Unorthodox Determinism

I have recently encountered a massive conflict between the proponents of free will and determinism, and to me both sides seem a little shortsighted.  The free will crew believes they have free will more or less because they want to, or they argue that if the universe is deterministic then things like moral responsibility or experience become worthless.  Now this is clearly false because the only thing the deterministic side claims is that the universe follows universal causal rules and there are no miracles that violate those rules.  They can counter the free will arguments with arguments about building houses, saying that “you start building the house because if you just sit on your ass then it won’t get built.”  Saying that it is predestined that the house be built and then doing nothing is an incorrect and fraudulent corruption of deterministic thinking.

Though a fascinating debate, you’re both wrong.  And you’re both right.  Free will is a direct result of a causal, deterministic universe to the point that without such a universe then free will would be meaningless.  Time for an example; let’s take a deck of cards and mix it up randomly.  Clearly, while the deck is just sitting there, the order of the cards is fixed, unchanging, and predetermined.  The fact that this is true does not mean that the contents of the deck are somehow irrelevant.  In fact, the knowledge that they aren’t changing doesn’t actually help you at all because you don’t know what they are.  If you were playing a game like Texas Hold ‘Em Poker then you have to allow for the fact that any of the unknown cards could be any of the cards you haven’t accounted for.  In reality the identity of those cards is completely fixed.  Another player can be looking at some of those cards and be presented with exactly the same situation but with a different context containing differing information.  By the logic of the free will corps, the fact that the cards are predetermined somehow makes the game irrelevant, boring, and useless.  This is clearly false due to the interplay of information and unknowns.  There is a case to be laid against my example because I introduce a second layer of free will in the players’ responses to their predetermined cards, but we’re talking imprecise examples right now and I’ll lay out my true and complete argument shortly.  So with our deck of cards, you can draw a card and then its position is locked in in a past-historical sense, but its position was equally predetermined beforehand.  Your knowledge has changed, and that’s all.  It is a significant and common fallacy, however, to then assume that the cards could not have been ordered in any other way.  The fact that they could have been drawn in any other logically possible way means that you are forced to allow for it on equal terms with the way they actually were drawn.  Notice the quantum zippering effect of multiple strings of possible futures being reduced to one single past as you draw each card.  Also note the interesting effects of inference as you go through the deck.  If all the clubs are gone then you know that the next card will not be a club, for example.  Saying that the future is predetermined is really an extremely short step from the obvious truth that the past is predetermined, or more accurately that it is unchangeable after the fact.

The fundamental principle in question is emergent behavior.  Our universe exhibits emergent predictability based on inherently random subunits.  The most elementary particles behave extraordinarily erratically, but macroscopic objects exhibit stability, and extremely large conglomerates of matter such as stars or galaxies are materially determined into the future, and the fluctuations on the lowest level aren’t going to affect entities of such a massive scale.  The weight of probability is just too large at high scales.  The basic organizing principle of the universe is therefore that, probabilistically speaking, it follows the path of least resistance.  The universe resolves itself into the most probable stable arrangement based upon the input of all its particles.  Humans inhabit the scale at which the world around us is stable, but still able to fluctuate enough for small systems’ outputs to produce differing results as conditions require.  Life is the self-organization of matter, and as life becomes more sophisticated in its organization techniques, its ability to convert more matter into animate matter increases.  Once upon a time the chaos event horizon was on the microbial level; random fluctuations in the primordial soup produced the first RNA capable of duplicating itself purely by “chance.”  Statistically, on earth’s conditions, given the vast volume and time scales we’re talking about it wasn’t really “chance.”  Especially so because of the anthropic principle.  If we hadn’t appeared, we wouldn’t be here to talk about it.  If we had appeared somewhere else, we’d be talking about it wherever the conditions were suitable for us to appear.  So it’s really not randomness.  In the inexorable way that life does, it proceeded to duplicate itself and divide into more complex lifeforms.  Eventually, the chaos event horizon broadened into macroscopic lifeforms by the development of the cell- particularly those of the eukaryotic variety which allowed organisms like us to overcome the problems of osmosis and diffusion.  A giant, human-sized amoeba (or even a non-microscopic one) is impossible because substances absorbed through the membrane wouldn’t diffuse to the nucleus and other structures.  So lifeforms like us are composed of trillions of little cooperating microbes which don’t violate those rules.  How does this relate to determinism?  Well, it could be said that the development of life exactly as it was, including down to the individual organism level, was predetermined.  Does this change how, beforehand, it couldn’t have been determined how the future would have unrolled?  Asking what would have happened had the universe proceeded in a slightly different manner is exactly the same as asking what would have happened if one of those cards in the deck was a different card.  Guess what?  The answer is very simple.  The card you had drawn would simply be different, leaving you to ask the same question.

So now we’re ready to address the true issue on determinism.  We live in a causal reality where effect follows cause all the time.  We can formulate models and simulations to meaningfully represent the world around us and make predictions about our world.  Let’s do an experiment.  What happens if you throw a rock up?  It falls down.  Well, I’m sorry to tell you this, but you’ve just proved that we live in a deterministic universe.  The fact that our universe is composed of immutable, consistent laws acting on a consistent basis means that it is possible to predict the future.  Let’s take a more useful example.  You’re walking along some mountain trail, and you come upon a gorge.  Across this gorge are three bridges.  One of them is extremely rickety, and if you try to cross it then you will fall.  The second is very stable, but on the other side are some soldiers with guns, and you of course have no papers!  If you try to cross there, you will be shot.  The third bridge is a small townie bridge that looks safe.  Which bridge do you cross?  If you answered bridge #3 then I’m glad we can agree that we live in a deterministic universe compatible with free will.  Due to the deck-of-cards-effect, whatever happens to occur was probabilistically certain.  However, we live in a causal universe so if you choose to cross the rickety bridge and you fall to your death, you were predestined to arrive at the choice, choose the first bridge, and fall to your death.  If you choose the second bridge, the same concept holds for you being shot.  And if you choose the third bridge, your fate is to make it across and go on your merry way.  If this sounds like I’m ignoring the deterministic aspect of my argument, that’s because your perspective of determinism is fundamentally flawed.  You seem to think that the fact that it is predetermined has meaningful import on what is predetermined.  You seem to think that if determinism is true, that makes it possible to say things like “your destiny is to take the first bridge and die.”  This is ridiculous.  Let’s modify our situation so that, back in Phuket, some mystic told you that you would be faced with this choice and that you would choose the first bridge and die.  When you arrive at that situation, you choose the safe way, you live, and then laugh at the insanity of the mystic.  Or perhaps you’re of the religious bent and you decide to run headlong down the rickety bridge, and fall to your death because the mystic said you would.  Obviously any sort of mystic divination is impossible.  Unless that mystic is blessed with an absolutely unbelievable amount of brainpower, their prediction is futile- more on this shortly.  And even if the prediction was effective, the fact that they said it (actually just the fact that they predicted it) changed the conditions and thus invalidated the prediction.  Lots of time travel fiction has all sorts of weird, twisted, self-referential paradoxes.  For example, later on in your quest you come upon another bridge which looks perfectly sound but then as you’re crossing it gets hit with a meteor and you fall to your death while the mystic laughs over your corpse.  Or maybe whichever bridge you choose turns out to be the rickety one and you fall to your death.  Or maybe something even more bizarre.  Such paradoxes/improbabilities/insanities are entertaining, but they embody a truly stupid way of understanding the world if they push it as truth.

Now we’re at an interesting understanding of fate.  We can make useful predictions about stuff like rocksy flying, but not about the nature of the universe.  Why are our simulations good in some circumstances, but not in others?  Simple.  Imperfect models will produce imperfect results.  It turns out that our model of the rock flying is more than sufficient to predict something so simple.  It’s a solved system.  However, if you wanted to be perfectly accurate in describing the nature of the rock’s motion, down to the last particle, you would still require a massive amount of processing capability.  That’s unnecessary because a simplified model is good enough for our practical purposes.  Tic-tac-toe, young children eventually figure out, is a solved game.  It’s possible to at least tie every single time.  Theoretically, a sufficiently powerful intelligence can represent any information set or solve any such problem.  If we can predict the way the rock will fall, a vastly more intelligent agent might predict the chemistry of a microbe and thus its activity.  An even more intelligent agent might work on an organism as complicated as a human.  An even more intelligent one might “solve” the planet and its ecosystem.  We can’t play chess with that type of knowledge because the game is so fantastically complicated relative to our mental faculties that we cannot just solve it.  In fact, we can’t even verify if it can be solved.  I would bet it can as long as you don’t employ “infinite intelligences” in your proof, but now we’re getting off topic.  Back to the real world, if you thought chess was complicated, then how on earth would you even begin to go about solving the behavior of, say, a squirrel?  The task boggles the mind.  However that wouldn’t even require that much processing capability- you only need all the data about the squirrel and its surroundings out to the limit of the squirrel’s perceptual ability, plus an exact model of the squirrel’s behavior.  Now consider doing the same thing with the earth as a whole.  Simply impossible by any modern standard.  As we expand our simulation’s purview to a galaxy, a cluster, and so on, the amount of processing power required expands to insane levels.  Eventually we reach the edge of the universe, but probably long before then we’ll have run out of real estate with which to run a simulation.  In order to create processing capability, you have to store information somehow.  Fundamentally, all our information storage methods involve the placement, polarization, or other modification or use of some form of the universe’s substance.  It therefore follows that it is impossible to simulate the complete universe because in order to do so you would need one bit of information for every bit in the universe.  Basically, you would have to represent the universe with itself, which gets us nowhere as to predicting it.  However, more efficient but imperfect models can probably make fairly accurate assertions about the future, such as the case with the rock.  The use of heuristic models in place of pure simulations is what gives intelligence its power.

Now I need to close the loop- free will and determinism.  So we live in a predetermined universe because the universe follows causality, in the form of consistent laws and a consistent representation of itself.  Yet at the same time the fact that it is predetermined alone gives us absolutely no information about its nature, and just like the deck of cards which is predetermined but at the same time unknown, the universe’s causality is exactly what makes it useful to us as organisms.  You choose to cross the safe bridge because you know you’re going to get across, and you can make that prediction because you implicitly understand and respect the causality of the universe.  Yet at the same time, because your intelligence allows you to do that, you are forced to acknowledge the fact that a more intelligent predictor could make more powerful predictions than you, and so on and so forth up until all solvable problems are, or can be, solved.  However, it is the fact that these predictions can be abstracted that gives us the foundation upon which free will is built: choice.  Without the power to abstract features of the universe into utility and options, there can be no choice.  If you were unable to predict in the simulation sense, then trading money for food would have no meaning because food would have no meaning for you.  In fact, the continuity of your existence would have no meaning, time itself would have no meaning.  When you make a choice, it is implicitly assumed that there is a positive action being taken- “I choose this over that.”  But in order to do that, you first have to know what this and that are, and you can only do that by extrapolating into the future.  In fact, consciousness itself cannot exist without extrapolation into the future.  It’s what processing power does that distinguishes it from the rock at the core of the earth with random electrical impulses flashing through it.  Abstraction is an extrapolation into the future by creating, combining, refining, or modifying concepts derived from the past on the basis that such extrapolation will have utility later, even if it’s a split second later.  Without “If I do this then this will happen” free will is completely worthless.  A simulation takes data from the past and computes the future, and a hypothetical takes data that perhaps hasn’t happened (yet) and computes the potential future.  The inference I was talking about back with the deck of cards is your mind rearranging and making manageable the objective world around it, in this case the deck of cards.  You were simulating a few known conditions of the remainder of the deck when all the clubs, or all the kings were drawn.  And clearly you can handle a hypothetical under the same conditions because you’re reading this right now and thinking about what would happen if all the kings or all the clubs were drawn.

So you really can’t get away from the conclusion: while the universe is predetermined, the fact that it cannot be simulated perfectly means that your experience right now is the best shot you’re going to get at it.  You have free will because exactly what’s going to happen cannot be known, and must necessarily be unknown.  It’s an endless deck containing an infinite variety of cards.  We have an endlessly cascading moment of probabilistic chaos, and while we can throw imperfect simulations at it until we’re blue in the face, nobody can know with absolute certainty exactly what’s going to happen.  The universe is predetermined, but each and every one of us is blessed with limited perspective.  Enjoy it.

Of course I have another caveat, however.  If we were somehow to have total perspective on our universe, it would be conclusive proof that there existed at least one other, more grandiose universe encompassing it that we couldn’t have total perspective on.

Existence: Cogito Ergo Sum

It appears upon digging through reams of caught spam that Akismet has been intercepting a very significant number of excellent comments. I had 153 in my box and a good 40 of them were legit. Now, Akismet tells me it has protected me from 4,000 spam messages, so if I extrapolate that it seems this site should have a lot more comments than it does. There’s no way to recover the older comments, and I apologize for that. Hopefully Akismet will figure it out.

Now, on to the topic for today. Earlier I discussed deriving a system of understanding the world, using absolutely nothing except Descartes’ “I think therefore I am.” I’ve had a couple emails asking just how on earth that is conceivably possible. So now I’m going to explain one of the methods that I’ve come up with. As a first step, I know that I exist. Or you know that you exist, from your perspective. Anyway, therefore I know that something exists, even if that something is just me, and nothing else exists at all. However, in order to say that I exist, I must therefore imply the possibility that it logically could occur that I, or something else, did not exist. So I have established A) I exist, B) it is possible for things to exist or not exist. Now I could also study the properties of my own existence, such as material continuity, whatever you like, but those avenues aren’t particularly interesting as far as I can tell. What about information? I exist, therefore some pattern of information must encode my existence, even if that is just a 1 for existence as opposed to a 0 for nonexistence, and even if that is the only information that exists in the universe. Phrased differently, I exist, therefore a statement “I exist” evaluates to True. Therefore, at least one bit of information exists. In fact, because we are able to deduce the existence of information, we can deduce a significant degree of abstracted information in the universe because I contain sufficient information to contain a model of information. Basically I’m proving that I have at least a small amount of RAM, if I was a computer. So I have proved that I have a mind, although the definition we have established is not equivalent to what we commonly think of as a “mind.”

I have also, somewhat indirectly, established that the universe follows at least two basic laws of logic, the law of non-contradiction and the law of the excluded middle. Basically I have derived that a statement can be either true or false because at least one bit of information exists, which can be either 1 or 0. Of course, the information doesn’t necessarily have to be binary, but given any information set it can be reduced to P and non-P, or P and its complement, which produces a binary logical unit. For the uninitiated, consider: if the information in some possible world equals a grey fox, then I can divide that world into grey foxes and things that are not grey foxes. The first of the two laws, non-contradiction, tells me that a statement cannot be both true and false- I cannot both exist and not exist. Something cannot be both a grey fox and not a grey fox in our example parallel world. This is because by creating the division of the universe into P and non-P, you cannot have the same statement switch truth value arbitrarily. This is an aside from our deductions, but keep in mind that when the world changes, a linguistically equivalent statement is no longer the same statement. If our grey fox in our inconsistent parallel world turned into a caterpillar, it just wouldn’t be a grey fox anymore. However, by transforming, the fox changed the conditions of the world about which statements can be made. Anyway, the law of excluded middle says that if a statement is not true, it must be false, and if it’s not false, then it must be true. If it’s a grey fox, then it is false that it is not a grey fox and vice versa. Simply put, the fact that the universe can be divided into P and non-P proves this, and I know it can be divided as such because I know I exist. If X is a P then it is false that X is a non-P. Now this gives us a basic logical framework, and there are several other logical constructs that can be derived from these two laws such as conditional statements, universal or particular statements, etc. etc. You can find materials about formal logical systems online- Wikipedia has some good stuff on classical logic.

No, I’m going to make things a bit more interesting. My next goal is to attempt to prove that my perception is valid. Now, this is much more open to interpretation. We’re farther upriver from deriving basic logical laws, so it’s much easier to debate. Descartes chickened out at about this point and essentially claimed that we can trust our perceptions because God wouldn’t lie to us. Cop-out. Now, I’m going to argue that we can trust our perceptions. Except in one significant regard: we can’t actually prove that anyone other than ourselves is conscious- look up the Chinese room if this is puzzling to you. We’ll ignore that little caveat for simplicity’s sake in this post. Basically, if we can confirm that we have a mind and that that mind operates on data, as it must in order for it to be a mind, then that data must have a source. At this point we can’t conclude anything about the validity of that source, or sources. However, we can figure that the operations must meaningfully alter something, in some respect, even if it’s just a cellular automata churning away futilely, rearranging some colored blocks. Otherwise we would be one of an incalculably numerous, undetectable imaginary possible beings floating between potential universes, which would actually violate our postulate of existence. In order to exist, we must have some substance and/or effect on reality, even if that effect is like a rock’s, just sitting there taking up space. Otherwise unicorns, no-see-em’s, and endless other unprovable impossibilities also exist, they just don’t affect reality in any way. So we have a mind that exists in some form of what we shall call “reality” along with everything else we define as existing. This doesn’t rule out that it is but one of many worlds, and that internal to those worlds, other things may exist relative to each other. But in this world, the contents of those other worlds is irrelevant, and so the others don’t exist. If they did exist, they would be in this world and we wouldn’t define them as being in another world. P and not-P again. Now how do we prove that we are getting input from the same reality that we are affecting by existing or operating within? I resolve the issue by saying that things that don’t affect the world you happen to be in can’t affect you because you’re in it. However, there exists at least one thing in your reality that affects you because otherwise you wouldn’t be part of that reality. So all things that affect you are in your reality. If they weren’t in your reality, they couldn’t affect you, and if it is materially impossible for them to affect you then they’re not in your reality. So here’s what we’re left with: while we can rule out that things outside of reality are affecting you, and we can also prove that things within reality are indeed affecting you, we don’t necessarily know anything else. So things within reality might affect you in ways that do not reflect objective reality, or maybe there are sources within reality that give you unreliable information. For example, our senses can be faulty. However, our senses are the sum of the impressions reality makes upon us in the limited way that we can sense them- we have only five basic ones after all. Our eyes detect the light entering them with virtually perfect accuracy, exactly as nature intended. However any extrapolation on that information is not necessarily valid, such as that this object is larger than that one (when in fact it’s just closer). Our ears detect the sound waves, but those sound waves don’t necessarily reflect objective reality except in the most rigorously exact but somewhat useless sense that they are exactly what objective reality is providing your faculties with.

Organic Personal Economics

Economic behavior is perhaps best described as the most natural form of interpersonal behavior.  Remember, I’m referring to personal economics not just stock indices, so any exchange of value works.  Status being the most traded commodity in social interactions.  My intent is to convince you that human economics “just works” without any need to control or use coercive force.  It is an automatic balancing feedback loop which corrects itself against objective reality all the time.  One person, or even a large group of people, is unable to compete with such a swarm intelligence.

Consider the law of supply and demand.  While hailed as the fundamental principle of monetary economics, if it’s taught as such then the students will fail to see that the same principle applies in countless other situations.  Supply and demand is simply one instance of a self-correcting system to maximize the gain of the seller by maximizing the value given out to buyers.  The guy who wants the last iPhone the most can prove that quite simply by being prepared to pay the most for it.  If prices are too high, competition drives them down because supply is too high, if they’re too low then supply diminishes, increasing price until an equilibrium is reached.  This same type of system applies to everything from evolution to the water level in a toilet.

I’m going to make an extravagant claim.  I don’t have any problem with vote-buying as a concept.  This is a perfect example of a self-correcting (and therefore adaptive) system- i.e. the market, working within an artificial environment created and manipulated by a government.  The government has created a commodity that did not before exist- votes.  They clearly have personal economics implications on everyone, including within that the fiscal economics effects of voting.  So votes clearly have value.  Everybody has one, and indeed gets another one in each election.  Just as a thought experiment, what would actually happen if vote-buying was completely legit?  Well, you say, the rich people get all the power because they can just pay anyone they like and they’ll vote however their buyers want.  Me: Yeah.  So?  It’s a completely voluntary exchange, obviously the person with the vote in question was only invested in their first choice to the extent they are prepared to be bought.  Proper forms of value for both parties will be created, even if a little creativity is required.  For example, I imagine a third type of commodity would appear- the purchase of a non-vote, cheaper than a positive vote in the opposite direction, but gives voters the feeling of not having helped the enemy.  What about maybe a futures vote market, trading on the value of a vote.  I’m not going to even guess what price the market would find for the average Presidential vote- there’s an absolutely impossible Fermi problem if I’ve ever seen one.  But let’s just say that the going rate is $1,000.  Clearly, buying other peoples’ votes is therefore an expensive proposition, because you need to win or else you pretty much wasted $1k for each ineffective vote.  If you’re part of the ultra-wealthy class, and you stand to gain a ton of money by electing some uber-corrupt politician, I say by all means pay people like me to make that a reality for you.  It’s not going to be cheap, and the more corrupt that politician is, the more you’re going to have to pay me, but I can be bought.  Let’s look at the 2000 election.  I hate Bush with a burning passion, but if he offered to pay me $80,000 to vote for him I’d be on the fence.  If he made it $100,000 then I’m his.  I don’t like him, never agreed to support his Presidency, but unless Gore was prepared to give me some competitive compensation I’d have to go with the $100k.  Of course, at that price the man is completely unelectable.  You can’t pay off, say, ten percent of the country at $100k apiece- that’s 30 million Americans, totaling $3 TRILLION.  Not to mention the fact that every opposing party is going to be using the same tactics, both driving up the price of the otherwise neutral votes and decreasing the number of those votes available.

Going back to the self-correcting system.  If we have the problem of an ultra-rich upper class taking advantage of all the poor people, then the way I see it, allowing those rich people to get value from their money by buying votes seems like a damn good way to even out the class divide.  Think about it.  The poorer you are, smaller amounts of money have a greater amount of proportional value.  That’s why poor people are prepared to work more cheaply.  The same principle applies to the starving man being prepared to pay more for food.  So we have the ultra-rich, interested in a commodity which the poor people will have a large quantity of, in direct proportion to the class inequality currently present.  If we have an extremely unbalanced society where 1% are billionaires and everyone else is broke, we have lots of people prepared to sell their votes to a small number of people with all the resources and motivation to buy lots of votes.  If it’s more equal, we have fewer people with mass-vote-buying capability but at the same time we have fewer people whose votes can be bought cheaply.  Self-correcting.  You can never arrive at a more equal, fair, and free society through centralized control as a Communist would have you believe, because they are ignoring the stark reality of personal economics.  If prices are fixed to be affordable, they’ll disappear and then the good in question will be unavailable- and obviously if they’re too high nobody can afford it.  Centralized control creates self-reinforcing loops increasing the inequality in society.  Letting go of control creates self-correcting loops, decreasing the inequality in society.  This entire mechanic is a product of free choice, in bold because it is damn important.  If you have choice, you will pick the option you prefer.  If you can’t, you don’t.  It truly is that simple.

OK, let’s look at another one.  Crime.  If there is a problem of any kind, then you should have the free choice to respond to that problem in any way that your heart desires, be it retarded or brilliant.  This is really just a specific case of the above example that you should be able to do whatever you want anyway.  In the case of crime, maybe you want to hire a security guard, maybe get an alarm system.  Maybe you think that all the options available are too expensive to be justified for a small risk in your area, I don’t know.  However, what I will tell you, is that there exists a solution which you, yes you, will pick in response to your environment, even if that solution is to do nothing.  If there are no solutions available then the incentive is there for you to go out and make one to sell to other people.  Even if it sucks, there are no other options, so you’ll make an absolute killing.  And then someone else has the fantastic idea of doing the same thing a little cheaper, and random guy #3 says no, I have a better idea, etc. etc. ad infinitum.  If crime is a problem, you will take steps to address that problem while taking into account the exact nature of the issue, the circumstances, and all other factors which might contribute to your own personal utility.  To touch on a current issue, perhaps that means acquiring a weapon of some sort.  If lots of people make that choice then the burglar’s personal economics obviously changes, like it does for all changes in their environment.  If X% of the houses they burglarize contain angry and armed homeowners then Y% of burglars will stop being burglars, or never become burglars in the first place.  The same clearly applies to muggings, bank robberies, and all other types of crime, or even any other problem at all.  The institution in question will simply take steps to safeguard themselves relative to the risk.  If the risk is high because security everywhere else is low then it pays to have lots of security relative to elsewhere.  After that, the institution really doesn’t care, whether everyone else increases their security as well.  However if they do then crime becomes a crazy strategy and falls to negligible levels, and then security can be relaxed.  If you’re guarding priceless artifacts then obviously you need more because the potential payoff is greater.  If it’s just your house you can have less, but if you choose to outfit your house with proximity activated popup autofire machine gun turrets, that’s fine, whatever floats your boat.  However, it may turn out that your popup turrets themselves represent a problem which I need to solve.  So I decide to ask you to not use machine guns to defend your property in case my dog should run into your yard.  Perhaps my gratitude is insufficient payment, and it may be worth my while to give you outright compensation in exchange for depriving you of your gun turrets.  Maybe I go door to door in the neighborhood asking for donations to end the tyranny of the machine gun turret maniac down the street.  Perhaps I just buy a mortar and blow up whatever gun turrets you may happen to purchase.  Not a realistic choice, especially for me, but a possible choice, so why not?  Then you decide that that is just too much and you pay some organization with an economic interest in being arbitrary (DRO perhaps) to mediate our argument, and get you some compensation for the blown up gun turrets.  Hey, maybe you even pay them off.  Then I tell the world that this or that DRO is getting paid off, here’s my proof, their entire enterprise is shot and they are out of business.  Or, you pay all the legal fees and whatnot and I am charged with blowing up your stuff.  I hire someone to represent me, and so on and so forth.  We can do whatever we want, and we aren’t harming anyone but ourselves.  However, the moment you implicate some huge centralized control agent such as the government, our little dispute involves everyone in the entire country to some degree in the form of courts, consistent laws, and taxpayer money.  Get rid of it all- back to a state of nature, baby!

In a state of nature, personal economics rules.  The problem with “state of nature” is some arbitrary connotative association that in order for us to live in a state of nature, we have to be savages who just barely invented the wheel.  There was absolutely nothing wrong with the economy when we were, in fact, savages who just invented the wheel.  Absolutely nothing- it worked perfectly.  There wasn’t a hell of a lot to trade, there was no useful medical technology, and a whole myriad of other problems.  But the personal economics of the day were absolutely without parallel in the modern world.  You could do anything you wanted.  It just so happened that the environment made severe demands upon you which led you to choose certain courses over others due to the risk of death, which nowadays we find barbaric.  You don’t decide if you want to eat pizza or a sandwich and worry about risk of death in either choice.  We are living with the products of thousands of years of personal economics, and the further we go the more we distort those personal economics with coercion.  This is why all countries and empires must fall.  Very simply, an agency of centralized control has, by definition, sufficient power to increase its own control.  If the controlling agency lacks the ability to actually do anything in either direction then it’s not much of a controlling agency, is it?  And, anyone given a choice will pick the one they prefer.  Therefore any group given controlling power must therefore use it maximize their own value.  Depending on everyone involved with coercive power to consistently choose to act against their own interests, indefinitely, is a losing bet.

Allow me to reframe this in a different context.  Consider your average corporation, I often use McDonald’s as a corporate empire example (I never eat their food, but they’re an interesting empire).  Is there corruption in McDonald’s?  More importantly, do you care?  Your choice is very simple: they offer you food products and you offer them money.  Nobody is forcing you to buy their stuff.  After you’ve made your deal, your business is concluded.  What they do with the money is no longer your concern.  They could burn it for all you care, in the same way that you could just burn your Big Mac- they don’t care.  If it should turn out that a couple McDonald’s executives stole $100 million from their company, why should you care?  If the corruption ever gets so bad that their products increase in price, or their employees quit, or whatever else should happen, then that’s just a few more of those factors that go into your decision to buy or not buy.  Even if you work at McDonald’s, you are offered a certain pay in exchange for specific services.  As long as those executives don’t cut into your paycheck one cent, or make your job one whit more difficult, why do you care?  Now compare this situation to the government.  If a couple government officials ran off with $100 million there would be an uproar.  This type of thing actually happens all the time, they just don’t ‘run off with it’ because they have more creative, subtle, and above all effective ways to profit.  But if they out-and-out stole it there would be a storm.  This is because the government applies an interesting abstraction to taxation which decrees that, while you must give them the money or be thrown in jail, you also have some claim over it even after you have given it to them.  This makes it that much easier to take, and also leads you to believe that you aren’t actually being coerced.  A bunch of other people voted to say that your money should be taken and used to do X, but the spin is that you have the power to vote as well so it all evens out.

Of course, if they actually were providing you with value for value then the government would be completely optional in the same way McDonald’s is.  I hate McDonald’s food, but they aren’t going to throw me in jail for not using their services.  The government, however, will.  And they will go so far as to use the money they stole from me to pay for the cops to go get me, the cell they would keep me in, and to line the pockets of the legislators who mandated that I should be jailed.  If the government actually did provide useful services such as law and order, a just court system, health care, and whatever else, then let them make participation completely optional.  Let’s have multiple available citizenship plans.  Liberty service has no taxes, but you agree to abide by the laws and regulations and in return you will be defended by the police and military, and given fire services, hospital service, and a number of other vitals, including 1 vote.  Bronze service costs 10% of your income, you get 2 votes, and several other services such as school services, libraries, etc. plus everything on the liberty plan.  Silver service is 25% of your income, you get 5 votes, free health care, whatever, you get the point.  Gold service is 50% of your income, you get 10 votes and a number of other services to compensate for the increased.  Then there’s Patriot service, for 75% of your income plus optional donation-based bonuses, you get 30 votes plus direct contact rights to your representatives, the option for low-level leadership positions within the government, guaranteed employment, whatever you like.  You don’t have to buy any of them, of course.  But if you want, you can.

Convincing People

When you have conceptualized and reaffirmed what you believe to the a profound “truth”, there is a definite tendency to want to share that understanding with others. You want to convince them that you know something that they want to know, too. This ranges from religious zealots seeking converts to Mac fanboys decrying the supremacy of all Apple products, to philosophers such as myself seeking to share a system of understanding with anyone who wants to listen. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to spread the good stuff around, but there are a number of interesting aspects to the pursuit that I’m going to elaborate on.

Firstly, the way in which we become convinced of things. In my experience, anyone can be convinced to believe anything very rapidly provided it doesn’t contradict something they already believe. If they’re neutral, then whatever they hear first gets a decisive advantage. There are generally three stages of being “convinced”- with a sort of “stage zero” of neutrality. The first contact with whatever thought process will put it into your memory, short or long term. Then, at some point, that thought process is confirmed on an emotional level, and this can be by extraordinarily unlikely or irrational circumstance but has lasting effect nonetheless. Finally the person is faced with a situation that tests that belief to some degree, however flimsy or improbable a straw man argument we may be talking about here, and they lock in their new belief by opposing its opposite. This establishes their own behavior, sets a precedent for maintaining consistency, entrenches the belief by cognitive dissonance, represents a “social ecology check,” and locks in that behavior pattern because others have observed it. After that, the person’s belief will be very difficult to dislodge, even if it is patently unreasonable. Now this little model is all well and good, but we need an example we can sink our teeth into. As a simple example, consider advertising. The advertiser’s ideal goal is to establish a behavior in the viewer of consistently buying their product. Stage 1: Mere exposure effect, they see an ad that claims product A is excellent and inexpensive, and only later do they learn about product B serves the same function. A already has an advantage. Stage 2: A different ad targeted to their audience connects with them, such as being humorous or they empathize with someone in the ad, or whatever. Fairly self-explanatory, but the devils are in the details of this stage. More on this later. Stage 3: When given a choice between A and B, right next to one another on store shelves, they purchase A.

Now, that’s a fairly theoretical example and doesn’t really elucidate exactly what I’m talking about. The reason why I bring this topic up in the first place is that becoming convinced that something is true, or being conditioned into a specific behavior depends a great deal on sheer luck unless you’re careful. The first effect is mostly subconscious, and there isn’t a lot you can do about it other than be aware of it and check you’re not doing irrational things. However, the second stage is the source of huge error. Have you ever been talking with someone, and let’s just say they randomly bring up something very specific from a book you’re reading that they could not have divined from you? Or, a more common case, someone else expresses a fairly uncommon thought or preference that you share. You get that instantaneous hit like a shot of familieroin. That exact type of random occurrence not only establishes a connection between you and the other person, but also reacts and reaffirms whatever thought or preference in question. Both of these release tension- social tension, and at the same time internal tension of having to hold non-certain processes in limbo. Of course, there are many others ways this can happen, too. Perhaps you’re reading an article which just reads like the author has a direct line into your brain, and then brings up an opinion you’ve heard of but not yet accepted. You just go, “OK, that’s correct, I don’t have to worry about it anymore” and accept it as valid. True, there is no rational basis for this type of conceptual validation, but it happens very quickly.

I do have a purpose, however. I want to get to my main point. When someone has been emotionally convinced, and has integrated their own emotional self, thought systems, or any other aspect of their identity into a belief, you will be unable to convince them otherwise. If someone believes they are happy, there is absolutely nothing you can do to convince them that they are unhappy. By the same token, if someone believes that believing in God makes them happy, there is absolutely nothing you can do to convince them otherwise. And, because that statement carries the very clever and subtle assumption of existence, because of the implied postulate that believing in things that don’t exist doesn’t make you happy, the believer concludes that God exists. And there is nothing you can do to convince them otherwise once they are invested in it. I don’t want to attack religion in this post- I do that from time to time, but not this one. What I do want to say is that being convinced necessarily includes the possibility of tolerating a contradiction to maintain that belief. We have the miraculous power to hold conflicting mental models and systems in our heads, but the vast, vast majority of people don’t recognize that it is even possible. It’s a capacity that invariably does little more than give you enough rope to thoroughly hang yourself. The thoughtful selection and application in appropriate situations of conflicting models is either automatic or completely absent, never in the purview of the conscious mind.
For someone who has been convinced, they will actively seek to defend that thought or belief. Investing yourself all over the place is a very unhealthy habit. When you suggest a movie to someone and they tell you it sucked, do you try to defend yourself? You invested a piece of yourself in the movie, so when the other person so callously attacked it it appeared to you they were attacking a) something you liked, questioning your taste, b) something you recommended to them, questioning your social judgment, and perhaps c) something you incorporated into your own identity to some extent. I’ll use religion again because it’s something everyone is familiar with. When you tell a religious person that their religion is stupid, you’re not just objectively saying that assertions x, y, and z… are false. This person has probably involved themselves in religious activities, bonded with people who share that religion, done some things that would look pretty damn embarrassing if what you say is true (by design, of course). Stepping on other people’s identity is the easiest way to provoke some serious aggression. However, their identity is also probably in all sorts of places where it shouldn’t be and if they were smart they would rectify that situation, starting by reading this post.

Look at it another way: in our society, we talk about two people “getting along well” as if there are somehow intrinsic properties of different people that for some reason just make them fit together well. This is a result of the randomness of our identity configurations (the geeiker counter just fuzzed out a bit there). If we put value in similar stuff, we get along well, and if we step on one another’s toes all the time then we dislike each other. It’s random because our identity is scrambled all over the place by randomly created emotional convincers in everything from advertisements to sheer randomness in conversations. And there’s no reason for this. If we could each maintain control over our own identity then this sort of situation would be fixed. So you can see the bleeding-through of philosophical or political, or whatever you want to call it, awareness into insensitive redneck behavior.  This, in turn, spurs up defenses, the false self, conformity, violence, and stifles freedom and thought.  So in a not-so-roundabout way, our blindness to our own and others’ identities is the primary instigator, the first cause, of all our modern woes.  In a self-reinforcing cycle, of course.

As a sidenote, the reason why I point out self-reinforcing cycles everywhere is because they are extremely difficult to pick out without extensive searching.  And the reason why there are so many of them is because, well, they’re self-reinforcing.  Barring something dramatic, once begun they’re going to stick around until something dramatic does take them out.  Almost always that involves a restructuring of the environment around them.

Responsibility and Reactions

Are we responsible for our reactions to things? Using weather as an example since we can’t control it (yet), if you dislike rain, and it’s raining outside, are you responsible for the fact that you won’t be as happy as you would be if it were sunny? Put more generally, are you responsible for your own status at any given time? Even though you might agree in a certain sense, following the adage “take responsibility!” I am going to put forward that, in order to be morally consistent, you’re going to have to take that concept further than you might like.

A relativist would tell you that you aren’t responsible for your status in certain vaguely defined ways, perhaps you’re depressed because you suffer from SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder) over which you have no control. They might say a murderer had a terrible childhood, or that a student with poor grades had poor parents who never taught them what they needed to know to learn well. This variety of thinking is popular these days since it seems somehow nicer than assaulting the ego of the guilty. Of course, it seems callous to say that in all cases the individual is responsible for their own status or nature. What about genetics or early childhood environment? Are people with learning disabilities responsible for their shortcomings in the workplace?

The key difference here is that I am not saying you are responsible for properties of your existence.  I am not responsible for the fact that I am white because that stems from genetics and the randomness of birth.  I did not choose to be born and I am therefore not responsible for anything stemming from that event, in the same way that I am not responsible if someone else rams into my car.  However, I am responsible for every last choice and action and I must take into account the objective reality that surrounds me, including any properties and aspects that I do not control.  If it’s raining outside, I can’t go outside and become angry when I get wet.  I made the choice to go outside and, due to certain aspects of the environment, an undesirable outcome resulted and I am responsible for it.  Broadening this line of thinking, I’m male, and therefore can’t go into the womens’ restroom.  True, I didn’t choose to be male, and neither did I choose the social norms that deign “here, men, thou shalt not tread” but nonetheless those are aspects of objective reality that I can either accommodate, or get slapped.  Unfortunately most people don’t respect objective reality as much as they should, and make exactly this type of choice in all sorts of areas.  For example, the student that knows they need to study if they want to get good grades, but nonetheless spends all their time playing video games and smoking pot.  Or the stock market investor who buys a stock, and when it falls they keep on telling themselves “it’s going to go up” while it continues to fall, until they’re broke.  You’re free to make any choice you like, but objective reality will reward or punish (relative to your subjective perspective) different choices.  And if you make choices that are synonymous with someone else whose happiness-set includes poverty, sickness, dissatisfaction, or whatever, then that’s your prerogative.  It is possible that there could be a person who wants those things and will make choices to actively seek them, so those choices aren’t more or less valid than any other.  More people will want the opposite, but that changes nothing.  You need to actively seek what you want.  And the big secret to that is that, at all times, you are present with a choice that can either take you closer to something (or everything) you want, or farther away.  Your call.

However, this post is about your responsibility for your reactions.  Now that we’ve established your responsibility for you choices, a much easier task, we can move on to the more intriguing aspects of  emotions and subjective perspective.  Are you responsible for the fact that you prefer apples to oranges?  We have already established the fact that if you choose an apple over an orange, then you’re accountable for that action.  But are you similarly responsible for the generalized, nonspecific preference for apples over oranges?  Apples and oranges is something of a fool’s example, this conclusion will apply to all our emotional reactions in all circumstances, and all our preferences and desires.  Once again, a relativist would say that no, you aren’t.  Your parents, your genes, and a host of other factors have summed together and created you and you’re just living out your conflict of internal and external variables into a form of destiny.

CONTRADICTION CAVEAT WARNING <IGNORE IF ALREADY CONFUSED>: I actually agree with this concept.  However, I add the very significant point that you cannot simulate X amount of data with X amount of data without actually recreating that exact data set.  This means that, while the path of the universe is actually predestined, it’s logically impossible for us to know with absolute certainty what the totality of it is.  Newtonian physics works because the universe is predestined, but in order to apply those laws to the entire universe, we’d need the entire universe’s computation capacity, necessitating metadata to understand itself, which we can’t obtain because we’re out of matter in the universe.  Therefore, Fate is broken because while it is true that whatever you’re going to do you couldn’t have done any other way, the fact that you can’t know what it is means that your actions have effect in creating it.  If you just mope about in your room because you “can’t do anything- it’s all Fate anyway” you have determined what your Fate is retroactively.  Think of it this way: in quantum physics, you can’t know both where a particle is, and how fast it’s going.  This is Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle, and it means that we can only say probabilistically where an electron is going to be at any given time.  Your future life is a probabilistic system in similar fashion.  </IIAC>

Now, while it is true that you biologically require food and therefore you have a preference to acquiring it.  If you haven’t eaten in three days, I bet you’d be prepared to pay quite a bit of utility in exchange for food.  Did you have control over this preference?  Probably not.  However, that three days of hunger is probably as a result of at least one choice you have made so you can’t claim zero responsibility, and you already knew full well that not eating for three days would create some pretty serious hunger issues for you. Now, the big issue I see with old systems of philosophy is this style of archaic differentiation of forms from one another.  The human body is somehow logically different from an animal body, or a rock, or empty space.  The human mind is somehow logically different from the universe that creates it, metaphysics is somehow separate from objective reality, etc. etc.  There are all sorts of distinctions that do describe the world to a certain degree.  Theories of absolute morality apply to the ethics of human behavior, epistemology to describing the systems of human thought, and so on.  However, because the universe is a single contiguous and concrete entity consisting of a single set of rules, there can be only one set of rules that must be fundamentally connected to one another.  You can’t have one set of rules that applies some of the time, except here, here and here, where we use this one.  You can have a single set of rules that can produce different effects in different circumstances.  The difference is like a card game’s rules: you can have a single set of rules which allows for change (like, when someone plays a red 4, reverse the value of cards or somesuch), but you can’t play a single card game with two different sets of rules (like from two distinct sources).  Gravity is strong when close, and gets weaker by the inverse square law- distance is a circumstance.  We don’t see gravity applying some of the time, and mystical Ytivarg energy some of the time.

So if we’re going to unify everything then way more thought is necessary than just this post, but we can keep that process in mind for now and find something that exhibits interesting parallels and similarities to the system we’re trying to describe.  In this case, the responsibility of choice seems integrally connected to the motivations we use to make those choices, and those motivations also appear to be connected to choices we have made in the past.  Is it possible we’re drawing a distinction where none exists, and we can just restructure our system to accommodate the difference of circumstances?  Let’s analyze what a choice actually constitutes.  We have the actual action of choosing, the agent making the choice, the information and resources availably to that agent, the predicted consequences based on that information and resources, and then the subjective perception of those consequences.  We’re seeing an input of information and resources, and an output of simulated prediction which is then selected among to maximize resources (or information).  Due to the wide variety of choices and the potentially huge amount of time needed to make them, our emotions give us shortcuts to judging a lot of data at a glance.  Our reaction to those simulated predictions is just like our reactions to objective reality, except they haven’t happened, and factoring in inaccuracy, perhaps substantial error due to misinformation.  So our actual choice consists of a selection of utilities for a rational entity, but we are force-fed by our survival systems a rehashed version of those utilities to make our choice more efficient, like the President receiving reports that percolate up from countless petty bureaucrats.  Our emotions are basically those reports based on our survival systems’ analysis of the data and utilities of choices available.  So I guess we aren’t responsible for our emotions, in the same way that you aren’t responsible for an email in your inbox.  It’s just input, albeit from a source that is intimately connected with who you are.  As I’ve said before, your body is basically a vehicle you were locked in from birth.  That’s not a bad thing, because it’s a very sophisticated and flashy vehicle, and you have to ride around in something.  But you aren’t responsible for the fact that you need food the way your car needs gas.  That said, you live in objective reality and your body is a part of your environment.  Neglecting to deal with your environment’s objective reality has drastic consequences.  You didn’t make the rules, but you have to live by them or objective reality will slap you, hard.