Quora – Is the emergence of scientific thinking an evolutionary phenomenon rather than something that is objectively better than how humans thought in the distant past?

Quora – Is the emergence of scientific thinking an evolutionary phenomenon rather than something that is objectively better than how humans thought in the distant past?

Why need the two things be exclusive?

It seems probable that it is both, at least in some contexts.

Science can be both an evolutionary phenomenon, and better than any of the systems that preceded it.

As others have noted, there have always been people alert to how reality reacted to their experiments, and it is through the efforts of many such people over many generations (predating the invention of writing) that we have the modern science that we have.

And science, the creation of hypotheses and testing them in reality, is in one sense a tool. One can only judge the utility of a tool in relation to the chosen task.

The big question is, what do we choose to use science for?

At present, we seem to be in the midst of the emergence of a new level of complexity and awareness; as ever increasing numbers of people start to realise that the idea of measuring value in markets is rapidly losing the utility it once had.

We now have the possibility of indefinite life extension, and amazing degrees of empowerment and freedom for all individuals; and such things necessarily come with responsibilities.

We need to start seeing ourselves for what we are, not what the warped economic systems we are living in have tried to make us into.

We are the most cooperative species on the planet.

It is cooperation, not competition, that is our greatest distinguishing factor.

Science can now prove that, beyond any shadow of reasonable doubt.

And we are not simple.

We are the most complex things we yet know of in this universe.

Science can be used to improve the probabilities of life and liberty for all, or it can be used by a minority to enslave the rest. It is a tool.

And if individuals choose to use their own abilities to question everything, and make their own decisions, over what any form of authority tells them (the ancient authorities of their desires, the old authorities of religions and culture, the modern authorities of logic, law, politics, philosophy and science) then we might just get out the other side of this transition with most people alive and with the option of doing whatever they responsibly choose for as long as they choose.

Living a long time makes a great many demands upon one.

Throughout all of history, most life forms have died, those alive now are the only ones that haven’t.

To live is to risk death, there can be no absolute guarantees of life.

And when one looks at the evolution of life, it seems clearly to be the case that all new levels of complexity are the result of new levels of cooperation.

We all have our competitive sides, that is true, and we can all choose to be cooperative.

We now have the technology to ensure life and liberty for all, or to destroy it all.

It is what we choose that matters.

Evolution is about what survives.

We can choose to cooperate and survive, or we can continue down the competitive market system and destroy ourselves and all the systems we rely on.

And to be clear, I am not talking central control, but the very opposite.

Individuals choosing to cooperate, and to do so intelligently, with eyes open, alert for cheats, and constantly searching for new detection and removal strategies. No boring certainty, but rather interesting confidence. This seems to be what science requires of us, if we are committed to life and liberty.

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Evonomics – Wealth power productivity

Why Wealth Is Determined More by Power Than Productivity

Everything in this article is true enough, in a sense, yet not sufficient to understand the existential level dangers present in our current economic and political systems.

To begin to see the scope and scale of the risks present, one has to dig a little deeper into several ideas, starting with the notion of value captured by markets and embodied in the myth of money.

What markets measure, and embody in “money”, is a set of instantaneous measures of value in exchange. The value markets measure requires a scarcity component. By definition, anything universally abundant has no value – like oxygen in the air – extremely important to each and every one of us, yet of no market value.

In a time when most things were genuinely scarce, and most things made involved human labour, that was arguably a sensible thing.

We are no longer in that time.

Now we have an ability to fully automate any process that can be defined, any game that has definable rules.
As someone who has owned and operated a software business for over 30 years, I have watched the cost of processor cycles and memory drop continuously. All that computation is now so cheap, it is almost free (not quite yet, but a close approximation).

Is it really true that computation has almost no value to humanity (as the market tells us)?

Markets only measure the unmet aspect of demand.
Markets put no value on demands that are met.
There is no market value in everyone having all their needs met.

Creating demand (via things like advertising and “fashion”) is one of the ways that the modern economic system has continued into the age of automation.
The other major mechanism keep markets alive is artificial barriers to abundance, laws like copyright and patent, much of our laws around “health and safety”, most of the requirements for “qualifications” seem clearly to be much more about keeping the economic system going than they are what they claim to be.

From the perspective of the economic system they make sense.

From the perspective of delivering needed goods and services to all human beings with minimal environmental impact, they make no sense at all.

The old idea that people could use their computational ability, or their labour, to create value for others, is now becoming obsolete; in so far as automated systems can now produce goods and services for a small fraction of the cost of having humans do so.

As the impact of such automation spreads through the “landscape” of the complexity of tasks, the economic system is concentrating wealth into fewer hands, and creating a big pool of people at the bottom with little or nothing.
Economically that is inevitable.
Socially it dangerous.
The expectations that generations had, of things getting better, no longer exists.
There is no security or hope for most people.

That is extremely dangerous.

We have the technical ability to deliver a high standard of living to every person on the planet, but not with a market based model of value.

The age of scarcity is ending, and markets demand scarcity to function, but so many of our systems are deeply embedded in markets and money that it seems to many impossible to disentangle them.

It isn’t.
And creating all those levels of replacement systems is a big job.

We need to start doing that job before the systems collapse causing cascade failures across multiple levels of systems (many of which are essential for life).

A UBI (Universal Basic Income) might be a useful transition strategy, to get us through the next 20 years, but isn’t really a long term solution.

[followed by]

Hi Ishi,

There are many things that capitalism has done reasonably well, and perhaps prime among them is decentralisation of decision making (at least to the degree that it does).
In a capitalist system, we each get to make choices about how we spend our time and money (and money is closely related to time, to the degree that it allows us to use the very productive time of other specialists or machines, rather than develop the skills ourselves to produce the good or service we buy).

So to that extent, and to the degree that it encouraged distribution of risk, and systemic redundancy, it was much better than any of the offered centralised alternatives.

I am not in favour of any centralised system, except to the extent that those systems can reliably and efficiently deliver key services (like the supply of water, roads, power, communications, sewage disposal, etc; and even there we need alternatives – as the earthquake here in Kaikoura clearly demonstrated 2 years ago – and there are many sources of disruption that are equivalent to earthquakes, that are not earthquakes – so no out by saying you live in a seismically stable part of the planet).

So it is not a simple or trivial set of issues; it is about as profoundly complex as it gets; and there are some key enabling technologies that are rapidly approaching, that will either enable total central control, or will be decentralised to enable security for all. What I am clearly saying, is that these new technologies do not obey the old economic laws, and are not decentralised by markets – markets actually tend to centralise them – and therein lies the existential level risk.

And the simple option of saying lets not go down that technological road is not an option, because we need those technologies to deal with all the existing existential level risks of pollution and global warming etc that we have created with our current set of technologies.

So we have to go forward.
We have to develop and implement technology.

And we need to do so with eyes open to all the many levels of risk present, and some of them are deep, way deeper than any university course I have seen even begins to approach.

The key thing in my view is to update the general understanding of evolution.

The idea that evolution is all about competition needs to be revised (thrown out).
It is not true.

A modern understanding of the deep complexities of complex evolved systems is that, to a good first order approximation, all new levels of complex systems are the result of new levels of cooperation.

And that is not a simple thing, because all naive cooperative systems are vulnerable to exploitation, and require an ever expanding set of attendant strategies to detect and remove “cheating” or “exploitative” strategies (and as Ostrom clearly demonstrated, that can mean removing only the strategy, and leaving the player that was using the strategy in the game in a new state).

And at every level that set of secondary strategies rapidly becomes a complex ecosystem in itself.

There do seem to exist, right now, human beings that embody at least 20 levels of cooperative systems with all their attendant strategic ecosystems.

To a good first order approximation, our current financial systems can be accurately characterised as a cancer on the human cooperative. Surgery is not an option, the cancer is too far advanced, and the patient would die.
We need far more advanced therapies, that target individuals, and the ways they operate in the world.

So – interesting times ahead.

How we handle the transition coming at around 2032 will probably define our survival probabilities (both individually and collectively).

I am all for individual life and individual liberty, and both of those things demand responsible action in both social and ecological contexts.
Liberty so defined is a very long way from following whims.
The other side of the liberty coin (responsibility) is clearly present.


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Quora – Can you refute Darwin’s theory of evolution based on Islamic sources? I am confused about the theory of evolution.

Can you refute Darwin’s theory of evolution based on Islamic sources? I am confused about the theory of evolution.

Once one makes the choice (consciously or subconsciously) to “believe” anything (Islam, Christianity, Judaism, Hinduism, objectivism or any other “ism”), then by definition one has suspended the ability to actually question; and all subsequent models flow from that “belief”.

The alternative approach, is that taken by modern science, which is to be open to the possibility of questioning and testing anything and everything, and acknowledging the practical need to have some set of useful heuristics that one normally uses in practice.

In a very real sense, evolution is the outcome of such a commitment to questioning; and as such is the opposite of all “belief” based systems. The theory that all cellular life on this planet seems most probably to have started from a single cell some 4 billion years ago, and evolved by a suite of processes of evolution by natural selection, has a vast set of sets of evidence that make it seem very probable indeed.

Unfortunately, few people seem to have either the time, resources or inclination to make themselves familiar with those evidence sets, or to ask the really difficult questions that are appropriate to some of those evidence sets.

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Quora – What evidence would falsify the theory of evolution?

Quora – What evidence would falsify the theory of evolution?

First, one needs to be explicitly clear about the question, then one can answer it.

Evolution, the process, is not theory, it is fact.

If the idea of “fact” has any meaning at all, then the process of evolution is a fact. The evidence is that strong.

What is theory, is that the process of evolution by natural selection, with all of the variants on themes present in the modern synthesis, is solely responsible for all the life forms we see on earth.

That assertion is one that applies to the deep time of history, and as such has no direct evidence, only indirect evidence. That is so because by the terms of the theory, there can have been no one there to make direct observations. Ken Saladin and Torbjörn Larsson give excellent explanations of that indirect evidence, and the sorts of things that might disprove it which have not been found.

Thus for someone like myself, who has spent 50+ years looking at the evidence from biochemistry, systems, cosmology, etc the case for the theory of evolution is proven beyond any shadow of reasonable doubt. The only thing I can think of that might cast it into doubt is some alien race showing up and saying (with lots of evidence) – sorry guys, we have a really weird sense of humour and we set this whole system up 30,000 years ago just as a test of what might happen. But even that, while it might disprove the theory that life on earth is solely the result of evolution, doesn’t disprove evolution the process, and it would just get me wondering about the sort of evolutionary process that would give rise to such a race of aliens.

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Quora – worst scientific mistake

Quora – Worst scientific mistake

It is an almost impossible question to answer, and there are many reasonable ones given already, yet for me, one stands out clear of all others, and that was made by perhaps the most brilliant scientist of the last 100 years – John von Neumann when he gave us “Mutually Assured Destruction”.

We have managed to survive it, but it has been a very close thing on several occasions, and we have only survived because individuals within the systems refused to follow the system and do what the system required of them (destroy technological humanity).

The only thing wrong with the strategy is that it is founded on invalid assumptions; an insufficient depth of understanding of the strategic complexity of our evolutionary history. As such it has put us in a very high risk scenario (much higher than it needs to be).

And this is not a simplistic call for a one sided disarmament, but rather a call for a fundamental restructuring of global policy based on cooperation, individual rights and responsibilities and acceptance of diversity rather than of competition and holding to “norms”, and with sufficient systems in place to have a reasonable probability of detecting and removing any level of “cheating strategy” – which requires ongoing search effort through the space of all possible strategies.

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Quora – greatest discovery

What is the greatest scientific advancement of the last 500 years?

Got moved to
Which is the most important invention/discovery of the last 500 years?
then moved back again.

Understanding that all new levels of complexity in biological systems are fundamentally predicated on cooperative systems, and simultaneously understanding that all cooperative systems require expanding sets of secondary strategies to prevent invasion and destruction by “cheating strategies”.

Robert Axelrod did some of the great early modeling work. Followed by many others including John Maynard Smith.

Elinor Ostrom cataloged some of those in an economic context.

David Snowden explicitly increased the dimensionality of the problem space of complex adaptive systems, and came up with some simple handy management heuristics.

Joi Ito has done some interesting work which folds into this domain space.

Unfortunately, economics more generally, and politics in particular, have been slow to understand the implications of this on the very complex systems that are human society, and in particular on the long term utility (or lack thereof) of markets in an age of exponential expansion of computation and automation.

So a really complex problem space, when most people still accept notions like gods and Truth, and haven’t accepted evolution and uncertainty as explanatory paradigms; let alone challenging the utility and safety of markets and money as coordination and management tools.

We need effective alternatives to markets and money that both guarantee individual life and individual liberty, and simultaneously demand reasonable levels of individual responsibility in both social and ecological contexts.

And for the sake of risk management, such systems must be massively distributed, and massively redundant, even as they are fundamentally cooperative and capable of retaliation if required.

We all need to be able to take a global perspective, as well as our own perspective, as well as all the others in between.

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Laurie – When pigs fly

When Pigs Fly

Hi Laurie,

I look forward to the day that war, injustice and hunger are found only in history books.

I think it is achievable, and it will require some delicate balances.

People are generally on their best behaviour when they are being observed, and we all make mistakes from time to time. So we need systems that hold us to account, but don’t expect impossible standards of zero failures.

Having total public visibility is fine is governance is distributed and benign, but becomes a real danger if governance becomes totalitarian and exploitative.

Finding a balance in there that maximises both individual freedom (which means the ability to make and relatively easily recover from mistakes) and ensures individual responsibility (in both social and ecological contexts) is an extremely complex problems, particularly when multiple levels of awareness and understanding are present simultaneously. Communication can be very difficult, particularly if there are concepts present that simply have no equivalent at other levels.

So yes – I look forward to an age of universal freedom and universal responsibility supported by advanced fully automated systems.

It wont be like anything that has existed before, and it will take some people a while to adjust to, and it will be amazing!

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