Discussion with Bryce on the nature of Truth

Comments to another thread of Bryce Timothy’s about Truth

[ 11/12/20 ]

Your first presumption is not actually true [“Because any system of knowledge must take either observed facts or presupposed axioms as true in order to draw framework around these key points”].

Evolution does not need to deal in truth.

All evolution requires is useful approximations, and those that are better than the other alternatives will tend to be selected for.

The really tricky bit is looking very closely at what “better” means in an evolutionary context. In most real world situations speed of response and lower cost in terms of metabolic energy are highly selected for – much more so than actual accuracy.

In evolutionary terms, something near enough to be survivable (that is also fast and cheap) is much better than something accurate but slow and costly in terms of resources.

What that delivers is multiple levels of systems masquerading as “True”, whereas in reality their real state is “near enough to be useful in the contexts of our ancestors”.

Where things get quite tricky is when contexts change – like the double exponential we are currently experiencing in technological and conceptual change.

So the very idea of “PURE TRUTH” seems to be a simplistic illusion that evolution has predisposed our brains towards us accepting, because it stops us putting in the vast amounts of resources required if one really does keep asking the really hard questions, and starts taking the time to build multiple levels of datasets and multiple dimensions of measures of the reliability or otherwise of particular datasets to particular contexts.

One then ends up in a place where all things contain profound uncertainties. We may be certain that we are some sort of something, but it takes a great deal of work across a vast array of disciplines to start to build a reasonable model of just how complex we are and how much fundamental uncertainty and unknowability is embodied within us and within the matrix of our existential reality.

[followed by]

I would say something like:

From the best evidence sets we currently have available it seems very probable that reality is sufficiently complex that all attempts to understand it are necessarily wrong in many essential aspects, but some sets of understandings can be very useful and very reliable in some sets of contexts.

It seems also to be the case that some aspects of reality are eternally unknowable, and other aspects are eternally chaotic. So some levels of uncertainty are necessarily present in all things.

One of the great difficulties that all humans have is detecting changes of context that invalidate heuristics that had worked in the past; but now form such a fundamental part of their conception of reality in that context that they cannot even conceive of them failing, let alone notice that they have in fact failed. This can apply to the very sets of heuristic mechanisms that make consciousness possible.

[followed by]

Hi Bryce,

Chaos seems to be a fundamental part of quantum mechanics, but there are limits on it – in terms of probability functions and time.

Rational is a simple model.

There is no requirement that reality obey our simple models – however much we might want it to do so.

There is no simple way to explain the mechanics of consciousness – it is not simple.

It is the most deeply complex thing that we are yet aware of.

Its evolutionary roots go back a very long way, as level upon level of systems evolve in brains to allow perception, movement, memory, mapping, and eventually levels of signaling between members of complex social groups.

Colour perception in humans is complex. My colour vision is different from most people, something I suspected from about age 7, but had confirmed when I did the colour blindness test for my skipper’s ticket at age 23, and the examiners were surprised to find I could distinguish all the sets of symbols in their tests. My hearing is also very different from most people, as I have several bands of acute hearing at quite high frequencies (with dead areas between – I can hear mice squeaking to each other very clearly for example). Perhaps part of why I have always had a tendency to challenge authority, because often my perception of reality is quite different from what most people seem to see and hear and taste.

There does not appear to be any objective “red”. I just get to experience what I do when I see something labelled red, and you experience whatever you do. It just seems to be software within software inside of the hardware of our squishy brains – and there are many levels of embodied cognition present in delivering a sensation like “red”. Many men have an experience of “red” that is identical to the experience of “green”.

It is a model – a kind of personal virtual reality – the only reality we as conscious entities have direct access to.

[followed by]

This is really complex, and there is no way of avoiding that – really.

Everything hinges on what we understand by terms like rational.

For me, in my understanding of the term rational, I am essentially rational; but what I mean by rational and what you seem to mean by rational seem to be two very different things.

For me, rational means driven by reason, and reason means influenced by evidence.

Reason does not mean a belief that any particular system of mathematics or logic necessarily applies to any particular context of reality; and reason necessarily tells me that mathematics and logic are the best modelling tools we have to build abstract models of reality (including ourselves as part of reality).

Where it starts to get really complex is when one starts to investigate classes of non-binary logics and when one starts to explore classes of probabilistic mathematics and chaos.

When I look closely at the evidence sets I have seen around quantum mechanics, it seems clear that chaos is part of the system. There does seem to be essentially non-deterministic elements at play, but constrained within probability functions, that summed over vast numbers do very closely approximate classical causality in many contexts (which is a good thing for complex organisms like ourselves – as we need reliable boundaries for our existence). Note I used the word reliable – not perfect or fixed.

I got to this understanding by exploring vast evidence sets, and vast numbers of possible schema to evaluate those evidence sets.

When I look at things like Garret Lissi’s proposition that the “simplest” things we have found in the substructure of matter (quarks) are some function of the most complex symmetry known to mathematics (the E8 Lie group), then that rather alters the relationship one has to the notion of “simple”. Garret may or may not be correct, there is too much uncertainty present to make reliable assessments at present, but the fact that he can make the case with the evidence sets available does point towards something.

When I look at the notion of Planck time for example, and realise that there are more “ticks” of Planck time in a single “tick” of a Cesium atom in an atomic clock, than there have been ticks of that atomic clock in the universe to date; then I start to get a feeling for just how vast are the collections of Planck scale constrained randomness that occur at our level of perception as human beings, and just how closely such things necessarily approximate classical causality (how many instances are packed into those probability distributions, how “hard” and “regular” they appear) in most contexts (most, but not all).

There just is not any way to make that “simple”.

It is not “simple”, however much we may wish to apply the label “simple” and however much our brains are addicted to and demand “simplicity”.

Understanding the drivers of our brain’s addiction to simplicity takes a lot of work.

Understanding the multiple levels of drivers in evolution is not simple.

Understanding the fundamental role of cooperation in the evolution of complexity goes against all the current dogma of classical teachings of evolution and economics and psychology – but is actually fundamental to understanding how the systems actually work, and what is required for long term survival.

Understanding how complex interactions of matter can create the minimum 15 levels of complex systems that allow the experience of being as “qualia” that we have, is not simple – not in any way shape or form.

It is the most complex thing I know of in this universe we find ourselves in, and such understanding of it that I have (which took me over 30 years of study and contemplation to arrive at) is necessarily simplistic (compared to the reality of the complexity that seems to be present) and far from the real details of reality, and it is useful to me; but the communication bandwidth available to me does not allow transmission in any reasonable timeframe (it would take decades to go through the details – perhaps even centuries – depending on questions).

For me, what you ask is of exactly the same class of problem as someone asking me to explain how the sun goes around the earth. Anyone can stand and see the sun rising in the east and setting in the west, every day. It happens. It is what we see.

It is not what is happening.

The Sun does not go around the earth.

The earth is spinning, so it looks like the sun goes around the earth.

Same thing with qualia.

Yes we experience qualia, but that does not mean that they have existence other than as the experience.

Qualia is what software on software produces – period.

We can short circuit the systems, put electrodes in brains, provide an electrical stimulus in an appropriate place, and produce a “qualia” of experience. Thousands of such experiments are present in the psychological literature.

But spending enough time programming computers, and making simulations, and working with neurons, and with the mathematics of AI systems, and with observing biological systems and modeling them for management purposes – all takes time.

There is no substitute for the combination of experience and contemplation of multiple possible explanations for each level of experience.

One has to be able to actually experience many possible explanatory frameworks as having validity before moving to the level of evaluating frameworks. Recurs that as deeply as one is able (like I said – 12 has been my limit to date).

One cannot get there by being attached to any single framework of interpretation. It just is not possible.

[followed by]

But the question then becomes, what is in the way of your being able to see that as a possibility for qualia?

If you can see the possibility, but assess the evidence as not supporting it – that is one thing.

If you cannot see the possibility, that is something else entirely.

For me, the evidence is clearly as I stated.

When you have been 7 minutes since your last intake of oxygen, the qualia of experience are rather different from normal. Having spent 5 years of my life in a daily disciplined training regime for deep free diving I have many hours in total of such experience. Being a biochemist by training interested in neurological function I did many levels of experimentation on myself, as well as reading extensive sets of literature.

I have done a lot of weird things, have a lot of “qualifications”, a lot of experience sets that are not at all common, but are very useful. Edge cases are often useful in evaluating systems.

[followed by … agree to also see merit in both model categories]

This I can live with.

The concept of terministic screens has been familiar to me for a long time, and is analogous to Jaynes term “structions”.

And I really do get that there is a huge difference between the experience of being something, and understanding some useful approximation to the mechanisms that give rise to that experience.

And I often watch the sun rising out of the ocean, or setting behind the mountains as the experience, and the understanding is of standing on a spinning globe. Those are very different, and there is a matrix of transformation between the coordinate structures in a sense; and that isn’t the “experience” (except when it is 😉 ).

And I am a weird geek who can look across the bay at the mountains and overlay the tectonic stress that gave the mountains much of their form. That sort of thing is actually my experience.

Need to leave the computer, perhaps for a day or so – other stuff needs doing.

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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