Eric’s facebook questions about “purpose”

A Facebook response to Eric’s question – What is the purpose of your time if you’re trapped in the middle of the ocean on a sinking ship?

If purpose is not an active choice then it normally falls back to cultural or genetic defaults.
For me, purpose is almost always an active choice, and it is life first then liberty.

As someone with 17 years of being at sea on boats, I always had at least 3 backup plans for how to survive any situation. And nothing is certain. In a big storm, everything can become very uncertain.

My values would likely be unchanged – life and liberty, my own and everyone else’s. Life first.

Ships can sink, and they usually have lots of parts that can be made to float.
Survival is never guaranteed and probabilities can be influenced substantially.

Everything would depend on the specifics of the situation – weather, sea conditions, latitude, likely conditions following sinking, resources available, likelihood of assistance arriving within time frames, etc.

[followed by Erics question why choose survival?]

Hi Eric,
In October 1974 as I completed my undergrad biochem I got to see evolution from a “cell’s eye” perspective, and to see that from that perspective, every cell alive today (in us, in any plant or bacteria or animal) would consider itself to have been alive since the beginning of life some 4 billion years ago. So the default mode for cellular existence must be indefinite life, and the aging and senescence we experience must be an added layer to our genetics.

Given that, it must be possible to extend life indefinitely with sufficient knowledge of the cellular mechanisms on the biochemical level.

Given that there is a finite probability (however small) of living a very long time, and given the exponential nature of the expansion of computational ability, the probability of the future being exponentially more rewarding than the present is sufficiently high that living through whatever reality happens to throw at us in the present is the most logical course of action – always – however painful and unpleasant.

Given that reality, having contingency plans to deal with any significantly probable risk is the most logical way to use ones time, however that works out in terms of feelings and emotions.

And it is a really complex situation, as when one gets seriously into ontology and epistemology, it seems very likely that all knowledge is essentially a series of “heuristic hacks” at some level of genetic or cultural or personal evolution. At some level it seems that the very idea of knowledge is a function of the survival of something in some context.

So no – I really cannot imagine any situation in which I would whistle in the face of death – I would be searching possibility spaces for a set of possibilities that offered better survival probabilities than the context of the moment, and taking whatever actions where necessary to instantiate one of those possibilities.

That is precisely what I did 7 years ago when an oncologist told me I had terminal melanoma and could be dead in 6 weeks, and I watched him write “palliative care only” on my file.
I chose to act out possibilities that seemed, on the basis of the evidence sets available to me, to have a greater probability of survival than the patterns and habits of my past.

I’m still here.
Seems like it might have worked – at least thus far.

[followed by]

Hi Eric,

The point of the “emotions” comment was that there will occur (with increasing probability) situations where the default settings we have each inherited from our genetic, cultural and personal evolutionary paths (what we experience as “feelings” at some level) do not provide optimal survival probabilities in our exponentially changing present.

Given that our consciousness is such a slow and limited system compared to our subconscious systems, we need to be able to rely on our subconscious systems to be able to operate in reality in anything near real time. That requires constant retraining of levels of subconscious systems. That results in increasing frequency of conflict between the various levels of subconscious systems present – or conflicting “feelings and emotions” to express that in another way.

How we each learn to manage such things is a very interesting part of the journey. Many traditions exist. I find Jordan Peterson to be useful in providing contexts of interpretation of the sets of possibilities one tends to encounter.

Looking at logic in a more abstract sense, it seems that logic and mathematics are useful modelling tools, that do not necessarily apply to reality. To begin to get an idea of what I might mean by that consider a circle.
Science seems to be telling us that reality is quantised at several different levels. Ordinary matter is made of atoms, atoms of quarks etc.
It is not possible to instantiate a perfect circle in any quantised reality, as the relationship between the circumference and the diameter of a perfect circle is an irrational number (Pi), and there is no perfect integer (quantised) relationship that perfectly expresses Pi. It may be approximated very closely, but never achieved.

So it seems the Pythagoreans had something fundamentally inverted in their interpretive schema.

It seems clear that mathematics and logic are the best tools we have for modeling reality, and the scientific data we seem to be getting from both cosmology and quantum mechanics seems to be pointing to that there are many fundamental senses in which reality is a balance between between order and chaos that permanently defies precise definition.

There does seem to be a variety (and I suspect the the complete set is infinite, but have no precise proof of such a conjecture) of ways in which reality is probabilistic, and cannot ever be precisely defined or understood, however many are the useful ways we find of understanding and ordering aspects of it.

In terms of “context of knowledge”, that seems again to be a potentially infinite set, recursively expanding in complexity at successive levels of abstraction.
And again, that seems to be an as yet unproven conjecture – and it is one that I have a very strong intuition about.

The base levels of such things are reasonably obvious, in terms of the sorts of genetic systems that survive, that deliver working brains that can both survive in this reality and allow for the evolution of “culture”. Next level is the survival of cultural memes that allow for both individual and cultural survival. Third is the survival of individuated memesets within individual minds within the specific genetic and experiential instantiation that is the individual, and under the influence of the sets of cultural contexts that individual has experienced, and with the specific sets of abstractions and associations that particular mind has instantiated through its many levels of conscious and subconscious existence.

What knowledge seems to be is something that “works” at some level in that set of contexts.

[Followed by]

Kind of – the new meaning of life is “life” – existence, liberty, responsibility, individual choice, …

And it is much more complex than that.
It seems that the strategic phenotype we express is context sensitive at many different levels.
I think we will have much more success in creating useful contexts that trigger the strategies we require than in making large scale changes to the strategic substructure of humanity generally.
And both approaches are worth pursuing, each will have its own probability spectrum.

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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