Tom’s Facebook post on Trust and Truth

Tom’s Post on trust and truth

The simplest possible approximation to an infinity is a binary, and it is therefore the first one our brains must make during development.

We tend to get attached to the comfort and certainty such simplicity gives, and we seek it even where it does not exist.

Evidence is overwhelming that reality is complex beyond any possibility of accurate representation, and thus we must accept that all of our models and perceptions contain simplifications and errors at many different levels. Absolute certainty is a hubristic illusion.

We need to accept our profound ignorance, and within that humility, allow each to make our best guesses.

Reducing profound complexity to simple binaries is OK for children, but as adults we need to accept that degrees of ignorance and uncertainty will be our constant companions, and have the strength to make choices in the face of that uncertainty, and to accept whatever consequences flow. The science and logic is inescapable, from Heisenberg to Goedel to Wolfram to Snowden.

In this sense, we need to develop trust based in confidence, in uncertainty, and not look to absolute confidence where it cannot exist.

[followed by]

Some real power in that approach, particularly in a legal context, and one needs to be very clear on the distinction between legal contexts (human construct) and reality.

You are correct, that the vast bulk of human constructs are polar and simplistic.

The mistake most make is assuming that reality is similarly constructed.

So yes – certainly, the toolkit you use so powerfully is extremely powerful in some contexts and constructs, and even in complex contexts has a certain heuristic utility.

When I recently completed my commissioner training (as a decision maker under our NZ Resource Management Act), I didn’t achieve 100% pass grade that I could have, because I answered one section of the exam honestly, as distinct from the way in which they wanted it answered. None of the lawyers understood my answers.

The map is never the territory.
Our legal and ethical systems are only ever maps.

[followed by]

Hi Tom
I get that polarity is an idea in and of itself.
I get that it works (particularly for you, and I get you love it).
I get that it is very useful.
I get that it is accurate in many domains.
And when you get the spectrum of complexity, and take it to the next level of abstraction, then polarity is seen as one of many possible principles.

And in a sense, because it is one of the simplest, it is found in many places, and it can and does do some amazing things.

The cellular structures in your photo are interesting, as they can exist only because of the amazing biochemical complexity, with its many levels of cooperative systems, that makes cellular life possible. 50,000 times as many molecules in a cell as there are people on the planet. The fastest of the enzymes can catalyze about 10,000 reactions in the shortest time a human can perceive. So there is so much going on at the detail level to deliver that observed polarity. (Same goes at the deeper level of quarks etc delivering atoms, but that is a different sort of story, and far weirder, and the interpretation you give of the relationship of Hilbert spaces is a useful one, and not the one that I use, though it shares many attributes.)

I’m not saying that polarity doesn’t work.

I am saying that it is step one into an infinite domain (an infinite stack of infinite domains).

I get that one can spend the rest of eternity exploring any infinite domain (and the domain of polarity is just such an infinite domain).

I’m not saying that exploring any domain is inherently any better than any other one. Choice is a very personal thing.

And I am saying that there are other possibilities, and they are interesting in very different ways.

And polarity is a very important tool in the tool box.

[followed by]

Hi Tom,

As far as you go, agree completely, and it isn’t then end of the journey; there doesn’t appear to be an end to the journey.

Like you, I tend to keep on pushing at boundaries.

And there are a couple of other dimensions that you haven’t mentioned that are fundamental to getting the beginning of an understanding of where I am coming from – in terms of both epistemology and ontology and the inextricable links between them in terms of implicit assumptions with both genetic and cultural roots. In this sense, my understanding is deeply evolutionary, in terms of the logics, the levels of strategy, the biochemistry, the systems and interrelationships present.

I didn’t start with this understanding.
I started with something very much simpler, something much closer to the classical understanding of Plato.
Along the way I passed through something very similar to where you are, though you have taken it to a degree I didn’t, and for that you will always have my love and respect.

What now seems to me to most probably be the reality, is that we are extremely complex animals, with brains that are the most complex things we currently know of in this universe, and that those brains use a variety of genetic and cultural mechanisms to construct a subconscious model of reality, and that we as conscious entities inhabit the model, rather than reality itself. We seem to be one level removed from reality in this sense, which has costs and benefits in different contexts.

It seems clear that in one sense all of our knowledge is heuristically based, and those heuristics are founded in survival at some level (genetic, mimetic, or beyond).

And yes, certainly, every distinction comes at a cost, including the distinction polarity, and the various distinctions that tend to be lumped together under the heading “quantum”.

One of the foundational distinctions for me was understanding that mathematics is not an aspect of reality, it is a modeling tool from the realm of logics, and it is one of the best tools we have, and it is a mistake to think that reality is necessarily constrained by it in the way our understandings often are.

One of the things I love about engaging with you is that you have gone far enough into your explorations to be able to see contradictions, and to have attempted resolutions.

For me, the particular resolutions you are currently using remain for me contradictory in some of the contexts I have pushed, but we have no agreed language for such explorations, because of their rarity.
I was listening to a Sam Harris podcast of an interview with Jordan Peterson last night. I enjoy both thinkers, as they are both well beyond normal limits, and neither quite able to resolve the issues of the other. Jordan seems to have found many of the elements I have found of the fundamental nature of survival heuristics in the nature of knowledge, and has attempted to resolve that into a religious model of truth that somehow retains that notion of truth, which is for me not possible, but at the same time he has gone places Sam hasn’t, and those places are important.

The strategic environment that drives us to the idea of “right”, to righteousness in the worst of senses, is fascinating in itself, and seems to be potentially infinitely recursive.

For me it is a real pleasure to be able to converse with someone beyond the level of “normal” conversation, even if I am confident .99+ that you have not yet understood what I am pointing at; I am similarly confident to .99+ level that you are much closer than 99% of the population.

I’ve been a loner for most of my life, unable to communicate effectively for the first 6 years of my life due to a flap of skin under my tongue that prevented speech. Thus I sort of got out of the habit of talking to others, or any particular concern about social agreement, and became much more interested in taking the ideas that interested me where-ever they led. 55 years of consciously following that process has me where I am. My first teacher told me I was retarded, a Mensa psychologist told me I had a 160 IQ, and I suspect both were accurate in different senses, and both missed something.
The idea of knowledge as anything hard is a distant fantasy for me, but the requirement for operational confidence remains as real as ever.
So I have uncertainty and probability as foundational constructs in my model of reality, though like everyone else my model started on the foundation of truth, but it changed over time, by repeated application of questions and experimental observations.

It seems clear to me that reality itself is founded on a mix of the random and the lawful – randomness within limits of probability. That seems to me to be what Feynman’s mathematics is pointing to, not withstanding Rachel Garden’s beautiful logical alternative, or those of Wolfram or Yudkowski.

In the realm of mathematical and logical constructs I can have very high confidence, that allows me to do all sorts of things, particularly in the realm of computer programming.

And I am clear that these are realms of modeling, are not necessarily applicable to any aspect of reality itself. That distinction isn’t common.


[followed by]

I seem to have half an hour, lets see what I can get written in that time.

I need to be explicitly clear, that when I say I can not be 100% confident of anything, that statement relates to the realm of reality, and not to any realm of logic or mathematics.

As I stated earlier in this thread, I am now very confident that all of our conscious experience of “reality” (whatever reality actually is) is of a model of reality that is created by our neural networks and is based in part on our perceptions, in part on our history of experience, and in part of a set of genetically installed heuristics in the mechanics of our neural and sensory systems.

I am very confident that this subconsciously created model is very accurate in most ordinary circumstances, and our ancestors all managed to survive using it (variants that weren’t sufficiently accurate or timely lowered survival probabilities).

And science over the last few centuries has shown us that the smallest mote of dust that the human eye can distinguish is made of many thousands of times more atoms than there are people on the planet, so what can it possibly mean to say that we know that mote of dust, when all we have is a single pixel resolution from our retina?

So each and every one of us comes from a long line of survivors, and each and every one of us got born into a cultural context that had survived at least until that time.

There is an evolutionary, survival filters all level simultaneously context here. The logic of that evolutionary system I am 100% confident of, the application of that logic to any given situation (past or future) is subject to a great many unknowns and therefore exists in a probabilistic context.

I wish I still had my copy of Kant, and hadn’t loaned it out, the margins were full of critiques, and I have no interest in redoing it.
I am not at all a follower of Kant’s logic, and I was impressed by him as a thinker given the constraints of the evidence and paradigms available to him, compared to those available to me.

If you want to play a video game, you can buy one.
You then own the game.
But the game requires a computer.
So you buy a bare computer.
Then you discover the computer needs and operating system.
So you get one of those.
Computer, operating system, and game are each things in themselves.
And the game in operation requires all three parts to work (and a lot more – source of energy etc).

Yes, we have the experience of being that we have.
Yes it is whole and complete and of itself.
And if you deprive people of a cultural operating system, they do not develop language, or experience of the type we are discussing.
And if you deprive them of bodies, there is no awareness of being.

I am not in any way making the claim that I can exist without my subconscious.
My subconscious is part of me, and required for my conscious existence.

I am making the claim that we are so complex, that there is no possibility, ever, of ever being fully conscious of the totality of all that we are.

We will eternally (if we manage to live that long) contain “magical” unknowns, and even a few unknowables. We are, each and every one of us, that complex.

I am making the direct claim, that any attempt to claim that one know’s either oneself, or reality, with 100% certainty, is a sign of hubris, arrogance, and foolishness, as it simply is not a logical possibility.

We may think we know something.
We may actually be correct about it.
But we can never be 100% confident that we are actually correct.
We need to be sufficiently confident to make operational choices in reasonable time frames, our survival requires such things.
Reality has that unsettling attribute.

If a tiger is racing towards us, we need to take mitigating action, or we die.

There may be an infinite class of Turing complete computational systems, but a lot of them don’t compute the necessary parameters for survival in the time available.

I am not saying reality is unknowable.
I am saying that all knowledge of reality comes with uncertainties, and it behoves us to be conscious of those uncertainties particularly when we are in really complex situations.

All of us have to make simplifying assumptions at many different levels (mostly subconscious) to get anything done.

We have no other option.

And it pays to be as conscious as possible of the risks and benefits of particular modes of simplification in the contexts of the moment.

I am far more intuitive than most people.
I am fully conscious of that.

And I am as aware as I can make myself of the many levels of danger and opportunity in that.

[followed by]

Straw man Tom.

That isn’t what I am trying to point to.

We can usually be very confident that there is a something there in reality (though when viewing professional magicians one usually isn’t quite so confident, similarly when listening to professional politicians, or lawyers – no offence intended – just based on my experience of lawyers in action in this country).

I’m all for trust, it is required at many levels, and it requires attendant strategies for stability (I recall a line from a very old movie – trust in the lord and pass the ammunition – kinda says it all to me, except that gods are not part of my explanatory framework other than as purely mythological entities).

I accept that there is a reality.

I accept that I have the experiences I have.

What interests me is the relationship between the two.
It seems to involve about 20 levels of cooperative systems across three quite distinct domains.

[followed by]

Hi Tom,

1 You ask “are not logic and mathematics part of reality?”, and the answer is not simple and it is no in the sense I mean.
Certainly it seems evident that reality contains many aspects that have logical and numerical relationships with each other, but the abstract notions of logic and number seem to be modeling constructs of the mind in one sense, and sets of possible ways of organising things in another sense.
There seem to be infinite possible sets of both logics and numerical systems.
As a very young child I experimented with different bases of counting systems. Simple stuff, yet instructive.
As a somewhat older individual I experimented with using irrational numbers as numeric bases – that doesn’t sit easy in human brains.

Reality seems to be what it is, and there are some organising principles that seem to have a lot of utility, like gravity, energy, entropy, etc, and they seem to obey numeric laws to a remarkable degree of precision, and there do seem to be fuzzy boundaries to the degrees of that precision, which boundaries can be ignored for most purposes, but not in discussions such as this.

In the sense that we are part of reality, and our thoughts (abstract as they are) are a subset of that wider reality, then certainly in that sense, mathematics and logic are part of reality, but that isn’t the sense in which I was using the term.

2 as mentioned above, certainly, yes, we are part of reality, and everything we do is part of reality, so in that sense, yes, as we exist, and as we do both math and logic, then in that sense, both exist in reality – at least since we started conceiving of them as such. Which is all part of the evolutionary process of development, the exploration of possibilities, instantiating them into reality. Which is quite a different conception from the idea that they already existed, and we found them.

In a sense, as soon as one has experience of a single infinity, say the class of integers, which one can explore relatively small sets (to a few thousand) in detail, and larger sets by random selection of instances, and one can always add one to the largest number one can think of, etc; then one can apply that sort of understanding of infinity to any class of concepts that seems to have a similar extensible characteristic.

When one does that to the classes of possible logics, then to the classes of possible computational spaces, to Turing complete and Turing incomplete machines, then one has instantiated those instances of infinite possibilities into reality in a sense.

And who knows what other instances actually exist in other areas of reality – it is vast, beyond my knowing, and beyond the possibility of my knowing. I get that.

And I am clear, that my experience, my knowing, is within my model of reality, which seems to be itself something within a greater reality that it models with some degree of accuracy.

3 – Of course there is a sense in which we are what we are, intimately linked in whatever fashions those linkages actually exist in – be they whatever biochemistry points to, or whatever it is that the mathematics of quantum mechanics and Hilbert spaces is pointing to, or whatever it is that Wolfram’s maximal computational complexity is pointing to, ………..
That is in a sense granted, given, real, acknowledged and trivial – and it misses completely what I am trying to point to – which is something beyond that.

As someone who has over 4 decade of writing computer systems, and over 5 decades of interest in the details of the operation of living systems and evolution and behaviour, and someone who has substantially written two acts of parliament in this country; I am very interested in the details of the processes that lead to life, to systems, to complex interactions, and how they play out over time and interact with other systems present and becoming.

When creating any sort of system, one usually first conceives of it as some sort of abstract model, at some scale, then one instantiates bits of the model, and tests as one goes, and refines and expands both the model and the reality as one goes.

Some computer systems have taken me years to write.
The legal systems took years (about 5 years in each case, though the initial drafts were done in a few days in both cases).
My biggest project I have been at work on for over 43 years to date. Instantiating relationships and releasing them into specific conversations, and observing what happens.

Yes there is certainly a sense that a computer is required to run a computer program. And I can write a few lines of code that will continue to compute for as long as you let it run, and whose output is not predictable by any method quicker than letting it compute (the definition of maximal computational complexity).

[followed by]


Where and when did you get authority to define what reality is or is not?

I am quite clear, that I do not know what reality is or is not.

I am clear that I have some tools that are very reliable predictors of reality in some situations, and not at all useful in other situations.

I have been at sea in boats in over 80 knots of wind, three times in my life. One does not get very much prediction in such situations, a few seconds if one is lucky, and often not even that. Much of survival in such situations is not about prediction, but about resilience, how one recovers from what just hit you.

Similarly, having just lived though a Richter 7.8 earthquake, one cannot predict it. One simply tries to survive, to be resilient, to restore as much order and predictability and security as one reasonably can within reasonable time-frames, and often it is precious little. And one can take reasonable preparatory measures, and they don’t always work out as expected.

Most of the preparations I made for earthquake in respect of house design, food, water, and energy reserves all worked fine, for a time. And it rapidly became very clear that without external help, a lot of it, all the unprepared people would have consumed all my reserves very quickly. So it was a great example that simply looking out for me was not a viable strategy even as a last ditch reserve.

We are now such a tightly interlinked society, so dependent on each other in so many ways that most have no awareness of at all, that the earthquake drove that home to me in ways little else could have.

We either bring society as a whole out the other side of this mess, or we all face grave and exponentially increasing existential risk.

I get what independent thinking is about.

I have been independent thinking for very close to 60 years.

I have been independent for so long it is almost impossible for me to communicate anything that really interests me because it is so different from where most are, and involves so many levels of abstraction, that it just doesn’t happen.

What is fascinating to me is the sorts of logical constructs that actually include the possibility of independent thinking, rather than simply being some version of Dennett’s hidden lottery automata. That is the really interesting thing I am trying to point to.

[followed by]

You are almost there! Almost!
One more step you seem to be resisting, and it is difficult.

Let’s examine the first paragraph.

What is science telling us about reality?

Quite a few different things actually.

When it comes to knowing ourselves there is quite a bit that we need to consider, and most of it is nothing at all like the cultural stories we were born into.

It seems that this reality we find ourselves in is made up of many different levels of collections of different sorts of stuff that have different sorts of relationships with the other stuff at that level, that is very important in the properties of all higher level collections. This seems to be true at the level of photons, the level of quarks, the level of atoms, molecules, organelles, cells, organs, bodies, families, tribes, societies, ecosystems, cosmos, cultures, paradigms etc.
Each and every one of those layers contributes important aspects of who we are.
And every layer adds more potentiality to the possibilities of our being. A Raspberry Pi might be a Turing complete machine, but it is rather limited in levels of complexity and extremely simple in comparison to us.

Just the numbers of bits of stuff in us is really worth thinking about just for a few seconds, when it comes to knowing ourselves. It is hard to come to terms with numbers.
It is hard to think about all the people on the planet (its hard enough thinking about all the people living on one street, let alone a city, or the planet). To see all the people on the planet, just for a third of a second each as they ran past, would take roughly 70 years. And we are made from about 10,000 times as many cells as there are people, and each cell from about 5 times as many molecules as there are cells.

What can it possibly mean to say one knows something that complex?
It cannot possibly mean any sort of hard absolute confidence.

Making such an inference is not simply illogical and unfounded, it is the highest level of hubris possible.

Faced with such profound complexity, the only realistic response is one of humility.
We must accept profound uncertainty as our constant companion for the rest of eternity.

Anything less than that is simply some internal childish part of ourselves trying to hang on to one of its earliest and most favoured distinctions – that of certain knowledge.

So yes, certainly, most profoundly, use all of your abilities, to know yourself, and to know reality.

And the only reasonable and rational response to such a journey into profound complexity, is to accept a level of humility, of uncertainty, of unknowability in the face of complexity of many different types.

David Snowden (a complexity theorist who went from LSE to IBM then out on his own) has developed a simple categorisation of complexity that has only 4 classes: simple, complicated, complex and chaotic.
Simple stuff is any system where we can define all the inputs, outputs, and classes of transformations possible. Such systems exist and respond predictably to classical engineering techniques.
Complicated systems are more interesting, with more dependencies, and while we can work with them, we need to rely upon our subconscious heuristic systems to do so, logic and reason alone are not sufficient to provide responses in useful time-frames.
Complex systems respond to everything we do to them in many different ways that require us to change our behaviours as well. We need to probe them, see how they respond, amplify responses that we want, and dampen down things we don’t want.
Chaotic systems come in many different classes, but all share the attribute of being fundamentally unpredictable. Human brains are prediction machines. We have evolved to find pattern, and tend to do so even where it does not exist. We find it very difficult to identify chaotic systems for what they are, we tend to classify them as something else.

We each contain many different examples of every class of complexity at many different levels.

In complex strategic environments, chaos is sometimes a valuable tool, it really is unpredictable, it really does confuse one’s opponent (in the deepest sense of complex strategic environments).

So yes – certainly know yourself, and in such knowledge learn to accept and embrace profound uncertainty.

And there is some real simplicity on the other side of it.

It is possible to make choices.

I have chosen a value hierarchy of two very simple values that seem to be the minimum set possible for a long and interesting life.

1 Value all individual life that is capable of conceiving of itself as an actor in reality within its own model of reality (a system involving at least 3 levels – reality, model, observer, of which the latter two are internal to the individual as a subset of reality).

2 Value the liberty of all such individuals, to do whatever they responsibly choose, where responsibility is defined as have reasonable regard for the life and liberty of all other individuals.

Then from that simplicity, once again comes infinite diversity, and it is a diversity with a simple set of moral imperatives, that are not at all simple to resolve, and can lead to exceptionally interesting conversations and actions.

My thinking is based in a mix of the lawful and the random. It acknowledges lawfulness where lawfulness resides, and it acknowledges randomness and unknowability where those reside.
My thinking is both pragmatic and creative.

Yes there are levels of context, and yes there are dependencies, and none of those dependencies are hard – they all contain uncertainties, they all have flexibility and permeability at the boundaries – every level. In every case it is more in the nature of influence than of control – and sometimes the influence approaches unity very closely, and sometimes not. Again, context! Context, context, context !!!!

Actually, the entirety says that knowledge is only ever of the model that is within, which model has levels of dependency and influence coming from without.
Nothing hard.
Nothing absolutely certain.
And everything open to levels of influence (however tiny that influence may seem at times).

Fancis Bacon has a real claim to being the father of modern science “Nature to be commanded must first be obeyed”.

Know what needs to be obeyed, and know how it can be influenced.

That is real self knowledge.

That seems to be as much choice as reality gives us.

And there is a very real sense in which, if you say you have choice, or if you say you don’t, in either case you are correct.

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 Tom’s Facebook post on Trust and Truth

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