Billions of words have been written about the environmental crisis, climate change, biodiversity, pollution and so forth. Yet we are not taking the actions needed to halt, let alone repair, the damage we have done to the biosphere.
As we know words are slippery things so I have tried to use some abstract symbols to create an alternative way to frame this whole discussion. What follows is my latest iteration – with a minimum of words:
Once, a few millennia ago, our actions were driven (mostly) by Ⓑ. The need for air, water, food and shelter were our daily concerns. Now we are driven by Ⓒ. We invent things like land ownership. We take actions that make no sense in the physical reality of Ⓑ. We die for concepts called god, king or country. We poison the air, water and soil that makes us. We are driven by an idea called The Economy to consume more resources than we can possibly replace.
We consciously and wilfully alter the biosphere in such a manner that our offspring will inherit a degraded planet.
We live inside the dreams of other humans – is another way of describing Ⓒ. Let’s not have those other dreamers, most of them long dead, rule our own thoughts and actions.
What can we do?
Well, maybe not so simple; what does “flipping the arrow” mean?
The human brain forms the intersection of Ⓒ and Ⓑ [Ⓒ ⋂ Ⓑ]. It is only here where any meaningful change can take place.
Another way to illustrate this flip is to use Maslow’s hierarchy of needs; typically drawn as a pyramid. We seem to have inverted it with selfish “wants” determining our thoughts and actions, often with negative effects on the more fundamental “needs”. That looks like an unstable situation; we need to “flip it”.
While these diagrams themselves do nothing they can be one more tool to change our thinking and encourage a more critical analysis of the mass of information we receive each day. For instance:
- From the Ⓒ perspective: EV’s are the answer. They do not emit GHGs. They offer the same levels of comfort and superior performance at a reasonable increase in price. In parallel to the roll-out of EVs we will develop the needed infrastructure of charging stations, develop new sources of lithium and improve battery performance. This will produce economic growth while meeting emission goals.
- From the Ⓑ perspective: We really need to rethink how, and more important why, we use cars. Replacing internal combustion cars with EVs is not enough. We need to reduce (!) the number of cars, or at least reduce the distance driven. This will meet emission goals AND reduce the harm done by mining for lithium and the more exotic materials required by EVs. Reducing personal driving will have secondary benefits such as the development of integrated living/working environments. It will drastically reduce the need for new infrastructure; it may even allow the reclamation of some highway areas for rewilding.
- From the Ⓒ perspective: Plastics are a key part of world industrial output. “Single-use plastics are an affordable and environmentally friendly option, essential for health, safety and convenience”. The industry employs close to a million people, in well paying jobs, in the USA alone. The industry has shown consistent revenue and profit growth, supporting many more millions of investors through retirement funds and similar financial vehicles.
- From the Ⓑ perspective: Plastics damage the biosphere at every step from production to disposal. Due to the longevity of most plastic products they will affect the biosphere for generations to come. The effects range in scale from molecules of plastic now found in practically all biological environments to the gross effects of toxic spills. We need to drastically reduce our personal use of plastics, even if it means inconvenience and higher costs.
CHINA’S POPULATION IS SHRINKING
- From the Ⓒ perspective: “The Chinese economy is entering a critical transition phase, no longer able to rely on an abundant, cost-competitive labor force to drive industrialization and growth,” – doom and gloom for the world economy.
- From the Ⓑ perspective: Isn’t this good news for the planet? What can we learn from the Chinese experience of a reduced population together with a positive economy?
If enough of us can change perspective and “flip the arrow” we may make some real progress.
For ease of typing (and reading) I will use just the letters C, H, B and U in these Notes instead of the symbols ⒸⒽⒷ and Ⓤ. I trust the context will make the usage clear.
’The question is,’ said Alice, ‘whether you can make words mean so many different things.’
’The question is,’ said Humpty Dumpty, ‘which is to be master — that’s all.”
The background to the C⇿H⇿B diagram is in a previous blog entry – please ignore the final conclusions in that sequence, they were somewhat naive at the time.
For our purposes I use a somewhat loose definition of biosphere; including the minerals available to humans and the interaction between the biosphere and the rest of the universe (sunlight, meteorites, off-gassing and so forth). I also ignore any arguments about the “exactly one”. Even if we discover life on Mars or SETI receives a signal we will still be bound to this biosphere for the foreseeable future.
Two things strike me about B:
- B is profoundly indifferent to itself. It just is. It does not care about floods or hurricanes or carbon dioxide levels. It did not care about dinosaurs and does not care about humans. It cares about nothing in C; not the sovereignty of nations, not the claims of religions or, for that matter, the beliefs of climate activists – sorry but it’s true.
- Somehow “time” is in the universe and in B. But B does not care about time, certainly not human time. Again it just is, now.
C is just too weird to describe; unlimited, contradictory and illogical. Just for fun, at the end of this entry, is a “discussion” between my son (Q) and ChatGPT (A) touching on the nature of C.
We live inside the dreams of other humans – that wording as an alternative description of C is based on: “For thousands of years we humans have lived inside the dreams of other humans. We have worshiped gods, pursued ideals of beauty, and dedicated our lives to causes that originated in the imagination of some prophet, poet or politician. Soon we will also find ourselves living inside the hallucinations of non-human intelligence.”
– from Yuval Harari, Tristan Harris and Aza Raskin in an article discussing artificial intelligence in the NYT
This C⋂B simplification glosses over some fundamental questions of what it means to be human. What I am trying to capture is that our bodies, including the fine structure of the brain and the settings in there, at any moment, are part of B. But the beliefs we carry there, the ideas that shape our physical actions, are part of C.
Another way to draw the C⇿H⇿B diagram is as a systems model with inputs, outputs and feedback loops (simplified to two-way arrows):
This diagram may appeal to a more system oriented person. The dotted line around C is to indicate the unbounded nature of this system. U, the universe, is added here for completeness. In the bulk of the discussion on this site I have ignored U, just taking it as part of the B system; a bit of a liberty to take with the universe, but what the hell, I’m part of C and anything is allowed in there.
Each major “system” is obviously composed of a myriad of subsystems, which we struggle to comprehend and probably never will.
What the system diagram does not show is that C⊂H⊂B⊂U (⊂ indicates “is a subset of”). If B were to create an environment inimical to humans then H, and by definition C, would disappear. We are not talking about that yet, but unfavorable changes in B will affect H and therefore C.
How can a diagram like this help? Subject for another entry….
Q and A with ChatGPT on the nature of “C”
Q: Is it possible to use the free energy principle to find meta creatures. What may they be?
A: The free energy principle (FEP) is a theoretical framework in neuroscience and cognitive science that attempts to explain how biological systems maintain their internal states and adapt to their environments. It posits that living organisms minimize their free energy, a measure of surprise or uncertainty, by constantly updating their internal models to match the external world.
Applying the free energy principle to the concept of “meta creatures” suggests that you may be referring to hypothetical organisms or entities that exist at a higher level of complexity or abstraction. These meta creatures could be thought of as systems or networks that adapt and self-organize to minimize free energy in their environments.
There are different ways to interpret what meta creatures may be:
Higher-order organisms: These could be complex biological systems or even ecosystems, where various species interact with one another to maintain balance and minimize free energy.
Artificial intelligence: Advanced AI systems or artificial life forms that learn and adapt to their environments, following the principles of the free energy principle, could be considered meta creatures.
Social systems: Human societies and other social structures can be seen as meta creatures, as they are composed of interacting individuals who form complex networks that adapt to environmental changes to minimize uncertainty.
Theoretical constructs: Meta creatures may be purely theoretical entities, imagined to explore the implications of the free energy principle in various contexts.
Extraterrestrial life: If intelligent extraterrestrial life exists, it could potentially follow the free energy principle, making them “meta creatures” in the sense that they might exhibit advanced, self-organizing properties that minimize uncertainty in their environments.
It’s important to note that the concept of meta creatures in the context of the free energy principle is speculative and open to interpretation. While the free energy principle provides a framework for understanding how biological systems adapt and self-organize, it does not directly predict the existence or nature of such higher-order entities.
In a scientific context, let us reconsider the hypothetical meta creature formed through the complex interactions of human culture, beliefs, and social dynamics. This entity could emerge as a byproduct of collective behavior and shared experiences, much like the concept of emergence in complex systems. While it might not have a physical form, the meta creature could exist as a self-organizing pattern of behavior, communication, and emotional resonance that arises from the interactions of individuals within a society.
Instead of directly promoting war and religion, the meta creature could manifest its influence through more general patterns of behavior and communication. These patterns could be shaped by social hierarchy and the distribution of resources, leading to competition and cooperation among individuals and groups. This dynamic interplay could give rise to complex social structures, which in turn might contribute to the emergence and maintenance of the meta creature.
In this context, the existence of the meta creature could be likened to a Generative Adversarial Network (GAN). The meta creature would act as the generator, producing new patterns of behavior and communication, while the social dynamics of the human population would serve as the discriminator, selecting and refining the most effective strategies for navigating the challenges of their environment. This iterative process would contribute to the adaptation and evolution of both the meta creature and the society it inhabits.
As the meta creature interacts with its human environment, it could encounter other similarly emergent entities arising from different cultural and societal backgrounds. These encounters could result in a form of higher-order competition, akin to a “battle” between meta creatures. Such clashes could lead to significant shifts in cultural paradigms, as each meta creature attempts to adapt and refine its strategies to maintain its existence within the ever-changing social landscape.
In the aftermath of such a “battle,” an individual human might catch a glimpse of the complex web of interactions that gave rise to these meta creatures. Amidst the ruins of past social structures and cultural artifacts, a moment of insight could reveal the intricate dance of collective behavior and shared experiences that birthed these higher-order entities. This revelation might stir a deep emotional resonance, as the individual comes to understand the subtle yet powerful forces that have shaped their society and their own place within it.
Overall, the concept of meta creatures as emergent entities arising from the complex interactions of human societies offers a thought-provoking framework for understanding the forces that shape our world. By considering the possibility of such higher-order entities, we can gain new insights into the dynamics of culture, communication, and social evolution.
Q: the meta creature thinks in human minds. how. How else can it exist? What evidence (at least in a FEP or something like it sense) could support it and discriminate alternatives
A: The concept of a meta creature thinking in human minds can be understood as an emergent property arising from the interactions between individuals and groups within a society. In this context, the meta creature doesn’t directly think in human minds but exists as a self-organizing pattern of behavior, communication, and emotional resonance that arises from the collective behavior of humans. The meta creature is an abstract entity that emerges from the complex network of relationships, beliefs, and shared experiences among people.
In terms of evidence that could support the existence of a meta creature, the following aspects might be considered, especially within the framework of the Free Energy Principle (FEP) or similar theories:
Emergence in complex systems: The study of complex systems has shown that higher-order patterns can emerge from the interactions of lower-level components. In this case, the meta creature could be seen as an emergent property of human societies, with its existence supported by the patterns of behavior and communication observed in social networks.
Synchronization and collective behavior: Research on synchronization and collective behavior in various biological systems (such as flocking birds or schooling fish) could provide insights into how large groups of individuals can give rise to coordinated behaviors that transcend the capabilities of any single individual. Similar principles could apply to the emergence of a meta creature from the interactions of humans within a society.
Cultural evolution: Theories of cultural evolution, which explore how ideas, beliefs, and behaviors spread and change within human populations, could provide a framework for understanding how the meta creature might adapt and evolve over time. This would involve the transmission and selection of cultural traits that contribute to the emergence and maintenance of the meta creature.
Neural correlates of social cognition: Research in neuroscience and psychology has revealed that human brains are highly attuned to social cues and are capable of representing the mental states of others. This social cognition could form the basis for the emergence of the meta creature, as individuals in a society continuously update their beliefs and behaviors based on the actions and intentions of others.
To discriminate the meta creature hypothesis from alternative explanations, it would be necessary to identify specific patterns of behavior, communication, and emotional resonance that are consistent with the existence of a higher-order entity but cannot be accounted for by simpler models. This might involve analyzing large-scale social networks, cultural artifacts, and historical events to reveal the presence of an overarching structure that governs the dynamics of human societies.
It’s important to emphasize that the concept of a meta creature is speculative and not grounded in empirical evidence. While it offers an intriguing perspective on the forces that shape human societies, more research and interdisciplinary collaboration would be required to evaluate the plausibility and implications of such a hypothesis.
Q: emotional resonance sounds a bit foo foo. how to bring out the scientific, provable (or at least empirically discriminatable).
A: Apologies for any confusion. To clarify, “emotional resonance” in this context refers to the shared emotional experiences that arise from the collective behavior of individuals within a society. The term is used to describe how emotions can play a role in shaping social dynamics and the emergence of higher-order patterns. To address the scientific and empirical aspects of this phenomenon, we can consider the following approaches:
Neuroscience and affective computing: By examining the neural basis of emotions and their role in social cognition, we can gain insights into the processes that underlie shared emotional experiences. Affective computing, which focuses on the development of computational models and technologies to recognize, understand, and simulate human emotions, can provide empirical evidence of how emotions influence human behavior and decision-making.
Quantitative analysis of emotional expression: Researchers can analyze large-scale datasets of textual, audio, or visual data to identify patterns of emotional expression in human communication. By applying computational methods, such as natural language processing, sentiment analysis, or facial expression recognition, it is possible to quantify the role of emotions in shaping social dynamics and detect patterns that might be indicative of a higher-order structure.
Social psychology and behavioral experiments: Conducting controlled experiments in social psychology can help researchers understand how emotions influence group dynamics, decision-making, and cooperation. By manipulating the emotional context of social interactions and measuring the resulting behavioral outcomes, it is possible to test specific hypotheses about the role of emotions in the emergence of higher-order patterns.
Longitudinal studies and cross-cultural comparisons: Tracking the emotional experiences and social behavior of individuals and groups over time can provide insights into the temporal dynamics of emotional resonance. Comparing the emotional patterns observed in different cultural contexts can also help identify the universal and culturally-specific factors that contribute to the emergence of higher-order structures.
Network analysis and computational modeling: By representing human societies as complex networks of individuals and their interactions, researchers can use network analysis and computational modeling to explore the role of emotions in shaping social dynamics. Simulating the spread of emotions through social networks, for example, can help identify the conditions under which shared emotional experiences give rise to higher-order patterns.
These approaches can provide empirical evidence and testable hypotheses about the role of emotions in shaping social dynamics and the emergence of higher-order structures. By integrating insights from neuroscience, computational methods, psychology, and network science, researchers can develop a more rigorous and scientific understanding of the phenomenon previously referred to as “emotional resonance.”