Friday, November 09, 2012

What about capitalism? What about happiness?

My comments below (I am "Person Z") came from a brief interchange on Facebook with a friend of a friend. I was encouraged and impressed with the willingness of Person Y to discuss and listen to different points of view, including my own...

Person X Writes: Everybody agrees our economy is broken yet nobody ever questions capitalism. That's like trying to diagnose a car that does not run without ever checking the engine.

Person Y Writes: I question capitalism, every day. It isn't sustainable.

Person Z Writes: What do you propose as an alternative? What would you use to measure the level of success or failure of your alternative?

Person Y Writes: I'd use Happiness as my Measure.

Person Z Writes: I'm more concerned with what millions of people want than what I want. I find that I can be happy under almost any circumstances (unless I am misunderstanding what you mean by happiness). I believe I am responsible for my own emotional state, that it is in my control (one of the few things that IS in my control), so happiness is a pretty simple and low ambition of mine.

But I also understand that I am just a small piece of what makes the world tick, that what I have today (including being able to have this conversation) has depended on an economic model called "competitive markets." And that this model has produced miraculous things (like giving me the time, education, and technology to be able to have this conversation) and horrendous things (like global warming, exploitation of people, etc.).

I am also aware of a longer historical perspective, and know the benefits that we take for granted today were not available to humans even 500 years ago. Do we have it right? Certainly not. Is it better than it was 10, 100, 1000, 10000, 100000 years ago? I'm not sure, though I would tend to believe that life even 100 years ago was spent more on basic needs than we spend today, that education levels of much of the human species is greater, that "freedom" and "human rights" are greater, etc. Does all the good outweigh the bad? That is a much more interesting question to me than talking about which system is "right" or "wrong." How many people should I care about as I consider alternatives? How do that many people agree on anything? These are much harder, challenging questions that seem more compassionate and caring for a larger audience than my own wants and needs. What can I do to help more people benefit from the greater freedom, challenge, and inspiration that I have found in my life that I don't think I would have been able to find 1000 years ago?

I wonder what the world would be like if we measured the success of the human species in terms of how the bottom 10% experiences their lives? This is in contrast to the way individuals might view their own success as separate from other people's success. It is also in contrast with a belief that is pervasive in our communities that the success of the community is measured by how well the top 10% are doing. For example, what would sports look like if we measured the success of a sport by how well the worst players were doing, instead of focusing on the best players? Now that is a question worthy of my attention and effort. What if we cared about the bottom 10% more than we idolize and aspire to be in the top 10%?

Saturday, October 20, 2012

What is meaning?

I've been thinking about the way my brain works. In particular, my depression has given me insights into how important my brain is to my perceptions. Now, I'm not talking about how my brain receives information from my senses. What I'm talking about is how my brain responds to my senses.

For example, when I was not depressed, my town looked fascinating. I don't mean I consciously found it fascinating. I mean what I saw, the raw data, the input from my senses, was fascinating. When I was depressed, my town looked boring. Again, it wasn't boring because of any conscious thought patterns. It was boring because the raw data was boring.

Both times it was the same raw data, really, but I received the data differently, depending on whether I was depressed or not. It was as if depression was the dulling of connections in my brain. Depressed, I had fewer connections with other, similar experiences, and I experienced my town as duller.

I had a similar experience with the color yellow. I have been painting for ten years. I have paid a good deal of attention to color, especially the emotional connection I have with different colors. My color palette is based on a limited number of colors: Windsor & Newton (#1) Permanent Alizarin Crimson, (#6) Cadmium Red Deep Hue, (#8) Cadmium Yellow Pale Hue, and (#15) Cobalt Blue Hue as well as (#24) Ivory Black and (#40) Titanium White. The first indication I had (in retrospect) that I was getting depressed was that my yellow (Cadmium Yellow Pale Hue) was not as bright as it used to be. I bought four different tubes of it before I realized it wasn't the paint that was different, but rather my perception of the paint. In fact, as I sank into deep depression, my whole world got "duller."

Several years later, as I came out of my depression, my brain connections seemed to come back, and so did the brightness of my yellow (and the fascination with my town).

Doing some homework on the brain, I discovered a book by Jeff Hawkins called On Intelligence. He describes a "forward-casting" done by the brain which triggers pattern matches on "close" matches. In other words, the brain is a forward-biased organism, using past patterns to recognize current patterns and making conclusions (triggering recognition) on partial pattern matches.

What is so amazing about this process is that it means that ALL MEANING COMES FROM REPEATED PATTERNS! I'm not just talking about the meaning of an object (like a chair) or the meaning of a word (like "chair"), but ALL meaning. In other words, the human mind starts out with a pretty clean slate. Then it gets signals from its senses, which are stored. As a pattern is repeated, the pattern becomes more fixed. As a pattern becomes more fixed, the brain becomes more sensitive to that particular pattern. If the pattern is experienced enough times, the pattern begins to dominate the experience of patterns that are close to the same pattern (this is the forward bias). So my experience of my perception of my yellow paint is biased by my previous experiences of similar patterns. When I am depressed, the bias of the previously experienced patterns is muted because of a reduction in the extent to which my forward bias patterns are able to fire.

Well, if you understand that, more power to you. I am still trying to understand it myself. And is it real or just a tautology?

For now, I am enjoying the realization that all meaning comes from repeated patterns, which frees me from the attachment I have to past experiences. It's kind of like meditation. I am at peace because the impact of the forward bias has been reduced. Just as meditation encourages emptying the mind of thoughts, my realization that meaning is just an expression of my past has helped me to be at peace with all the thoughts in my head.

It has also helped me to realize that the meaning of life is much simpler than I had thought. The meaning of life, like all meaning, is just the repetition of the pattern we call "life" over time. And that meaning is forward biased, which means it is strongly influenced by past repeated patterns. I now know that there is no universal meaning of life, but only each human's experience of the repeated patterns in his or her life. And no meaning has more or less meaning than any other meaning, including this meaning!

I certainly am NOT satisfied with this blog entry, but it was important for me to get a start at it. If you want to know more, read the book!

Evolutionary trends in competitive economic markets

I haven't heard much talk about evolutionary trends in competitive economic markets. As a student of economics, I understand the reasoning behind the advantages of a competitive market, but producers and consumers are adaptive agents. There are constant profit incentives to both producers and consumers to find ways to take advantage of distortions in the market.

It seems to me that there are no forces within the competitive economic system to assure that the assumptions necessary to produce competition are alive and well. Seems like the social value of competitive markets will naturally decay over time as the agents adapt to fulfill their own self-interest, unless the competitive markets adapt, too. Isn't that one of the roles of government?

How do we manage the conflict of interest when producers and consumers are agents in government, too?

Just wondering wandering...

Thursday, January 12, 2012

In the beginning, there was no meaning, only variation...

What if, in the beginning, there was only "1" and "0"? And there was no meaning. What if, as luck (and a lot of time) would have it, there was "remembering"? Then, it was possible to have a relationship between 1 and 0 and observation at time "t" and time "t+epsilon." Relationships that occurred "more often" (repetitions) and/or "close together" (small epsilon) were remembered/refreshed/survived more than relatinoships that occurred "less often" and/or "far apart." In this system, remembered patterns survive. I will postulate that "meaning" and "purpose" are derived only from these surviving patterns.


To build a super-brain, or something that does what the human brain does, only better and faster, requires the same development process, the same meaning and purpose, as the system that developed the human brain. Note: it is also possible to develop other forms of intelligence using other systems of development, but it is unlikely the human brain would understand or be capable of finding meaning or purpose in such a foreign nature of intelligence.


What does a computer program look like that uses the same system of development?

I need something that can distinguish between 1 and 0. I will make the input for this development system the Internet. Note: I could build other machines, other programs, that used other inputs, but the challenge is how intelligent, how far, could these other systems develop? They would be limited by the variety (see Ashby) of the input. The Internet is the first "sense organ" with sufficient variety to develop intelligence in a reasonable amount of time and over a sufficiently large domain of space.


I connect my computer to the Internet and deliver some input to my program. Note: the choice of what input I deliver to the program is already limiting the evolution of the pattern memory (meaning and purpose) of the program. But it is not such a limitation as I might first think. I will have several (maybe hundreds or thousands) of programs, each specializing in observing a particular type of information on the Internet, similar to the human senses collecting different perspectives on the environment of the body. Then, I will need to connect the outputs of these different agents (a la Minsky), through more layers of pattern survival, to provide a super-intelligence that brings everything together.


What domains of intelligence do I want to develop for this super-intelligence?

1. Ability to communicate with humans (or else, how will I communicate with it?)
2. Ability to search for answers
3. Ability to remember in a retrievable way
4. Ability to float hypotheses over "long" periods of time (especially longer than human lifespan, but perhaps even longer than organization lifespan).
5. Ability to learn new things (and forget old things?)

more to come...


Some ideas for Internet domains:

1. Blog web sites
2. Economic web sites (allocation of goods and services)
3. Published research web sites (domain of new and formative ideas)
4. Educational web sites (domain of old and accepted ideas)
5. Image web sites
6. Sound web sites
7. Rapidly changing web sites (news web sites?)
8. Personal web sites
9. Organizational/institutional web sites

more to come...

Now, more on the mechanism of learning pattern recognition...

A. Observe a "1" at moment "t(a)"
B. Remember a "1" paired with a "t(a)"
C. Observe a "1"
D. Remember a "1" paired with a "t(b)"
E. Remember a "1" "1" paired with a t(a,b)
F. The pattern "1" "1" decays at a rate that allows for forgetting (non-survival) of ideas.

How long until the system recognizes the distribution of ASCII characters (ie-has found meaning in the observed input)?

How long until the system recognizes repeated combinations of ASCII characters (words)?

How long until the system recognizes repeated combinations of words?


More to come...