoid doing the hard work of going back to the assumption sets that lead to paradox, and questioning them until one finds a way of eliminating the paradox.

And after one has done that a few times, one gets to accept that there is highly unlikely to be any end to such a path. It seems highly probable that all any of us will ever have is “currently useful approximations that have not yet been falsified by any context we are aware of” – and that is about as close to truth as anyone can reasonably expect to get. And it seems entirely probable that most people engaged in the enquiry will have far more open questions than they will have “useful approximations” (it’s just that to those earlier on the path, the possibility of those questions hasn’t even occurred yet, so they just see the answers they seek).

To me “Schrodinger’s Cat” was a clear attempt by Erwin Shrodinger himself to identify that the paradigm then in use had come to the end of its utility and needed to be replaced. He knew that much (and for that he has my greatest respect), and he was also clear that he had no useful candidates for a replacement at that time.
So much misinterpretation has resulted.

For me, the big questions are similar:
How did we get to be what we are?
What might be possible?
What set of criteria or values could one use to reliably choose between any sets of possibilities one can distinguish and influence?

In one sense, those questions can be interpreted as “Where are we going? Why are we here?” but not in the sense of any sort of pre-existing purpose in being, but rather in the sense of a choice of a self aware and self determining entity, in as much as self awareness and self determination are possible, and acknowledges many levels of influence and the necessity of much simplification in building any model of understanding.

So for me, there is a clear set of answers to those questions.

Where are we going? Where the intersection of the probabilities resulting from our choices, mixed with the fundamental stochastic nature of reality take us.

Why are we here? This seems to be an oft confused question. In the sense of how did we come to existence in this instant, it seems to be the result of evolution by natural selection at ever recursive levels involving ever greater levels of cooperation, initially at the genetic level, and then in the realm of mimetics, until we each individually achieved bootstrapping into existence as a self aware entities in language. Once we achieved such self awareness, and once we became capable of choice, we each became capable of choosing a “why” for our existence. And in the absence of such an active choice, cultural parameters will fill the void.

To me, it seems clear that I do exist, and that existence has merit, and that it seems both sensible and logical to maintain existence. That leads me to a set of values which value individual sapient life as the highest value, and the freedom of such individuals to responsible action (where such responsibility includes reasonable efforts constrain ones actions to those that preserve the life and liberty of others), which applies to all sapient life forms, human and non-human, biological and non-biological.

And freedom in this sense is not a license to follow whim, it is a responsibility to consider the effects of ones choices in the larger contexts of space and time and all the occupants thereof, in as much as one reasonably can, and acknowledging the uncertainties that must exist, the simplifications one must make and the mistakes that must happen occasionally.

In this sense, the work of Elinor Ostrom, on the sort of limits on system of commons access that do work long term, and the need for mitigating strategies to punish cheating within very narrow limits, neither too harsh nor too lenient, are critical to stability in such a set of high level cooperative contexts.

Cheating strategies can always evolve, and we must always be alert and searching for them. And my father had a very powerful saying “never ascribe to intention that which can be adequately explained by incompetence”.
So detection of cheating is not a trivial issue, it is profoundly complex.

Our culture is based on market values.
Markets require scarcity to generate value.
When most things were in fact scarce markets made sense.
Now that we have the technical capacity (through automation of robotic systems) to deliver universal abundance of a large and exponentially growing set of goods and services, the market based system of values now works against the interests of most human beings.

Our culture is neither nihilistic nor absurd, and it can seem like both to a reasonable first order approximation.

Our culture is the result of many levels of evolution, many levels of historical trends, sets of assumptions (once useful, now no longer so, but so accepted as to be unquestionable truths for many).

It seems we are all capable of asking such questions, and we have many social institutions that actively work against such questions being asked by most people.
I’m not going to go down the multiverse scenario, because reductio ad adsurdum demonstrates the infinite energy requirements of such a system. It obeys nothing approximating conservation laws. Doesn’t make any sort of sense in any way. It’s about the most non-sensical interpretation anyone has ever come up with.
Far easier to go back to the basic assumptions and question them.
But most people would rather accept infinite expansion of energy and mass than question the assumption of truth itself.
And I can see why that is so – as our existence requires we believe in the idea of truth in order to bootstrap our awareness.
And while such a belief is necessary to a stage of existence, it is also a limiting factor to further advancement, and needs to be put aside once used.

In a sense I can agree with your statement “it is the lack of will to ask “where are we going?” that has created the nihilist civilisation we have today”. And as explained earlier, it is holding tight to an untenable set of simplistic assumptions that forces people into nihilism, rather than letting go of such assumptions and claiming the infinite creative potential that is the birthright of every human being.

And most would rather be “right” about not having such choice, than to leave the certainty of such righteousness for the uncertainty of a fully creative existence.

And it seems clear that experientially it’s all models.

Reality, it seems, whatever it is, is what it is.

And it seems very probable that we are human beings, apes with brains, with animal natures, cultural natures, and infinite creative potential as individual rational agents in an uncertain existence. And, as such, our experiential reality seems to be the model of reality that our subconscious animal brains create for us.

And this seems to be the matrix within which all of philosophy (which for me recursively includes science) exists.


[followed by]


Hi Paul

This is all to do with how we model the world in a sense.

When you look at the numbers that science gives us, the world is amazingly complex. The smallest mote of dust that the human eye can see still contains many billions of atoms. So our native understanding of reality is of huge collections of atoms, which are themselves large collections of quarks etc.

So when each of us is developing as very small children, and our neural networks are making sense of the world around us, and making distinctions about the things that exist, and populating our mental models of reality with predictions of how those distinguished things will be in the next few milliseconds, they make those models, those predictions, based upon trends learned from experience.

It seems clear that all of our experiential reality is of this subconsciously assembled model, not of reality itself.

This aspect of experiencing the model is important to understanding higher level abstractions that we use to make sense of the model.

Idealism seems to assert that the mental model is reality, rather than accepting that the mental model is our model, and delivers our experiential reality.

That distinction is very important.
There is another layer present, that few people who are not both neuroscientists and computer programmers find intuitively obvious.

A couple of years ago I created a diagram that gives a rough visual guide to how I see experience and reality being related:

How that relates to using Leggo bricks to make a rocket ship is, that leggo bricks are great tools for making models at certain scales of accuracy, but when higher resolution is required for full functionality, they fail completely.

One of the hard things to get is that it seems clear to me now that all modelling tools, all mechanisms of understanding, are like that. They are fit for purpose at certain scales, but fail if pushed past that particular scale, or used outside of the context within which they have been proven.

Idealism is like that.

People noticed that perceptions of reality varied. They made some assumptions about the nature of reality, and the nature of understanding, and came up with the idea that reality requires consciousness. Which is sort of partly correct.

What now seems to be clearly the case, based on the understandings available from the use of modern tools (both mental and physical) is that our experiential reality is in fact a model of the physical reality beyond. We consciously have no direct access to physical reality. Our only access to physical reality is via our experiential reality, which is a subconsciously created predictive model of reality itself.

Kant, Hegel etc had no idea about neural networks, or computer models, or subatomic physics, so what seemed intuitively obvious to them was something very different to what seems obvious to someone immersed in the concepts and distinctions of computer systems, biochemistry and neurophysiology.

The bricks they used worked at the scale they were working at, but don’t work at the scale I’m working at, and in that sense, they are bunkum from the context of the biochemist/neurophysiologist/computer-geek. To me, using those conceptual tools to try and build an understanding of what we are, is exactly like trying to build a fully functioning rocket out of leggo bricks. Can’t be done. Trying will build something that from a distance looks exactly like a rocket, but there is no chance at all of it ever flying into space.

For me, the idea of placing sapient minds in the centre of the universe is exactly like the old idea of having the earth at the centre of the universe. It sort of makes sense when you first consider it loosely, as in when we look up, we see the sun and the moon and the stars going around us. But then, as we look more closely, the model starts to make not so much sense, as things start to have odd relationships to each other. Eventually we come to Einstein’s gravitational distortion of the space time continuum, which is a more useful approximation for certain purposes than the earth being at the centre of the universe.

For me, as a student of evolutionary biology, putting sapient awareness at the centre of the universe makes as much sense as putting the earth at the centre of the universe does to a modern cosmologist.

I can understand the appeal of the notion in days past, but am clear that it is falsified beyond any shadow of reasonable doubt by modern evidence sets.
There are other ways to secure purposefulness, that are aligned with a modern understanding.

I am all for self declared purpose.
I am all for individuals owning their creative abilities.
I am all for individual life and freedom, in a context of social responsibility – demonstrating respect for the life and liberty of others and for the ecosystems within which we find ourselves.

And for me, those things most powerfully emerge from a context of complex systems in a recursive process of evolution by natural selection, where the role of cooperation exponentially expands as each new level of complexity emerges. So at the lower levels the process seems to be all about competition and survival of the fittest, and at the higher levels it is more nearly all about the levels of attendant strategies present in the cooperatives that prevent invasion by cheating strategies.

To a good first order approximation, all major developments in the complexity of evolved systems are the result of new levels of cooperation that are stabilised by new levels of strategies to prevent invasion of the cooperative by “cheating” strategies.

It seems that there are about 20 levels of such things present in the average human being, from the atomic level, up through the molecular, to several levels of cellular, through social groups, and then through many levels of behavioural systems within our brains and our cultural contexts.

We are very complex entities.
I have been over 50 years in the enquiry as to how complex we are, and I am profoundly aware of my ignorance of the detail, though I have some very useful tools that let me see very tiny parts, I am aware that to look at all the parts in detail would take far longer than the universe has existed – it just is not a physical possibility.

To me, idealism was an approximation of something, the usefulness of which has been superseded, and the assumptions sets underlying it have been invalidated, replaced by models that deliver greater utility in a far broader context.

For me, the idea of idealism hides much more than it illuminates.
For me, it is clear that reality contains sufficient complexity for us to evolve from a sorted random walk through the space of possible strategies (evolution by natural selection). In a space where sets of strategies can come together to create new spaces of possibility (where recursion folds the process back on itself at the new level).

For me it is clear that from that complexity, self awareness can emerge, as a software entity within a software model of reality, and it can claim both choice and creativity, for both are in fact its natural birthright – as are such experiences as compassion and wonder and joy and love.

[followed by]

I’m sorry Paul, I have no idea what you are talking about.
Can you spell it out for me as explicitly as possible.
Biomechanics tells me that the best way to leap a long way is to build up as much speed as possible then leap as high as possible, and let your momentum carry you as far as it can in the time you manage to stay airborne (strap on some wings, add a little motor and some fuel, and you can go quite a long way). Most of the things that limit us are the cultural assumptions that we fail to challenge.

What do you mean by – “establishing humanity”? What does that mean for you?
As far as I am concerned we have been human for millions of years, we are just upgrading our operating systems more frequently now. We are going post cultural, and culture is still there, it just doesn’t have the degree of influence it once had.

What I see as lethal is a devotion to money and markets that is an article of faith to so many, when clearly, logically, it is now the greatest danger we face.

[followed by- 21/2/2016]

Hi Paul

I agree, in a very real sense, yet I understand it from a very different set of paradigms. I see an “an authentic human purpose for the global village” as being one of freedom and security, that empowers diversity by giving individuals both the material needs and the personal freedom to do whatever they responsibly choose, which includes the individual choice of purpose.

For me, it is all about evolution, and most particularly about the evolution of our understanding of evolution both as a process, and as a practical reality.

For me that involves exploration of concepts like recursion and abstraction and infinity – particularly all three of those applied together in the general space of paradigms of understanding.

When one is able to start to see that what we see as valuable is very much determined by the sets of assumptions we are willing to accept, something changes.

When one is able to see that there might be a possibility of long term self interest (not in the abstract sense of survival of our descents, but in the personal sense of living for thousands of years), the paradigms and pay-offs change.

When one can see the reality of strong exponential signals in real abilities, and the possibility of security that those signals offer for the far future, it more than offsets any discount rate that historical experience shows one ought to apply to benefits in the far future.

So yes, all the things you say are true in a sense, and in the sense of the sorts of strategies that are available in the general space of possible strategies, starting from the simplest, and working out through greater levels of complexity, what we see in history is precisely what a random walk through such a strategic possibility space would deliver.

So to me, rather than being any sort of grand conspiracy (and life often does have various levels of conspiracy in it, so I don’t entirely discount conspiracy), it seems most likely to be a very complex system, which may yet be capable of delivering security and freedom to every individual. And it is often a very difficult process breaking people out of their current paradigms space. It is a very human thing to become strongly emotionally invested in the paradigm space one has available.

Being human is a very complex thing.
It seems we are composed of quarks and molecules.
It seems we are composed of cells and organs.
It seems we have culture and experience.
It seems we have the possibility of infinite complexity, and ever expanding recursively abstract levels at which we can increase our abilities to choose and to influence.

It seems we have all of these natures, simultaneously.

It seems we are complex, in the deepest sense of complexity theory, many orders of magnitude beyond our ability to consciously comprehend in detail.

We have no option but to find heuristic shortcuts that seem workable to us in particular contexts. That is an essential part of being human.
We must each make our models of the world in which we find ourselves, to the best of our abilities. Such seems to be reality in the deepest of senses.

And we all have to start from simple paradigms like right and wrong, true and false – and work from those to ever closer approximations to the infinite spectra that seem to actually be possible in this reality within which we find ourselves.

So I agree, we need to transcend ideas like family, tribe, village, district, club, nation, class, race etc and acknowledge that we are all far more alike than we are different, however profound our differences, and if we want security and freedom for ourselves, then it appears to be beyond any shadow of reasonable doubt that the greatest probability of that is delivered by creating systems that deliver those things universally.

This is the point at which the exponentially expanding abilities of computation and automation that can deliver such things, intersect with the paradigm of market value that served us so well in historical times of real scarcity for most things.

The abundance that automation is capable of delivering is now directly in opposition to the abstract notion of market value, and the association that many have between markets and freedom. It takes some intellectual rigour to separate the idea of freedom in practice from the idea of value determined by markets.

Hayek pointed the way. His understanding of markets as part of an information processing system allow us to see clearly how to replace that system with one that far more effectively delivers the freedom and security and prosperity that most of us seek.

And such freedom comes with responsibility. It is not the childish freedom to follow whim or fancy, it is an adult freedom that has a responsibility to take reasonable measures to mitigate any identified adverse impacts on others. It is a very complex and very dimensional set of probabilities.
In this world of responsibility there is little that is simple, little that is easy, very little that is black and white.

It requires ideas like compassion, acceptance, tolerance and forgiveness etc.

And it does in fact seem to be possible, for all of us.
And it has to start small, and grow.

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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One Response to The importance of metaphysics

  1. Pingback: Metaphysics continued | Ted Howard NZ's Blog

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