Nihilistic Design and Tao

Daniel’s link to a consilience project update

Technology is Not Values Neutral: Ending the Reign of Nihilistic Design

[ 12/July/22 ]

Hi Daniel,

I just read the opening highlighted summary, and while it is all true in a sense, it leaves out far more than it includes, and in so doing creates an entirely false “map”/”image”.

Yes – technology is one small part of our ecosystem, and any particular set of embodied technologies will have impacts, some foreseen, some not, some foreseeable, some not.

Two essential aspects in that last paragraph – one is that only some subset of the impacts will be foreseeable, and able to be mitigated by design, and there will be another subset that just emerge, and must be dealt with in an iterative approach – eternally.

So yes – we need to give more thought to design, where that is reasonable and possible, and we need systems and incentive structures that generally tend to reward such behaviour, and punish anything less than that – and that is not sufficient. We also require an ability to detect and respond to novelty, and incentive structures that reward such behaviour.

The other thing that is missing, is that technology is only a tiny part of the overall ecosystem.

Sense-making is your thing. It is the aspect that has most impressed me about your mind.

It is the overall sense-making ecosystem that is most critical.

It is the things that everyone simply accepts as true, without ever thinking to question them, that are the major drivers of threat – beyond any shadow of reasonable doubt. The idea that planning can solve all problems being one of those.

You used the example of cars.

Cars solved the pollution problem of horse in cities.
Horse shit blown by the wind was a major health issue in cities prior to the motorcar.
Cars solved that issue, but created others.

In one sense, that is the eternal reality of evolving complex adaptive systems.

It is not even theoretically possible to predict all such things.

The implication of that article is that it is possible to predict them. I say bullshit.

You know better than that!!!

Sure, we can all be more responsible in design, and that will not, ever, prevent issues from occurring.

One fundamental aspect of complex adaptive systems is eternal novelty. And that word “eternal” needs to be clearly comprehended.

If there is one single issue that is the single greatest threat to humanity’s survival at present, it is the notion that markets (competition) can solve all problems.

I agree with Robin Hansen that markets can solve problems really well, but only in a context that is fundamentally cooperative.

Cooperation is actually fundamental to the survival of all levels of complexity.

Any failure to appreciate that fact, will result in the termination of that level of structure.

If you are looking for a cause of the fall of “civilizations”, then you need look no further than that.

It takes a great deal of work to see beyond the obvious fact of competition in evolution, to see the depths of cooperation underlying it (necessarily, at every level).

Our societal addiction to overly simplistic notions is terminating, unless actively countered.

That applies most particularly to the concept sets we are implicitly taught by language and culture – the ones that very few ever make the effort to question.

Compared to those – technology is a bit player in the game.

Thinking that planning can solve the problems, is more of the problem – it is an over simplification of a reality that is deeply and eternally more complex than that.

We must accept that complex systems generate novelty that cannot be predicted by any mechanism.

The mathematics and logic of that are beyond any shadow of doubt.

So – yes – plan where that is possible and useful, but also (and most importantly) be prepared to see and react appropriately to novelty. And appropriately in this sense most often means creating multiple “safe to fail” trials – to see what actually works in practice in particular contexts. Any very often, what works in one context at one time, might not work in any other context at any other time. So there is often an eternal need to be generating and trialing novel approaches.

It is actually complex!!!

Deeply, recursively, complex.

You, above all others I know, must be able to see (to Grok) that!

Simple solutions self terminate – necessarily.

We are way beyond the possibility of simple solutions.

[followed by – Daniel linked to which I had read last year.]

Hi Daniel,

Completely align with your opening thoughts on knowledge and models and uncertainty.

I even align with your thoughts on models to a significant degree, provided that it is accepted that all perceptions and understandings are models (including the conception of the Tao – the very idea that there might be a way).

Yes – unknown unknowns must be a part of any infinity, and must always exceed the explored – that much must be obvious to anyone who explores the notion of infinity (which I did before my teens, I probably started to serious explore the notion of infinity about 60 years ago – I turned 67 today).

The next bit is tricky. You wrote “Reality, the Tao, the Sacred… Can be sensed as something like a kind of incomprehensible wholeness”.

To me, the notions “Tao” and “Sacred” are place-markers for something sensed but unseen – a form of model or metamodel. The way in which the neocortex of our brain does that – in terms of Jeff Hawkins’ Thousand Brains model, is reasonably well modelled – and of course it is a complex system, and as such always evolving properties.

The ideas of “Spirit” and “Tao” as something one can be disconnected from has some validity in the sense of becoming over confident about any model, but seems to be an error if used as a model of something actually present.

We are all necessarily deadened to most of reality. Our senses only give us direct access to a tiny fraction of the electromagnetic spectrum, we have such tiny lifespans that we cannot see things like plate tectonics in action.

The idea that “God is a word for linguistic creatures to have a place holder for the fundamentally incomprehensible” may be true of some people, but the vast majority who use the term have the idea of something very like a very powerful person having influence over things.

When you use the term belief, what do you mean?

I only have beliefs in the Bayesian sense – of probabilities, and some things have probabilities approaching unity, like organic life being the result of something closely approximating the modern synthesis of evolution by natural selection.

In a sense, I entirely agree with Einstein, we are part of the system, and the concept sets I have available that indicate the major strategic systems that empowered the recursive emergence of structures that all form my (and your) existence simply did not exist in Einstein’s era.

Completely agree with you on the limits of models like atoms, and the connectedness of “stuff”.

I agree that all distinctions are traps that blind us to subtleties, and they are useful, and essential, and we need to know their limits.

We certainly need a sense of awe for the complexity of being, particularly given that it is possible to build cases for conjectures like Lisi’s conjecture that the standard model of particle physics is some function of the E8 Lie group, or Wolfram’s conjecture of the Ruliad. Either conjecture nicely deals to any conception of simplicity.

I don’t see any evidence in the fossil record of the universe being in balance – quite the contrary.

I don’t see anything “like order”, except the illusion generated by the tiny scale of our lives against the vast time of being and change.

I agree with connectedness and uniqueness to a degree; and there are limits to those ideas. We can in fact produce machines that are in fact functionally identical, even though they contain billions of minor variations, none of those are large enough to impact the functions of those machines – this form of communication we are using is only possible because that too is a class of pattern possible in this thing we call reality (whatever it actually is).

All humans are deeply distinct, different; and all have value; and many of the systems we use, many of our cultural constructs, many of our institutions, are no longer fit for purpose.

If there were balance in the universe, we would see no extinctions, yet the fossil record is replete with extinctions. There are no T Rexes running around, all we have left of their existence is a few species of birds.

So yes – we are all related, sometimes in ways that few people have ever conceptualised, and we are each more complex than we can possibly comprehend (by definition – as a matter of logic, in all forms of logic I have investigated); and we do need to do some stuff if we wish to avoid going the way of the dinosaurs – and it is complex – deeply complex. Any over simplification causes failure – necessarily.

More people need to appreciate the absolute fundamental need for cooperation, if complexity is to survive. The overly simplified nonsense that all interactions are driven by competition is just that – false! All of the multipolar traps in the original article are simplistic nonsense – the way to win those games is not to play them!

There is no way out, from inside the economic system. One has to stand outside it, to see the possible.

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) with reasonable security, tools, resources and degrees of freedom, and reasonable examples of the natural environment; and that is going to demand responsibility from all of us - see
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