How are humans dangerous to biodiversity

How are humans dangerous to biodiversity?

[ 13/1/21 ]

Two major ways: we change things, and we move stuff around.

The reasons why we do both of those can get quite complex and interesting.

Sure, population growth is an issue, but if we organised our technologies efficiently, we could feed the entire current population of the planet off a land area equivalent to the size of California. So it is not so much our need for food (though we do need food) it is more about the habits and systems we use.

One of the greatest dangers to biodiversity is the idea of valuing things in markets; but that gets really complex, when one starts to look closely at the multiple levels of perverse incentive present in valuing things based upon how scarce they are (rather than how abundant).

We are smart, we can change the world in ways that we think will be of advantage to us; but often we are not as smart as we think, and things are vastly more complex than we suspected, and things go badly wrong as a result.

Our tendency to move things from where they evolved to other parts of the planet has been a major issue for many of the species not adapted to protect themselves from the introduced species. We see a lot of that where I live, where our ancestors brought mice, rats, hedgehogs, weasels, stoats, ferrets, cats and sundry other things to a place that had not had predators that hunted by smell, only ones that hunted by sight. So many of the native birds, reptiles and insects are in deep trouble.

Posted in Ideas, Nature, Our Future, understanding | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Limits on research?

Should scientific research have any limitations placed on it?

[ 12/1/21 ]

As others have noted – what sort of limitations do you mean?

If you are talking about limits required to manage identified or suspected risk associated with particular experiments – then most certainly – those are absolutely required.

If you are talking about a blanket ban on any research under any set of conditions, then no.

And it does get really complex, because some types of research can produce tools of extraordinary power, and all tools need to be used responsibly.

We do not allow 5 year olds to drive cars on highways, as they are generally not equipped with experience sets to allow them to do so responsibly, with minimal risk to other users. Same applies to more powerful sets of technologies.

The more power there is in a tool, the greater the level of demonstrated experience and responsibility we normally require from those to whom we give access to such tools. And in all people, judgement is affected by stress, and mistakes happen. In warfare a significant fraction of people are always killed by “friendly fire” – as one example.

So there are certainly many avenues of research that have risk and promise that require levels of demonstrated responsibility. We must all be responsible for making such judgements (all levels).

Giving a psychopath a powerful tool to destroy others is, in a real sense, a deeper crime than the psychopath using that tool. And we have no shortage of powerful tools already present in society – two tons of metal traveling at 200km/hr can kill a lot of people (we call them cars) – but they can also save a lot of people, and used responsibly can do far more good than harm.

So science is like that – all levels. Every individual needs to be responsible for the likely long term outcomes of their actions, and all such assessments necessarily contain uncertainties – that is the nature of this existence we find ourselves in.

Nothing is ever quite as simple and easy as it seems.

And if people are generally of good will, then we can usually find and correct errors before too much damage is done.

And it is never a good idea to give a tool capable of killing a large set of individuals to someone who is committed to doing so – if we value our own lives, or the lives of anyone else, then the value of individual life must be extended universally if we desire any real form of security. That applies as much to science as to any other aspect of our social systems.

Posted in Philosophy, understanding | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Conspiracy theories

How can a society de-program/reintegrate people who have gone down the conspiracy theory rabbit hole?

[ 12/1/21 ]

What do you mean?

If you want people generally to stop looking for conspiracies, and to start generally trusting, then you need to have a societal system that is actually trustworthy, and genuinely rewards accuracy of communication and punishes inaccurate communication.

We do not have such a system currently.

Currently the legal, economic and political systems reward conspiracy and punish accuracy.

The entire industry of advertising is based upon exploitation of aspects of our inherent rewards systems and sense-making systems to generate within us desires that we would not otherwise have. That is one fundamental definition of a conspiracy.

The economic system we have is based upon a set of assumptions that have been falsified beyond any shadow of reasonable doubt. The entire finance sector is essentially one large conspiracy.

The educational system is based upon a set of assumptions that has been falsified, beyond any shadow of reasonable doubt, and is essentially another conspiracy – one that Eric Weinstein calls the DISC – Distributed Ideas Suppression Complex.

I don’t have enough time to start to give a reasonable treatment of the levels of conspiracy present in most political systems.

If we want people to have trust (which is absolutely required for any sort of stable and secure social system, one that gives individuals a reasonable chance of living a long and secure life), then we need to have systems in place that are actually worthy of trust. None of the existing crop actually meet that criteria.

So while there are many great and trustworthy individuals in any and all systems, medical, educational, political, financial, religious, … the systems themselves are not trustworthy or fit for purpose.

To get people to be able to trust each other and the systems within which we live, then we need those systems to be based upon cooperative principles that actually value individual life and individual liberty, and are also clear that liberty always comes with responsibility (all levels) if it is to survive long term. Liberty without responsibility is necessarily self terminating – there is no logical escape from that – systems theory is clear – beyond any shadow of reasonable doubt.

So it seems clear that we find ourselves in a reality that has many levels of fundamental uncertainty and unknowability, and that demands of us levels of trust and cooperation if we are to survive; and it also demands of us that we are each responsible (to the best of our limited and fallible abilities) to test the systems present and alert others to any levels of cheating on the cooperative principles that are necessary for complex systems to survive. A simple notion like “the rule of law” is not sufficient, though it definitely points in the direction of something required, because there are definitely real limits and boundaries that must be respected if we are to survive (as individuals, as societies, as cultures, as ecologies).

So we each have to accept uncertainty, and we must each act in reality in real time. So we have to accept that with all the best intention in universe, we will make mistakes from time to time. We each need to be prepared to do what it takes to clean up any messes that result from such mistakes, and to carry on.

So that idea that any pattern from the past is necessarily appropriate to the future is almost certainly wrong, and often there are deep lessens encoded in the systems of belief and action that have survived over deep time that we ignore at our peril.

We need both respect for the past, and a willingness to try out new things; and that will necessarily involve tensions.

We need diversity, at all levels, for such tensions to be survivable.

So in order to get people out of the imaginary conspiracy holes that many have fallen into, we need to get rid of the very many levels of very real conspiracies that do actually exist; and to build a real and reliable basis for trust, and a real and reliable respect for diversity, and a real and reliable sense of individual security and prosperity.

The technology to empower such things is trivially easy in comparison to changing the mind sets of those who are embedded within the current very real sets of conspiracies that pose very real risk to us all.

Posted in Ideas, Our Future, Philosophy, Politics, understanding | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Population Growth

What 3 things do we need to manage for the human population to keep growing?

[ 12/1/21 ]

In the sense of growing at a fixed rate – that is impossible. At current growth rates it is less than 3,000 years before we reach the point that we need to be expanding at the speed of light to reach new stars to meet the growing need for energy. And there is no way to do that as the energy required for such accelerations would require a vast reduction in population.

If the rate of growth is continually reducing, so that it asymptotically approaches zero, then it is possible to sustain growth in a sense, and stay within the energy budget available in this solar system.

It is possible to limit reproduction to something less than unity, and maintain stability, something less than one child per person (on average, over a lifetime), accompanied by indefinite life extension.

Indefinite growth such as we have seen in the human population for the last few hundred years is not an option in any real universe – the physics and mathematics is beyond any reasonable doubt.

And if we accept the mathematical and logical and physical reality that the survival of all new levels of complexity is based upon new levels of cooperation, then we could build a high technology civilization in this solar system that would contain several trillion human beings living very high technology and interesting and secure lifestyles with reasonable degrees of individual freedom – each individual with the option of living on indefinitely.

And the logic of games theory is clear – there are no systems based in competition that deliver the sort of security that gives potentially very long lived organisms a reasonable probability of living a very long time. Longevity demands cooperation – the logic of that is beyond any shadow of reasonable doubt (as someone who has spent 48 years exploring the strategic spaces available), since realizing after completing 3rd year biochemistry that indefinite life extension was logically possible).

Posted in Our Future | Tagged , , | Leave a comment Carol Travris – beliefs

Carol Tavris – Mistakes Were Made (but Not by Me): Why We Justify Foolish Beliefs, Bad Decisions, and Hurtful Acts

[ 11/1/21 ]

I have listened to all of these podcasts (they are all worth listening to), but this one is particularly relevant to our current time, particularly about 40 minutes in when she talks about the process of thinking, this explains other’s behaviour, then progressing to the shocking recognition that it explains me!

Posted in Brain Science | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Has the advance of science contributed to the advance of philosophy?

[ 11/1/21 Foundations of Logic – Facebook page – Walter Smith
Has the advance of science contributed to the advance of philosophy?]

It seems to me that one can only make that assessment on an individual by individual basis – as what each individual means by the terms science and philosophy will be specific, and may or may not be shared with others to various degrees.

To me, at their best, science and philosophy are the same thing, the search of the possible with reference to how interpretations and evidence seem to work in reality.

To me, it is clear beyond any shadow of reasonable doubt, that if one is interested in having a reasonable probability of long term survival with reasonable degrees of freedom and reasonable sets of tools and energy and concepts with which to responsibly exercise that freedom, then one must accept that demands cooperative systems and the acceptance of any and all diversity that is not an unreasonable threat to existence.

For me, science and philosophy have converged on that assessment.

Posted in Philosophy, understanding | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Are things only what people and society determine them to be?

Are things only what people and society determine them to be?

[ 11/1/21 ]

While I align very closely with most of Alistair Riddoch’s answer, my simplest answer to the question is No.

Things are what they are.

We have some degrees of influence over our simplistic understanding of “things”, be those “things” physical or conceptual.

Most of the functioning of our brains seems to be set by patterns that are internally generated and maintained, and what passes for learning seems to a significant degree to be a process of aligning the already existing internal patterns with the stimuli from our senses. So there seem to be more layers in the process of human learning and cognition than most are taught in biology, psychology, AI or systems approaches.

And certainly, our brains have evolved because at some level they aided the survival of our ancestors in some sets of contexts. The thing that most forget to consider is that every other line of cells (bacteria to butterflies) has been around evolving for the same length of time on the same planet. The particular sets of contexts that resulted in brains with awarenesses such as we experience were the exception, not the rule.

Reality seems to be deeply more complex and fundamentally uncertain than any computational entity can appreciate in detail – ever!

Posted in understanding | Tagged | Leave a comment

What determines intelligence?

What determines human intelligence?

[ 11/1/21 ]

What do you think you mean by the term intelligence?

We now have vast evidence sets suggesting that human experience can only ever be of a subconsciously assembled model of reality, never reality itself. The the notion of fact is already strongly suspect – and can only ever really be something more like “contextually reliable approximation” to whatever “objective reality” might actually be.

When one looks deeply at the science of our brains, and at the science and logic of evolution, then the picture that emerges is deeply complex.

We seem to be deeply tuned by evolution to create “contextually survivable approximations using least possible energy and time”.

When you look at the patterns present in human brains, over 90% of the activity is internally generated, with no direct relationship to any external stimulus. So the idea that our brains are created by experience has to be replaced by one in which our experience of reality is, for the most part, correlated to already existing internal systems and patterns.

The assumptions of Turing and Church on the sets of computable functions do not seem to be closely related to the context of our existence or the evolutionary pressures that seem to have produced us.

One needs to spend some time in the theory of search with fully loaded processors to appreciate the power and necessity of random search (across all possible dimensions in all possible “spaces”).

When one has spent enough time searching dimensions of strategic spaces for which there are no agreed referents, then communication of anything one finds “interesting” can be extremely difficult.

All human beings seem to have roughly the same computational capacity.

What that capacity gets applied to seems able to be strongly influenced by sets of genetic, environmental and chance factors.

Most people seem to have strong valances for social agreement, and some of us do not.

The further and longer one strays from social agreement, the more difficult communication becomes. Such ventures tend to be quite lonely (of logical necessity).

The space of possible risk outside of socially agreed “spaces” seems to be sufficiently large and dangerous that societies require some significant fraction of outliers doing “random search” in order to have a reasonable probability of long term survival.

In terms of long term survival, if there is one simple message that is clear from all of my explorations of intelligence and risk, it is that long term survival of complex systems capable of generating or comprehending sets of symbols such as this is dependent upon sustaining levels of cooperation. Competition tends to drive systems to some set of minima on the available “complexity landscape”.

So to me, the common definitions of intelligence that rely on notions like facts, reason and logic seem overly simplistic, when it seems that the details of most of reality are complex and contain multiple sets of fundamental uncertainties that mean that all any of us ever have is some sort of “contextually useful approximation”, and often contexts change without us noticing.

The modern tendency to over simplify complexity is dangerous at multiple levels, and the whole “Trump” phenomenon seems to be one of the lesser expressions of such dangers.

Posted in Brain Science, understanding | Tagged | Leave a comment

What to major in?

Quora – Would majoring in environmental studies or neuroscience make more sense?

[ 10/1/21 ]

What are you passionate about?

What really interests you?

If you don’t have a clear answer to that, then keep trying things until you do, then do that – whatever it is.

Most real science is really hard, and you need a lot of passion to be able to do what is required to make a difference.

You can make a difference in any subject, if you are passionate enough and willing to put in the long hours of reading and practice required to build skill sets.

Some people like to specialise, some to generalise – both are required.

Generalists connect specialists.

Posted in Ideas | Tagged | Leave a comment

Logic and reality

Comment to Foundations of Logic facebook group – in response to responses to Gerasimos Manentis’ post:
A. Someone is a bachelor iff he is unmarried and man.
B. Someone is a bachelor iff he is unmarried and man and seeks to get married.
Is there a logical relation between A and B?

[ 9/1/21 ]

This example is also a basic illustration of the context sensitivity of logic to reality.

A logic system may be true or false to its own postulates and conditions, but the relationship of the postulates and conditions to reality is rarely (if ever) one to one; and therefore any system of logic can fail in reality if the context changes sufficiently to invalidate any of the approximations used.

When one looks closely at the data available from neuroscience, over 90% of the signals in our brain are internally generated, and something less than 10% are generated from the environment; thus our learning (at all levels) is more about aligning sets of “internal systems” with external stimuli, than it is about strictly training systems with stimulus response – and of course we are sufficiently complex that one can usually find instances of any form of learning one can conceive of if one looks closely enough; from binary truth values, to trinary, through higher forms all the way to Bayesian systems of fundamental uncertainty.

Thus is seems clear from the data that none of us get to experience reality directly, we all seem to live in our own personal “virtual reality”.

Thus the rules of our experiential “personal virtual realities” and the rules of whatever the “objective reality” beyond may be, can be very different things.

We all seem to have the ability to make our stories about our own personal virtual realities so internally self consistent that they are not open to new datasets or falsification by any external influence. That seems to be one of the fundamental issues with the sort of intelligence that we seem to be.

Posted in understanding | Tagged | Leave a comment