Evonomics – Superorganism and Ultrasociality – Updated 23 April 2018

New Ecological Economics: Superorganism and Ultrasociality

All are too simplistic.

Evolution starts simple, and rapidly gets complex.

The two major modalities present in living systems are competition and cooperation, and both are usually present, in various context sensitive mixtures.

Competition tends to dominate where threats to individuals come mainly from factors inside the population, and tends to lead to simplicity.

Cooperation can emerge and stabilize where the major threat to individuals comes from factors outside of the population, and individuals can mitigate the risk through cooperative activity. Most new emergent levels of complexity in systems are based in new levels of cooperation.

The individual cells in our body cooperate to make us.

Any level of boundary that provides a level of isolation can serve as a delineator for a level of “individual” for evolutionary purposes.

We as a species are the most cooperative entities in existence.
And we can certainly compete if the context demands it.

We as self aware individuals can be members of many different scales of groups.

Capitalism, markets, and the very concept of money are predicated on scarcity, and on the need for exchange.

Exponentially expanding computational ability is spreading in the physical realm.

In less than 50 years we will be able to manufacture and recycle at the molecular level. That may happen as early as 2030.

Fully automated manufacturing means an end to material scarcity – universally (as the processes are fully automated and require no human intervention).

There is a huge difference between linear and exponential systems.
Most energy production has been linear.
Solar has been exponential since inception, and is doubling every 2 years.

Computational ability is on a double exponential – currently doubling every 10 months.

Faced with universal abundance, markets fail as a measure of value.

Oxygen in the air is universally abundant, and even though it is arguably the most important thing to any of us, it has no market value.

We need to be thinking beyond the measure of value that markets deliver, at the same time as we acknowledge all the many very complex functions that markets currently perform, in terms of things like – distributed governance, distributed risk management, distributed information processing, distributed trust networks, etc. Those are essential function for our complex society, and we need proven alternatives prior to the collapse of the existing systems.

This is all doable, technically, and we need to start doing soon.

There are many real threats that we need to cooperate to create effective mitigation strategies, and computational and engineering capacities are needed to solve them.
Maintaining the existing systems is not an option, if anyone is committed to the idea of long term risk mitigation.

[followed by]

Hi Steve,

I live in Kaikoura, New Zealand. We get extreme weather here. Weather prediction is not particularly reliable here. Climate, that is something else – that is weather averaged over time – that we can predict with quite good accuracy, and even there the southern oscillation can upset predictions. All predictions are sensitive to model assumptions.

All global warming predictions are particularly sensitive to model assumptions.
While I acknowledge the very real presence of human induced changes, I am yet to see a model that adequately accounts for exponential technological change.

The idea of anything being 100% reliable in predicting weather – the exact conditions of wind, precipitation, etc – at my house – is not, and never will be, an option. The systems are too complex, too sensitive to measurement error, too inherently chaotic.

Yes markets involve exchanges of information at several distinctly different levels, and they can change, and have changed, with technology – no dispute.

Yet my fundamental thesis remains.
Markets, by definition, measure some function of value in exchange.
Value in exchange always contains a scarcity component.
Thus markets will always be internally incentivised to prevent the emergence of (or remove any that manage to emerge) any universal abundance.

Thus markets, and the universal human need of an abundance of the material needs of existence, are now directly in conflict, and the degree of conflict is exponentially increasing.

That is our challenge.

UBI can be a useful transition strategy, but it does not remove the fundamental systemic issue.

We are capable of being superbly cooperative, if the context allows it, if the risks from each other is less than the risks from other sources.

That is easy to sustain in an environment of universal abundance, it is exceptionally difficult in a market based system as automation reduces the general utility of labour.

There are solutions available.

Before they can be considered, one must be able to see that a problem exists.

[followed by Updated]

Hi Steve,

Yes – kind of – and it doesn’t deal with the fundamental issue.

What you say is of course true, as far as it goes.

In a very real sense, implementing a UBI can be thought of as giving equal value to every person’s measure of time. Particularly if it is done on some reasonably short time frame – like $18 every 8 hours into every bank account.
Putting money into banks in lumps is an incentive to cheating strategies to target those lumps. Keeping the lumps as small as possible reduces the incentive to cheat. and also gives addicts of all varieties a degree of protection from their own lack of discipline.

I agree completely that it is all about value.

What are our greatest values???

One thing that being involved in generating wide community consensus over the last 12 years has taught me, is that when doing such things, one needs to have agreement about fundamental values.

For me, the hard limits of fundamental value are individual life and individual liberty – applied universally.
And having life as a value demands of us responsibility to maintain all the many different levels of boundary conditions required to sustain the profound complexity that is a human individual. In the simplest terms, it demands of each and every one of us, social and ecological responsibility – and that is shorthand for about 20 levels of complex cooperative systems, each level embodying many instances of complex adaptive systems.
Not simple.
Not even remotely simple.
Deeply, profoundly, complex.

And in a very real sense, it is the very notion of exchange that embodies the risk present.

Sure, we can exchange things – that isn’t the issue.

The issue is when we allow value in exchange to dominate either the value of individual life or individual liberty.

In terms of our long term planning, it is risk to life or liberty that need to be first and foremost, before any consideration of value in exchange.
Every level!

And that is a profound systemic change.

[followed by – updated]

Hi Steve,

Not really.
What I am saying is something far more fundamental.

I am saying that the very notion of value in exchange is losing meaning.

I am saying that rather than try and get a measure of value that we can exchange, we need to be accepting that in an age where all reasonable material needs of existence can be met by fully automated systems, that the game fundamentally changes.

Rather than using exchange, there can simply be an expression of need, and it will be delivered (within reasonable limits, of energy and material use).

And in such a world, we all have a responsibility to act in ways that support the life and liberty of all.

And part of that is acknowledging that we all rely upon natural systems, and being responsible for that. That means not indiscriminately dumping our rubbish in the environment. It mean ensuring we recycle things we use, etc.

And it is much deeper than that.

We are so complex.
The world we exist in is so complex.
There are profound uncertainties, and those uncertainties do not absolve us from making the best guess we can as to what responsibility might look like in any particular situation.

And as a step along the path to getting to that place, to transition people away from the notion that everything is someone else’s responsibility, some sort of UBI would be an indication to most that they are valued, and might enable the majority to look at themselves as being of value in and of themselves, and not simply from being a tool in someone else’s machine.

And none of that detracts anything from the need we each have to be of value, to make a difference.
There is no shortage of things that need doing, things that are valuable to most of us, even if most of us do not have enough money to express that value in a market/employment oriented sense.

So no – nothing like different currencies.

Much more like no currencies, with UBI being a step on a path in that direction.

[followed by – updated 19 April 2018]

Hi Steve,

If every individual has their own machine (personalised means of production), then mass is essentially unlimited, and it is the supply of energy that is the limiting factor.
So within that energy supply, anything can be done. If the thing to be done requires a lot of energy, it will either take a long time, or the individual will need to enroll a lot of other individuals to hand over the surplus from their individual energy budgets.

The need for energy budgets is given by reality, the need to maintain a livable environment on the planet.

If someone really wants to do something that involves a lot of energy or risk then they will need to do that in space, with mass from the moon in the first instance (the more energy or risk involved the further they will need to go from earth to do that thing – eternal frontiers in a sense). So there are no absolute limits, and there is a series of effective limits within particular contexts. If you really want to do something that requires serious energy, then you may need to go off to some other part of the galaxy and tame a black hole to act as a power source (not the sort of thing I will be attempting any time soon).

My plan is to stay here on earth for the next 5,000 years or so until we have mature, tested, and proven safe (to very high levels of confidence) technologies for interstellar travel.

[followed by – updated 19 April 2018]

I can think of some pretty big things, and I have assumed ever increasing energy efficiency, within thermodynamic limits. So short term we want to keep the population on earth under 20 billion, and the long term limit – assuming half the earth left in non-human ecosystems, is about 100 billion – with the sorts of life options we might reasonably expect in such a world.

And we can easily fit 10 times that population within a light second from earth – in large orbiting habitats. And there are some real engineering challenges in building such things.

[followed by – updated 20 April 2018]

Hi Steve,

I live in Kaikoura NZ.
We had a complex 7.8 magnitude earthquake here on 14th November 2016.
That was quite something to live through, even for someone who was expecting it. My house came through it fine, was engineered to do so, but many others did not, and much of the wider infrastructure (roads, water, sewerage) failed.
I have seen ground displacements of 10m lateral and 7m vertical.
I have walked in a rail tunnel, and seen rail lines turned into pretzels by displacement of solid rock of just a few cm.
I have seen multiple landslides of over a million cubic meters of material.

In 1974 I was in the first undergraduate class devoted to the teaching of plate tectonics. As part of it we studied the Taupo volcano, and briefly discussed the Toba and Yellowstone super-volcanoes.
We have geological evidence for several “snowball earth events”.
We have lots of evidence that sea level typically varies about 1m per century, over a range of about 150m, and that the relative stability of sea level over the last 60 centuries is the exception, rather than the rule. 25,000 years ago it was 120m (400ft) below where it is now.
We have genetic evidence that the Toba event reduced the human population to something of the order of 20 breeding females planet wide, and most living females seem to be descended from 1 of those.
If one is really interested in living a very long time, then the idea that the earth is a safe place isn’t what most people think.

Sure, there are challenges in space.
Sure, there is engineering that needs to be done.
And there does not appear to be any theoretical barrier to the doing of that engineering.
Once fully automated production is achieved then that sort of engineering is relatively trivial in a very real sense (writing as someone who has owned and operated a software business for over 30 years and also has a background as a marine engineer).

On the broader galactic scale, sure there are dangers, lots of them.
Living in a quiet little galactic backwater hidden from the galactic core by a large dust cloud has been a very good thing for organic life.
There are things happening in the center of our galaxy that are in energy ranges that are not at all friendly to organic life. Not the sort of place you want to visit without a lot of preparation.

So yeah – certainly, we need to be thinking very seriously about the many levels of engineering challenges and threats present.
Planets are not safe places.
The idea of “planet hopping” makes no sense to me at all.
Planets are good sources of mass to build things that are reasonably safe places for organic life, but are not themselves “safe”.
Life in general has managed to survive here, but the vast majority of individuals perish on an all too regular basis. Species extinction events are one of the ways in which we characterise the fossil record, families of species extinction events are part of that.

Suns are not stable things.
Ours is in one of the more stable families, and it can still deliver Carrington type events on a fairly regular basis.

So we have a lot to do, and we need lots of infrastructure, and we need it soon, if we are going to have reasonable probability of survival as a technological society.

When one goes looking for archaeological history, any trace of coastal trading civilisations from 25,000 years ago is now under over 100m of sea water. Any trace of any coastal civilisation of the last million years has probably been obliterated by repeated sea level changes.
25,000 years isn’t long when one is thinking about living for the rest of eternity.

I have been spending a lot of time thinking about this for the last 44 years.
I think on quite large time scales, and quite large system scales.

[followed by – updated 22 April 2018]

Hi Steve,

I really do get that many technologies are not sustainable, and do get that all technologies have an evolutionary phase where they go through iterations that are very “crude” and “inefficient” in any particular paradigm. It is a second level abstraction of Dawkins’ “Climbing Mount Improbable” in a very real sense (even if Richard might not agree with me on that).

In the sense of using “proven” to mean having actual, working examples of technology, then I agree with you, many are not yet “proven” in that sense.

In the sense of having a reasonable comprehension of the quantum mechanical and thermodynamic limits reasonably well delimited – then I say they are “proven”.

In the sense of delimiting the “space” of the “possible” as distinct from the “impossible”, then the “shape” of that space is reasonably well known in the particular domains of interest, even if we do not have practical working examples as yet.

The difference between collecting energy down here on the planet – with high gravity and atmosphere to contend with, and getting it in space, where thin film mirrors allow one to get a lot of “heat” at very little “cost”, is one example of where “space” has some great advantages.
The “down side” is finding hydrogen – paradoxically, it is not easy to find – even though it streams past in the “solar wind” there isn’t much of it there. So burning coal is a crazy idea – we will need it in space for the carbon and hydrogen it contains. Moon rocks have plenty of oxygen – that isn’t an issue. Hydrogen is the limiting factor, at least initially – until we get out to Jupiter.

Interstellar civilisations don’t make much sense to me – it is such an energy and mass intensive process moving mass from one solar system to another, that civilisations seem likely to stay essentially clustered to particular energy sources (suns usually).

Hope this gives an idea that such things have been considered.

[followed by – updated 23 April 2018]

Hi Steve,

All you need to lift off the earth is one self replicating set of machines (approximately 2 tons of mass).
Soft land it on the moon.
Set it going.
Cover the lunar surface in solar cells (2 years {roughly} if it has a 2 week doubling time) .
Build linear motors on far side of moon to export mass to earth orbit.
Moon is mostly oxygen, but plenty of Si, Al, Ca, Fe, Mg, Ti, Na.
Plenty of materials suitable for building machines and habitats – but very little carbon or hydrogen (human life needs both).

The solar wind is not very dense.
Even if you managed to build a collector as wide as the moon, and got it to 50% efficiency at hydrogen capture, it would take years to build a decent ocean in just one habitat.
We need lots of oceans, in lots of habitats – quickly.
Need lots of carbon and hydrogen to make that happen.

Alternative strategies required.
Coal launched from earth with large linear motors is probably most effective in the short term, other strategies might be useful longer term (probably using Jovian mass – one of the moons and some of Jupiter’s upper atmosphere).

A 200mile long linear motor operating at 20g will get mass to geostationary orbit. No water required, just solar energy. Could prefab it in space from solar mass, and just bring it down and assemble it here.

Once you have a machine capable of fully automated self reproduction (under programatic control, not self aware), then all such tasks are relatively simple. Such machines will be real within 20 years, possibly within 5 (based upon exponential trends that have been stable for over 100 years).

Surpluses are not a particularly efficient way of thinking about things, though they are a necessary aspect of any self sustaining system.
One needs to think about finding the rate limiting steps and replacing them with something exponentially more effective.
When one goes through a few iterations of that process, then the picture changes substantially from that accepted by “common wisdom”.

[Separate Sub thread]
[followed by in response to jacob Silverman – 5th April 2018]

Hi Jacob,

Scarcity isn’t necessarily linked to competition, and it is often associated.

Markets are about value in exchange.
We go to markets to exchange things.
We take goods or services and expect money or we take money and expect goods or services.
Money in that sense is an agreed myth of value.
It works in practice, like all myths, in part because of the agreement present, and in part because there is something real behind that agreement (the probability of goods and services existing in the future).

From a systems perspective, it is the source of risk that tends (on average over time) to drive systems to either competitive or cooperative modalities being dominant.
If the predominant sources of risk to individuals are from other individuals in the population, then competition tends to dominate, and the systems are driven to some local minima of complexity (relative simplicity).
If the predominant sources of risk are external to the population, then cooperative modalities can emerge (and stabilize with required sets of secondary strategies to detect and remove cheats), and the system can then explore new levels of complexity and diversity.

And yes – it is evonomics.
Economics (in the broadest possible meaning of that term – the ways in which we order the systems that make up this “household” of “life” on this “3rd rock from the sun”).

Evolution is a fascinating system, that starts simple, and rapidly and recursively explores exponentially expanding complexity. It is the eternal balance between order and chaos; part mimic, part error in the mimicry leading to diversity. Same principle, every level, to as many levels as one is willing to instantiate.

Taking insights from biology, from systems theory, from information theory, from the observations of biochemists, animal behaviorists, psychologists, archaeologists, philosophers, logicians, historians, mathematicians, from the theory and practice of complex adaptive systems; and synthesizing them into a minimum set of constraints required to support the complexity that is modern individual human beings.

A strict hierarchy of priority there:
life – individual life, universally;
liberty – individual liberty – universally, provided it does not deliver undue risk to the life or liberty of other individuals (already into extremely complex possibility space); and the
pursuit of happiness – whatever we each responsibly choose, and of course there will be defaults provided at different levels by our biology and culture, and those can be overridden by conscious choice, and must be considered by conscious choice in the contexts of life and liberty above.

So not any sort of liberty to simply follow whim or fancy, but something profoundly more responsible, in that it requires conscious contemplation of the reasonably foreseeable consequences of choices. A responsibility on each and every one of us to use our best endeavors, make our best guesses (acknowledging profound uncertainty in everything we think and do), to maintain a context that best supports life and liberty – universally.

My key thesis is that when most things were genuinely scarce, then one could make a reasonable case that markets did in fact do that.
And my thesis continues:
But now that we are exponentially expanding our computational abilities, our ability to search the space of all possible algorithms, all possible models, all possible modalities of action and strategy, valuation and response; our abilities to fully automate the manipulation of matter and energy that was once the domain of conscious human activity; that the scarcity based systems of valuation and exchange embodied in markets and the idea of money and all the many levels of very complex systems that are derivative from markets (upon which our existence and freedom is currently very dependent) no longer support the values of individual life and individual liberty, and are exponentially moving into the strategic territory of posing increasing probability of existential level risk.

Put as simply as possible, markets and money were once arguably the greatest tools to aid life and liberty, but in the presence of fully automated systems, are now becoming the single greatest source of existential level risk.

And it is beyond any reasonable doubt that we need fully automated systems to mitigate many of the existential level risks that we have already identified. So it is money and markets that must go – not automation. To go without automation guarantees extinction, we just don’t know when.

As a very limited example – just look at the way that the interests of money have shaped the American political system, and how, rather than acknowledging that effective social structures need both conservative and liberal in appropriate roles and appropriate balance; forces them into an oppositional system that becomes an oscillator that threatens to shake the very fabric of social existence apart.

From a systems view – it is a simple oscillator – an inductive capacitive loop – and it is shaking the system apart.

But I’m a weird geek.
I have been for over 50 years.
Over 30 of those years running a small software company.

For over 44 years (since completing my undergrad biochemistry studies and realizing that indefinite life extensions was logically possible) I have been looking at the systems that are humanity, from the perspective of “What systems are required to give individuals that are biologically capable of living indefinitely a reasonable probability of living a very long time with the greatest degrees of freedom possible?”.

And freedom in this sense acknowledges the physical reality that every level of system requires boundaries to give it form. The more complex the system, the more complex the boundaries required. Recurs as far as you are prepared to go.

So I acknowledge the real need for boundaries – all levels, and the reality that such boundaries are necessary to empower freedom at higher levels, and that there is no logical limit to how many levels one can instantiate. That is a whole new dimension to diversity for many (even though one could argue that Plato’s Republic goes to n=3 – we are way past 3 now – way past 10).

[Main thread updating with Steve above this one]

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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