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Archive for September, 2008

Order and Chaos: A Homocentric Fallacy

Published by under Uncategorized on September 16, 2008

The concept of a balance between order and chaos has been around for quite some time and has indeed served a useful purpose. Like all models of reality we construct to help us understand the world around us, even a flawed model can serve a purpose for a while but we must eventually refine our models to more precisely match reality if we hope to understand reality properly and continue our journey of discovery and development.

The idea of order and chaos is basically a representation of predictability and unpredictability with a touch of magical thinking. If we can easily predict it, it is orderly. If it is unpredictable, it is chaotic. While this might have been some of the impetus behind these magical labels, it is not an accurate description of the inner workings of the balance between order and chaos.

In chaos theory, the path a drop of water takes is described as chaotic. This leaves the mechanism of the motion in a magical state. It is a religious label rather than a description of the event. The truth of the matter is that there are so many factors involved in the resolution of the path of a single drop of water that it is very unpredictable. This lack of predictability is only because of the lack of knowledge of the observer.

These magical explanations of phenomena have existed throughout the history of mankind. Once it was the god of fire that makes water boil and demons that make people crazy and the world was held up by atlas or a turtle. Now, because of the lack of understanding of electrons we have a model which predicts via probability but instead of understanding that it is a model we believe that electrons magically appear in a  single place when our holy minds observe them.

Order and chaos are better represented by the (still homocentric) terms simplicity and complexity. Or perhaps uniformity and differentiation. Over time it can be thought of as stasis and change. In every explanation of this concept we must understand our bias. In  the terms simplicity and complexity there is an inferred reference. Zoom in on a single portion of a complex system and it seems simple. Zoom out from a simple system and the way it interacts and interconnects with the rest of reality makes it complex. The same is true with uniformity and differentiation. There is an inferred reference of human perspective. Even when considering a time perspective there is the assumption that a picosecond isn’t a near eternity though there may exist a perspective in which it actually is a near eternity.

Do not limit your mind with homocentric arrogance. Do not give credence to any magical explanation.

When you understand that there is a mechanism to everything and that the whole of existence is comprehensible you can be comfortable with your temporary ignorance. Do not let your fear of innocent ignorance cause you to grasp a magical explanation as anything more than a temporary placeholder for future understanding. There is nothing in existence that cannot eventually be explained. All that we have explained does not even touch upon all that exists.

In a desert we can see that the balance is toward simplicity. In a rainforest we can see the balance is toward complexity. We can also see that logic and efficiency are balanced toward simplicity while reason and creativity are balanced toward complexity.

The understanding of the balance of simplicity and complexity can be seen throughout all of nature and the use of this concept in science will help humanity to advance in understanding, but we cannot advance until we eliminate magical thinking which causes us to stop looking deeper into complexity.

Probability Preference and Exception Handling

Published by under Uncategorized on September 10, 2008

In our minds we store a vast array of probabilities. It is more likely when you hear a noise overhead that it is an airplane causing an air disturbance rather than an asteroid. Both are within the realm of possibility. One is usually our automatic choice because of probability.

Probability is context based. Take one of us back in time to a point at which an asteroid is actually plummeting through the atmosphere and me may never even look up because latent inhibition has made us determine that information is useless when because of a change of circumstances, our context fails us. It causes us to incorrectly calculate probability.

Furthermore, it seems that when trying to determine a cause of an event or to predict a course of events that there can be many possibilities that fit but we typically show preference to what we believe to be probable based upon our personal context.

The first thing that would occur to most people is that you should always prefer the thing which is most likely as the explanation. This is “rules based” logical conservative thinking. There are however circumstances in which the less probable selection may be selected. This is choosing the exception as the truer possibility.

Selection of a lesser probability explanation is usually only done because of extension of a variety of modeled paths. We can think out differing scenarios and see that the more likely first explanation becomes less likely upon further examination. What is the mechanism behind this?

This is how we are capable of figuring out what someone means when they say “nice try” after a failed attempt at something. If your context is that people typically are helpful then you assume this person meant to bolster your confidence. If your context is that people typically ridicule mistakes then you assume they are being sarcastic. Regardless of which is the higher rating of probability in your mind, if you have doubt of your first guess, you then weigh other subtle cues to determine if this is the rule or the exception.

The glance to a buddy could denote a simple regard of secondary opinion or input or it could be looking for a shared hidden laugh. Again a probability is considered and now we have a probability stack.

Additionally there is a small laugh. The laugh could be to convey a feeling of “yeah that would have been hard for me too” or it could be “What a loser”. Another probability calculation.

If we have an understanding of this person’s personality we will lean to a larger and more reliable data set for resolving the probability. If we do not have a data set because this is a new person we may simply use a generalized (context based) template of behavior to resolve the stack of probabilities. This is a process that can allow us to categorize something as part of the exceptions instead of the rule.

Better yet we can leave the decision open until further data arrives. Later on upon seeing another small blunder the same guy says: “Hah, good one Einstein”. Suddenly we’ve used pattern recognition to resolve probability. IE a person who would do X would also do Y. It fits in a larger template of behaviors and we believe our general model of people types is more reliable because it has more data. Though we may have originally assumed the best of them, they actually fit in an exception category.

Had that decisive bit of information not come along, we may have had a string of circumstances which could resolve just as easily in one direction or the other, however, simply the frequency of exceptional occurances alone can alter original decision to categorize this person as an asshole or someone with a bad case of foot-in-mouth. A few more seemingly innocuous quips would certainly lead us to believe the guy was an asshole even though he is smiling and friendly to our face. The number of exceptions required for us to decide is determined by our generalized personality calculator. Further yet we have a general fear/trust calculator that underlies this and both are based on context. A person who expected less of people would decide the person was an ass long before a person who hopes for the best in people.

This ability to select a lower probability explanation is also what we use for self-delusion and social manipulation. When a person is actually jealous or some other vice, they know all the possible reasons for their actions and may simply decide that the most innocuous of the explanations is the correct one. The level to which this is checked against other possibilities can, and usually is, reduced to zero or it is checked against a faulty idealized model of self which immediately returns high probability for something that should have been low.

This is the slippery path of deception that most people follow in their minds and are never aware of it. They simply look back at what they did or said and assume the best possible scenario. That is why someone can can say ‘nice hair’ and mean to criticize but when put on the spot about it they may actually feel like their initial intent was to give a compliment. They will give this deceptive answer with confidence and truly believe it themselves. This could be a mark of a small short term memory and therefore less executive function.  IE these people have less ability to examine their own actions because they’ve forgotten them as they happen. But I think it is also likely that people train themselves to notice the actions of others and remember them but they do not track their own actions in short term memory. They live an unexamined life.

The harm of deception is visited on the individual just as much as those around them. This same lack of examination disables a person from being able to make positive change in their own life. It is simply a self-imposed fear of being ‘bad’ or wrong. Without self examination they cannot forgive themselves of mistakes that everyone makes. Guilt can keep one from viewing the past in a more positive light. They must deny the good in their lives and not take responsibility for the negative parts of their past. They cannot see the mistakes of their past as driven by the circumstance and therefore forgivable.

Obviously we must be able to select lower probability ideas and follow them to further conclusions to be able to deal with exceptions. Unfortunately this same mechanism can be used badly. When it becomes progressively worse, the extension of probability becomes ridiculously tenuous without the person realising it. This usually occurs from poor controls on the updating of models. The exception becomes perceived as the rule.

Poor control over the updating of models is unfounded belief. Belief can come from social proof or it can come from experiential knowledge or a combination of both. Inter-model back-checking and comparison can be the difference between a healthy mind and an insane one. The level to which we question our own accuracy/confidence is equal to the level of assurance we need before updating a model. IE some people only need one good source of information or even one simply highly regarded to update a model. Others may require volumes of personal experience.

Frequency of model updates is another important balance of the mind. Requiring too much proof reduces the number of experimental avenues that can be examined. Requiring too little proof can reduce accuracy. When we consider something to be likely or unlikely we must know without doubt that we are biased. There is always a situation in which the exception becomes the rule.

On the path of enlightenment, self-realization/actualization and self-examination, we all must look at our ideas and concepts honestly. We must determine where those beliefs came from and if they fit with the rest of reality regardless of how favorably we may view them. We must always be aware of how much our ideas come from social proof and how much come from experience. We must try to see the myriad possibilities we consider and determine our biases. We must be aware of our natural tendencies to automatically view ourselves in a light that may be inaccurate. We must consider our own context and the possible and probable flaws it has. You may find that the world has gone better for you than you had believed. And you might have accidentally stepped on toes along the way too. Everyone has.

To become more truthful with ourselves and others we must closely watch our actions with a third party perspective. We must occasionally be skeptical of our own motives and drives and be aware of self-delusion. We need to always know why we assume something to be the rule or the exception. By being more aware of ourselves we avoid doing harm while taking responsibility for our actions. We accept that mistakes deserve to be excused and we then remember that we did it our way. We tried. We then can believe in our place in the world as an effective person. We can expect things to go our way.

We can see the ways in which the everchanging, unpredictable reality got the better of us and how we can accept responsibility for this moment.

Humility and forgiveness go hand in hand with self-examination. You must be able to forgive others to forgive yourself. And while examining oneself it is critical to not put that same microscope upon others. There is one instance where the capacity for self-delusion may be helpful. Believing the best of others. If you can always assume the best then even when others are doing wrong they will try to live up to your positive expectations of them. Why make yourself sad with the knowledge that others are sometimes mean-spirited, abusive and insensitive. You might accidentally do the same thing sometimes. Feel sorry for the fact that anyone who is abusive, feels the pain of it themself about themself. Instead help them believe in their goodness by being oblivious. Be proud of possibly not “getting” abusiveness.

People tend to believe about you what you believe about yourself. Believe that everyone likes you and that nobody thinks badly of you and they will all believe your social proof.

Focus apon the good things that have happened and forget about the bad things. Remember the good experiences and dismiss the bad ones for the exceptions that they probably are!

Belief: What it’s for

Published by under Uncategorized on September 10, 2008

While belief, as most people understand it, is usually a horrible force of destruction, it has a reason to exist, and when it’s the right kind, can actually be useful.

Believe in yourself. Don’t believe yourself.

The distinction between these two is huge. Believing in yourself can be most one of the most important things in the world and nearly as important is not believing yourself. Believing yourself is all about thinking that your current configuration is correct and the information you’ve been given throughout your life is flawless. This sounds absurd but most people become angry and feel attacked when you question their beliefs. They cannot separate themselves from the information they were given. They cannot see their own innocence in aquiring incorrect beliefs.

Believing in yourself is knowing that you are capable. That you can change and adapt. Seeing your potential as valuable. When you are full of fear you think you must believe yourself or you somehow are not valuable. You lack the ability to see potential as value. You fear that being wrong or being fooled somehow proves you are bad. Mistakes become proof that you are less valuable instead of simply one less step on the road to success.

Belief is what we use to deal with infinity. When your belief system becomes dysfunctional in one direction or another you become either OCD: Flip that switch or check that lock one more time, can’t be too sure! Or you become schizophrenic: It occurs to me that it is possible that someone is following me, therefore they must be!

Why is belief part of our brain then? Because we must be able to assume X to continue to calculate Y and Z. The world is more uncertain than ‘believers’ think; there are more possibilities. Additionally there is a point at which consideration of the possibilities can become cumbersome and consume more time than the value produced by the consideration of those scenarios.

When we consider probabilities and create possible scenarios for dealing with the future we make certain assumptions. We plan our day at work considering that we won’t have a blowout on the way there. Every plan has a variety of hidden assumptions; these are beliefs. The further we plan into the future the more we are presuming a stable environment. The further we plan, the more belief we have.

Belief is a limiting factor. It limits consideration to a few ‘likely’ sets of data. This is necessary to keep us from becoming locked in infinite consideration of the possibilities. This is a presumption based upon a specific context. If people have stolen from you at every opportunity throughout your life, you will plan you life around securing things most people would never consider. If you’ve left extremely valuable goods unprotected all throughout your life and never had them stolen, you will take risks that most people would balk at. You can see how your mind and those around you are balanced either towards consideration of posibilities or reliance upon probabilities. This is typically a left/right brain balance. It can be seen when considering the mindset of mathematicians and artists, republicans/conservatives and democrats/liberals. Most arguments that occur between people can be broken down to two sides: the rule (51+%) versus the exceptions or simply which context is the rule and which is the exception.

With this consideration you begin to see that probability is not real but context driven and dependent upon a stable environment. It is a guess because stable environments are not very common. Given enough time all things change. In addition to this, if your belief in your context is ironclad you may see changes in environment as simply exceptions unworthy of consideration or may see them as so threatening that an exception may cause an entire re-write of expectations. (for instance: totally losing belief in god if alien life is detected)

Each one of us has a context. We have a set of beliefs about the world around us and even ourselves. If we believe in our context we are bound by it. If we instead believe in our own ability to change and adapt then we have no fear of mistakes or being wrong. We see mistakes as a failure of our context not ourselves. We see the error of belief as a simple problem of misinformation. Only through a separation of our beliefs from our value can we have the boldness required to take on an ever-changing landscape.

When you consider your place in the blanace of rules versus exceptions remember the flaws of each side of the argument. ‘The rule’ is expedient and has proven to be useful but may be fundamentally flawed because of an innacurate context. The exception may herald a coming change to ‘the rule’ or may even prove ‘the rule’ as a skewed context but it is usually unproven and may hinder progress because of the infinite mutability of exceptions.

Belief and skepticism both have their values but it is more important to simply try your best to have the best context possible (through education) and then believe in it as necessary to develop theory. But when your best theories fail or even have some problem you must also be aware of the possible flaws in your knowledge and be eager to fix them. You must have balance, and consider that even your idea of balance may be unbalanced!

Your value is your potential not your knowledge or context. If you believe in yourself your potential is unlimited. Never believe in your ‘limitations’.

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