Quora – how do scientists get to a theory

Quora – How do scientists get to a theory?

That is a very deep question, and one that the Artificial Intelligence community would love to have a definite answer too.

The basic process is simple enough in a sense, you study something for a long time, look closely at something that interests you, examine the thing itself, and what other people have done in the process of investigating it; then you go do something else, and wait for a good idea.

The interesting bit seems to be the ways in which “good ideas” occur; and the almost as complex bit is how we make our initial decisions about what is “good” and what isn’t; and what is worth putting in further time and effort to investigate.

The mechanisms by which we get new ideas seem to be deeply complex.

Some of them are built into the mechanisms of our brains, and have been selected over deep time by the process of differential survival of variants (those that were a little better giving the individuals a slightly better chance of surviving).

Some we learn from culture, where ways of thinking about things that worked for others in the past have been handed down.

Some we discover for ourselves (via a variety of mechanisms, though in most people this is rare).

David Snowden has some great insights about information flows and decision making in complex adaptive systems (his you tube videos are worth watching) that are relevant in this context.

It is a subject that one can spend a very long time studying and experimenting with (I have since the mid 60s, and the more I learn the more complex and interesting the picture becomes).

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Medium achieving plans

How To Achieve Your 10-Year Plan In The Next 6 Months

While lots of the article reads kind of accurate – some is just false.
“Would it be hard to give up a bad habit if you only had 6 months left to live? Probably not.”

As someone who went vegan after being sent home “terminal cancer” and “palliative care only” having been told I could be “dead in 6 weeks” and had a 2% chance of living 2 years; I did make many significant changes. It was hard – far harder than training myself to hold my breath for 7 minutes for example.

I am over 7 years since my last tumour, but my experience has been that most people would rather die than make the sorts of changes I did with the consistency that I did (I have watched many do that).

So my experience absolutely contradicts the “Probably not” assertion above.

My experience is that I am in a very small fraction of people (less than 5%, possibly less than 1%) who actually manage to make significant, consistent changes; and maintain them across multiple years without exception. And my experience is that making those changes with that level of consistency was the hardest thing I have ever done, and I am no stranger to challenges.

I seem to be in a very tiny fraction of humanity who will actually devote significant amounts of time and energy to optimising the probabilities of survival and freedom for every person; consistently.

Very interested in the observations of others on this subject!

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Medium – moral philosophy

Moral Philosophy and What To Aim For In Your Life

Our moral philosophy determines what we care about and what we don’t care about.

This is really complex territory.

A reasonable understanding of the modern synthesis of evolutionary biology and evolutionary epistemology gives us a broad brush stroke picture of what we are and why we think as we do. It seems beyond reasonable doubt that it all comes back to the differential survival of variants in different contexts in different domains (many levels of genetic, many levels of cultural, and the personal).

It seems that in a very deep sense, all of our preferences are influenced at many different levels by this process of some things surviving better in some contexts than other things. And it rapidly gets very deep, very complex.

It seems that what we experience as reality isn’t, but is our personal subconsciously created model of reality. We don’t experience reality as it is, it is far too complex for that. For us to be able to make any sort of sense of it with our limited computational abilities, our subconscious systems have to simplify it down to a degree of complexity we can deal with. The effects of that were known to Plato, but not the causes or the mechanics – they have only been known in the last few years.

The neuroscience on this is now beyond any shadow of reasonable doubt, and the AI community can now create machines that can beat any human at any game where the rule set can be defined. But those machines still have a hard time dealing with many aspects of reality, as quantum mechanics seems to be telling us that the reality within which we live does not obey hard rules, but is rather a much more subtle and probabilistic balance between the lawful and the random. The neural networks of AI can find pattern in things they experience, but they don’t come with pre-configured subconscious systems selected and configured over deep time by evolution to work in all the very complex contexts of our deep past.

At every level of life, finding a balance between order and chaos seems to be essential to survival. Too much order, things become too rigid, and either we fail to have the capacity to respond to changes that happen from time to time, or we get too bored.

Too much chaos and our systems cannot maintain the many levels of boundaries required to maintain the sorts of complex systems that we are (individually and socially).

Finding that balance, between the excesses of order and chaos, seems to be both an eternal process of exploration, and very sensitive to changes in context.

Philosophers from Plato to Kant to most modern philosophers did not understand enough about the complexities of our biology and its origins to see how the being of our past produced our current tendencies to preferences; or how new levels of awareness are essential to our survival. Every aspect of our morality and our preferences seems to be deeply encoded lessons from our deep past as a species. This is seriously complex conceptual territory.

The mathematics is now clear. Complexity and diversity can only expand within cooperative contexts, and cooperative contexts are always vulnerable to exploitation, and require an eternal search of the space of attendant strategies to detect and remove cheating strategies on the cooperative. The ancient maxim that “the price of liberty is eternal vigilance” has been validated by evolutionary games theory.

So some things are clear, beyond any shadow of reasonable doubt.

One is, that if we, as individuals and as societies, want a reasonable probability of survival, and to survive with reasonable degrees of freedom and resources with which to use that freedom; then we must (each and every one of us) demonstrate responsible social and ecological behaviours, and we must do so in fundamentally cooperative contexts. Competitive contexts are fundamentally destructive to social cohesion.

And it is complex.

We all have our competitive sides.

We can all enjoy playing competitive games.

And the larger context within which we play those games has to be a cooperative one, if we want to have a reasonable probability of continuing to play any sort of game.

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Quora – Correspondence theory

What are the weak points of correspondence theory?

For me, the weaknesses are not so much with correspondence theory, but with our understandings of reality and our place in it, and the distinction between our experiential reality and whatever it is that is out there that our experience models.

If that isn’t immediately obvious, then consider this.

Science has now demonstrated beyond any shadow of reasonable doubt that we, and the reality within which we exist, are far more complex than our brains are capable of modeling; so evolutionary processes seem to have selected systems that gave useful approximations within the time and energy budgets available.

Thus what we experience as reality isn’t; cannot possibly be. What we experience is a subconsciously generated model of reality that is, in essence, a series of historically selected heuristic approximations that worked for our particular sets of ancestors.

Thus there is a degree of truth in correspondence theory, and it is highly unlikely to ever be 1:1 correspondence in anything other than the most simplistically trivial of situations. Reality seems to be vastly more complex most of the time, and seems to contain many levels of aspects that are not simply probabilistic uncertainties, but contain fundamental unknowables, that may only ever be approximated to some degree of accuracy.

The usual alternative theory of truth is coherence theory, where all things follow from propositions, but successive thinkers from Russell to Goedel have provided fundamental blocks to that approach.

To me, both approaches seem to be fundamentally flawed, as each makes overly simplistic assumptions about the nature of human experience, and this thing we call truth.

Correspondence theory rests on the assumption that we can actually directly experience reality, which modern neuroscience seems to have conclusively disproved.

Coherence theory rests on the assumption that reality always obeys some set of rules, and quantum mechanics seems to indicate that is a very unlikely situation.

It seems that both the fundamental substructure of reality, and the structure of our perceptual and conceptual systems are vastly more complex and fundamentally uncertain than either of the classical theories allow for (both are based upon overly simplistic sets of assumptions, and both can be useful heuristics in some contexts).

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Quora – what theory scares you?

What scientific theory scares you, and why?

I was a keen pilot.

There is a saying in aviation “there are old pilots and there are bold pilots, but there are no old bold pilots”.

A friend of mine (Len Pilcher) had the highest flying hours of any NZ pilot (43,000) mostly agricultural flying, but starting as a fighter pilot in World War 2. About 20 years ago at a dinner for our flying club where I had asked him to be guest speaker, one of the club asked Len “to what do you owe your high hours?”.
Len’s reply “I scare easy!”

Most scientific theories scare me!

The more one understands about anything, the more ways one realises that things can go “belly up”. That is true of quantum mechanics, of complex adaptive systems, of chaos theory, of games theory (and the modern evolutionary synthesis more generally), of exploring any infinite set (particularly sets of algorithms or more general computational and modeling spaces).

Jordan Peterson uses the symbolic metaphorical description of “riding the snake” to describe the embodied cultural art of navigating the exceptionally complex contextually sensitive and constantly changing territory of reality, and finding a habitable zone of freedom and responsibility between the excesses of order and chaos.

That seems to be true at very level of existence, from the sub atomic quantum world up through the atomic, the many layers of molecular, the many layers of cellular, etc right on up through individuals, populations, cultures, to the highest levels of abstraction yet instantiated (the potential seems infinite).

Anything, everything, has the potential to scare, even to terrify; if one has a sufficient level of awareness of the complexities that actually seem to be present.

To balance that, is the realisation that life has to be lived; so we must each find a workable balance (day by day) between terrors and joys; hopefully one that keeps us within the boundaries of what is habitable (both individually, culturally, and ecologically).

It is a seriously non-trivial problem space, as the existence of many existential risk communities demonstrates (I am engaged with several of them).

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Quora – longevity

Recent findings of genetic chimerism or chimera gives us hope of longevity but do we really want to live more than 100 years?

It was clear to me in 1974 (as I completed undergraduate biochemistry studies) that indefinite life extension was possible.

It was clear that such life extension would give a reasonable probability to those who so chose to live on indefinitely in bodies with increasing capabilities and decreasing probability of death (the inverse of our current situation).

That is, and has been for 44 years, my desired outcome.

Right now, this body that is me is carrying rather too many painful injuries; and at some point (maybe 30 years away) those should be able to be all repaired by spending a couple of weeks in a “regen” tank. What I need to do is stay alive long enough for that technology to mature.

And certainly, yes – reality seems sufficiently complex and interesting that I could find interesting things to occupy my time should I manage to live for the rest of eternity.

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Quora – misconceptions about evolution

What is the largest misconception about evolution?

There are lots of answers here with misconceptions; but none mention what is (to me) the biggest of them; and that is the idea that evolution is all about competition.

That is just wrong.

Certainly, competition can be a powerful force in evolution, in some contexts.

However, if one is talking about complex organisms, then cooperation is far more important to the emergence of complexity than competition is.

And it does get quite complex quite quickly (as many things do in biology and elsewhere).

Evolution works on every level of structure present, simultaneously.

For cooperation to survive, it must have attendant strategies present that effectively detect and remove “cheating strategies” on the cooperative.

The idea that evolution is all about competition has done more to prevent people understanding what evolution is and how it works; because most people have a strong intuitive understanding that cooperation is fundamental to human life, in our families, our communities, our work-places, our cultures and our institutions.

The idea that many have that evolution promotes the “greed is good” model of behaviour is wrong. Evolution is far more complex than that.

It is a case of over simplification causing a rejection, because it is intuitively obvious to many that the over simplified model is simply wrong.

Once people understand that, in environments where the major sources of risk to individuals come from factors outside of the population of those individuals, cooperative systems can emerge and stabilise, and such cooperation leads to a flowering of diversity.

Competition is the enemy of diversity and tends to drive systems to some set of minima on the complexity landscape.

For highly complex social organisms like ourselves, evolution is far more about cooperation than it is about competition.

Once we understand that; we just might develop social systems that actually promote the general welfare of all of humanity, and all the ecosystems that support us.

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