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Archive for the ‘analysis of behavior’ Category

This week my 11 year old daughter asked if she could download and join snapchat. I immediately nixed that idea. I haven’t nixed her getting involved in much else technically where the EULA allows it. Snapchat touched a chord and got me to thinking (again) about identity – how we identify ourselves – who we think we are – and who others think we are. I think about this deeply every so often, sometimes becoming unglued when I think too hard about it. It’s a complicated concept.

Who?

So many things contribute to the patterns that are what we are. Our identity and sense of place in this world – undoubtedly conditioned by the modern world – is built around physical place (and now virtual places) and social circles (and now virtual social networks) and status within established networks of influence. This was probably not always the case when people were far more nomadic and identity wasn’t tied to a hometown or a home school or a 150 person social network. But now, more than ever, identity is a thing.

I personally have moved residences over 20 times in my life. 13 of them different cities (social networks) and 5 across state lines.

Non Existence -> Born (don’t remember)
Littleton, CO (don’t remember, sorta remember)
Colorado Springs (k – 2nd grade)
Aurora, CO Laredo Circle House (2nd grade – 3rd grade???)
Aurora, CO Laredo Court House (4th grade??? – 7th grade)
Miami, FL Kendall House (8th grade)
Miami, FL Baptist Hospital House (9th grade – 10th grade)
Aurora, CO Salsaleto House (11th grade – 12th grade)
Aurora, CO Some Apartment I Forget Where (Summer before college)
Chicago, IL Woodward Court/Univ. Chicago (Freshman year college)
Aurora, CO Buckingham Mall House (Summer between Freshman and Sophomore Year)
Chicago, IL Woodward Court/Univ. Chicago (Sophomore year college)
Chicago, IL 53rd Street Apartment (summer between sophomore and junior year)
Chicago, IL Blackstone Building/University Chicago (Junior year college)
Chicago, IL 53rd Street Co-Op Apartment (summer between junior and senior year)
Santa Monica, CA 9th and Pico (1999)
Chicago, IL Roosevelt and Michigan Apartment (2000 – 2002)
Santa Monica, CA 9th and Pico (2002 – 2005)
Playa Vista, CA Fountainhead Apartment (2005 – 2006)
Venice, CA Abbot Kinney House (2006 – 2010)
Austin, TX Travis Heights House (2010 – 2011)
Austin, TX Deep Eddy House (2012)
Marina Del Rey, CA (2013 – present)

My own children have now moved 5 times (the oldest one) and twice across state lines.

And these are just the residence moves – not all the jobs, schools, social circles, life phases and other changes that go into making up our context and our history. I have 692 friends on facebook, a couple hundred followers on twitter, tens of followers on instagram, one attempt at snapchat, fifty pinterest followers and so on. Sometimes I think of this all as an audience, which is quite insane to me as a concept but I doubt I’m the only one that feels like they have an audience online. I’ve done speaking engagements at conferences, I’ve written 8 years of blogs, somehow I authored several whitepapers, I think i have a patent or three, I’ve performed in 40+ live theater shows, I built hundreds of websites and mobile apps with between 1 and 50 million users a month…. WHAT THE F*** DOES IT ALL ADD UP TO? WHO AM I? and WHY IS THAT EVEN A QUESTION?

It’s a question because my daughters keep finding new ways to “express themselves” and “connect to others.” They “identify” with my wife or myself by saying “oh, i’m so like mom!” They intellectually get the ideas of genetics and art and fashion and learning and the delineation between it all.  They are very keen at telling me I don’t “get” them…. I keep waiting for the day when the TSA finally says they are full human identities and require proof of the case (driver’s license/passport).

It’s also a question because everyday the Western world bombards each other in ways such as:
“what am I worth?”
“tell me about your past.”
“are you this ism or that ism?”
“what party are you?”

and every other variation of class, job history, race, culture, language, outward appearance…

Anchors is my best guess at identities. Us, limited beings, pattern creating and recognizing beings find ways to lay anchors and say THIS IS ENOUGH – THIS IS WHERE I’M DROPPING ANCHOR and REMEMBER THIS. We drop these anchors – which are complex patterns we simplify – and label them as classes, races, job titles, cultures, state lines, political parties, etc. We drop anchors to save energy. That is, we hope the anchors keep us from having to remember all of the context and history that lead us to here when we are in the heat of the moment of making a decision. We want to save time when working out who we hire, with whom we partner, with whom we commune, with whom we war…

Unfortunately.

Identity is an illusion.

We are not the isms, the races, the classes, nor the anchors we drop. We all are ever evolving changing masses of organs, cells, and atoms that respond to the changes around them. We are connected – to each other, to the Web, to the world, to nature, to everything that passes gamma rays into us – EVERYTHING.

And this isn’t a ZEN kind of thinking i’m talking about. It’s a very simple, real concept that *WE* don’t EXIST. and the idea that WE EXIST is a major reason why “we” all end up fighting and destroying and gloating and taking credit and paying dues and every other manner of paying homage to an illusion. We do this because the delusion of singular identity is efficient in many respects. Capital markets reward identities. Democracies, despite their conceptual idea of the masses, reward identities. Social media and the internet reward identities.

And in all this efficiency created by identities we actually end up destroying things. Identities are the most efficient destructive concepts we’ve collectively devised. They shut everything down. They allow entire populations to be ignored. They tune our attention out. They tune our own senses out.

It makes sense this is so and that it persists.

Can it be resisted? *I* don’t know. Can we live without it?  I don’t know.

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Recently there’s been hubbub around Artificial Intelligence (AI) and our impending doom if we don’t do something about it. While it’s fun to scare each other in that horror/sci-fi movie kind of way, there isn’t much substance behind the various arguments floating about regarding AI.

The fears people generally have are about humans losing control and more specifically about an unrestrained AI exacting its own self-derived and likely world-dominating objectives on humankind and the earth. These fears aren’t unjustified in a broad sense. They simply don’t apply to AI, either the artificial nor the intelligence part. More importantly, the fears have nothing to do with AI but instead with the age-old fear that humankind might not be the point of all existence.

We do not have a functional description of intelligence, period. We have no reliable way to measure it. Sure we have IQ or other tests of “ability” and “awareness” and the Turing Test but none of this actually tell you anything about “intelligence” or what might actually be going on with things we consider intelligent. We can measure whether some entity accomplishes a goal or performs some behavior reliably or demonstrates new behavior acquisition in response to changes in its environment. But none of those things establish intelligence and the presence of an intelligent being. They certainly don’t establish something as conscious or self-aware or moral or purpose driven nor any other reified concept we choose as a sign of intelligence.

The sophisticated fear peddlers will suggest of the above that it’s just semantics and we all know what we mean in a common sense way of what intelligence is. This is simply not true. We don’t. Colleges can’t fully count on the SAT, phrenology turned out to be horribly wrong, the Turing Test isn’t poor by definition, and so on. Go ahead, do your own research on this. No one can figure out just exactly what intelligence is and how to measure it. Is it being able to navigate a particular situation really well? Is it the ability to assess the environment? Is it massive pattern matching? Is it particular to our 5 senses? One sense? Is it brain based? Is it pure abstract thinking? What exactly does it mean to be intelligent?

It’s worse for the concept of artificial. It’s simply the wrong term. Artificial comes from very old ideas about what’s natural and what’s not natural. What’s real is what the earth itself does and not what is the work of some humankind process or a machine. Artificial things are made of metals and powered by electricity and coal and involve gears and circuits. Errrrr. Wait… many things the earth makes are made of metal and their locomotion comes from electricity or the burning of fuel, like coal. In fact, humans were made by the earth/universe. The division between artificial and natural is extremely blurry and is non-existent for a reified concept like intelligence. We don’t need the term artificial nor the term intelligence. We need to know what we’re REALLY dealing with.

So here we are… being pitched a fearsome monster of AI which has zero concrete basis, no way to observe it, and zero examples of its existence as described in most discussions. But still the monster is in the closet, right?

For the sake of argument (which is all these counter-factual future predictions of doom are) let’s assume there is some other entity/set of entities that is more “intelligent” that humans. We will need to get a sense of what that would look like.

Intelligence could be loosely described by the presence of complex, nuanced behaviors exhibited in response to the environment. Specifically an entity is observed as intelligent if it responds to changing conditions (internal as well as environmental) effectively. It must recognize changes, be able to adjust to those changes, and evaluate the consequences of made changes as well as any changes the environment has made in response.

What seems to be the basis of intelligent behavior (ability to respond to complex contingencies) in humans comes from the following:

  • Genetic and Epigenetic effects/artifacts evolved from millions of years of evolutionary experiments e.g. body structures, fixed action patterns
  • Sensory perception from 5 basic senses e.g. sight, touch, etc
  • Ability to pattern match in a complex nervous system e.g. neurological system, various memory systems
  • Cultural/Historical knowledge-base e.g. generationally selected knowledge trained early into a new human through child rearing, media and school
  • Plastic biochemical body capable of replication, regeneration and other anti-fragile effects e.g. stem cells, neuro-plasticity
  • more really complex stuff we have yet to uncover

Whatever AI we think spells our demise most likely will have something like above (something functionality equivalent). Right? No? While there is a possibility that there exists some completely different type of “intelligent” being what I’m suggesting is that the general form of what would be akin to “intelligent” would have these features:

  • Structure that has been selected for fitness over generations in response to its environment and overall survivability
  • Multi-modal Information perception/ingestion
  • advanced pattern recognition and storage
  • Knowledge reservoir (previously explored patterns) to pull from that reduces the need for a new entity to explore the space of all possibilities for survival
  • Resilient, plastic and replication mechanism capable of abstract replication and structural exploration

And distilling that down even more raw abstractions:

  • multi-modal information I/O
  • complex pattern matching
  • large memory
  • efficient replication with random mutation and mutation from selected patterns

What are the implementation limits of those abstracted properties? Turns out, we don’t know. It’s very murky. Consider a rock. Few of us would consider a plain old rock as intelligent. But why not? What doesn’t it fulfill in the above? Rocks adjust to their environment – think of erosion and the overall rock cycle. Their structures contain eons of selection and hold a great deal of information – think of how the environment is encoded in generational build of a rock, it’s crystal structure and so forth. Rocks have an efficient replication scheme – again, think of the rock cycle, the make of a rock being able to be adsorbed into other rocks and so forth.

Perhaps you don’t buy that a rock is intelligent. There’s nothing in my description of intelligence or the reified other definitions of intelligence that absolutely says a rock isn’t intelligent. It seems to fulfill on the basics… it just does so over timescales we’re not normally looking at. A rock won’t move through a maze very quickly or solve a math problem in our life time. I posit though it does do these things over long expanses of time. The network of rocks that form mountains and river beds and ocean bottoms and the entire earths crust and the planets of our solar system exhibit the abstract properties above quite adeptly. Again just at spacetime scales we’re not used to talking about in these types of discussions.

I could go on to give other examples such as ant colonies, mosquitoes, dolphins, pigs, The Internet and on and on. I doubt many of these examples will convince many people as the reified concept of “intelligence as something” is so deeply embedded in our anthropocentric world views.

And so I conclude those that are afraid and want others to be afraid of AI are actually afraid of things that have nothing to do with intelligence – that humans might not actually be the alpha and omega and that we are indeed very limited, fragile creatures.

The first fear from anthropocentrists is hard to dispel. It’s personal. All the science and evidence of observation of the night sky and the depths of our oceans makes it very clear humans are a small evolutionary branch of an unfathomably large universe. But to each person we all struggle with our view from within – the world literally, to ourselves, revolves around us. Our vantage point is such that from our 5 senses everything comes into us. Our first person view is such that we experience the world relative to ourselves. Our memories are made of our collections of first person experiences. Our body seems to respond from our own relation to the world.

And so the fear of an AI that could somehow spell our own “top of the food chain” position makes sense while still being unjustified. The reality is… humans aren’t the top of any chain. The sun will one day blow up and quite possibly take all humans out with it. Every day the earth spins and whirls and shakes with winds, heat, snow, quakes and without intention takes humans out in the process. And yet we don’t fear those realities like folks are trying to get us to fear AI. The key to this fear seems to be intention. We’re afraid of anything that has the INTENT, the purpose, the goal of taking humans and our own selves out the central position of existence.

And where, how, when, why would this intent arise? Out of what does any intent arise? Does this intent actually exist? We don’t really have any other data store to try to derive an answer to this other than humanity’s and our own personal experience and histories. Where has the intent to dominate or destroy come from in humans? Is that really our intent when we do it? Is it a universal intent of humankind? Is it something intrinsically tied to our make up and relation to the world? Even if the intent is present, what are its antecedents? And what of this intent? If the intent to dominate others arises in humans how are we justified in fearing its rise in other entities?

Intent is another reified concept. It doesn’t really exist or explain anything. It is a word that bottles up a bunch of different things going on. We have no more intention than the sun. We behave. We process patterns and make adjustments to our behavior – verbal and otherwise. Our strategies for survival change based on contingencies and sometimes our pattern recognition confuses information – we make false associations about what is threatening our existence or impeding our basic needs and wants (chasing things that activate our adrenaline and dopamine production…). It’s all very complex. Even our “intentions” are complex casual thickets (a concept I borrow from William Wimsatt).

In this complexity it’s all incredibly fragile. Fragile in the sense that our pattern recognition is easily fooled. Our memories are faulty. Our bodies get injured. Our brains are only so plastic. And the more or survival depends on rote knowledge the less plastic our overall machinery can be. Fragile, as refereed to here, is a very general concept about the stability of any given structure or pattern – belief system, behavioral schedule, biochemical relations, rock formations… any structure.

The fear involved in fragility and AI is really about less complex entities that are highly specialized in function, sensory scope and pattern matching ability. The monster presented is a machine or group of machines hell-bent on human subordination and destruction with the weaponry and no-fragility in its function or intent – it cannot be diverted by itself nor an outside force.
OR

We fear the accidental AI. The AI that accidentally happens into human destruction as a goal.

In both cases it is not intelligence we fear but instead simple exploitation of our own fragility.

And yet, as appealing as a fear this seems to be, it is also unjustified. There’s nothing that suggests even simple entities can carry out single “purpose” goals in a complex network. The complexity of the network itself prevents total exploitation by simple strategies.

Consider the wonderful game theoretic models that consider very simple games like the Prisoner’s Dilemma and how it turns out simple Tit-For-Tat exploitation models simply do work over the long-term as domination strategies. It turns out that even in very simple situations domination and total exploitation turns out to be a poor survival strategy for the exploiter.

So domination itself becomes nuanced strategy subject to all sorts of entropy, adjustments and complexity.

Maybe this isn’t a convincing rebuttal. After-all what about a simple idea that what if someone created really simplistic AI and armed it with nuclear warheads. Certainly even a clumsy system (at X time or under Y conditions, nuke everything) armed with nukes would have the capability to destroy us all. Even this isn’t a justified fear. In the first place, it wouldn’t be anything at all AI like in any sense if it were so simple. So fearing AI is a misplaced fear. The fear is more about the capability of a nuke. Insert bio-weapons or whatever else WMD one wants to consider. In all of those cases it has nothing to do with the wielder of the weapon and it’s intelligence and everything to do about the weapon.

However, even having a total fear of WMDs is myopic. We simply do not know what the fate of humankind would be nor of the earth should some entity launch all out strategies of mass destruction. Not that we should attempt to find out but it seems a tad presumptuous for anyone to pretend to be able to know what exactly would happen at the scales of total annihilation.

Our only possible data point for what total annihilation of a species on earth might be that of dinosaurs and other ancient species. We have many theories suggesting about their mass extinction from the earth, but we don’t really know, and this extinction took a very long time, was selective and didn’t end up in total annihilation (hell, and likely lead to humanity… so…) [ see this for some info: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cretaceous%E2%80%93Paleogene_extinction_event].

The universe resists simple explanations and that’s likely a function of the fact that the universe is not simple.

Complex behavior of adaptation and awareness is very unlikely to bring about total annihilation of humankind. A more likely threat is from simple things that accidentally exploit fragility (a comet striking the earth, blotting out the sun so that anything that requires the sun to live goes away). It’s possible we could invent and/or have invented simple machines that can create what amounts to a comet strike. And what’s there to fear even in that? Only if one believes that humanity, as it is, is the thing to protect is any fear about its annihilation by any means, “intelligent” or not, justified.

Protecting humanity as it is is a weak logical position as well because there’s really no way to draw a box around what humanity is and whether there’s some absolute end state. Worse than that, it strikes me personally, that people’s definition of humanity when promoting various fears of technology or the unknown is decidedly anti-aware and flies counter to a sense of exploration. That isn’t a logical position – it’s a choice. We can decide to explore or decide to stay as we are. (Maybe)

The argument here isn’t for an unrestrained pursuit of AI. Not at all. AI is simply a term and not something to chase or prevent unto itself – it literally, theoretically isn’t actually a thing. The argument here is for restraint through questioning and exploration. The argument is directly against fear at all. Fear is the twin of absolute belief – the confusion of pattern recognition spiraling into a steady state. A fear is only justified by an entity against an immutable pattern.

For those that fear AI, then you must, by extension, fear the evolution of human capability – and the capability of any animal or any network of rocks, etc. And the reality is… all those fears will never result in any preventative measures against destruction. Fear is stasis. Stasis typically leads to extinction – eons of evidence make this clear. Fear-peddlers are really promoting stasis and that’s the biggest threat of all.

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“If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.”

– Albert Einstein

Perhaps Albert Einstein said this.   It seems like a worthy ideal.  Except it really doesn’t work out.  At all.

Here are just a few straightforward, well known concepts that don’t give up to simple explanations even though we all assume they do.


what:
e = mc^2

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mass%E2%80%93energy_equivalence

why:
http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B002TJLF7W?btkr=1
http://www.askamathematician.com/2011/03/q-why-does-emc2/


what:
1+1 = 2

why:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Principia_Mathematica (300+ pages of proof required)


what:
this is the color red

why:
http://www.crayola.com/for-educators/resources-landing/articles/color-what-is-color.aspx
http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/color/#ProCol


Simple explanations are usually very broad strokes and at a minimum only indicative of what might be going on.  Any serious and remotely accurate explanation about anything is nuanced, open ended and will inevitably be amended in the future.

There’s pressure in this culture, in the US, to make everything simple.  This devotion to simplicity is a trap and often a very dangerous one.  It rears its head in politics, business, social situations, religion and pretty much every other facet of our culture.

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I finally took the time to consume the “leaked” NYTimes Innovation Report.  (on scribd and their story on it here http://www.nytimes.com/times-insider/2014/05/30/we-met-the-story-and-it-was-us/)

It is a remarkable business and cultural document even though I found most of its conclusions and recommendations to be off the mark.  It starkly shows just how unsettled we are as a culture here in the US, especially because of media and technology.   The authors oddly make no commentary about a complete lack of engagement that majority of the population has in important topics even though the data in the report they so carefully analyzed clearly shows.   That it is this easy for media entities to lose and gain audiences is a clear indicator that no one really is doing anything other than arbitraging various mediums for traffic.

There are a few examples in there that represent important topics, such as the Snowden/NSA story (media won by The Guardian) and the Michael Sam story (which they draw out a use case).  Unfortunately they spend more time in the report analyzing and regretting how they didn’t better take advantage of that story to drive traffic.  No where is it mentioned that their mission is to drive civic engagement or improve knowledge in the population and that they analyzed their and the competition progress on those dimensions.  

I have no doubt that at the core of NYTimes there is a really big mission to do journalism that matters in ways that have the most impact.   However, this report almost demotes that concept totally.   And in doing so the report really suggests measuring and experimenting with gimmicks (SEO, social viral tricks, a/b testing image / headline selection) is more important than measuring impact on knowledge in the population and impact to policy making and the government.   You get good and stay good at what you pay attention to (measure).   Please NYTimes don’t get good at SEO above being the BEST at having an impact on the knowledge of the world.

An example that starkly shows this… the cooking/recipes work they are doing.  Why spend any time and money on that?  there are millions and millions of recipes on the web and in apps.  There are 100s of successful cooking apps out there.   What unique impact is NYTimes having by grabbing eyeballs for this “evergreen content” from the “archives”.   There is important work being done at the NYTimes so take the people working on Cooking Apps on focus on heart and sole of the NYTimes.

It’s very much a report about keeping the business growing.   Which is definitely an important thing.  However, the gimmicks of the day are not the answer.   Don’t worry about playing games trying to entice more readers into the Daily Report.  The language in the report already conditions the thinking – shows me that they aren’t yet grokking the situation.  NYTimes doesn’t have readers anymore.  It has users.

The NYTimes could be a platform, the platform for knowledge and impact.   Its competition isn’t general news media.   It’s the network of knowledge platform technologies.   The search engine and the social network and the app store – the platform technologies are what has disrupted them, not competitors with inferior products exploiting new technologies.  These info organizing, creating and sharing platforms are the technologies and services and products that are having an impact.

I’m more bullish on NYTimes than it seems they are.   I happen to believe that NYTimes has far more impact on the world than all the competition they named combined.   Getting mentioned on Buzzfeed does nothing for a person or business or policy issue.   If most of the competition they mention went away tomorrow no one would bat an eye, the Google index would easily replace the link bait with something else.   If the NYTimes went away we would lose a major cornerstone / market maker for knowledge and depth and truth.   The NYTimes still shapes the world around it.  It has the unique position, because of it’s long held mission and depth to make the platform of impact in the future.

This is wild stuff, i know.   But really… all its media competition isn’t even close in impact nor resources nor value as Google or Facebook or Amazon….  the really foundation of our information existence.

The next big knowledge platform isn’t yet here, why couldn’t NYTimes be the one to build it?

 

 

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The idea of progress is a flimsy concept.  Nothing in the universe comes for free.  So when some system or entity “progresses” in comes at the expense of energy somewhere.  It’s not necessarily a wholly destructive expense but it is an expense nonetheless. The way in which we commonly talk about society, civilization and the human race is in terms of progress.  We’re progressing from a barbaric or unenlightened state to a state if self reliance and control and technologically enhanced awareness.  But this progress is mostly an illusion.  It comes at a great expense to other species,the planet and even ourselves.

Some conflicting reports:

http://humanprogress.org/ (there’s progress!)

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Social_progress (there’s progress!)

http://reason.com/archives/2013/10/30/human-progress-not-inevitable-uneven-and (there is a thing called progress but we’re not always on it!)

http://people.wku.edu/charles.smith/wallace/S445.htm (there’s progress!)

http://www.alternet.org/environment/myth-human-progress (progress is an illusion!)

http://www.vice.com/read/john-gray-interview-atheism (there is no progress!)

(Another way to think about this is that everything is competing to exist against other things that also are fighting to exist.  The better we compete the more we extract from the ecosystems.)

Certainly we’ve increased our life expectancy on the whole and reduced violence and physical suffering in the human race. We have invented computers, figured out space flight, eradicated some diseases, taught billions to read and write.  All progress right?

To what end?  Where is all this progress going?  How is this progress measured?  Does a longer life mean a better life? Does a less violent life lead somewhere differently than a more violent one?

Perhaps even more challenging is figuring out whether we have a choice in the matter.  Are we even biologically, physically capable of not trying to progress in these dimensions and exert our competitive advantages upon or environment?  If we had some definition of how best to live in some philosophic sense and it differed materially with the progressive ways we’ve chased could we actually change?  Could we choose less technology and a culture more in balance with the environment?  And no there’s no “hippie” justification needed for this thinking.  The question is is there a way of life that is more sustainable and less extracting from the world than the way we currently live?  Or is our survival inexorably tied to dominating everything we can?

To make this very clear consider the species that have become extinct at the hands of humankind’s hunting.  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lists_of_extinct_animals
Our “progress” has led in many cases directly to their complete decline.  Who are we to say whether our progress is worth it – Was worth their demise?

I’m directly asking everyone what is the point of our focus on progress.  Certainly in America we are all put on a course to progress through life.  Our goal is clear to get through high school, go through college, and begin to produce.  One production should lead to ever more important positions in this progressive society with ever increasing economic output.  We measure all facets of our culture against GDP and endowments and ROI.  We do not recognize that growth in these aspects must be paid for in other respects.

So the question remains.  What is progress? and what’s it worth to you?

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There is truth.   Truth exists.  There is a truth to this existence, this universe.   We might lack the language or the pictorial tools or the right theory and models, but there is truth.

What is this truth?  what is truth?

Things exist, we exist, there is a speed of light, the square root of two is irrational, the halting problem is undecidable, there are abstract and real relations between abstract and real things.

The truth is a something that, yes, has a correspondence to the facts.  That is not the end of it though (despite the pragmatic claims of some!).   The truth has a correspondence to the facts because it is true!   The facts HAVE to line up against a truth.   The truth exists outside of specific events or objects.   A number has an existence, if even only as an idea, and it has relations to other things.  And the description of that number and those relations ARE truth.  A computer program has its truth whether you run the program or not.  If you were to run it it would halt or not halt, that potential is in the computer program from the beginning, it doesn’t arise from it’s execution.

On Proof and not Proof but Use

We can prove these truths and many more.  We can prove through English words or through mathematical symbolism or computer programs.   Our proofs, put into these formats, can and are often wrong and set to be revised over and over until there are no holes.   No matter how fragile a proof and the act of providing proof the truth is still not diminished.  It is still there, whether we know it or not and whether we can account for it or not.  And the truth begs proof.  It begs to be known in its fullness and to be trusted as truth to build up to other truths.

BUT!

Proof isn’t always possible – in fact we’ve learned from issues in computability and incompleteness – that complete provability of all truth is impossible.   This beautiful truth itself further ensures that the truth will always beckon us and will never be extinguished through an endless assault.  There is always more to learn.

The unprovable truths we can still know and use.  We can use them without knowing they are true.  We do this all the time, all day long.   How many of us know the truth of how physics works? or how are computers do what they do?   and does that prevent their use – the implementation of that truth towards more truth?

Why?

Why defend truth?  Why publish an essay exalting truth and championing the search for truth? Does the truth need such a defense?

Being creatures with intelligence – that is, senses and a nervous system capable of advanced pattern recognition – our ultimate survival depends on figuring out what’s true and what isn’t.   If too many vessels (people!) for the gene code chase falsehoods the gene code isn’t likely to survive too many generations.   Life, and existence itself, depends on the conflict between entropy and shape, chaos and order, stillness and motion, signal and noise.  The truth is the abstract idea that arises from this conflict and life is the real, tangible thing born from that truth.  We learn truths – which processing of this thing into that thing that keep us alive, we live to learn these things. In a completely entropic existence there is nothing.   Without motion there is nothing.   In total chaos there is nothing.   It is the slightest change towards shape, order and signal that we find the seeds of truth and the whole truth itself.  The shaping of entropy is the truth.   Life is embodiment of truth forming.

So I can’t avoid defending the truth.  I’m defending life.  My life.  In defending it, I’m living it.  And you, in whatever ways you live, are defending the truth and your relation to other things.  If I’m alive I must seek and promote truth.   While death isn’t false, chasing falsehood leads to death or rather non existence.   Could there ever be truth to a statement like “I live falsely” or “I sought the false.”   There’s nothing to seek.  Falsehood is easy, it’s everywhere.  It’s everything that isn’t the truth.  To seek it is to exert no effort (to never grow) and to never gain – falsity has no value.  Living means growing, growing requires effort, only the truth, learning of the truth demands effort.

How do we best express and ask about truth?

There’s a great deal of literature on the unreasonable effectiveness of mathematics to describe the world.  There’s also a great deal of literature, and growing by the day, suggesting that mathematics isn’t the language of the way the universe works.   Both views I find to be rather limited.   Mathematics and doing math is about certain rigor in describing things and their relations.   It’s about forming and reforming ways to observe and question ideas, objectives, motion, features…. It’s about drawing a complete picture and all the reasons it should and shouldn’t be so.   Being this way, this wonderful thing we call mathematics, there is no way mathematics couldn’t be effective at truth expression.   Ok, for those that want to nit pick, I put “computation” in with mathematics.  Describing (writing) computer programs and talking about their features and functions and observing their behavior is doing math, it is mathematics.

Art has very similar qualities.   Art doesn’t reduce beyond what should be reduced.   It is the thing itself.  It asks questions by shifting perspectives and patterns.  It produces struggle.  Math and art are extremely hard to separate when done to their fullest.  Both completely ask the question and refuse to leave it at that.   Both have aspects of immediate impression but also have a very subtle slow reveal.  Both require both the artist and the audience, the mathematician and the student – there is a tangible, necessary part of the truth that comes directly from the interaction between the parties, not simply the artifacts or results themselves.

Other ways of expressing and thinking are valuable and interesting.  That is, biology and sociology and political science, and so on….. these are all extremely practical implementations or executions of sub aspects of the truth and truth expression.  They are NOT the most fundamental nor the most fruitful overall.   Practiced poorly and they lead to falsehoods or at best mild distractions from the truth.  Practiced well and they very much improve the mathematics and art we do.

What does any of this get us?  What value is there in this essay?

This I cannot claim anything more about than what I have above.   For example, I don’t know how to specifically tell someone that the truth of square root of 2 is irrational has x,y,z value to them.  It certainly led to a fruitful exploration and exposition of a great deal of logic and mathematical thinking that led to computation and and and.   But that doesn’t even come close to explaining value or what talking about its value today, in this essay, matters.

My only claim would be that truth matters and if there is any truth in this essay then this essay matters.  How that matter comes to fruition I don’t know.   That it comes to any more fruition than my pounding out this essay after synthesizing many a conversation and many books on the subject and writing some computer programs and doing math is probably just a very nice consequence.

The truth’s purpose is itself, that it is true.

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The discussion of accountability and consent in anarchist and collective groups is very interesting to me. The groups are loosely organized groups that tend to impose few, if any, rigid structures and processes. Much of the point of these groups is to resist strict ways of being and supporting the safe exploration of ways to relate, live and engage. It is a set up that flat out resists explicit rule making. So when a group is confronted with an issue such as sexual assault it’s not entirely clear how the group and its members will and should respond. In a sense it provides a bit of a behavioral experimental playground much more so than more commonly organized groups of people.

In the specific case of sexual assault in these loosely connected groups the situation can be very complicated. The group doesn’t want to operate with well established rules that are marketed into its members. The group also doesn’t want to appeal to some moral or behavioral authority outside of the group. So there’s a real conflict in figuring out what exactly anyone is accountable for and what behavior to reinforce or extinguish. In some sense the lack of established processes and rules forces any conflict to always have reactive approaches rather than preventative. This doesn’t make it wrong or bad or ineffective. Consent and accountability isn’t necessarily dealt with well in a dogmatic rule enforcing set up. Often overly explicit ruled organizations create behavioral associations to following the rules rather than being attentive to others values, perspectives and personal comfort. So how should we think about consent? and respond to offenses?

The essay in IMPASSES “exploring critiques of the accountability process” mostly focuses on a synthesis and response to two pamphlets about accountability in anarchists groups. Presumably these pamphlets and others like them came about in response to specific challenges to accountability within the group. So I’m coming to my interpretation of the essay from both the context of the group’s possible issues and the general points the essay is trying to make.

The essay synthesis focuses a lot of energy on questioning the prevailing language used in accountability situations – that is situations where there needs to a response to some abuse. The author of the essay wants to resist any adherence to judicial or government like processes to organize people. I feel this is in general a useful intellectual approach. The fact is a resistance driven approach to living isn’t authentic if in the face of some adversity resistance is dropped and a person or group reverts to dogmatic or traditional approaches.

I believe the author is also justly critiquing these essays as giving in way too easily to common notions of victimhood and perpetrator and guilt and innocence. The world is vastly more complicated than most of our society’s media, processes and government admits.

The idea of consent is complex. And consent is a central component of identifying abuse and obviously possible healing behavior. Relating to each other in any open way requires a lot of listening and a lot patience. Often we don’t know our own rules and boundaries until they have been crossed. In some sense developing a sense of consent and vocabulary for communicating consent takes a willingness to approach and cross boundaries.

Values come about this way – one learns what behavior is reinforcing by behaving and experiencing consequences. The confusing part is that it can be extremely difficult to understand when a response to a behavior is a negative or positive reinforcer.

Even when rules are explicitly stated the ideas of consent and abuse are murky. The fact is whether we state rules or not we all are operating under a set of internal rules and values. These aren’t unchangeable laws but they are patterns of operating we’ve learned through consequences to our behavior. These rules can be hard to articulate but we all know when we’ve had one of our own rules broken.

The main challenge in any relationship is one of communication. The issue of consent or rather avoiding abuse is discovering rules before they are violated. The challenge the essay takes on is what should we do in reaction to an abuse. In particular, how should we handle things such to create more suffering by anyone in a process of healing and resolution. My interpretation of most common processes provided in schools, society, etc is that they are woefully simplistic and formulaic and focus far too much, as the author suggests, on defining things into victimhood and guilt. Typically in society once we can direct blame, accurately or not, our processes end. Unfortunately these approaches do not heal and increase perspective.

There’s is a ton of interesting research and literature on punishment and punitive approaches to society. The works of B.F. Skinner are worth a read. There’s also a great collection of essays under the book title “Beyond the Punitive Society” that are worth a browse. I point some of this material out because I think these materials get to the heart of consent and responsibility and accountability much more so than this essay in IMPASSES.

America is very much a punitive culture. From how we discipline our children to our judicial system to our religious views almost all processes we engage in for conflict resolution are punitive. It’s efficient, I suspect… Or it feels like it is. Oddly though it does not appear to be effective long term. Positive reinforcement (not the pop psyc positive mental attitude) is by far more effective. No person who violates a rule does so because they are evil or in isolation is a bad person. In this regard I side with the author of the essay in a search for better way to think and talk about accountability and consent and to not give into established approaches that don’t appear to be that effective in creating a safe, open culture.

I do hope the author(s) of the essay publish more about what they uncover. The world has far too few discussions about fundamental and powerful concepts like consent.

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