I’m repeating myself a lot recently, about “proper dialogue” needed for progress and about the “fundamentals of information” at all levels, physical and emergent. For quite some time now, there seems to be a convergence on key themes that need to be addressed. Also ironically, whilst that suggests time to focus both on actually having proper dialogue and on creative writing rather than reading and reacting, I am at the same time torn between conflicting demands for several simultaneous project priorities; personal, domestic, charitable and business as well as intellectual.
Aaagh. Everything suffers. Little is achieved.
However, repeating myself, and compounding the problem(!), I am reading the truly wonderful “Beginning of Infinity – Explanations that transform the world” by David Deutsch. It’s so good, I’m embarrassed that I hadn’t noticed and read it when it came out in 2011, because (a) I loved his “Fabric of Reality” back in 2005 and (b) his Universal Constructor take on humanity would have fitted in so well to my”knowledge dialogue”agenda all this time.
Thanks to the conflicting time pressures above, despite its almost unputdownable nature, I’m reading it in intense but disjointed bursts, without any organised note-making. I’m just now finishing “Optimism” (chapter 9) after posting my notes up to starting chapter 6 (of 18) last time I posted.
He’s still taking great care handling the double-edged anthropic perspectives: being misguided as principles, whilst nevertheless fundamentally significant.
Levels – step changes – in the reach of newly created explanatory theories, with emergent causation between objects at different levels. An infinity of levels stretching out ahead of the 4 or 5 we have already encountered. Wherever we are, we are always closer to the beginning than the end. Explanatory theories are always addressing current known problems, but their reach with only minor adaptation is a resource for solving future unknowable problems. There are indeterminately long gaps between the original (intended) solution and discovering the future (usually unintended) universal applicability to create new solutions in the domain. New future domains are created only when we create a good new explanatory theory that turns out to be universal.
The optimism referred to is the kind that predicts knowledge is the key resource to respond to future human crises – even asteroid collisions or nearby cosmic gamma-radiation bursts!
[There are still nevertheless explanatory gaps in why DNA-based life and human intelligence are somehow universal, but they are.]
“The Principle of Optimism
All evils are caused by insufficient knowledge.”
That’s explanatory knowledge, not predictive knowledge of future unknowables. Good knowledge has explanatory reach. We know why that happened and how to best react to it, not we can predict that it will happen.
“The unpredictability of the content of future knowledge is a necessary condition for the unlimited growth of that knowledge.”
“Problems are inevitable, and progress is solving them.”
Hence my paraphrase of Popper – “All Life is Problem Solving”. Popper is a recurring source for Deutsch, here and in his previous work.
[On Dennett he mentions only his 1991 Consciousness Explained work, dubbed Consciousness Denied. In fact Dennett’s denials are of the illusory appearances of qualia and consciousness. Accepted takes on what those are are misguided and should be relinquished if we are to create good explanatory theory – but that’s a longer aside, and much water under the bridge since then. The underlying digital information model is key to both, either way.]
[On AI he adopts AGI (Artificial General Intelligence) as the real thing in contrast to the weak algorithmic machine learning usage that has become general AI currency. Artificial Creativity – proper AI following properly evolved A-Life.]
“The idea that there could be beings that are to us as we are to animals is a belief in the supernatural.”
Compare that quote with my own earlier statement: “Our dignity – our value and meaning – is in being good at being human. That’s what we should value – even worship and have faith in – above all. If we ever do meet a being we genuinely consider more human than ourselves, only then would we have more faith in that.” More human or superhuman in a sci-fi culture-shock sense or in a theological sense.
All these are simply holding notes for a more thorough piece. For now I can only reinforce:
“Science has never had an advocate quite like David Deutsch. He is a computational physicist on a par with his touchstones Alan Turing and Richard Feynman, and also a philosopher in the line of his greatest hero, Karl Popper. His arguments are so clear that to read him is to experience the thrill of the highest level of discourse available on this planet and to understand it.”
Peter Forbes in the Independent (March 2011).
Thrilling stuff indeed.
This is the quote that caused me to pause and post:
“There can be no such thing as a disease for which it is impossible to discover a cure, other than certain types of brain damage – those that have dissipated the knowledge that constitutes the patient’s personality.”
[Post Note: The later chapter “A Dream of Socrates” is a wonderful creation. Important static/closed vs dynamic/open social distinction, and the (presumably Popperian?) concept that objective knowledge comes from within. Just missing “radical empiricism”? A denial of “justified belief” in its hard sense – justified by an absolute proof chain of reasoning and empiricism that is, not the looser idea of justified by reasonable explanation. Mind-blowing corollary that whether you get your knowledge direct from a god in a dream, or second-hand from some half-literate scribe reporting hearsay from some prophet of said god, or from a fully evidenced scientific paper, it doesn’t really matter. The Socratic problem of who really said what, is not a problem when it comes to true knowledge of reality. Much acknowledgement (and use) of rhetoric and humour as part of the process, despite denigration of the sophists’ nihilistic bad-faith. Communication is hard, and flawed (Einstein’s communication problem). Interpretation of directly experienced objects and explicit physical personal communication is fallible. Most to-and-fro dialogue, even where intentionally critical can only ever really be about clarifying and evolving mutually received interpretations. Proper dialogue! All human life is here. Dogma is the enemy.]
[Post Note: The invention of “Humanism” by the Medicis, snuffed-out by Savonarola. Many mini-enlightenment “near-misses” before the real thing. The pitfalls of democracy … and so much more. Did I mention, I’m loving this book?]
[Post Note: And whilst I’m here, I skipped ahead to the chapter recommendation that led me to read the book. Chapter 13 “The Evolution of Culture”
.@TheCrookedMan That’s a very interesting suggestion! It may well be so.
— David Deutsch (@DavidDeutschOxf) November 30, 2016
“Creativity suppresses innovation”? an interesting and counterintuitive thought, probably true.
— Ian Glendinning (@psybertron) April 29, 2018
Read (and reviewed) Fabric of Reality wayback. Not read Evolution of Creativity (but will), but regularly use fidelity vs fecundity evo argument – mostly conservatism with relatively few mutant creations … or no progress.
— Ian Glendinning (@psybertron) April 29, 2018
Interesting the point at issue was the counterintuitive idea that “creativity suppresses innovation”. Not seen that explicitly yet in my read, so will have to recap. Plenty of stuff I already identify with: All analogies are false (every picture paints a thousand words) – the truth is only ever in some particular aspect, and can be very misleading if not (previously) made specific. Same with memes and genes. Very positive about the reality of memetics and addressing the criticisms. Very clear about specific similarities and differences with memes and genes and where there are misunderstandings common to both and distinctly different. Makes a point about rational and irrational memes in static and dynamic societies that doesn’t seem quite right to me, but is getting at something I consider important – bad memes spread faster than true ones. Further recap needed.]
[Note to self: New explanatory theory = Alternative basis for classification within ontology.]
[Note to self: Problems and their solutions are infinitely inevitable = same as conceivability = physical possibility.]
Also published on Medium.