Monday, October 21, 2013

What the future might hold?

My inner futurist (a dilettante, really) is whispering to me...

  • 3D printers will evolve fast and soon will be able to combine an optimal set of elementary materials depending on the properties required (e.g., bendable, shiny, a combination, etc.). 
  • Evolutionary theory will come to emphasize complex triggers of gene expression and development and retire the theory of the "selfish gene". Discoveries in this line will open the space for more of an understanding of drive and intention. 
  • One day people who have contrasted randomness and causality will realize that nowhere within this opposition can anyone find the clue to understanding what "free will" is. The new understanding will instead turn on an epistemic insight into complexity. As a better understanding of randomness and causality will be a byproduct.
  • Much better batteries will revolutionize cars. 
  • I'm not sure about self-flying one-person planes or even self-driving cars. Maybe commercially run commuter pods or something.
  • Sooner or later, people will have a big groan moment when they realize how easily and cleanly energy can be (and could have been) produced.
  • It will come to be understood that the phrases one utters in one's head are not one's thoughts but the articulation (or obscuring) of  a coursing stream of intentions, desires, fears and related associations. The intentions can come to be expressed as phrases, actions, impulses, even mythical stories, rituals or magical forces, depending on how aware of one's awareness one is. Intentions and instincts are not unrelated. 
  • Much of what were formerly called "psychic phenomena" will be called nonsense while the remainder of them will be accepted and understood as animal instincts (which will turn out to be rather more complicated and less blind kinds of thing than is currently thought and, in humans, be seen to include mythology, ritual etc.)
  • Reductionism, methodolatry, and much of mechanistic linear thinking will fade into the background. 
  • The new pitfall of thinking will be an over-reliance on laissez-faire self-organization without concomitant strategies for things such as inter-system clashes and the "Dark Corners" where information doesn't flow. Depending on how stupid the heavyweights have remained, we could just devolve even further into tribalism or sell out to the Borg. 
  • Hierarchy and patriarchy will probably hang around as irksome dregs until a complete environmental paradigm shift occurs (decades off) but they should become less pernicious, I hope, as more girls come to have greater access to education.
  • An understanding of the relationship between time and entanglement might allow for an integration of relativity and QM. Strings will go the way of the ptolemaic model. 

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

There's no Accounting for It: Areas where the quest for the true story leads us to falsehood

We have confidence in numbers, not the evidence of our senses, as is often claimed. Everything we consider to be accurately observed is, in fact, accurately defined - i.e., defined in a way that makes the phenomenon of interest measurable, countable. Not until we establish the numeric lens of accuracy, or the illusion thereof, do we consider phenomena to exist beyond our thinking, our interestedness. Pause and ponder that.

You see, our confidence is misplaced. We mistake the indicator for reality. The relevance of data resides in the definition (a.k.a. "operational definition") of what is counted, and rarely are such definitions exclusive and exhaustive of phenomena, outside of some narrow scientific disciplines. 

Speaking from his experience in the area of Psychology, Jack Martin of Simon Fraser University explains that, whereas operational definitions provide investigators with initial cues to the identification and more thorough understanding of phenomena, psychologists frequently treat such definitions as if they were conclusive and exhaustive. Complex phenomena, such as human motivation and confidence, are narrowly understood in terms of a small set of predetermined factors. Understanding becomes reduced to some kind of criteriology, a labelling game. The purposes of investigation, learning and discovery, making new and deeper interconnections, are left out of this paint-by-numbers story.

From the psychology lab to the office, the situation becomes culturally entrenched. Those who report, from students to office workers, spend their days manipulating and their nights worrying about institutionalized performance measures, standardized tests, and a daily barrage of transactional data, all narrowly defined and often rather arbitrary, devoid of much concrete relevance. These measures are meant to provide insight into trends, and evidence of this or that performance, but in fact they mostly just
  • eliminate context, 
  • block connections, common sense and insight
  • erode our capacity for reasoning 
  • keep us too preoccupied to examine our purposes
  • and ultimately put us on the self-sustaining hamster wheel of empty bureaucratic process
The focus on numbers may give us the secure sense that we're getting precise information, but it's a false sense of security.

See also The Logic of Quantophrenia and possibly Amy Lemay on assessing impact as reported by Asha Law at

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Some random hypotheses and tests - testing the waters

1. Myths about the cosmic order are instinctive and reflect the geographic milieu, serve the economic and technical demands of the age and legitimate the the social order - community norms, mores, ethic and hierarchy. These instincts are experienced as compelling numinous images or symbols or enacted as rituals. They are either an emergent communal expression or left to shamans, chiefs or kings, or religious leaders to articulate and disseminate. In modern times, culturally significant artists may take the role of shamans. The myths change with historically significant changes in technology and trade.

TEST If this is true, disruptions in the mythic consciousness would cause psychological disturbances because the capacity for mythic instinct has ceased to be rooted in a social economy - powerful but pointless or counterproductive numinous symbols and rituals. This would imply that when there is any geographic or technical upheaval (positive or negative) that uproots people from their traditional (social and economic) ways and narratives, there will be increases in psychological malaise or social or cultural pathologies (e.g., fanaticism or collective cultural dispiritedness).

Also, if true, themes experienced in dreams of psychologically healthy people or explored in literature would symbolize key socio-cultural trends or turning points where adaptations were needed. Who has the interpretive key would, however, be a difficult question to answer. (Think of Ondaatje's English Patient as a story about the need for changes in the narrative around national (tribal) identities at a time of massive technical change, when production is becoming global, not local, and it makes sense. As you can tell, I consider the EP as a culturally significant work.)

2. Embedded in our myths is a vestigial primate-ness and an alpha-male motif.

TEST Ethological studies of hominid communication suggests hierarchy predominates in the "vocabulary" of our cousins (see Kenneally, The First Word). Robert Bellah, a sociologist of religion, explains the transformation of mythic consciousness over pre-history and history (Religion in Human Evolution). A study might focus on the parallels between hominid communication and human language, (e.g., consider the unquestioning subscription to the narrative of the "divine right of kings" and similar scripts, which is just not explainable by any individual's will to power, Ian Morris.)  This might go some way to explaining modern gender imbalance (now eroding, thanks to mass clothing production, vacs and dishwashers, finally - quite a lag, though - right, Betty?)

3. Attempts at the scientific rendition of mythic terms should be abandoned (are you listening, Rupert Sheldrake?). However, the phenomena that such terms wrongly label may have yet some scientific explanation. For example, phenomena labelled "psychic" may indicate something very different from witchy receptivity to mysterious "energies".  Lacking appropriate explanatory models, these phenomena are packaged in pseudo-scientific terms and are thus rapidly dismissed by the majority of self-respecting scientifically literate folks.  I'm sure nevertheless there are many (if not all) people who experience correctly knowing or understanding something without being able to explain exactly how they do. Not all of these people would say they were "psychic".  Imprecise forebodings and mysterious anticipations may be no more paranormal than bird navigation, snakes detecting earthquakes or the suddenly conscious conclusions drawn by our unconscious processes of assimilating vast amounts of past and present perceptual cues.

Once the epithet, "psychic" is dispensed with, scientifically inclined people should have little trouble finding evidence of people who have drawn correct conclusions on the basis of unconsciously gathering and assimilating information. (My suspicion would be that the instincts mentioned in 1 inflect this process and, when it goes awry, the person suffers from a psychological malaise. On the other hand,  when the narrative sustaining the social order is no longer credible, a collective reaction formation (a.k.a. fanaticism) or a dispirited culture will be the result.)

4. In the same vein as 3, consider ghosts. Instead of thinking of a ghostly experience as evidence of displaced spirits, maybe time is multidimensional and can be layered. Vivid experiences that people mistakenly explain as ghosts may be hints of something occuring in a prior layer of time, a temporal echo. (Pure speculation, admittedly - spectral speculation.)

TEST "Ghost sightings" would be more likely when spatial arrangements have changed very little over the years/centuries; e.g., a "sighting" of a ghost (a temporal echo) on a stairway or coming through a door would be unlikely in a modern building because a modern and ancient building on the same property would not likely have had architectural features occupying the same space.

None of these tests would prove anything conclusively, of course. The two themes I have covered are human instinct and scientific reification. The latter covers all 4, the former, the first 3. I'm interested in having these themes pursued in more depth.