Light The World On Fire

Today I watch a poet do her thing

they’re always doing things, unhinged but right

always she’s that I think are doing

things that matter but don’t, you know – they are crazy

ranting and raving making us white guys

feel shitty about the way we burned lands, bridges

and –


mostly people

tinging them lightly with whitely fire

we were just playing, as our teachers taught us

we pledged just like them to the flag

for which it stands, you all stood.

only when we set the world on fire

we got medals not moabs, nothing dire.

and so I am still here and here and here and here.

marching everyone else has to do

mostly to almost claim the existence I get for free.

And I have to start this essay with a simple statement that it is not lost on me that all of the above is 100% derived from my own history, studies, jobs, art works, and everything else that goes into me.  So maybe this is just a theory of myself or not even a theory, but yet another expression in a life time of expressions.   At the very least I enjoyed 20 hrs of re-reading some great science, crafting what I think is a pretty neat piece of art work, and then summarizing some pondering.   Then again, maybe I’ve made strides on some general abstract level.  In either case, it’s just another contingent reconfiguration of things.

At the end I present all the resources I read and consulted during the writing (but not editing) and the making of the embedded 19×24 inch drawing and ink painting (which has most of this essay written and drawn into it).   I drank 4 cups of coffee over 5 hrs, had 3 tacos and 6 hotwings during this process. Additionally I listened to “The Essential Philip Glass” while sometimes watching the movie “The Devil Wears Prada” and the latest SNL episode.


There is a core problem with all theories and theory at large – they are not The t=Truth and do not interact in the universe like the thing they refer to.   Theories are things unto themselves.  They are tools to help craft additional theories and to spur on revised dabbling in the world.

FullSizeRender (4)

We have concocted an unbelievable account of reality across religious, business, mathematical, political and scientific categories.  Immense stretches of imagination are required to connect the dots between the category theory of mathematics to radical behaviorism of psychology to machine learning in computer science to gravitational waves in cosmology to color theory in art.  The theories themselves have no easy bridge – logical, spiritual or even syntactically.

Furthering the challenge is the lack of coherence and interoperability of measurement and crafting tools.   We have forever had the challenge of information exchange between our engineered systems.   Even our most finely crafted gadgets and computers still suffer from data exchange corruption.   Even when we seem to find some useful notion about the world it is very difficult for us to transmit that notion across mediums, toolsets and brains.

And yet, therein lies the the reveal!

A simple, yet imaginative re-think provides immense power.   Consider everything as network.  Literally the simplest concept of a network – a set of nodes connected by edges.   Consider everything as part of a network, a subnetwork of the universe.  All subnetworks are connected more or less to the other subnetworks.   From massive stars to a single boson, all nodes in a network and those networks of networks.   Our theories are networks of language, logic, inference, experiment, context.  Our tools are just networks of metals, atoms, and light.   It’s not easy to replace your database of notions reinforced over the years with this simple idea.

But really ask yourself why that is so hard but you can believe that blackholes collide and send out gravitational waves that slightly wobble spacetime 1.3 billion light years away or if you believe in the Christian God, consider how that’s believable and that woman was created from a guy named Adam’s rib.    It’s all a bit far fetched but we buy these other explanations because the large network of culture and tradition and language and semiotics has built our brains/worldviews up this way.

Long ago we learned that our senses are clever biological interpreters of internal and external context.  Our eyes do not see most of “reality” – just a pretty course (30 frames per second) and small chunk of electromagnetic waves (visible light).   in the 1930s we learned that even mathematics itself and the computers we’d eventually construct can not prove many of the claims they will make, we just have to accept those claims. (incompleteness and halting problem.).

These are not flaws in our current understanding or current abilities.  These are fundamental features of reality – any reality at all.  In fact, without this incompleteness and clever loose interpretations of information between networks there would be no reality at all – no existence.   This is a claim to return to later.

In all theories at the core we are always left with uncertainty and probability statements.   We cannot state or refer to anything for certain, we can only claim some confidence that what we’re claiming or observing might, more or less, be a real effect or relation.   Even in mathematics with some of the simplest theorems and their logical proofs we must assume axioms we cannot prove – and while that’s an immensely useful trick it certainly doesn’t imply that any of the axioms are actually true and refer to anything that is true or real.

The notion of probability and uncertainty is no easy subject either.   Probability is a measure of what?   It is a measure belief (Bayes) that something will happen given something else?  Is it a measure of lack of information – this claim is only X% of the information?  Is it a measure of complexity?


Again, the notion of networks is incredibly helpful.  Probability is a measure of contingency.   Contingency, defined and used here, is a notion of connectivity of a network and nodes within the network.  There need be no hard and fast assignment of the unit of contingency – different measures are useful and instructive for different applications.  There’s a basic notion at the heart of all of them: contingency is a cost function of going from a configuration to another configuration of the network.

And that leads to another startling idea.   Spacetime itself is just a network.  (obvious intuition from my previous statement) and everything is really just a spacetime network.    Time is not the ticks on a clock nor an arrow marching forward.  Time is nothing but a measure of steps to reconfigure a network from state A to some state B.   Reconfiguration steps are not done in time, they are time itself.

(most of my initial thinking comes from Wolfram and others working on this long before my thinking about it: http://blog.stephenwolfram.com/2015/12/what-is-spacetime-really/ – Wolfram and others have done a ton of heavy lifting to translate the accepted theories and math into network terms).

This re-framing of everything into network thinking requires a huge amount of translation of notions of waves, light, gravity, mass, fields, etc into network conventions.  While attempting to do that in blog form is fun and I’ve attempted to keep doing it, the reality of the task is that no amount of writing about this stuff will make a sufficient proof or even useful explanation of the idea to people.

Luckily, it occurred to me (a contingent network myself!) that everyone is already doing this translation and even more startling it couldn’t go any other way.   Our values and traditions started to be codified into explicit networks with the advent of written law and various cultural institutions like religion and formal education.   Our communities have now been codified into networks by online social networks.  Our location and travels have been codified by GPS satellites and online mapping services.  Our theories and knowledge are being codified into Wikis, Programs (Wolfram Alpha, Google Graph, Deep Learning networks, etc).   Our physical interpretations of the world have been codified into fine arts, pop arts, movies and now virtual and augmented realities.   Our inner events/context are being codified by wearable technologies.    And now the cosmos has unlocked gravitational waves for us so even the mystery of black holes and dark matter will start being codified into knowledge systems.

It’s worth a few thoughts about Light, Gravity, Forces, Fields, Behavior, Computation.

  • Light (electromagnetic wave-particles) is the subnetwork encoding the total configurations of the entire universe and every subnetwork.
  • Gravity (and gravitational wave-particles) is the subnetwork of how all the subnetworks over a certain contingency level (mass) are connected.
  • Other 3 fundamental Forces (electromagnetics, weak nuclear, strong nuclear) are also just subnetworks encoding how all subatomic particles are connected.
  • Field is just another term for network, hardly worth a mention.
  • Behavior observations are partially encoded subnetworks of the connections between subnetworks.  They do not encode the entirety of a connection except for the smallest, most simple networks.
  • Computation is time is the instruction set is a network encoding how to transform one subnetwork to another subnetwork.

These re-framed concepts allow us to move across phenomenal categories and up and down levels of scale and measurement fidelity.  They open up improved ways of connecting the dots between cross-category experiments and theories.   Consider radical behaviorism and schedules of reinforcement combined with the Probably Approximately Correct learning theory in computer science against a notion of light and gravity and contingency as defined above.

What we find is that learning and behavior based on schedules of reinforcement is actually the only way a subnetwork (say, a person) and a network of subnetworks (a community) could encode the vast contingent network (internal and external environments, etc).   Some schedules of reinforcement maintain responses better than others, and again here we find the explanation.  Consider a Variable Ratio schedule reinforcing a network.  (see here for more details: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reinforcement#Intermittent_reinforcement.3B_schedules).   A variable ratio (a variations/compositions on this) schedule is a richer contingent network itself that say a fixed ratio network.  That is, as a network encoding information between networks (essentially a computer program and data) the variable ratio has more algorithmic content to keep associations linked after many related network configurations.

Not surprisingly this is exactly the notion of gravity explained above.  Richer, more complex networks with richer connections to other subnetworks have much more gravity – that is they attract more subnetworks to connect.  They literally curve spacetime.

To add another wrinkle in theory, it has been observed in a variety of categories that the universe seems to prefer computational efficiency.  Nearly all scientific disciplines from linguistics to evolutionary biology to physics to chemistry to logic end up with some basic notion of “Path of Least Effort” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Principle_of_least_effort).  In the space of all possible contingent situations networks tend to connect in the computationally most efficient way – they encode each other efficiently.  That is not to say it happens that way all the time.  In fact, this idea led me to thinking that while all configurations of subnetworks exist, the most commonly observed ones (I use a term: robust) are the efficient configurations.  I postulate this explains mathematical constructs such as the Platonic solids and transcendental numbers and likely the physic constants.  That is, in the space of all possible things, the mean of the distribution of robust things are the mathematical abstractions.  While we rarely experience a perfect circle, we experience many variations on robust circular things… and right now the middle of them is the perfect circle.


Now, what is probably the most bizarre idea of all:  nothing is actually happening at the level of the universe nor at the level of a photon.  The universe just is.   A photon, which is just a single massless node, everything happens to it all at once, so nothing happens.

That’s right, despite all the words and definitions above with all the connotations of behavior and movement and spacetime… experience and happening and events and steps and reconfigurations are actually just illusions, in a sense, of subnetworks describing other subnetworks.   The totality of the universe includes every possible reconfiguration of the universe – which obviously includes all theories, all explanations, all logics, all computations, all behavior, all schedules in a cross product of each other.   No subnetwork is doing anything at all, it simply IS and is that subnetwork within the specific configuration of universe as part of the wider set of the whole.

This sounds CRAZY.   until you look back on the history of ideas, this notion has come up over and over regardless of the starting point, the condition of the observational tools, the fads of language and business of the day.  It is even observable in how so many systems “develop” first as “concrete” physical, sensory things… they end up yielding time and time again to what we call the virtual – strangely looping recursive networks.   Here I am not contradicting myself, instead… this is what exists within the fractal nature of the universe (multiverse!) it is self similar all the way up and down scales and across all configurations (histories).

Theories tend to be ignored unless they are useful.   I cannot claim utility for everyone on this theory.  I do find it helpful for myself in moving between disciplines and not getting trapped in syntactical problems.   I find confirmation of my own cognitive bias in the fact that the technology of loosely connecting the dots like GPS, hyperlinks, search engine, social media, citation analysis, Bayes, and now deep learning/PAC have yielded tremendous expansion of information and re-imaging of the world.


Currency, writing, art, music are not concrete physical needs and yet they mediate our labor, property, government, nation states.   Even things we consider “concrete” like food and water are just encodings of various configurations.  Food can be redefined in many ways and has been over the eons as our abstracted associations drift.   Water seems like a concrete requirement for us, but us is under constant redefinition.  Should people succeed in creating human-like (however you define it) in computers or the Internet it’s not clear water would be any more concrete than solar power, etc.

Then again, if I believe anything I’ve said above, it all already exists and always has.




Chaitin on Algorithmic Information, just a math of networks.

Platonic solids are just networks

Real World Fractal Networks

Correlation for Network Connectivity Measures

Various Measurements in Transport Networks (Networks in general)

Brownian Motion, the network of particles

Semantic Networks


Probably Approximately Correct

Probability Waves

Bayes Theorem


Locality of physics

Complexity in economics


Gravity is not a network phenomenon?

Gravity is a network phenomenon?

Useful reframing/rethinking Gravity

Social networks and fields

Cause and effect

Human Decision Making with Concrete and Abstract Rewards

The Internet

2016 Launch – January 1

When, in 1991, a list was drawn up by an assortment of heavy weight problem solvers to focus on important social and scientific topics receiving prominent play in media over the prior years.   Behavior, psychology nor its related sub fields were mentioned.

Other areas were listed… molecular biology, artificial intelligence, chaos theory, massive parallelism, neural nets, fractals, complex adaptive systems, superstrings, biodiversity, nanotechnology, the human genome, expert systems, punctuated equilibrium, cellular automata, fuzzy logic, space biospheres, the Gaia hypothesis, virtual reality, and cyberspace, to mention a significant few, but no psychology…  Other important disciplines besides psychology were also absent: 3D printed body parts, immunology, pluripotent stem cells, chemistry, epigenetics, climate change, internet of everything, etc.

Things have changed since 1991…

The world is rocking in a way not envisioned by Led Zeppelin or Van Halen.  The “rocking” I am referring to core changes that involve every aspect of our existence.  Over the last twenty-five years or so, all the rules, ideals, principles, and codes, etc., have been changing faster and faster and we now are experiencing the collective impact of those changes.

For many, that is a very good thing.

For the world, because all those rules, mores, traditions, ideals, values are ALL changing AND, all at the same time, it is more than an unsettling variation.  No, no one has acceptable ways to understand, predict, or control the changes, their paths, consequences or implications.

More than metaphorically, we have a world out of balance that is worse off that it might otherwise be if we collectively understood it was, indeed, out of whack. Most in the world doesn’t understand or they double down so they don’t have to deal with it.  Of course, they are clueless about how to deal with it.  Thus, entities keep digging in deeper to keep the old rules ’cause that has mostly how it worked in the past in times of uncertainty.  Hard to give up on making buggy whips when the horse carriages have gone away.

You can observe it everywhere. People, groups and agencies hanging on to the last vestiges of the past by their mental fingernails in efforts to hold on to what was once comforting. The carcasses of ideals, dichotomies, castes, simplistic explanations are hard to ignore.  But many keep trying to do just that. No one wants to say out loud in front of the lords of celebrity and the kings of political unions that the jobs of 1990 aren’t coming back (different ones are emerging but…), equality is available if one values it, aristocracy over citizens is weak, and Jacksonian statements from “The Lottery,” “we’ve always done it that way” are more impotent than ever.

Today, 2016, we want to understand ISIS, rulers of in Iran, North Korea, Washington, DC, teachers, parents, babies and ourselves.

A more objective objective is needed. An objective that is liberated enough to abandon the almost endless marginal disputes of quarrelsome mundane dogmas in order to affect the survival of everybody on the planet, all on the way to figuring out what the heck is going on. We might want to study behavior. We might be ready.

Unlike some smokestack disciplines still protecting ancient edifices or intellectual self-indulgence, the empirical study of behavior viewed as a horizontal set of endeavors has solutions rather than the regurgitations of irrelevant quackery.  This proposal is based on very pragmatic understanding that there is no time left to dally and psychology’s past has run out of runway to contribute to even the simplest solutions necessary to be of value to Earth.

Some think another and perhaps bigger gun, Lightsaber, a deity with new super powers, yoga schools, another pill, repression of the weird ones, stricter laws, election of a benevolent bully, or the return to fundamental values from another era would bring back order, old forms of rule, hierarchies and such.

Haven’t we heard all that before?  Hello…!

Who knows how to change behavior?

JHBryant – Lone Star College – Conroe, Texas

While I have many interests and ideas… the most of enduring is my own obsession over the nature of reality and specific spacetime. It’s probably been my guiding light since my much younger self around 14-16 started reading/toying with chaos theory, popular cosmology books and starting in roads into deeper than algebra mathematics. At the same time the theater bug struck in earnest as I struggled with a long involvement with Christianity and the bible. You put it all together and all of these things seemed to be asking questions about origins and the flow of time and cause and effect.
I have a bit of a revisionist/simplified story around why I went to University of Chicago… but a lot of my most basic thinking at the time was still about how to fully engage my obsession… it was very clear that was probably the only place I could go and chase this obsession in a world class physics and math department that just so happened to co-exist with amazing theater and improv comedy. (These things are related deeply, I swear, on some incredibly fundamental level.)
Somehow I managed to survive, barely, getting a theoretical (not applied) math degree (it’s still a mystery as to how I survived complex analysis) while performing in, directing or writing something like 40 theater shows… and then I went out into the real world no closer to understanding anything at all about the true nature of my obsession, spacetime.
Futzing about with first real world jobs but mostly sneaking off to Borders as often as I could I basically read almost every professional computer book I could as well as picked up A New Kind of Science, by Wolfram. In a mish-mash of messing around with programming/multi media side projects, shortlived w2 jobs and reading as much as I could… I finally devised a ridiculous plan. I would one day work under Stephen Wolfram and actually come to know his vision and math driving A New Kind of Science. All 10 billion pages of NKS seemed to overflow with consistent, mind blowing Yes This Could Actually Be The Basis of Reality stuff that somehow was bizarrely consistent with the bevy of other art, theater, religious, literary thoughts I’d come across on the matter.
So this plan… well first I knew that it wouldn’t be good enough to have “read” NKS, i would actually need to know how to use Mathematica and understand the theoretical and applied logic behind its operations. Being a resourceful young man with no shame I managed to convince my software provisioning team at the w2 job I had at the time to purchase me a license for Mathematica (those are expensive for non students!) because it was critical for the development of Online Advertising Recommendation Algorithms. Well, whatever, it worked and I was off and running learning and trying things out and mostly making a mess of my computers.
The plan needed to evolve as I wasn’t getting anywhere. in 2008 or so someone pointed me to the New Kind of Science summer school that Wolfram Research put on. Well, shoot! There ya go… I doubted whether I had any business in spending three weeks in Bernie Sanders country (VT!) hanging out with some of the smartest people I’d ever met doing theoretical physics and computer science… but having no shame… I wrote up a typo filled statement of my intentions and applied. I wrote a lengthy run on sentence piece about how I thought the approach of NKS could finally bridge the broken disciplines of cognitive psychology and economics and radical behaviorism (I said it somewhat differently… and live blogged my approach… shameless… https://socialmode.com/2008/03/21/anatomy-of-a-decision-in-life-applying-to-nks-summer-school/). Beyond the silly basis of my plan my wife and I also had two young kids and I didn’t really have a job job, just consulting gigs… so spending 3 weeks working on insanely theoretical/no-connection to my real life was even more ridiculous. but obsessions are obsessions…
Shorting the story here Wolfram invited me to the NKS school that summer where I decided to pursue a project on Turing Machines (https://socialmode.com/2008/08/07/nks-summer-school-summary/) that was pretty great to work on. I greatly improved my understanding of Mathematica, the beauty of turing and his machines, the lambda calculus as well as further confirmed I was as far away from understanding spacetime as ever. Beyond my project I had several deep interactions with SW and various members of his team. These all gave me better and better glimpses into this stuff… the other students also had a mix of unbelievably interesting perspectives in philosophy, neuroscience, medicine, architecture and so much more. I was under no delusion that I understood much of anything… much like my math degree in college… but I always bet on osmosis and you don’t know what you know and what you don’t know…. meaning, sometimes you know things but only by using it and applying it in different ways…
Ok, so having properly stoked the obsession I became more deeply enamored with things which led to more discussions with SW and ultimately to engaging their team in launching Wolfram|Alpha, which i had see while at the summer school and knew that I wanted to somehow be involved with it. Outside of NKS and my various reality seeking obsessions my own “professional” career had continued down the “search engine” path from SEO junk, to building various search engines/crawlers, playing with query semantics and indexing ideas, etc. etc. by this time I’d worked on several web scale search engine/recommendation engine/geo gis systems and everything in between. So doing Wolfram|Alpha was an obvious next step pro wise and obsession wise.
Well, beyond the fun times in trying to explain WA to the world and trying to figure out various business models my little spacetime obsession became an obsession with language (programming and otherwise) and probably what some would consider semiotics and other analysis of symbols. There was just something in NKS, math, mathematica, computers, turing machines, radical behaviorism, theater, religion, art, LIFE that scream SYMBOLICS… study of SYMBOLICS… oh and on and on and on.
I carried all of these obsessions from various bill paying gigs to the next… which was really just a front for me to continue buying computers and books at an alarming clip while not completely ruining my young children’s futures.
This sort of brings us back around to RIGHT NOW with this wonderful blog post from SW and my own current Art and Philosophy situation. His post still strikes me as On The Right Path. And it’s still not the full story… it’s even more fundamental than Space as a Network and it’s Just a Network and some simple rules… and the only way I’ve come to be able to work out the details is well, not to work out the details… but do as SW is doing… searching the space of possibilities… I’m just doing it through art, as my hunch (which is likely just a confusion of my obsession) is that an artistic exploration is Computational Equivalent to writing a bunch of symbolic programs AND may, in fact, be more efficient due to the nature of how humans (awesome multi faceted pattern recognizers) process data and the world that data represents. See here for some exposition and poke around the art… http://www.worksonbecoming.com/symbol-and-relation/
Look, perhaps this is all unknowable (likely) and perhaps I’m just a kooky guy who spent too much time with his nose in a book. What I learned though is that… this little obsession spun me off in a million directions gaining lots of little skills that all allowed me to navigate the weird business world, the slightly unnerving computer programmer culture, improved my literacy, help start a school, employ and raise up lots of ambitious upstart people and perhaps have made a couple of hundred million dollars here and there for folks, and now has me making art, mostly poorly conceived but done at a pace that fills me up.
perhaps that’s what spacetime is really about. using it in fulfilling ways.
perhaps everything is connected.

Psychology Today

 John H. Bryant – Lone Star College, Conroe, TX

“Is it time yet?” “Are we there yet?”

No, these are not questions of children eagerly waiting to leave on vacation or arrive at a valued destination. These are the questions for those who are wondering if we’ve spent enough time, effort, and money with pre-scientific jargon, agency, myth, and cha-cha to refocus on worn pseudo-science approaches.

So, “Is it time yet?”

When it comes to the mixed bag of psychology approaches, our current practices evolved more from philosophy and theology rather than chemistry and physics. Academic psychology (re: the study of behavior and mental processes) is not in isolation when it comes problems raised here, similar arguments hold for most of the social science disciplines. Yet if psychology is to be better understood and useful, more has to be done to communicate what is scientific about psychology rather than folk lore.

Now, according to some, psychology as a discipline has a “replication crisis” (The New York Times and elsewhere) that must be dealt with for the salvation of us all.

Perhaps it is time to examine some factors that make for a “replication crisis”. It’s likely that what sounds alarming is part of a continual reassessment that takes place regularly in sciences. However, now outside sources are asking for an accounting of why replications are so difficult in psychology.

There once was a time when things were based on dogma rather than data. When data came to be preferred over opinion and dogma, some thought that psychology would go in that direction. But, as it turns out, that position was a bit optimistic.

Some of the required changes to psychology’s approaches including math, chemistry, and cross-platform information methods that mirror established scientific approaches haven’t found much traction. And, rather than get immersed in more scientific pursuits, psychology’s focus remained non-science oriented contexts and continued to depend on private narratives, mental models and ‘thought experiments’ from non-scientific pursuits that were the genesis of much of psychology.

George E. P. Box

“Since all models are wrong, the scientist cannot obtain a “correct” model by excessive elaboration. On the contrary, following William of Occam, he should seek an economical description of natural phenomena. Just as the ability to devise simple but evocative models is the signature of the great scientist, so over-elaboration and over-parameterization is often the mark of mediocrity.”

• Science and Statistics (1976) p. 792

Three major issues are relevant to the large historical comfort zone that promoted speculation, storytelling, and philosophizing not readily amenable to the disciplines of science.


Rather than measure behavior at all levels (social to biochemistry, for example) to discover what was going on in contextual sets, psychologists continued to continue to hypothesize an array of internal entities which cause behavior. Collectively, these are called “agency” and make up, self, personality, possession, mind, needs, drives, motives, and so on. Because each agent eventually fell short of the requirements to explain behavior, the notion of agency required additional theories and hypothesized more intervening variables, hypothetical constructs and new sets of agents. These processes came to create subfields within psychology which frequently submerged the original question that started the conversation of why organisms do what they do.


Reification generally refers to making something real, bringing something into being, or making something concrete when it is a concept or idea. Concepts and agency terms filled a void over the ignorance about behavior. Thus, if the populace repeatedly used a concept to explain or describe behavior, right or wrong, the concept frequently morphed into subsequent communication at the level of reification.

Psychologists came to lead the way in doing what scientific disciplines (mathematics, chemistry, physics, biology and genetics) discontinued doing a century ago; using inference to assign causes. The evolution of the DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) has provided a mushrooming array of mentalism geography, and agile agent gymnastics in internal workings of Homo sapiens in an effort to assign, align, and categorize “casual” attributes of behavior. As the size and scope of the DMS has grown, one might conclude that everyone has a ‘mental’ disorder. While this helps maintain a level of path dependency within psychology to its past, lack of correspondence just as often conflates any utility those terms, metaphors, and simalies provide.

Measurement Scales

Doing science is hard, agnostic, and unapologetic. As disciplines, social sciences treat information from the different scales (below) as if they were all the same. They are not.  For some, technology has offered opportunity to empirically measure more and assess the results more accurately rather than assign labels arbitrarily. With methods based on science rather than received wisdom from anthologies and vignettes, it can be argued that psychology could move in a more scientific direction. Changes don’t come easy. Changes in the direction toward a scientific understanding for psychology won’t come easy as long as nominal labeling and ordinal counting grows faster than the experimental work required can yield reliable results. A “good story” with pseudo-scientific terms will win almost every time. Creating a larger lexicon of untestable hypothesis and jargon in the absence of solutions has had a good run.

Are we there yet?

There have been a few excursions to move toward empirical assessments and away from naming conventions in psychology, yet teleological and ontological explanations and “extrapolation beyond the data” remain as the currency of much of psychology and its proliferation of subfields.

These are substantial issues. Changes are processional. Some will take the challenge and entertain changes. Others will not. Each will have to show value if it is to reach the formal analysis that typically accompanies a ‘scientific’ endeavor. Each option includes steps that must be added to the discipline if embracing the standards of science is their objective. An equally daunting set of steps must be expunged from current practices if scientific research produced is to be reproducible, reliable, and relevant to the substantial number of issues that psychology is framed to address

For psychology and similar disciplines, every time the going gets tough requiring genetics, mathematics, neurochemistry, and the knowledge of the methods those disciplines use, psychology and the other social sciences crawl back to philosophical narratives and mental gymnastics.

It may appear to show understanding when someone posits that such and such are the ‘causes’ of such and such. However, when the “causes” are encased in made-up abstractions, non-observable internal body states, inside the neuron, inside the chemistry, etc., (you get the idea) the scaffolding of abstraction grow out of control rapidly. It all is really not ‘understanding’ or ‘explanation’. It is dogma.

Psychology has taken these strategies of the untestable to explain the unobservable as its very domain of expertise. Such talk, writings, lectures, that cannot be tested, monitored or independently verified come in as welcome guests but never leave. They have no anchors to anything and thusly the value of the information morphs when the data is interpreted with empirical tools. It’s easy, especially when whatever modulates the dependent variables is unknown to the lecturer, writer, observer or psychobiologist.

Only when the methods used in psychology begins to depend more on measurable content rather than pre-scientific or hypothetical concepts, agency, or reification, they will find greater amounts of correspondence with what is actually happening in nature. Of course, that isn’t the entire solution, but will have benefited their disciplines on the way to understanding current problems on the way to solutions as well as foundations for more complex behavioral properties like emergence, convergence.

There are no shortcuts. As a discipline, psychology can’t wear the science badge if it doesn’t self-correct when there is no link between what is hypothesized and what is actually going on in the world. Making conjectures without testable options is still philosophy.

“A new scientific ‘truth’ does not triumph by convincing its opponents and making them see the light, but rather because its opponents eventually die, and a new generation grows up that is familiar with it.”

Max Planck, a Nobel laureate physicist

Yes, it is time consuming and a very inefficient set of contingencies. Yet, as long as those who are doing “psychological” research mix hypothetical internal agencies with hypothetical attributes and then interpret mixtures of data from different scales as equal, there will be a systemic lack of replication, accuracy and relevance to what psychology has to offer.

So now the initial questions remain to be answered:         “Is it time yet?”           “Are we there yet?

The idea of control is absurd, guns or not.   The world is far too complicated to predict events, system behaviors, or whether even your email will send when you hit the send button.  Prediction is a necessary (but not sufficient) condition of control.  And when we say “gun control” we believe we can predict who would be a responsible user of a gun and who wouldn’t.   We believe with the proper equipment features we can control what happens when a user pulls the trigger or that it’s actually the user who owns the gun… and so on.  It’s literally all based on an absurd premise.

Guns in the Game of Life

Guns in the Game of Life

And yet, control is exactly the fallacy of our political and social systems.  Guns and other tools of destruction provide the operator the illusion of control.  Lightweight, homage regulating laws provide the population the illusion of control.  These illusions really just mask the chaos of a contingent world.  Any distressed person operates under highly conflicting contingencies or has lost the ability to recognize contingencies (of behavior and consequence).   In fact, this happens to all of us all of the time.  We live under near constant confirmation and related behavioral (cognitive biases) as a result of our limited perceptive systems and neural componentry (and often sick and broken bodies).   Our system constantly pattern recognizes incorrectly (we think God helps us score touchdowns….).  These incomplete interpretations of the contingencies of the world become especially problematic in a stressed and distressed situation.   (I’ll skip a deep discussion of behavioral, physical and chemical science and just lump all of it in an idea that we are all systems ecologically looking for homeostasis/equilibrium.)

When contingencies conflict or get very confused and the environment is primed properly disaster is more likely to occur.  Priming includes a cultural dimension, accessibility of destructive tools, lack of obstacles to act, etc.   Combined with stress, illness, and chemicals (drugs/booze/etc) in a person and a more combustible situation emerges – this is the nature of probability and complexity.

Proponents of guns and various “let’s all pack heat” strategies suffer from the same delusions of control as perpetrators of mass killings and gun murders.  The world is not fundamentally controllable – in situations with guns and situations without guns.  Every person and system is a collection of contingencies – the collective probabilities of circumstance and events.   For instance, at Christmas time if you have hot colored lights plugged in, faulty electric outlets and dead, dry pine trees in your living room you have increased the chance of burning your house down.   I assure you there are lower probability of raging fire decorations you can display in your home.

The key to dealing with our uncontrollable world isn’t pretending control exists.   We either increase or reduce probabilities of events by changing ourselves and/or the environment.   Changing the contingencies is non-trivial and multifaceted.   One key is to not put too many degrees of freedom between an act and the experience of the consequences of that act.  This is a subtle but very important point.   Many studies show humans are not good at anticipating delayed consequences – delay in time and in-directness (associations) of consequences.  This truth is at the heart of addition formation, financial debt, wars, education and literacy, and so on.  You can do your own study on this truth by reminding yourself of your last Vegas trip, checking your alerts for all those idiot Candy Crush notifications from your “friends,” looking at your credit car bills or reviewing your local church (and bible!) for policies on tithing and confession and promises of heaven and hell.

Guns are so easy (very few contingencies) to obtain and use (poorly) that there is almost NO PERCEIVABLE IMMEDIATE CONSEQUENCE to gun ownership relative to THE DELAYED ULTIMATE CONSEQUENCE of gun usage.  Pulling a trigger is such a simple act…. even gun makers and the NRA know this.  It’s why they attempt to stratify guns into level of effort to use: manual, semi-automatic, automatic and so on.   The delay in round expulsion is built on the idea that if you add more work for the user the less they can kill and the more time it takes to load and fire rounds the more the prey and other contingent circumstances can adjust in response.  This is all highly consistent logic and observable phenomena.

Most systems, including individual people, operate on a strategy of efficiency AKA the path of least resistance.   We resolve our stresses efficiently (according to our own weird histories/abilities).   When guns are easy to get then that’s an outlet we go with (replace guns with drugs, TV, gambling, sex, food, yoga, etc).   We know this truth.   We’ve used it forever… Grocery stores get ya every time with this.   And so does the government.  Some things it makes hard to do or get (more contingent): health care, food stamps, driver’s licenses, info on NSA programs.   Somethings it makes easy (less contingent): paying your taxes (do it online!  send cash!), getting parking tickets, buying lottery tickets, campaign donating!

Never underestimate the power of laziness! (capitalism and governments/kings and religion don’t!)

If people generally didn’t operate this way voter turn out would be 100%, education rates would be off the charts and no one would ever buy a lottery ticket or use a slot machine again (well at least they might pull the handle instead of auto spinning).

I firmly believe in the complete disarmament and aggressive buy back and destruction of all arms – civilian and otherwise. For this country and all of them.   I believe in trying to get the probability of widespread carnage and unintended consequences as low as possible.   While compromise is inevitable my position is not one of compromise.

If you’re for guns or even a gun apologist you really just don’t trust the world and believe in control and want to maintain what you perceive as a competitive advantage to the unarmed or the less well armed.   Perhaps it is a competitive advantage, local to you.   System wide you’re increasing the chance of unintended disasters and you’re partially complicit more or less in the continuing violence against kids and students.   You are also probably ok with it or don’t believe it because the consequences of your slight increase in probability of someone else’s disaster don’t register in your pattern recognizer.


As I said earlier… lowering the probability of gun violence takes more than gun laws.  It takes education, first and foremost.  And it takes economic opportunity, better health care, jobs, love, and everything in between.  I chose to be complicit in increasing those things at the expense of my right to bear arms.   We’re all just a small piece of a contingent and uncontrollable world and I’d rather stand in perspective and connection with people rather than behind armor, triple locked doors and concealed weaponry.

David Deutsch wrote an interesting essay back in 2012 (http://aeon.co/magazine/technology/david-deutsch-artificial-intelligence/).   His books follow similar themes and this article is a useful condensation of his ideas – most notable of which is the idea that intelligence/creativity/knowledge/universal computation is fundamentally about EXPLANATION – not instruction, not arithmetic, not reinforcement learning, etc.

He decries the lack of progress in artificial intelligence as due to flawed premises of the entire enterprise.  He makes the case that “he human brain has capabilities that are, in some respects, far superior to those of all other known objects in the cosmos.”   He declares self-awareness a thing and that universal computation can do it.   And he concludes that all the ingredients for artificial intelligence are encoded in DNA we just need the right idea to unlock that and use whatever idea in other substrates to create other general intelligent entities.

I’m grossly simplifying the article which is a gross simplification of his books already but that’s because most of the details are irrelevant.   Deutsch rightly ridicules the current prevailing approaches to AI and their inevitable failure to ultimately deliver intelligence.  I agree with a lot of his reasoning around why AI with current behaviorist / inductive instructions approaches is doomed.    But I disagree with him on pretty much everything else because he himself has built his arguments on flimsy premises.   He assumes, as almost all scientists and philosophers and people, that knowledge is something.  Something that is embodied, something that exists.    I agree in a very simply way that anything that is learned must be learned through trial and error by the entity learning it and that learning doesn’t happen through transcription.  But it’s not because knowledge results.

Knowledge is a reductive term that explains nothing and doesn’t really even clearly represent anything.  It’s not a concept that can even be explained categorically or through endless descriptions.  It simply is a general concept that sort of can be used to refer to lots of things.

Intelligence is the same kind of concept.  It refers to nothing in particular.   Self awareness, same.  Good and Evil, same.   Consciousness.  Free Will.  All the same.

AI won’t be coming because Real Intelligence isn’t a thing.

Learning is a slightly less reified concept than the others because it sort of gets at the point.  The point of all computation and any perceived awareness is merely connectivity in a networking/graph theory sense.   Advanced behaviors and “creativity” etc are merely effects of a hyper connected network.   Learning is CONNECTIONS.   “Knowledge” is CONNECTIONS.

Deutsch is correct that no one will be programming an AI.   If something we might call AI comes to exist it won’t be because we specifically designed it.   I would argue that it already exists, always has.   It’s highly flawed to think that humans are the only things capable of awareness and thinking.   It simply doesn’t add up.  But that’s an argument for another post.

Everything is connected.   Extensions of connections continue to evolve as more things connect to more other things in more ways.   It’s such a simple, boring concept that it doesn’t seem that it would “EXPLAIN” it all.  It doesn’t.  It won’t.  Because explanations are not the stuff of existence – intelligence or otherwise.

Thinking is not a thing.   Thoughts are not things.   There are connections between neurons and cells and organs and computers and planets and trees and galaxies and numbers and words and pictures and colors.  Where one thing ends and another begins is very not clear…. even with the “laws of physics” which Mr. Deutsch uses almost exclusively to justify everything.   The laws aren’t really laws.  Ironically.

What Are We?  There is no answer because it’s always changing.