[ 27/July/21 ]
The ability to model various different possibilities, then to take actions in reality to alter the probabilities of a preferred set of possibilities becoming actual as against any of the alternatives.
Without such awareness, there are no problems, there is only existence.
It is only when one can imagine something other than what is, that the possibility of problems exists.
So without awareness, without an ability to imagine existence as something other than what it is (at least to some degree of accuracy), we would not have any problems, we would only have existence.
The flip side of that is actually deeply interesting, from an evolutionary perspective.
That is the degree to which what we experience as reality is related to what is actually there.
The evidence sets we now have from very many different branches of science is that reality is not simply more complex than we perceive, but is actually more complex and more fundamentally uncertain than any computational entity could possibly model in detail.
So any and all computational entities have to deal with that issue by making simplifying assumptions at various sets of levels in order to be able to make decisions in reality in time frames useful for survival.
That is one of the fundamental constraints of evolution.
The degree to which our sensory and computational systems subconsciously simplify reality to produce what we experience as reality is actually quite profound. Beginning to appreciate that reality is often profoundly upsetting for individuals who have had a lifetime of naively thinking that their experiential reality was an accurate map of objective reality.
Any serious student of science sooner or later runs into the mathematical and systemic reality that such cannot possibly be the case, and that what we experience as reality must necessarily be a simplification of whatever reality actually is.
That is almost always a deeply unsettling experience.
Many withdraw from it and go back to some set of beliefs that offer more security, even if the divergence from evidence is significant. It is far easier and more comfortable to ignore inconvenient facts than to face a reality that is composed of fundamental uncertainty.
And it is not all bad news.
If one can actually accept and be with such uncertainty for a bit, then it becomes clear that all structure requires boundaries, and that all uncertainty must necessarily be constrained within probability limits for structures as complex as ourselves to have any possibility of existence.
So one must then hold two ideas together:
Fundamental uncertainty within probability constraints; and
All structure requiring boundaries for existence.
Both are necessarily true.
So what about us, and our “problems”?
Our problems come about because evolution has necessarily biased our neural networks to make simplifying assumptions that have allowed our ancestors to construct reasonably reliable models of the realities within which they existed. This goes deeply into all of our social and technical structures and institutions – our stories, our legal systems, our ethical systems.
We need to appreciate that these things are often deeply more complex and subtle than we think; and we need to respect them as such.
We also need to accept and appreciate that some aspects of our technical and social systems are sufficiently new that entirely new levels of structure and responsibility are required of us.
Freedom without responsibility is necessarily destructive, even as life without freedom is equally as destructive.
We need to accept that some boundaries are required, even as the ability to go beyond the known is also an essential part of being human.
So our ability to simplify reality down to something we can deal with in some useful time is what gives us the ability to have problems, and we need to expand it to new levels in order to be able to deal effectively with the tools and technologies that we are now creating (which we do in fact need).
So what are some ideas that are now key to survival.
One is appreciating that evolution is much more about cooperation than it is about competition.
Every new level of complexity in systems is predicated on new levels of cooperation. And raw cooperation is always vulnerable to exploitation by cheating strategies. Thus each new level of complexity must also evolve a level of cheat detection and mitigation strategies if it is to survive. And there is always a tension between such systems and the need to explore the unexplored. Uncertainties at such boundaries is eternal and unavoidable. And with time, confidence that strategies are in fact cheating strategies can firm up and action can be taken to mitigate them.
We all need to spend some significant fraction of our time examining our own motivations for any level of cheating strategy, and doing what is required to mitigate them. And there are eternal uncertainties in such things. All any of us can do is our best at the time, and sometimes we are going to make mistakes.
So we need to respect the often deep lessons from the past that are encapsulated in the old ways of being, without necessarily being constrained by them if we are sufficiently confident that the context has actually changed sufficiently that the old approximations are no longer appropriate, and something newer is required for responsibility.
Any instantiation of freedom that does not embody such an enquiry into responsibility is probably inappropriate.
We all need to accept that we are in a time of sufficiently rapid change at sufficiently many levels that we all need to embody such responsibility, to the best of our limited and fallible abilities.
We need to accept that any and all levels of freedom necessarily result in diversity.
We need to accept and respect such diversity, however uncomfortable it may feel, provided that it does not actually pose an unreasonable threat to the existence of any others.
We all have these amazingly complex bodies and brains that allow us to create and read patterns and symbols and stories, and to adjust our conceptions of reality, and to make choices in reality.
We all have strong tendencies to over simplify the complexity present.
We all have strong preferences for that which is familiar to us at some set of levels.
We need to accept these realities, accept the difficulty and uncertainty of our tasks, and to act responsibly – to the best of our limited and fallible abilities, whatever they may be, however abstract they may be.
Our ability to imagine, and to choose (because choice is only possible if one can imagine alternatives) is both the cause and the solution to problems.
Accepting that choices need to be made responsibly, at whatever level we can imagine responsibility, is a necessary reality of complex systems at any and all levels.