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.

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 www.tedhowardnz.com/money
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