Continued discussion in an old evonomics thread on Objectivism

Continued discussion in an old evonomics thread on Objectivism

[This whole thread seems to boil down to fundamentally different views on reality. Teaparty follows Rand’s presumption that the universe necessarily follows the rules of the simplest possible logic paradigm, consistently. I’ve looked at enough different paradigms to be confident that all of our knowledge is at best an approximation of something, often very accurate and very reliable in certain contexts, and not so much so in others. For Teaprty science is about following a logical form, for me it is simply about asking questions, and giving up as many presuppositions as possible to have the best chance of seeing what reality is actually telling us about how it works. That gets to be a very complex, very recursive process. If you are interested in the details – my side follows below, the original with both sides in the link above.]

Ongoing comments by TeaParty1776

No – none of those things.
I have done a lot of looking, at many different evidence sets, and many different interpretive schema.

It seems very probable to me, based up both those evidence sets, and the logic of complex systems, that any claims to any sort of absolute knowledge about reality are illusory.

Certainly we need operational confidence, and we seem to get that from many levels of heuristics installed in our embodied cognition from both genetic and cultural aspects of our being, that allow us to develop language and culture and such understandings as we individually have.

We seem to be very complex entities.
And we must all start from relatively simple models and distinctions.
The simplest of possible distinctions are binaries.
So there is a sense in which as children we become habituated to seeing things in binary terms, and some people find that a very difficult habit to break.
And binary logic is a valid form of logic, and it is the simplest possible of what seem to be an infinite class of logics.

Logic is a great modeling tool, and it is not necessary that reality comply with any form of logic, and at many levels aspects of reality do appear to very closely approximate logical principles, and at other levels and aspects not so much.

I am all in favour of learning logic.
I strong recommend all people read Ayn Rand, as part of their study of history.
I recommend people read as many different ideas, thinkers, paradigms as possible, and be willing to trust their own judgments about which paradigm (if any) is most usefully applied to any particular situation.

I strong recommend Yudkowski’s Rationality from AI to Zombies, and Gribben’s History of science, and Roll’s history of economic thought.
And reading works of the scientists and philosophers themselves is important, like Hilbert, Einstein, Goedel, Kant, Russell, etc.

Principles are useful tools.
Reality doesn’t necessarily follow principles, unless you count fully stochastic systems as principles.

Some aspects of reality do in fact seem to be chaotic, from many different classes of chaos, and any of those classes is by definition unpredictable.

The human mind is so primed to find pattern, it tends to find pattern even where pattern does not exist – hence we tend to come up with ideas like human sacrifice, and most of witchcraft, etc.

I like to look at all levels I can manage. I like flying, I enjoy the view from mountain tops, I am happy walking and looking at what is around me, I am happy looking through a micro-scope, and looking at electron micro-graphs. Each view contributes a different aspect to picture, and no picture is ever the thing it images.

And I am very much in favour of values – not at all nihilistic.

My prime value is individual life, followed closely by individual liberty, and both of those need to exist in responsible social and ecological contexts as we absolutely need both.

[followed by
TeaParty quoted
“[Philosophers came to be divided] into two camps: those who claimed that man obtains his knowledge of the world by deducing it exclusively from concepts, which come from inside his head and are not derived from the perception of physical facts (the Rationalists)—and those who claimed that man obtains his knowledge from experience, which was held to mean: by direct perception of immediate facts, with no recourse to concepts (the Empiricists). To put it more simply: those who joined the [mystics] by abandoning reality—and those who clung to reality, by abandoning their mind.”
-Ayn Rand, “For the New Intellectual”]

That is a true statement of Rand, and a reasonable approximation to the state of philosophy at the time Rand wrote that, and neither of those truths (in the probabilistic sense of truth as beyond reasonable doubt), necessarily makes that statement applicable to philosophy or understanding applicable to me now.

When one starts to understand the function of the structures that give rise to mind and awareness, both in terms of their biochemistry and larger morphology and in terms of the levels of software systems present and operating, one starts to understand the many levels of heuristic priors (in the Bayesian sense) encoded by evolution into the structure of our being, both at the level of genetic evolution and at the levels of cultural evolution. And all of that occurs prior to the software bootstrapping trick of a failure of being instantiating a new level of self awareness into being through a declaration in language.

Every individual has a complex pattern of development. Developmental psychology is a fascinating subject, all the more so when one doesn’t fit the pattern, in my case when a flap of skin under my tongue prevented me from being able to make speech ordinarily comprehensible to strangers (only my family had any idea what I was trying to talk about). That simple physical problem, cleared about age 5 by the simple expedient of a doctor cutting the flap of skin with a pair of scissors, meant I avoided developing the patterns that lead most people to stay within the bounds of agreed social interpretations, and for 55 years I have essentially been free to study history, logic, and science, and derive through contemplation my own sets of relationships, without any undue subconscious bias towards creating or maintaining agreement within peer groups.
So I have explored interpretive schema that few (and in some few cases, perhaps none) have explored previously.

None of that gives me any tendency towards making any grand claims to truth, actually quite the reverse.
It does give me a very powerful understanding of the probabilistic nature of many aspects of our being.
It lets me see pattern in operation at many different levels simultaneously.
It lets me view sets of self consistent constraints in operation, kind of like cellular automata on some infinite game of life board.

And it also gives me profound appreciation for the ways in which evolution has selected for systems that work in practice within the time constraints available to deliver survival in some very hostile environments.
In this sense it has given me a profound appreciation for risk management in highly dimensional strategy spaces, where one is dealing with profound uncertainty at many levels, as one must when faced with potentially infinite levels of infinite strategy sets.
Dimensionality increases rapidly.
The sets of heuristics one chooses to approximate such things become important – as first principle calculation is not an option, as the problems scale as high order exponentials.

So I see Rand as someone who played with an interesting if somewhat limited set of assumptions, and made few (though significant in the few I have found) errors in what she did from there.

So I am in part existentialist, in part empericist, mostly evolutionist, eclectic, deeply concerned by the general failure of even the intellectual elite to comprehend the sorts of existential risk that they are playing with in allowing simplistic notions like “evolution is all about competition” (which is demonstrably false) to dominate our age, and support a set of market based values which are now, beyond any shadow of doubt, the greatest existential risk to humanity, and may in fact be the great filter that Fermi and others were looking for {though I suspect it may only be the first in an infinite class of such things – which actually is nowhere near as terrifying a thought as it would have been 40 years ago}.

So yes – by all means study Rand.
No – don’t necessarily believe anything is true simply because it is consistent with her assumption sets.

And I get how hard it is to break free of fundamental assumptions.

To step into profound uncertainty can be terrifying.

And an analogy I find useful (from being a kid growing up near swamps) is that it is possible to build a stable house above a swamp, by pushing many bamboo poles into the swamp and lashing them together. You know that none of the poles alone can support your weight, You can easily push any one of them our of sight, and end up in the bog yourself, if you put all your weight on any one pole.
But when you lash together a few thousand poles (sets of heuristics stable to a certain level), then one can build a very stable hut in a swamp, that can survive both flood and earthquake.

Faced with the profound uncertainty of any infinite set of infinite sets of strategy spaces (Axelrod, Maynard-Smith, Snowden, et al), computational algorithms (Turing, Wolfram et al), values sets (religion, culture, Campbell, Peterson et al), etc and the reality that no finite entity can explore any infinity in any finite time, one must accept uncertainty, and give up the myths of certainty and security that are our childhood beginnings.

What one is left with is both risk mitigation strategies in profoundly uncertain environments, and a realm of infinite possibility – two sides of the same coin in a sense.

No chance of boredom.

[followed by something of a tirade]

Your typical response to a paradigm you do not understand is insult.
Most cultures hold respect for diversity in higher regard – one of Rand’s many fundamental failings.

Experimental evidence is clear that we have volitional influence, and control is too strong a word in most contexts.

We are embodied within complex systems.
We are influenced by and can in turn influence.

I evade nothing.
I have read all of those books, and 20 years ago began a catalog of their many errors.
I have had many long conversations with Peikoff many years ago.
Like many, he let the limitations of his assumptions blind him to experimental evidence.
If a thorough examination of results is at variance with theory – I tend to challenge theory. It really doesn’t bother me how many people disagree or agree.

You want comments about reality – OK, let’s look at a few.
Let’s just look at existence for a moment.
Science tells us that the average adult human being has about 10,000 times as many cells in their body as there are people on the planet.
Every cell has about 5 times as many atoms as there are cells. Each cell is a collection of about 30,000 different types of molecules interacting.
Some of those molecules are enzymes, the fastest of which can catalyse about 100,000 reactions per second.
Just to see each cell, looking at 3 per second, would take a million years. 5 million years to see the atoms in any one cell.
Just to watch one second’s interaction at a single enzyme, slowed to a speed that our awareness could actually perceive all of the movement, would take about 3,000 years (for 1 enzyme, 1 active site).
Getting into the chemical and electrochemical mediators of computation within the brain and body more generally is even more complex.
What can it possibly mean to say we know such complexity?

Certainly the evidence is overwhelming that we are such complexity.
Certainly the evidence is that we each subconsciously create very low resolution models of that complexity which become the objects of our conscious experience.
But a lack of understanding by philosophers as to the nature of the processes that have selected the sets of heuristics that make our existence as experiential entities at all possible have lead to all manner of hubris – and Rand is a prime example of the very worst of it.

I can focus my mind to many different levels, and have over 50 years experience of doing so.

I have looked at many levels of reality, from the quantum to the cosmological.
I have looked at computation and strategic spaces abstractly, and am clear that both contain infinite classes of infinite sets.

I am clear that no human mind (no finite entity) can explore any infinity, and all must adopt heuristics, and that all such heuristics come with both costs and benefits.

In some aspects, Rand’s thinking was sublime, in other aspects it was willfully blind, and arrogant. Disrespectfully so.

[followed by another tirade]

My explicit context is a probabilistic understanding of evidence sets available from many domains of science and experience more generally.
That explicit context was arrived at by a recursive processes of examination and testing of the validity of the explicit and implicit assumption sets in the systems of thought I was using.
A part of that process was a multi-year immersion in the objectivist community, involving thousands of hours of study, contemplation and argument.

You start from an assumption that objective reality is necessarily causal (rather than approximately causal), and ignore any evidence to the contrary.

I found many errors in Kant long before approaching Rand.

I have focused my mind on the many aspects of reality in ways and to depths that few have achieved.
That process has created a degree of humility in the face of the vast sets of chaotic systems that exist both as logical possibilities and as aspects of reality that by definition defy prediction, which sets include maximal computation complexity, Heisenberg uncertainty, stochastic uncertainty and many others. Those sets can be found in many aspects of reality, including many levels of our being.

I do not hate capitalism.
Capitalism has serious problems, and it is better than any of the alternatives currently in existence.
That does not mean in either logic or reality that it is the best of all possible systems, indeed logic would seem to clearly indicate that is not the case. And it certainly was the best of a bad bunch – which is not necessarily saying a lot. And the context is changing exponentially, making capitalism exponentially more dangerous.

I am not in favour of any sort of central control.
I am very cautious of the two major tyrannies – the tyranny of the majority and the tyranny of a minority.

My highest values are individual life and individual liberty, and I acknowledge the reality of the need for both social and ecological responsibility in the expression of those values.

I am certainly all in favour of individual choice, the highest expression of which is the choice of moral context, and the universal application of that to all sapient entities.

How exactly does your righteous misinterpetation of me in any way exhibit moral behaviour?

If you think the mind is fully volitional, then try depriving it of air.

I suspect you would lose consciousness in less than a minute.
If the removal of air was more than a few minutes, systemic damage to the cellular systems that support awareness would be so severe that restarting of that awareness would no longer be possible.

As someone who trained for about 7 years in the disciplines of deep free diving, I suspect that I could still maintain consciousness for about 5 minutes, but it would be a very reduced form of awareness for the last 3 of those minutes.

Our needs for metabolism are but one set of the limits of the volitional mind.
There are many others imposed by the many levels of structure present.
And the more awareness one gains of such things, the greater the levels of influence one can exert, and control is too powerful a word, and with awareness, we can achieve significant influence.

I continue the habit of over 50 years – of daily study of new material, and the active contemplation of its relationship to existing datasets and available interpretive schema.

[followed by]

Yes existence is a metaphysical primary, but absolutely nothing about the systemic structure of that primary is a necessary given.

There are an infinite set of possible systemic primary structures.
A set based upon hard causal rules is one particular possibility (the simplest of all possible, and therefore the first one encountered by most people in the exploration of such things).

If one starts with such a set of assumptions (as most do, including me a long time ago) and follow it where it leads, one ends up at quantum mechanics in the realm of physical models, and in exploring infinite realms of possible computational and logical systems. And lots of people have made conjectures about such things then spent their lives exploring them. Wolfram is one of the more interesting of recent times.

If you go down that road, then you end up at a place where the evidence suggests that one’s initial set of presumptions about the systemic basis of the universe within which we find ourselves does not match with the evidence. What one would expect if there was a strictly causal relationship (as the simplest of possible logical forms would suggest) is not what we see.
Instead, what seems likely to be at the fundamental base is constrained stochastic (randomness within certain probability distributions).

That is not at all obvious to the unaided eye, as in terms of the smallest units we can currently investigate within this reality within which we find ourselves, the smallest thing a human eye can resolve consists of some 10^18 units having existed for some 10^40 of their time units (in as much as our common notion of time has meaning in that context). That gives a very large collection, which fills out the probability distributions, and so behaves in a very close approximation to following hard causal rules.
The difference occurs within the measurement errors of even our best instruments at present at that scale.
At smaller scales the difference is far more clear.

My mind has been very focused on reality, on experimental design, on examination of assumption sets and result sets.

My mind has also looked very broadly at the space of possible logics, possible interpretive schema, and possible models that result.

Contradiction involves a failure of the modeling tool to align with that which is being modeled. It is a failure of assumptions or heuristics at some level.

If you are confident of the data, then one must examine the set of possible assumptions and see what alternative sets of assumptions deliver.

That is what I have done.

I get that is probably incomprehensible to you in your current state of development.
Put another 40 years into the study of biochemistry, paradigms of logic, systems, computation, complexity, evolution, history and science more generally.

If you actually put in the time and effort, abandon all sacred cows (assumptions), I suspect your view will have altered somewhat as a result.

[followed by]

It is clear that you are a religious adherent to a simple set of constraints, and you are not interested in considering any evidence or possibility that might violate those constraints. Very similar to Rand in that respect.

Unless you relax some of those constraints a little, your conceptual and perceptual world will be forever limited by them.

Any such fundamentalist system which is so intolerant and disrespectful of diversity is a threat to all others (to the very concept of freedom), and will, of necessity, be managed as such.

Not a lot more need be said.

[followed by]

Existence is – yes.
Levels of constraint are present – yes.
When we look closely at such constraints they vary, the closer one looks the less definite they appear (at whatever dimension one cares to investigate).
I am not nihilistic – I don’t know why you keep making that assertion.

I accept constraint is a necessary part of existence, and the exact nature of those constraints are very interesting.
When one looks very closely at such things, one ends up at various levels of understanding, like quantum mechanics, or string theory, or at various approximations to various field theories, or complexity theory, or computational theory, or a bunch of other things that are infinite in possibility and limited in the number and degree of such possibilities as yet instantiated in the reality we observe.
In every case, the closer one looks, the less distinct something is, the more uncertain become the boundaries, the greater the influence of other agents in the system.

When you examine complexity theory, it is the nature of constraints that define the major properties of systems. If constraints become hard, then the system becomes brittle and breaks under stress. Flexible constraints allow resilience.
Flexibility in a knife edge not such a good idea, brittleness in a social construct not such a good idea.

Yes we have existence, and yes we are finite in a sense, and we are connected also.
Fields tend to extend indefinitely, though the influence is small at great distance. And the gravity of our bodies hold us to this planet, and are part of what holds us all in orbit around the sun. So small influences over great distances can be important, even if hard to measure.

Rationality is the tiny tip of the vast processing system that is the embodied cognition of human existence.
It is a very important part, and the other parts are important also.
Rationality can only emerge as an emergent phenomenon when all of those subconscious systems exist.

No person can exist on rationality alone.
One can learn the disciplines of influencing aspects of our being like respiration, heart beat, facial muscles, peristalsis of gut, etc. But only one at a time. It is impossible to consciously manage balance. One must hand over control to the subconscious automomous systems if one wants to walk without crashing. Rational consciousness is too slow.

Rationality is important.
It is a very valuable part of being human, and being human is a lot more than being rational, and no human is entirely (or even mostly) rational.
The vast bulk of what most people is consists of layers of heuristics embodied in genetic or cultural constructs.
And yes, it takes reason to come to such and understanding, and the systems exist whether or not they are understood.

I agree that developing the greatest degree of independence possible is a great thing to aim at, and it doesn’t pay to be delusional about the degree of dependence and relationship.

Ayn Rand was very adept at rationalising whatever she wanted to do, as her personal life adequately demonstrated. And she did a lot of stuff that I found very interesting and valuable – and her ethics were a mess (fundamentally irrational).

Bacon’s “Nature to be commanded must first be obeyed” still contains a lot of truth.
We don’t understand nature just by thinking about it, we actually have to experiment and observe and refine our understandings. That process is both iterative and recursive, and without logical end.

Yes we have a degree of independence, and I cherish that; and we also have necessary degrees of relatedness. Both need to be acknowledged. We need to be responsible in both sets of contexts.

If freedom (independence) is to have any real meaning, then it demands of each of us an acceptance of, and a tolerance of, and a respect for, diversity.

When one looks deeply, systemically, at epistemology and ontology, then all knowledge seems to be heuristically based, based in the survival of something in genetic or mimetic (cultural) environments. Rationality emerges as an epi-phenomenon from that multilayered heuristic construct, and not entirely independent of it.
One needs to accept the constraints that system imposes if one wants to develop technologies to go beyond them. Pretending that they are not there is like trying to do molecular biology using the paradigm of the 4 elements. It aint going to work.
We don’t get to see reality, we only ever see the model of reality that our subconscious processes assemble from various sensory inputs, distinctions, contexts, habits etc that exist within our brains. We can influence the constraints on process, and never entirely control them.
Sometimes the boundaries we see are artifacts of the resolution of our models rather than attributes of the things being modeled.
We are complex entities.

Accept the starting point, then build from there.
Build where-ever you want, provided you respect the rights of everyone else to do likewise.
If conflict arises, conversations will be necessary to reach some sort of agreement. Such conversations will demand going beyond the limits of current paradigms – actually listening to others. That is only possible if there is agreement about some minimum set of fundamental values.
The minimum possible set seems to be a universal respect for individual sapient life and a respect for the liberty of such individuals, and both of those necessitate responsible action in social and ecological contexts.

[followed by]

You are making the same mistake as Rand (unsurprisingly).

Yes – metaphysical existence is.

If you want to understand anything at all about the nature of what is, then you have to leave metaphysics and turn to science.

Science starts with a set of explanatory models about what might be, then designs a set of experiments to test which, if any, of those models produce accurate alignment with the results.
Science is not, and logically cannot be, a process of proving anything.
Science is, and can only be, a progressive process of disproving particular sets of assumptions and models in particular contexts. A process of refinement and occasional revolution as whole new classes of interpretation and model become available.
Sometimes the new classes of interpretation are so far away in the computational space of all possible sets of assumptions and ways of relating that very few individuals can actually understand (the number of assumptions that must be overturned and the types and degrees of relationship are just too numerous for most minds to hold).

When we apply that process, recursively, not only to our understandings of the reality around us, but also to the many levels of the nature of ourselves, it is a profoundly unsettling process, as most of the sacred cows of philosophy are seen for the simplistic assumptions that they are.

Our ideas of space and time morph to such an extent that the very concept of simultaneity, becomes illusion, and the idea that there can be a single instant everywhere in which one could potentially freeze reality to define it, is seen as simplistic illusion, an impossibility available only in a simple 4 dimensional model of space-time.

Once one gets to that understanding, the very notion that something is, independent of its relationship to everything else, is seen as a simplistic (though useful at normal human scale) illusion. So the whole metaphysical notion based upon such a simplistic set of assumptions evaporates.
Reality loses the sort of simplicity such notions support, and becomes something vastly more complex.

Rand had the hubris to believe that simplest of all possible logical paradigms alone could be used to model all aspects of reality.
That notion has, beyond any shadow of reasonable doubt, been shown to be false. But you cannot see that if you lock yourself with the particular box of that one set of logical constraints.
One must be willing to start exploring what appears to be an infinite realm of possible logics.
The idea of simultaneity is only valid in the simplistic commonsense model of reality that is basically Newtonian. It fails in Einsteinian space-time – it actually makes no logical sense. A GPS system cannot work based upon Newtonian principles – it works very accurately when relativistic equations are used.

Read something like Goedel Esher Bach, then follow it with something like John Gribben’s History of Science. If you take the contemplative time to test every set of assumptions you encounter in both books, it will be a fascinating journey.

[followed by]

I can think in far deeper levels of principles than you are currently demonstrating in your writing.

Consider this.
Even if the world were entirely causal, then the existence of systems that are maximally computationally complex (see Wolfram for details), would result in a reality that was both causal and unpredictable.

Consider also, that if the universe is strictly causal, then everything, including this interaction between us, has been inevitable for the last 14 billion years – it just needed to play out.
If such is the case, then all of philosophy, all moral argument, is fundamentally pointless – as we are all simply automata, doing what we had to do.

Both of those are logical extensions of strict causality.

The evidence sets available from science do not appear to support the notion of strict causality.

Those evidence sets do support the notion of approximate causality – certain scales of phenomena that do very closely approximate causality, built upon a set of phenomena that are constrained stochastic.

Once anyone builds an internally consistent system of thought based upon a set of constructs that refute any evidence contrary to those constructs, how is that in any significant feature different from religious belief.

Science is based on the notion that we let reality be the final arbiter of our models.
Sure, we use logic, mathematics, levels of abstraction, to refine our models and deliver new insights and possibilities, and it is the testing of those things in reality that defines science as science.

Newton was a profound thinker, developed great abstract tools, developed models of reality superior to any that had existed prior – and all have been subsequently disproven, and all were necessary steps on the path to the new levels of abstraction and understanding.

Don’t ignore Rand.
Rand had some profound lessons to teach.
Learn them and move on.

[followed by]

You keep erecting straw men. That was always the likely outcome.

Newton’s ideas are not true.
They were useful approximations to something in a particular set of contexts.
We now know that is what they were.
I suspect that Einstein’s model may be shown to be no more than a better approximation, and not any end point or absolute truth.

I am all in favour of understanding logic and systemic principles.
I have made a living from designing and writing and supporting computer systems for over 30 years. I have a certain practical experience in such things.

The universe does not need to be based on hard causal principles for us to be able to understand it to some useful approximation in common contexts – and it is the commonality of contexts that is the key bit, both in terms of the selection of heuristic primitives by evolution, and in the development of pattern within neural networks.

Newton’s approximation to gravity was close enough for his time.
It was accurate within the limits of measurement error available in his day.
Einstein’s model has proven accurate within the limits of measurement available to us today. It is useful in the design of engineering achievements like the GPS navigation system. It has a quality of “fit for current purposes” which meets my criteria of “a useful approximation to something”.

When you look at the detail of how understanding develops, it is a set of levels of heuristic approximations. We have many levels of these heuristics embedded within us. We learn many more.

We use models to make sense of things.
We base our models on sets of assumptions (mostly implicitly delivered by genetics and culture).
The hubris of both Newton and Rand was to assume that such assumptions had any sort of universal validity.
Useful approximations to something in certain contexts – yes – wholeheartedly agree and accept.
Any sort of final word about anything, that seems highly improbable.

You made the statement “Again, you claim that Rand knew something but you dont identify it or why allegedly superseded” which is just so wrong.
I have been identifying it, consistently, from many different perspectives, but you are either unwilling or unable to see that.
The explanation does not exist within the context you are demanding I use.
It is a bit like trying to get to General Relativity while accepting all of Newton’s laws. It cannot be done.
One must be willing to give up Newton’s laws, and explore other possibilities, to be able to get to general relativity. One has to see them as nothing more than a useful approximation to something, to be able to see the possibility of something beyond.

Similarly (by analogy) you cannot comprehend what I am saying from within Rand’s context.
You need to be able to relax the boundaries a little, and try out the evidence sets available, and see where that process leads.
You need to look very closely at what the experimental evidence sets from such disciplines as sub atomic physics, cosmology, developmental psychology, and AI research are actually indicating.

When you bring those diverse tool-sets and evidence sets together, something becomes evident that is outside of the boundaries you are currently within.

And there is no substitute for doing the work. Neural networks require experience sets to deliver intuitions.
One needs to train the networks, in many different discipline’s simultaneously.
Developing competencies and maintaining those competencies are two very different things.
When one can see the truth of Rand’s teachings as a useful approximation to something, understanding itself will restructure. Feynman’s sum over life histories approach was useful to me in that regard, and that may simply be an artifact of the particular path I chose.

[followed by]

How many times do I need to tell you that I am a functional atheist.

I don’t believe in anything in the realm of reality in any absolute sense (I have sufficient evidence of the fallibility of both the senses and of our logical system in respect of their actual relationship to reality).
I deal in probabilities.
Some probabilities are sufficiently close to unity that I don’t normally question them on an operational basis (and if pushed, their is in fact doubt present).

It seems very probable that the universe just is what it is.
If seems to be a mix of the lawful and the random.
It seems that we as human beings are the most complex exploration of the systemic possibilities of being yet in existence (at least as far as I have reliable evidence for at present).

The models I have of that existence make extensive use of evidence from all domains of scientific and systemic inquiry. They are quite recursively complex, however simple some of the principles involved may be.

[followed by]

You miss the issues entirely.

I hold no assumptions about anything as unchallengable by experimental result.

I accept the existence of consciousness – because I experience.
Everything about the nature of that consciousness is open to interpretation of experimental evidence and the models available to fit that evidence to.

If one starts with a set of assumptions (it matters not what set in a sense, provided one is willing to modify assumptions if the evidence requires it), then if one spends enough time examining evidence sets and sets of available schema, and sets of possible schema, then one ends up with an understanding (a conceptual model) of reality with a certain set of qualities.

A useful approximation has nothing necessarily to do with social agreement, though humans are typically very social entities, and social agreement within groups (like within the objectivist movement as one specific example) often has far greater power of influence on individuals than logic or reason or evidence.

A useful approximation can simply be that – something that has utility in a specific context.
Having utility, workability, in a specific set of contexts, is nothing at all like a universal principle – it is much more like a heuristic.

In my understanding, both you and Rand are confusing useful heuristics for universal principles. That is a major categorical error.
Rand was very good at defining categories, not so good at seeing or acknowledging fundamental errors in the placement of concepts within particular categories.

Useful heuristics (approximations to something) are not arbitrary, they have to survive the test of reality in some set of contexts, that is what gives them the character of usefulness. Neither arbitrary nor whim, and not entirely accurate either, merely fit for some set of purposes, and liable to failure if used out of proven contexts.

Once one has explored the nature of logical and computational spaces more abstractly, then one can see that the very notion of metaphysics can itself be seen as a heuristic. And it takes a bit of work to get there.

I did not claim that Newton’s notion of universal gravity had no utility. It has a great deal of utility in a particular set of contexts that are very common to humans generally. I have jumped off cliffs, and I have been wearing an abseil harness on each occasion. I have also jumped out of perfectly good aeroplanes, and I have had two parachutes firmly harnessed to me on each occasion. Newton’s idea of universal gravity is a very useful approximation to something in most common situations.

However, if you try to make a functional GPS network based upon the mathematics of Newtonian gravity, then your position will drift by about 100m per day. At that level of accuracy, Newtonian gravity fails, and something else is required. Einstein gave us that something else, and it allows us to maintain positional accuracies of within 1mm per day with an appropriate constellation of receivers and appropriate computational resources (a very useful technique when exploring the details of tectonic earth movement or earthquakes or volcanism).

I am not in the slightest bit interested in reinventing any set of Gods.

I am very interested in understanding the nature of the reality I seem to find myself in, which includes the nature of me.

When one spends enough time investigating the nature of neural networks, the nature of synaptic connectivity, the physical, chemical, and electrical modulators of synaptic connections; the evolution of the many layers of embodied cognition delivered by both genetic and cultural factors, then one is left with a very different picture as to the nature of the experience of being human from the very simplistic set of assumptions Rand based her musings upon. And in certain contexts what Rand used were useful heuristics, and don’t push them beyond their limits.

I am not trying to cheat anything.
I am trying to get you to see where you are cheating by being too lazy and too overconfident, and what it is costing us all.

[followed by]

Science is nothing like what you describe.

Science is a process of noting observations, asking questions about those observations, designing experiments to determine which from available competing sets of explanatory frameworks seems to fit the data best (both in terms of matching predictions to observations and in terms of the simplicity of the systems and in terms of completeness across all known datasets), and repeating.

I do not, (as Rand did) have the hubris to claim that reality has to follow any particular set of logical premises (from amongst the infinitude of sets possible).

In matters relating to reality, I always let reality be the final arbiter.

That does not require any sort of perfection on the part of anything.
It requires only that our perceptual systems and instruments have a sufficient level of fidelity, within limits that we are able to usefully measure.

Rand could largely be forgiven many of her errors, as the datasets and paradigms available to her were not nearly as good as those available to us. Peikoff has no such excuse.

The idea that existence is independent of our perception of it, yes – close enough approximation to be useful in almost all situations. (This is an inductive statement – probability based, as all statements about the nature of reality must be.)

In terms of metaphysics, an entity must have a set of attributes, to be considered an entity, and there is no logical requirement for those attributes to be fixed integer values. At the lowest levels they could also be constrained stochastic – random within certain probability distributions, or other sorts of functions, and still give a world with the sorts of approximations to causality we observe in many aspects of reality.

If one were to posit a world that was strictly causal, then there could be no morality, as every effect would have a definite cause going back to t=0. We would all be cellular automata, acting out entirely pre-ordained patterns. I am no friend of Dan Dennett’s hidden lottery determinism, while I align with many other aspects of Dennett’s thinking.
It is not an out from that to say that the world also has free will, because free will necessarily violates strict causality, and as soon as it enters reality, causality is blown.

I am not in any way shape or form proposing any sort of primacy of consciousness argument, I agree with Rand that we are mostly about discovering reality – I just don’t put the sorts of constraints on that process that she did, and I do allow for the notion of creativity.

I also have a very different understanding of consciousness, as a complex set of embodied systems, that wasn’t available in her time.

What I am saying is that the evidence from the study of systems, biochemistry, neuro-anatomy, neurophysiology and psychology is overwhelmingly in favour of the hypothesis that what we experience is not reality directly, but rather a subconsciously created model of reality, that becomes our experiential reality. That model is based on many levels of heuristics embodied in our being, some genetic, some cultural, some higher levels, and information flows from our senses and memories etc.

Formal logic is not so clean as many people would like it to be.
Russell and Goedel are both worth reading in this context.
Wolfram has done some very interesting work with different axiom sets and the infinite set of possible axiom sets and the sorts of logics and systems and possibilities that result.

When one looks at the nature of systems, it is clear that many different types of systems are possible, and many different classes are not predictable, and some do not terminate (compute indefinitely).

Evolution seems to have both imposed and selected heuristics that performed sufficiently reliably, sufficiently quickly, and at sufficiently low power, and on hardware constructed from sufficiently common materials that they managed to survive in some set of niches. Everything alive today seems to be a set of solutions to that set of issues in some set of environments over time.

We seem to be the most complex set of solutions to that problem yet to arise, consisting of up to some 20 levels of computational systems in cooperative alliances that deliver the degrees of both security and freedom that we experience.

Our conscious experience seems to be but one level of that complex of embodied cognition.

These systems seem to impose degrees of both subjectivity and objectivity in all observations, and the more conscious one is of those the more closely one may approach objective understanding.

The idea of happiness seems to be a set of evolutionarily determined valences and their biochemical and electrochemical modulators.
Such things are capable of conscious override, as I proved 7 years ago after being told I could be dead in 6 weeks with terminal melanoma in my lymph system and liver. Survival overrode all other factors, so I gave up sugar, alcohol, refined foods, animal products, and I’m still here. Not easy, and doable. It takes quite a while to reprogram neural networks to find new sets of foods palatable (about 6 months). It’s a little over 6 years since the last tumour.

Feelings seem to be embodied heuristics that have been selected over some set of genetic or cultural conditions, and have in practice allowed for survival of all those leading to the one now experiencing the feelings (how many others died along the way is irrelevant in one sense, and a very useful thing to know in another sense).

Given the degree to which humans have modified all aspects of existence, it is arguable that all heuristics should now be seriously questioned. And that takes time, and time for such activities is a luxury many do not have.

So in terms of using the systems I have available to generate the greatest probability of long term survival with the greatest degrees of freedom possible – markets fail. Laissez-faire capitalism fails catastrophically once technology approaches the point of delivering fully automated production systems. And we are very close to that point.

So the whole situation is vastly more complex than a few simplistic axiomatic assumptions argued from absurd premises.

[followed by]

I give up.
Your preference for dogma over evidence is clear.
I prefer to use evidence and logic, evidence to indicate what sort of logic is most appropriate to the situation.
And this is going nowhere.

[followed by probably should simply have left the empty claims stand in the context, and instead I responded.]

Where – anywhere in this discussion, have I done either of:
promoted evasion of responsibility to reason; or
that evidence and logic are in any sense arbitrary?

I have made neither of those claims.
Quite explicitly to the contrary.

I don’t hate civilisation or technology.
I love life, liberty and diversity; and all those need to exist in responsible social and ecological contexts.

And there can be no hard boundaries on what responsibility is, when diverse paradigms are present.

I am all in favour of focusing the mind onto reality, and that means looking very deeply at the available evidence sets.

Have you ever considered that a true circle cannot exist in any quantised reality, for the relationship between the circumference and the diameter of a circle (pi) is an irrational number. So a perfect circle cannot exist in any quantised reality, as there is no integer relationship between the circumference and the diameter of a circle. The only thing that can exist in reality is some level of useful approximation.

That is just one simple example of how the conceptual tools we find very useful for modeling can be very misleading if we take them too far in reality.
Same applies to all aspects of logic.
Reality doesn’t necessarily play by our simplistic logics or models, it seems to have an infinite set of such things available to it.

Yes, certainly, by all means, learn all the tools of logic, mathematics, reason, and in doing so acknowledge them for what they are, modeling tools.
A map is never the thing it maps.
They are really useful.
Reality is far too complex to make any sense of without them.

Reality is what it is when it is, and sometimes that seems to be “indeterminate”. That seems to be what the experiments into the smallest levels of reality we can currently discover anything about are telling us.

And the common-sense notion of time that we all must start out with, one has to give that one up quite quickly if one honestly looks at the datasets available.

Use logic certainly, but do not try and impose any particular logic on reality.
Look to reality to tell you what sort of logic is a useful sort of approximation in what sort of context.

The enlightenment was not characterised by the adoption of any sort of dogma, rather it was characterised by the willingness to challenge dogma, at every level, and to ask questions of reality, and deal with whatever showed up with integrity. And sure, lots of politics and dogma and power trips happened alongside that process.

One thing this journey of the last 7 years with cancer has clearly demonstrated to me, is that most people would rather die than challenge a belief that is foundational to their particular world view.

[followed by]

How do you calculate probabilities?
Evolution, at both genetic and cultural levels seems to have instilled in us a set of priors that have worked over various evolutionary timescales.

In some situations, they give a very close approximation to unity – well within the margin of error of our best instruments.
In other situations, they don’t work so well.

Our brains contain deep hierarchical structures that tend to identify and embody hierarchies in practical situations – that I can agree to.

I can also acknowledge relationships.
There seem to exist infinite possibilities into the nature of such relationships.
If one defines identity abstractly as an array of attributes, where those attributes may contain arrays of other identities, and may also contain relationships between identities, which relationships may be complex functions, and may contain random and irrational elements, then one ends up in a very complex system, some parts of which are chaotic.

Evolution seems to have equipped us with brains that are very good at finding pattern, but far less competent at accurately identifying real chaos.
Chaos exists, at many different levels.

Ancient Greece seems to be part of the story of the emergence of complexity from simplicity when minds started to step beyond simply being patterns doing what patterns must do.

Asking questions, building models, is a very powerful part of that process.
Don’t stop doing it just because Rand found one that looked pretty to her.

It’s way more complex than that.

To honestly ask a question, one has to be willing to stand in a place of not knowing.
If one isn’t in that place, there can be no question – only restatement of dogma, remodeling of the known.

Its not an easy or a comfortable place.
It takes a lot of discipline.

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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