Dave Snowden’s Article – It never troubles the wolf how many the sheep may be

It never troubles the wolf how many the sheep may be

[ 17/8/20 In response to Dave’s post above]

Predator prey relationships are not the only sort of relationship possible.

Complexity demands cooperation.

A predator that eats all its prey goes extinct. Even predator relationships have limits and are in this sense predicated on a degree of cooperation if they are to survive.

Biology as analogy is powerful, and complex math is powerful.

I strongly suspect that if we allow the emergence of fully predatory strategies then our extinction is guaranteed.

I strongly suspect that complexity such as we exhibit can only survive in a fundamentally cooperative context.

With our many levels of technology, we are far more capable than any apex predator. There are so many dimensions to that, that no approximation to apex predator is survivable in a creative human context.

If those that aspire to be apex predators cannot be made to see that, then none of us have a very high survival probability.

[Dave Snowden replied]

Well if you look at the examples I normally use, such s IBM, then they created co-operative systems. A preditor that simply grew without constraint and devoured all, is more of a human tendency if you look at the way we are treating our planet. We also have keystone species and other ideas we can draw from the metaphor/example. The whole idea of a tropic cascade is to show inter-dependence and the need for balance – something we have lost as a species

[Ted Howard -> Dave Snowden]

I agree with you on so much, but not all.

I am an ecologist and biochemist by training.

Rather than view humans as predators, I prefer to look at us as a new form of life that is slowly becoming aware of what it takes to actually survive as the form of life we are.

If you look at what happened here in New Zealand when the Maori arrived, they did what human expansion has done most places, as non-specific predators they exterminated most of the mega fauna (moa and Haast’s eagle in our case – in the Australian case the giant marsupials, etc) before they developed the idea of care for all species in the environment (kaitiakitanga – and kai means food, so it clearly derives from the idea of looking after food supplies, and has been more widely applied over time).

What we are doing now to the world as a whole seems to me to be largely a direct result of the invention of money, and the incentive systems that came with it.
When you value things in markets, anything that is universally abundant has zero value by definition.
Markets have zero internal incentive to preserve any abundance, and a great many incentives to turn any abundance into a marketable scarcity.

We have got to stop using market value as a proxy for value generally.

There are many things that we need to change about how we measure and distribute value; and that is a very long and very complex conversation.

I absolutely agree with you on the need for balance, the need to understand linkages in a way that is completely hidden by the use of the abstract value measure “money”.

To me, it is another deep example of Goodhart’s law in action – money is not a good target, yet far too many people and institutions have it as a target – we even have laws mandating it in some instances. It is deep insanity; and many more need to start to clearly see it as such.

And fixing it is not simple, as our economic systems are already deeply complex, with many levels of embedded systems that are currently essential for our survival. So we need to create replacement systems, and soon – or the human experiment comes to an end.

[Dave Snowden replied]

You may be bundling too many things in here. I have long argued, and more publicly in Covid times, that any ‘means of exchange’ corrupts an eco system with models of gifting more appropriate. This is a foundation framework in creating a complex systems approach to strategy and it identifies shifts in ideas and ways of working as much as anything else. So linking ecological awareness with COVID & BLM is key if the current exaptive moment is to shift in a good direction. The argument is not about the introduction of a new Apex (although it could be) it is about what happens when the eco system is distupted so the old apex predator cannot sustain their position and there is an opportunity for something new. My personal hope is that the former Apex of neo-liberalism is unsustainable but there is a danger it will reinvent itself as a rather nasty form of popularism.

[Ted Howard -> Dave Snowden]

To my way of thinking, exaptation requires something like chromosomal doubling, to release systems to explore new spaces, without threatening the existence of the system by loss of critical function.

I love your idea of “multiple safe to fail experiments”.

I also like the idea from database theory, that for a fully loaded processor, the most efficient possible search is the fully random search”.

I get that currently there is a move towards chaos that can allow systems to shift – I get that set of dimensions to the possibility spaces present.

What I am concerned about is loss of critical function, and movement of tipping points into positive feedback that is not recoverable without serious loss of life (if at all).

What are you amplifying and why?

What are you exapting? To what puropse?

I am all for individual life and individual liberty, and that is only survivable if there is acknowledgement of all the levels of boundary necessary for the maintenance of the existing levels of complexity – ie if it comes with responsibility and duty. The problem exists in that it can be very difficult for many to even conceive of the levels of complexity present, let alone give due consideration to the contextually relevant sets of required boundary conditions appropriate to each level.

I can see the historical utility of markets, and the context has changed in ways that many find difficult to even think of.

Some form of universal income seems to be the most appropriate sort of transition strategy.

Any form of “group identification”/populism needs to include everyone or we are all in trouble.

[Dave Snowden replied]

Exaptation is radical repurposing – so in humans it can be technology or ideas (the role of abstraction is good and bad here). I think we need to be realistic about the nature of change – ideally we would want something that didn’t threaten the system per se but only aspects of the system (Neo-liberal economics for example) but the reality is that when the shift happens the most energy efficient is likely to create the new eco-system overall. Loss of life may be a part of that and we already have it with COVID and it will come again with GW effects before there is enough awareness to make real changes – the issue for me is will it be in time

[Ted Howard -> Dave Snowden]

The really big changes in biology do not come from energy efficiency, but from whole new sources of energy.

The really big changes in complexity come from new levels of cooperation; and that sort of cooperation demands ecosystems of cheat detection and removal systems if it is to survive.

At what level can we align?

Can we align on the prime value of individual life?

If so we can make things happen – and that means everyone gets to live; even the ones we don’t like; and they get as much freedom as they can responsibly handle (like everyone else) – or at least some approximation to it.

It has to be this big, if it is to have any realistic chance of working.

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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