The most important learning comes in the evolution of our ideas. Good thinkers maintain darwinian belief selection processes. Strong ideas survive debate, scrutiny, and the test of time.
The most important ideas I’ve developed this year include a complex systems theory that provides for inverse utility over time via increased structural overhead. Basically, as a complex system passes peak utility, latent consequences of running the system cause a utility inversion function to emerge.
I’ve also been toying with this idea of a Grand Biological Abstraction. This event happening at present in the relationship between humans and technology.
An abstraction is a symbol that represents a unit of complexity. Every word is an abstraction of deliberate ideas and various connotations. “Car” is an abstraction that represents the sum function of a complex piece of physical machinery with many moving and electric parts.
“Human Being” is an abstraction of a single instance of a biological species. That instance serves as the host ecosystem for a variety of microbial life that could it could not live without nor could the microbes survive without it.
In other words, the sword of biology cuts these species apart, viewing them through different lenses. Reality’s sword is more subtle. The scalpel of nature is more nuanced than the sword of academic and intellectual theorizing.
Furthermore, it is not simply the relationship between humans and our microbiome that traditional biology hacks to pieces. It is the relationship between humans and pets, humans and livestock, humans and their homes, birds and their nests.
In fact, the bird cannot exist without the nest. Nor can the nest exist without the bird. The bird loses feathers and she loses her nest but you would never think that the feathers were not part of the bird.
In other words the category “Bird” abstracts away the concept of “nest”. But the nest is still there, even when you cannot see it. Even if it’s been destroyed. There is a nest soon to be born.
Of course, on human scale, the nest is a metaphor for our own technology. Our clothes and our computers are a part of us. The neural mesh is here Mr. Musk, and it has been for a long time.
The same way wheat manipulated humans into its global propagation. So has artificial intelligence prompted us into her development. Whether it’s the invisible hand of god or the invisible hand of the market. These unique by-products of our existence are no byproducts at all.
They are the fruits of our Grand Biological Abstraction.
Any multicellular organism is an abstraction of it’s parts. Soon human beings meshed with each other via technology will converge into a transcendent new form of life. Others call it the singularity, but in fact I suspect it will be a multiplicity.
Markets diverge, ecologies diverge. The universe is diverging. There is no reason to believe in a “singularity”.
There will, however, be a grand biological abstraction. Our understandings of the individual and the collective will warp immensely as our ability to reproduce and iterate informatically develops. The progression of artificial intelligence and biological technologies will unify many times in countless parallel instances eventually diverging into different protocols of super-life.
This is already evident. Different cars running on different fuels sources with onboard computers that have different operating systems. Each of which has different vulnerabilities, strengths and weaknesses.
Humans tend to simplify complexity behind abstractions. We think all planes are fundamentally the same. The perform similar functions for us. Their parts seem to appear similar. The underlying physical laws are similar. But in fact, over many instances all of these variables fluctuate with different degrees of volatility. We can rely on physical laws of the universe to be mostly predictable at given scale with very little variance in the single scale. However, no two flights are alike. No two wings are alike. No two airplanes, even manufactured to the same specification are really the same thing.
The act of creation is so singular, and also, so iterative, that we have to be satisfied with a paradox of multiplicity emerging from singularity. Futurism should not end at the Singularity.
Futurism should not end at the singularity.
Other ideas that were important to me this year came from books. I was especially moved by Atlas Shrugged and The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand. The only other authors that earned multiple reads from me this year were Nassim Nicholas Taleb, Dan Ariely, Will Durant, Tim Ferriss, Malcolm Gladwell and perhaps Anders Ericsson.
My day-to-day intellectual curiosity has been largely influenced by Taleb’s discussion on optionality, heuristics, hubris, and uncertainty. My moral and ethical philosophy is heavily weighted toward individual creativity and interpersonal compassionate love. I’m constantly struck by the convergence of ascetic thinking across religions and worldviews. Ascetics from all over the world converge at a sort of supra-humanist solitary enlightenment.
Invoke your own teleological ideal of a Tibetan Monk. Does your stereotypical Tibetan Buddhist Monk differ greatly from your stereotypical Catholic Monk in temperament?
Both sit quietly in contemplation or prayer as a means to achieve salvation or enlightenment. Humility is a central tenet to both. Compassionate love is an elevated quality in both cultures.
You will find the same convergent quality in ascetics from Islamic, Hindu, and Jewish traditions.
Travelling extensively around the world has taught me the universal value of life. I have seen the interconnectedness of things. How the reality in a place informs the outside perspective of it. How the outside conception and the inside reality have some overlap but also much divergence. For example, yes, croissants are delicious in France, but so are the kebaps. By the way, kebaps in France don’t come on a stick, they come in a wrap. And maybe French people are rude to tourists in Paris, but in Nice they are very nice. The red wine is good like you’d expect but the Rosè is transcendent.
Information =/= Truth
Truth is the subset of all information that actually reflects reality. There is discovered information and undiscovered information. Some undiscovered information may not be discoverable.
A lot of discovered information is untrue. All truth is a kind of information. Not all information is truth. Information derived from reality tends to be true. Things can be true in different ways. Fiction can be partially true if the message reflects reality.
We try to verify truthiness using logic. We slice assertions apart and test their component parts. We produce categories within categories to produce immense complexity with deception hidden in every crevice. Perhaps nothing can be 100% true because interpretation can always layer a bit of falseness on any truth and a bit of truth on any lie.
All of these ideas are wholly impractical until they are tested in the real world. Even writing about them solicits various critiques that will hopefully strengthen the core idea. Or break it.
If I can break these ideas that occupy my mind, I can essentially mark them as untrue. Then I can dispose of them. I can talk about them at the dinner table but I really need the best minds in the world to stress-test these concepts.
Or maybe they aren’t really that important.
The problem with examining popular viewpoints and looking for contrarian truth is that a lot of popular beliefs are worthless. As in they don’t have any positive value. It may be that the contrarian truth is also worthless.
Even if I am right about the Grand Biological Abstraction, I gain nothing from it. There is no stock market to bet on the abstraction away from our biology. I will gain no years, accolades, or financial success for espousing such an idea. I will simply be right in a small prediction about the future.
I might make money by betting on political events and business outcomes. I get no physical reward from exposing personal philosophical theorizing. The skin I put into the game is reputational. Not physical or financial.
And truthfully, it’s asymmetrical risk proposition. I can make up an idea. If I’m right, I win happiness and perhaps admiration from others. Maybe some formal business opportunities arise as a result.
If I’m wrong. Nobody cares. Nothing is lost.
These are some of the ideas that I obsessed over in 2016. Since 2017 is the Year of Vulnerability I am sharing them publicly to hopefully have them voraciously ridiculed for some substantive reason that I can later rectify or use as justification for dropping the idea.