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Saturday, November 8, 2014

Goals and Problems

The solution to any problem is primarily made up of two parts: the desired outcome and the options of performance; psycho-bio-physically unattainable goals (or undefined goals) and unperformable actions (or performable actions that are unrelated to the issues) only amplify difficulties.  But, before getting into the human domain of problems, there is context.

In the Physical Order – the overwhelmingly predominant ordering system – there are no goals or problems, only events in process.  In the Living Order there is one primary goal for all living things: continuity of genetic replication – and from that goal, the generation of vast varieties of performable actions.  Problems are a particular kind: How, under specific circumstances, to gather sufficient energy and materials to support the replication of genetic material.  The primary solution to this problem on the earth has been for the genetic material to manifest a phenotype – a biological body with specific capacities to act in the world.  From this “solution,” many trillions of optional manifest forms have acted their genetically programed designs on the world. 

But, the “goal” of the Living Order is of a type unfamiliar in the daily processes of the organism that invented goals. First, there is no apparent repository of that goal; it does not reside as an identifiable entity or structure with an identifiable form like a molecular system, brain, written communication or code in a computing device.  And so we ‘goal givers’ have almost irretrievably distorted our understanding of both the physical and the living state by requiring a human like storage device or entity for what seems to us to be “directed” actions.  And this distortion has completely deformed our understanding of ourselves. [1]

Briefly, the primary goal of the Living Order is contained, in a sense, in the localized stability of the planetary surface.  Millions of millions of chemical and physical options have been given opportunity by that stability; options with vanishingly small probabilities become certainties given near infinities of time and occurrence.  Of these possibilities some tiny few are of such a form that once they form, their design facilitates the generation of others like themselves.  Quite suddenly then, chemical/physical forms that had a tiny probability of occurrence have a much higher probability – so long as the conditions remain stabile or only very slowly changing.  It is this continuity of occurrence that is the sine qua non of life: the essential “goal” of life is, in human terms, no goal at all.

Without goals there are no problems.  Various philosophical and ‘religious’ systems have understood and advocated this reality for thousands of years. It is telling of our natures that so simple, obvious and revelatory a truth should be so thoroughly unheeded.  Our human world seems to be nothing but goals – their attendant problems as far as the eye can see in the distance and future.

Keeping in mind that the vast expanse of the universe has no goals and that the living world of the planetary surface has only the ‘goal’ of, what might be called, molecular momentum, all the myriad goals associated with the human animal, goals which are increasingly influencing the surface of the earth, are completely the production of an evolved adaptation manifest in humans, orders of magnitude beyond its marginal occurrence in other animals.  The very nature of our thought is an evolved process, one of many optional processes that proved efficacious in maintaining the molecular momentum at the moment of its biological selection – like the evolutionary paths that led from retinol to eye ball or calcium storage in brackish water pre-teleost fishes leading to the boney skeletons of land vertebrates.

Human thought is made of goals and problems, options and solutions; and in our most basic and primary ignorance of the realities of a goal-less, problem-less and solution-less world, we attribute the artifice of our processes onto the world as a first reality.

A thoughtful reader might at this point question (I, as a thoughtful writer, ask as well)“How is this analysis any help in mitigating the mal-adaptive behaviors, writ large, of our species?”  The simple and ironic answer is, of course, it is of no particular use: the truth is of no use.  And then, in homage to those ancient souls who figured all of this out 3 thousand or more years ago: it is the only answer.  The truth is of no use and it is the only answer.

Does that sound like gobbledygook? Well, of course, it is and it isn’t.  If you are thoroughly embedded in the goal-problem paradigm, then it is mindless prattle, useless in the discovery of the solutions to our problems.  However, if you can step out of the structures of our evolved adaptations – that ability is actually part of the adaptation – it is possible to begin to realize that problems are solved not by creating new goals, but by recognizing and evaporating the goals that create the problems in the first place.  Some examples:

Personal: The goal – person ‘A’ will meet my needs, which generates the problem that my needs are not met.  Solution – put person ‘A’ into a position where he or she must, under penalty, do what I want.  You see? The goal of having my needs met by person ‘A’ forms the problem that my needs are not met, which creates the goal of forcing person ‘A’ to act as I desire (my goal for that person).  This can go on and on.  Another option would be to discover ways to ‘make’ person ‘A’ want to meet my needs; this is yet another goal generating another set of problems. 

Without the first goal, the rest disappears.  This is what all other animals do – they adapt to their environment rather than attempting to force the environment to act as they wish.  Which should make clear that ‘doing as we wish’ requires a wish – and a need to understand the origin of our wishes!

The political grows from and mirrors the personal process; it is a matter of getting a team together to act on stereotyped goals, problems, options and solutions.  The “intelligence” of 5 people compatibly working together on an identifiable problem is increased over that of the smartest person in the room (assuming a common, openly shared goal).  The “intelligence” of a crowd of a 100 people is reduced to the IQ of the pitchforks they carry.  This both suggests something about the origins of our thought processes and the ways in which we might organize our societies to minimize the complexities of goal setting.

As useful (or useless) as it might be to understand that goal setting is the primary source of our problems in the first place, it no way relieves our most basic biological “illness”: our human adaptation is to create goals and identify problems and options for meeting those goals.  This is a new process and a specialized artifice in an otherwise goal-less universe.  This adaptation has now begun to press against the most basic goal-less “goal” of the Living Order, the molecular momentum of genetic continuity.  The completely goal-less universe is neutral on the subject.

This seems worthy of further consideration.

[1] Many will recognize this as the problem of teleology: the attribution of some ‘purpose’ as a cause.  I am avoiding this language for two reasons.  First, the standard language has been mutilated beyond repair and is no longer cognitively and emotionally related to the issues and, second, the primary distortion of seeing ‘purpose’ as a substantive reality rather than as a Consciousness Order shorthand for a mental process.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Language As Tool And Trap

Here is another compulsive act of futility, another linguistic construction project to add a few more walls to our mental prison: efforts at explanation and clarity so often end up being just as confining as the originating confusions.
Language is a trap – and yet it is the pivotal means by which we expand our options beyond the limitations of the Living System of Order.  Almost any arrangement of words, that meet the basic requirements of syntactical order, can be imbued with behavioral/biological consequences; even non-sense collections of language-like sounds can be so infused given sufficient reinforced repetition.  One need only listen to a random selection of AM radio or eavesdrop on conversations in a coffee shop to realize the arbitrariness with which our language constructs the walls, fences and ditches of our understanding.

The first great danger is that we will assume that language can define the full expanse of our reality; the second great danger is that we will assume that it cannot inform our understanding at all, leaving us, in all appearances, without any device or devices to take on the challenges so obviously before us: the challenges are real beyond language, demanding solutions beyond rhetoric and yet we are left only with language as the means to bring together a sufficiency of organized action to meet them.

And thus, I find myself at a computer keyboard pushing buttons in the essentially vain (both senses) effort to pour the abstraction of Consciousness Order waters onto the concrete reality of Living Order fires: pouring imaginary confetti mixed with imaginary brickbats onto an imaginary parade of war heroes and zombies; it feels a bit like trying to teach algebra to a puppy (that actually knows as much algebra and calculus as it will ever need already. Just watch it catch a Frisbee!).

Well, clearly we humans don’t know all that we need to know.  And this is in main-part because we are trying to know about how to live in the world by how we think about the world.  To put it as bluntly as possible: thinking and its tool, language, did not evolve/adapt to replace living, only to supplement the primary informational impacts of living.  Thinking and language have long since run out beyond the cliff edge like the cartoon coyote (Roadrunner cartoons… an essential metaphor for modern life) and are “running” and “climbing” on the air, suspended only by the ignorance of falling.

So much for my display of angst!  What is to be done?

First and foremost, nothing.  There are 7 billion people on the earth and only some few millions are ready to take on the problem in a meaningful way.  Another several million, the power elites, are positioned to take over, or have taken over, the present distortions for their personal benefit; they have no interest in weakening the vast ignorance rooted in the impunity with which they live.  Hundreds of millions of people might, given a reasonable opportunity, adopt and adapt to ways of life more compatible with the Living Order, but this would require large changes in the metaphors that organize our lives; that is, adopting metaphors that use thinking and language to give up thinking and language as our first organizing principles, but the primary means to control the metaphors is, not without intention, firmly in the hands of the power elites.

Second and second-most, a lot.  There is so much to do!  Getting living right for yourself is the necessary step for getting living right for the larger community; and to do that it is necessary to figuratively (and perhaps literally) step out of the existing communities of experience and expectation (present metaphors).  This is especially true for the organizing functions of status systems.

We, humans, are a primate-pattern animal.  Our social systems come out of the genetics of primate community structure (this is an obvious conclusion of chimp, gorilla and baboon ethology).  Does your computer ever need a hug? Does a Mercedes ‘feel’ better about itself than a Kia?  Does a kitchen appliance blush with pride at a compliment?  The reality is that our primary nature is as a status-based community animal.  Social status systems evolved to organize the community for effective functioning in the ecology; motives of status are as much a part of us as fingers and thumbs.

But social systems have come to be given detail by the metaphors assigned by our stories about ourselves; this is the consequence of our Consciousness Order, a layer of activity laid over the form of our biology like a coat of paint, capable of obscuring inherent form while in no way changing it.

A focus on the details of the many injustices, inequities, crimes and maladaptive misbehaviors that surround us can offer no relief without an underlying change in how we view social status.  In a monumental perversity, we have come to accord high-value status to those who steal the most from the Great Many. 

In a community of equity (not the same as everyone having equal amounts of all production regardless of contribution) and transparency, it is obvious to all participants who is contributing, what and how much; it is also clear who is stealing or attempting to steal from the contributions of others.  It is natural in such a community to have social patterns of status built on cooperation and contributions to social stability and sustenance as well as on displays of power, bravery and possessions.

We will not, of course, as a society or as a species, make such changes; our imaginings are more real than the reality within which and to which we must readapt if we are to continue being a part of the Living Order.  But, that the large collections of us will not recognize and adopt salutary status systems is no reason not to create, value and live in such status systems either personally or within ad hoc communities.

As much as we may wish to avoid the recognition, our situation is simplicity itself.  The world’s billions and the world’s dominating elites cannot and will not lead collected humanity toward ways of living within the limits of ecological necessity [1]; in fact, the world’s billions will collectively demand an unattainable bit more for each and everyone (many with justification and some without) and the power elites will demand continued access to vast excess, imperiously condemning everyone else to servitude and deprivation. 

All that is actually left for those who see the world with some depth and clarity is to construct their own social systems using the larger dominating structures as the “eco-social-systems” within, or upon, which they must live.  This is not the most desirable choice – it is simply the only choice. 

I’m not suggesting lives of quiet desperation, rather lives of deliberate and proud social difference; an active as well as passive rejection of social status systems that give support and value to the theft of labor and the other social contributions made by the vast majority of humanity.  What we call being ‘rich’ can be seen as the crime it is, and more importantly, those who are rich can be socially condemned as accessories before or after the fact as we would anyone else who is part of a criminal conspiracy [2]. 

Most of society is so marinated in the madness of material accumulation, so devoted to the status system and social/economic organizing designs of money wealth, that freeing one’s self from the powerful web of influences is difficult.   Rejecting what “everyone else” believes to be true requires both excellent reasons and personal strength.   I can’t speak to personal strength – that is guided and attained in many ways – but the excellent reasons are piling up fast. 

These reasons are broadly of two types: the failures of our specieshood, that is, the alienation of our biology, with the resulting physical and mental illnesses, by our socially created distortions of reality, and, secondly, the destruction of environment endangering the whole living enterprise as it is presently functioning.  The former creates a creature uprooted from the living earth and arrogant in its powers of destruction and the latter sets the stage for the future of the extant ecological order.

[1] There must be a structural ‘engine’ of change of sufficient range and scope integrated into the existing social order, an ‘engine’ capable of responding to the relevant informational inputs that presage both the necessity and direction of change; there is no such ‘engine.’  The democratic, egalitarian social council of elders – the archetype of decision making for the human community – is a completely compromised design in the present world.  We are left with only raw evolutionary biology as the inevitable uncompromising change machine.

[2] Many social systems have engaged in actions that were eventually realized as immoral and criminal.  Piracy and robbery have often been considered “normal” economic activity by peoples living on trade routes.  Chattel slavery was considered perfectly correct by most Americans only a few generations ago.  The economic and political elites of today are like the slave owners of the past in their attitudes toward those over which they have power; they are like the pirates of the recent past who considered their robberies and murders as the “natural right” of people “smart” enough to get away with them.  How to accomplish such a transition of attitude without the excesses of the French Revolution will be one of the conundrums of the near future.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Freewill is an Adaptation

The essential objection to the existence of freewill is the same as the objection to any seemingly non-material “entity” for which no basis in known matter/energy relations can be found or convincingly surmised.  The consideration of the issue can begin from either of two stances: that the personal experience of freewill is sufficient to strongly suggest its reality independent of a matter/energy explanation or that the freewill experience is the product of discernable matter/energy relations and not actually ‘freewill’ as it is commonly thought of.  Since humans have been operating from the first stance for a measured time of 5000 years, and most likely before, while producing the same paradoxes over and over again, the second stance must be given serious consideration.
* * * 
Variability in human behavior, without regard to its origin, is the source of our success on the earth.  Imagine an animal like a rabbit increasing in population by an exponent.  The behaviors of the rabbits would not also increase in variety by the exponent, but would remain almost fixed (I say ‘almost fixed’ since there would be weak performance variability and a small increase in variability based on genetic variety).  It is the fixed behaviors of rabbits that limit their populations to clearly defined habitats and numbers per hectare – only by changing their behavior could they increase in number under consistent macro-environmental conditions (I say macro-environment because the immediate environment would be greatly affected by large changes in rabbit numbers, precisely because their behaviors are fixed).

For an animal to add variety to its behavioral repertoire, actual mechanisms must be acting – and posited in explanation (this is one of the paradoxes: that an animal must explain itself to itself with the tools that the explanations are explaining!).  The explanations that humans use are imagination, innovation and freewill.

What we perceive as and have formalized in the language as personal freewill is a design of brain process with the overall adaptive consequence of increasing variability in human behavior.  This must be true regardless of the processes that underlie what we call freewill. Looked as a whole, a group of animals has a volume of behavior; most of the behavior is ‘of a type’ typical of the group, practiced and weakly variable (weak variability from random variations of performance contrasted with strong variability from matter/energy systems adapted to produce variable responses).  However, in humans there is a component of strong variability in our behavior such that when a “snap shot” of behavior structure is taken at one time it will be noticeably different from one taken at another time – the amount of difference is most often highly correlated with the amount of time between looks.

The human process of storing experience over time and distance and combining these experiences by either a “purposeful” or random action, both in the single brain and, powerfully, in the social construction of group-based Story, is the basis of our strong variability.  The essential question is: are the combinations of imagination purposefully arrived at, as we most often feel that they are, or are they random combinations derived from the probability structure created by the local environment, current social structure, nature of language and the vicissitudes of personal experience; and then selected from by an adaptive process within the present Story playing against the recognition (as comprehended in Story) of present needs?

That this is ‘a mouthful’ is a clue to the understanding (misunderstanding) of our variability as the product of ‘freewill.’  There was, in our evolution and in our general history, no adaptive advantage to correctly identifying the functional nature of our Consciousness Order variability-producing processes; if anything, advantage goes to the illusion that we were exercising choice and organizing experiences into meaningful reality-based behaviors. 

So long as Biophysical Reality served as an essential arbiter in the adaptive process, the Stories that humans told themselves about what was driving the process mattered little: it doesn’t matter whether a sailor thinks that the wind is coming from a giant waving a fan or from high and low pressure areas so long as the mainsails and jibs are properly set, and there is nothing in the two ‘understandings’ to improve the sailor’s skills, one over the other.  Except… in the big picture, when the sailor needs to have some knowledge of the whole sea, now and tomorrow; when the actions of sailors begin to influence the wind, then illusions become a danger.

As difficult as it may seem, it is becoming essential that we understand how our adaptive processes actually function.  Among our biggest errors of understanding are freewill and agency.  While it is not necessary for every behavior and behavioral change to be deeply analyzed by every human actor, it is becoming vital that we find a way to see collective actions in veridical terms.  This means, in part, that those “in charge” of ideas, and the collective actions generated, be competent to perform such analysis.  Only when the Story that we tell about ourselves includes such a need will it happen; our present Story sends some of the most incompetent people ‘imaginable’ to lead us.

This is what we need to understand about freewill and human variability, and to have structured into a comprehensible and comprehensive Story: freewill is one of several ways of naming Consciousness System of Order activities that provide an adaptive advantage for our species, primarily by increasing the variety of behaviors available to us from which actual conditions “select”.  Imagination and innovation are closely related others.  When a situation produces a variety of options through the human process of imagining, the typical understanding is that we use our ‘freewill’, supported by reason, to make a choice.  There is nothing wrong with this illusion – just as there is nothing wrong with the illusion of color when we see certain wavelengths of light.  But it is an illusion and we must be ready to realize it as such when its limitations endanger us.

Of course, this is difficult for us.  The ‘feeling’ that we are evaluating and deciding is very strong.  But, just as we can’t directly experience ultraviolet light as a perceptual form (only indirectly as sunburn and eye damage), we can’t experience the underlying reality of randomness.  We have no reason to.  Randomness will take care of itself and offers no guide to specific behaviors.  We are about finding patterns that we can use to advantage.

Because we can’t experience randomness directly, we are denied the intuitive capacity to realize the primary source of all movement—and the design of the processes that form to construct ordered systems from randomness.  Our only immediate intuition is to search for a non-random source of agency since we can’t recognize the deeper processes of order. 

Another example may be helpful.  In our evolutionary history our hominid forebears faced dangers, actually relatively simple ones and not so many as we tend to speculate from our present “safe” world.  Daily dangers were, primarily, tainted food and water, poisonous plants, dangerous large animals, poisonous small animals.  There were larger scale dangers such as unpredictable weather events and starvation, but these were very rare and did not figure strongly as designers of detailed evolutionary consequences.  As a result of these dangers, today, we have responses to smells, tastes, situations (e.g., heights) and certain animals that seem instinctual or nearly so.  These responses continue to serve us, but only on the margins of our lives; our greatest dangers come from chemicals that we cannot smell or taste, radioactive elements for which we have no sensory tools, situations that we routinely misestimate (e.g., auto travel) and geopolitical and geo-economic behaviors that condemn billions of people to the greatest suffering in the history of humanity.

The point is that our primary tools for sensing the world and for understanding it derive from an evolutionary history of adapting to very different realities from those that we face today.  The tools of our thought processes are more like the male peacock’s tail than the crisp formulas of physics.  The design of science process is a constant and vigilant struggle against many of these processes of thought.  Belief in our own agency with its “freewill” is just such an evolutionary product; a product that we can no longer afford to appeal to uncritically.

This is not to say that we must deny the use of the ‘freewill process’.  Just as we can successfully use the language and idea of color and still understand, when needed, that visible light is a narrow band of the electromagnetic spectrum, we can feel that we are deciding and choosing with reason.  However, we need to be ready to realize the deeper reality that this is a process for increasing options in behavior and not a reality of agency.  In this way we have the potential to design yet another way to extract a new level of order from randomness to meet our present dilemmas, a change that can only be made by realizing the true nature and potential of the Consciousness System of Order.