Laurie – Horsing around – questions grappling with

Horsing Around

What question are you grappling with?

Hi Laurie,

The question that has dominated my thought for over 50 years is:

What is required to live a very long time?

Peace is obviously part of the answer.

Understanding the biochemistry of life sufficiently that we can remove all the effects of aging that decrease continued life expectancy with age, such that life expectancy increases with age and experience, is part of the answer.
A lot of progress has been made on that, and more is being done every day. I suspect that the problem has been solved, but that it is not yet solved to a level that can be scaled so that it can be delivered to every person on the planet.

Also obviously part of the answer is the social and technical and political systems we have in place.

The mathematics of the levels of strategy involved in such things is deep, and currently we are subject to some relatively simplistic and very dangerous strategic systems (like mutually assured destruction) that essentially came out of an overly simplistic understanding of evolution (as it being all about competition).
Much of our modern economic system is similarly founded on overly simplistic assumptions, even as it embodies some very complex and essential sets of risk mitigating systems.

The modern synthesis of evolution is much more complex (and deeply nuanced).
A modern understanding of evolution is clear that systems have competitive and cooperative aspects.
Competitive aspects tend to drive systems to simplicity (remove freedom).
Cooperative aspects tend to allow for the emergence of complexity (empower freedom and create diversity).
Those can be recursively applied and be contextually sensitive.

We humans are the most complex thing we have yet found in the galaxy.
To a good first order approximation it is accurate to say that we are fundamentally cooperative, and that our existence has fundamentally emerged from cooperation.
And of course we can all compete when the context calls for it (we are complex).

When you look at life generally on the earth, most of it is simple. We are outnumbers by bacteria even in our own bodies (we each carry more bacterial cells than our own human cells). Complex life like us is the exception, not the rule. That can be really hard to understand fully.

For most of recorded history the freedom of some has been founded on the slavery of others (at some level).
That continues today in the economic systems we currently have, that essentially trick most people into a form of economic slavery.
What hides that fact from most people is the amount of energy stored in fossil fuels.

A single gallon of gas put through an internal combustion engine can produce the same raw physical power as a slave working for two weeks.

With modern solar cells, a single square meter (square yard) of solar cells gives the same raw power output as a slave human (ongoingly).

We are now developing computers and algorithms that are getting very close to being able to deliver the intellectual capacities of a human. Computers can already beat the best humans at chess, jeopardy and Go. Self driving cars are already more reliable than human beings (not perfect, but crash less often than people do).

So some things are changing very rapidly, but our ways of thinking and our social systems have not yet caught up. And that is all understandable in a very real sense, as we all make our simplifying assumptions (mostly taken unconsciously from culture) in order to make what sense we can of a reality that is many orders of magnitude more complex than we can possibly deal with in detail.

So we all have to have simple models of reality.

The problem is, that most of them are too simple, and too deeply rooted in ideas from our deep past.

And there are deep issues in there too.

Some of the patterns from our deep past have very valuable lessons deeply encoded within them. So while many of the simpler levels of the stories from our past are demonstrably wrong, some can contain deep ideas that are relevant even now.

Untangling that mess, and teasing out what is relevant, is no simple task.

So how to create peace, and security more widely, and still retain as much freedom and responsibility as possible, is the big question.
It seems to be infinitely deep, and contain eternal uncertainties, and it does seem to have some clear boundaries.

We must respect individual life and individual liberty.

We must each be responsible for our actions, and must each make our best guesses at being socially and ecologically responsible.

And our knowledge must eternally be imperfect, and we must necessarily make mistakes – just hopefully not the same ones too often.

And social and ecological systems are complex.
Complex systems do not allow simple rules.
Dealing with complex systems requires an eternal aspect of adaption, of “probe, sense, respond – repeat”, and the behaviour of the systems is always emergent; that is it cannot be entirely predicted in advance.

And while we may not be able to predict with certainty exactly where the system will go, we can be extremely confident about some of the ways of destroying complexity.

One way of destroying complexity is to force it into a competitive modality.
Our economic system as currently structured is doing that.
Some sort of Universal Basic Income would offset the worst of those pressures at present, and at least buy us enough time to develop robust alternative systems that perform all the many very complex and essential functions currently performed by market capitalism (but without its dangers).

And the problems are much deeper, and go to the heart of social pressures to conformity, rather than acceptance of diversity.
We all have our conservative sides that like conformity, and we all have our creative sides that produce novelty and diversity. Both are essential. Finding balance between them is often difficult and can change rapidly with context.

So nothing simple about us, or our choices, or our responsibilities.

A certain level of discomfort seems to be an essential and eternal part of being human.

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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