Quora – Why is science important

Quora – Why Is Science So important In 2019?

Few people understand what science is.

Science is the willingness to ask questions, and to try things in reality, and look very closely at what happened, and try and make sense of it.

Science does not deal in the classical idea of Truth.

Science deals with uncertainty, and balance of probabilities, and confidence.

The more times something is tested, and the more different ways it is tested, the more confident we become of something.

The deeper one gets into science, the stranger it becomes when viewed from a “common sense” perspective.

Why is it so important?

Because most of how people live comes from beliefs, not from questions.

Most people prefer the security of a certainty, rather than living with eternal uncertainty. Hence the common misconception that science deals with Truth, and can prove things. It can’t.

Science can show what worked in different contexts.

We can extrapolate from that to say what seems most likely to work in other contexts, and often that works out.

So the process of science, of coming up with ideas, then working out ways of testing those ideas, then looking at the implications of those ideas and testing out new things, has allowed us to develop understandings of what we are, and what sort of environment we live in.

And many of those ideas are very complex, and not at all what most people think.

Science allows us to get different sorts of confidence in different types of complexity.
In simple systems our confidence is very high indeed.
In complicated systems confidence can still be high, and there is still a place for intuition.
In complex systems, uncertainty is our constant companion.
In chaotic systems any sort of confidence is purely illusion.

Understanding what sort of system one is dealing with, and the sorts of confidence one can apply, is essential.

We are starting to understand the major systems that deliver the sort of consciousness and choice that we experience.

We are not simple.

The world in which we exist is not simple. So the idea that simple rules will work in reality only applies to very limited subsets of reality. Rules can be more problem than solution when dealing with complex or chaotic systems.

Yet in order to make any sense at all of the complexity around us, our subconscious systems simplify it down to a predictive model that becomes our experiential reality.

We don’t experience reality as it is, but as our subconscious systems expect it to be.

Our attention is usually directed to the things that are not as our subconscious expects them to be.

Science is now allowing us to automate things to the point that most important things can be produced at a level of abundance that will meet the reasonable needs of everyone.

Unfortunately, our market based economic systems, and many of our levels of institutions (economic, social and political) are based around the old reality of most things being scarce, and cannot work when things are truly abundant.

To date the major response has been to impose rules to artificially make things scarce (like intellectual property rules – there purely to maintain the existing scarcity based system). Transition from scarcity to abundance is required. Some sort of universal basic income seems to be a useful transition strategy, and it is not simple.

So we are in a time of great uncertainty for many, when many of our tried and trusted systems are failing due to change of context. So we need to change, but we all have our conservative aspects that are resistant to change in certain contexts.

Science allows us to understand ourselves to some useful degree, understand our uncertainties, understand that we are fundamentally cooperative social entities (however competitive we can be in certain contexts), and to develop systems that allow us all to experience security and freedom in ways never before possible.

And that freedom demands of us responsibility in social and ecological contexts.

All form demands boundaries for survival.

We are extremely complex entities, with many levels of form and boundaries allowing the higher levels of form to emerge and survive.

At higher levels, those boundaries are things like morality and ethics, and the ethical and moral systems of our deep past are some sort of useful approximation to the sorts of moral systems essential for our survival into the future. And building a games theoretical understanding of the evolution of such complexity is not simple, it takes many years of work and experience.

So science can deliver answers to most of the problems we face and those answers will demand changes that many will find unsettling.

Science can show that continuing as we have been, without major change, is almost certain destruction.

And when you look at history, change has been a constant, and the rate of change has been increasing. So it is, in this sense, totally consistent with a historical view.

Understanding science, complexity, creativity, technology, and the power of exponential automation is essential to a secure future. And there must be uncertainty in that future. And we can build confidence, provided we are cooperative, rather than competitive.
Cooperation allows for complexity, competition forces systems to simplicity.

We need complexity to solve the very real problems we already have.

We must get past our myopic focus on scarcity and competition, and begin to see the power of cooperation and abundance.

We must understand that the evolution of complexity is much more about cooperation than it is about competition.

Science can do that, if we allow it to, if we are each willing to test our truths in reality.

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Quora – prediction

Is there any research for an invention that could predict the future?

That is kind of what investors try to do.

And a modern understanding of uncertainty and complexity and chaos demonstrate that there are many classes of complex system that are not predictable either in theory or in practice.

So we have this spectrum of predictability.

Some things are extremely reliable, with uncertainties at very low levels, and are for all practical purposes predictable – modern computers are a good example.

Some things contain moderate levels of uncertainty, and can still be thought of as generally predictable, but with occasional “errors”.

Some things (like weather) can contain quite high levels of uncertainty, when it comes to predicting how much rain will fall at your house in any particular hour or minute.
Some things simply cannot be predicted – like the decay of any particular radioactive atom. All we can give is a probability statement.

A lot of dealing with human behaviour can be predicted only in terms of probability statements.

A lot of uncertainty exists in what we don’t know that we don’t know, and may discover in the very near future. That is actually getting exponentially more important for all of us.

So we can look at trends, and have some general ideas about some things, and other things are likely to occur as unexpected by most people. And that seems likely to be eternally true. That just seems to be the nature of the reality within which we find ourselves.

We may live in a reality of finite entities, and we also seem to live in a reality of infinite possibilities. Those two things seem to only be possible if there is a fundamental uncertainty relationship in the boundary conditions between the two domains. It seems that aspects of those uncertainty relationships must eternally defy prediction.

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Laurie – Horsing around – questions grappling with

Horsing Around

What question are you grappling with?

Hi Laurie,

The question that has dominated my thought for over 50 years is:

What is required to live a very long time?

Peace is obviously part of the answer.

Understanding the biochemistry of life sufficiently that we can remove all the effects of aging that decrease continued life expectancy with age, such that life expectancy increases with age and experience, is part of the answer.
A lot of progress has been made on that, and more is being done every day. I suspect that the problem has been solved, but that it is not yet solved to a level that can be scaled so that it can be delivered to every person on the planet.

Also obviously part of the answer is the social and technical and political systems we have in place.

The mathematics of the levels of strategy involved in such things is deep, and currently we are subject to some relatively simplistic and very dangerous strategic systems (like mutually assured destruction) that essentially came out of an overly simplistic understanding of evolution (as it being all about competition).
Much of our modern economic system is similarly founded on overly simplistic assumptions, even as it embodies some very complex and essential sets of risk mitigating systems.

The modern synthesis of evolution is much more complex (and deeply nuanced).
A modern understanding of evolution is clear that systems have competitive and cooperative aspects.
Competitive aspects tend to drive systems to simplicity (remove freedom).
Cooperative aspects tend to allow for the emergence of complexity (empower freedom and create diversity).
Those can be recursively applied and be contextually sensitive.

We humans are the most complex thing we have yet found in the galaxy.
To a good first order approximation it is accurate to say that we are fundamentally cooperative, and that our existence has fundamentally emerged from cooperation.
And of course we can all compete when the context calls for it (we are complex).

When you look at life generally on the earth, most of it is simple. We are outnumbers by bacteria even in our own bodies (we each carry more bacterial cells than our own human cells). Complex life like us is the exception, not the rule. That can be really hard to understand fully.

For most of recorded history the freedom of some has been founded on the slavery of others (at some level).
That continues today in the economic systems we currently have, that essentially trick most people into a form of economic slavery.
What hides that fact from most people is the amount of energy stored in fossil fuels.

A single gallon of gas put through an internal combustion engine can produce the same raw physical power as a slave working for two weeks.

With modern solar cells, a single square meter (square yard) of solar cells gives the same raw power output as a slave human (ongoingly).

We are now developing computers and algorithms that are getting very close to being able to deliver the intellectual capacities of a human. Computers can already beat the best humans at chess, jeopardy and Go. Self driving cars are already more reliable than human beings (not perfect, but crash less often than people do).

So some things are changing very rapidly, but our ways of thinking and our social systems have not yet caught up. And that is all understandable in a very real sense, as we all make our simplifying assumptions (mostly taken unconsciously from culture) in order to make what sense we can of a reality that is many orders of magnitude more complex than we can possibly deal with in detail.

So we all have to have simple models of reality.

The problem is, that most of them are too simple, and too deeply rooted in ideas from our deep past.

And there are deep issues in there too.

Some of the patterns from our deep past have very valuable lessons deeply encoded within them. So while many of the simpler levels of the stories from our past are demonstrably wrong, some can contain deep ideas that are relevant even now.

Untangling that mess, and teasing out what is relevant, is no simple task.

So how to create peace, and security more widely, and still retain as much freedom and responsibility as possible, is the big question.
It seems to be infinitely deep, and contain eternal uncertainties, and it does seem to have some clear boundaries.

We must respect individual life and individual liberty.

We must each be responsible for our actions, and must each make our best guesses at being socially and ecologically responsible.

And our knowledge must eternally be imperfect, and we must necessarily make mistakes – just hopefully not the same ones too often.

And social and ecological systems are complex.
Complex systems do not allow simple rules.
Dealing with complex systems requires an eternal aspect of adaption, of “probe, sense, respond – repeat”, and the behaviour of the systems is always emergent; that is it cannot be entirely predicted in advance.

And while we may not be able to predict with certainty exactly where the system will go, we can be extremely confident about some of the ways of destroying complexity.

One way of destroying complexity is to force it into a competitive modality.
Our economic system as currently structured is doing that.
Some sort of Universal Basic Income would offset the worst of those pressures at present, and at least buy us enough time to develop robust alternative systems that perform all the many very complex and essential functions currently performed by market capitalism (but without its dangers).

And the problems are much deeper, and go to the heart of social pressures to conformity, rather than acceptance of diversity.
We all have our conservative sides that like conformity, and we all have our creative sides that produce novelty and diversity. Both are essential. Finding balance between them is often difficult and can change rapidly with context.

So nothing simple about us, or our choices, or our responsibilities.

A certain level of discomfort seems to be an essential and eternal part of being human.

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Quora – Ancient super civilisation

Quora – Could there have been a super civilization in the past? Haven’t they found evidence of extremely wide ancient roads under the Amazon?

Almost certainly not.

The evidence for that assertion, biogeography – the distribution of plants and animals.
Rats have only gone to many places with us (as one example, there are thousands of others).
They weren’t there when we got there.
Therefore it seems very unlikely that any sort of wide spread trading civilisation existed previously. A similar argument follows for common weeds, insects, etc.

The argument isn’t 100% proof, and in my mind it is 99% settled. The sorts of things that humans found and destroyed on islands like Australia, Madagascar, New Zealand and Hawaii are fairly strong evidence (I live in New Zealand).

So no – the evidence is very strong, no global trading civilisation prior to recorded history.

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Project Syndicate – Why Universal Basic Income Is a Bad Idea

UBI is not a systemic solution, and it can be an effective part of a transition strategy.

What is happening now is unlike anything that has ever happened before.
Automation is heading towards completion (any and all tasks will be able to be automated by the mid 2030s based on current exponential trends).

That could mean an end to scarcity for most goods and services. But things without scarcity have no monetary value (like oxygen in the air – arguably the single most valuable thing to any of us, but with no market value due to universal abundance). Fully automated systems can deliver universal abundance of a large and growing set of goods and services.

That has never happened before.

Markets fail to deliver a useful measure of value under such conditions.

Currently markets perform many levels of very complex and valuable services aside from the obvious one of exchange, so transition to a new paradigm is far from trivial. It involves a lot of work by a lot of people who deeply understand systems and incentives (theoretical, biophysical, social and intellectual)

So while I am fully in favour of UBI as a transition strategy (for a host of reasons), it is not a stable end point, merely a step on a path.
Current market based trajectories seem to me to have very low survival probabilities (too many perverse incentives and instabilities).

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Daniel S – What legislation would be most meaningful to pass and why

A response to Daniel’s Facebook Post

What legislation would be most meaningful to pass or amend in the US, at a federal level, if it was possible? Why?

Some profound difficulties with the question Daniel.

In the short to medium term, instigating some form of Universal Basic Income seems to be the most stable transition strategy to move from scarcity based thinking to abundance based thinking. And that is a really complex process, as the market economy currently performs many levels of essential distributed functions in cognition, governance, and risk management that Hayek and others started to identify. So those essential functions need to be transitioned to other systems.

In the medium term, a Federal program to develop fully automated manufacturing in a cooperative international context is essential. Fully automated manufacturing technology deployed on the moon would allows us to develop effective technology to mitigate the effects of climate change, and that technology is needed. No linear technologies can solve the problem, it is too complex. Such technology would also allow the prefabrication in space of a global transport infrastructure (high speed maglev trains in evacuated tubes) that would be capable of replacing air travel (electric air travel is not a realistic engineering possibility – batteries cannot have the energy density required).

Once they had replicated to numbers exceeding the human population, giving every person on the planet one would be the end of the current scarcity based system. Such technology is actually required if any of us want a reasonable chance of living a very long time, as biological life extension comes on stream.

And the real difficulty is that we are dealing with exceptionally complex systems.
Complex systems do not respond in predictable ways, and are not well suited to rule based management.

The most appropriate management response for complex systems is iterative – probe, sense, respond – repeat. Goodhart’s law applies (Any statistically observed regularity tends to collapse once pressure is placed upon it for control purposes.) So relying on laws is not an appropriate response to complexity.

We need to develop responsible attitudes.

Complexity delivers novelty, eternally.

That is reality.

That is not how most people think yet.

Currently most people still think that there is a single right way of being or doing anything.

That is not reality.

Reality allows for infinite diversity.

The tricky bit is that the infinity of survivable options is a small subset of the infinity of all possible options.

Our freedom needs to be constrained to the sets of actions that are survivable, but the issue is that the boundaries of that set will always contain uncertainty (for a host of reasons).

So we live in interesting times, and they look set to remain interesting for as much of eternity as we manage to survive in.

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Quora – Purpose

Quora – What are the factors that define our purpose in life?

Like many others here have written, our definition of purpose seems to result from an extremely complex and potentially infinitely extensible set of factors including:
many levels of genetic factors influencing capabilities and pre-dispositions;
many levels of environmental factors (many of which have random aspects);
many levels of cultural factors, including the stories that we have heard that had emotional impact for some reason;
many levels of chance;
many levels of analysis and understanding;
many levels of choice, commitment and habit.

The evidence from modern science is clear – that we are all complex embodied entities that are complex beyond our ability to comprehend in detail.

Any understanding we have of ourselves is (beyond any shadow of reasonable doubt) a gross over simplification of the realities that we are.

We are all, always, part mystery, even to ourselves.

And we are capable of choice and action and making a difference – at least to some degree.

The more conscious we become of the many ways in which we are predisposed to certain classes of action, and certain classes of error in detection and classification of the world around us and ourselves, the greater the degrees of influence we can assert in reality.

And reality must always be far more complex than our limited comprehension of it. So there is constant need of both effort and humility in our choices and actions towards whatever purpose we have (to whatever degree we have chosen it and/or accepted it).

And choosing a purpose that is in our own best interests, and the interests of our family and friends, and those of our neighbours, and our communities, our districts and humanity and the ecosystems within which we exist, and any potential wider communities of sapient entities we may encounter, is important.

Being responsible in as many contexts as we can manage seems to be what is required of us if we are to survive.

And we are dealing with complex systems, and simple rules are never appropriate responses to complexity. Complexity demands an iterative approach, as each time we interact with it the response is likely to be different in some set of subtle and not so subtle ways. So we need to observe and adapt, ongoingly. That is the only sort of response to complexity that is viable long term.

And that can be difficult, with our limited abilities to comprehend, our limited models, our tendencies to simplify in order to make some sort of decision, and our tendency to rely on habits and patterns from the past.

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