depistemology



12.09.2011


A general epistemology of cognition and consciousness
V.10.6  3/24/2017

“an organism must have a comparatively gross structure in order to enjoy the benefit of fairly accurate laws” Erwin Schrödinger


 Why do we not understand the nature of consciousness? Why do we not know how our mind is integrated with our brain and body? Why do we find it hard to explain how we subjectively experience sensations? Why can’t we prove that we have free will despite the intuition that we have it? Why is there no consensus on a definition of consciousness.

We try to answer these questions by examining and analyzing the individual brain and body. We will not understand cognition and consciousness unless we situate the body and brain in a totalized context of biomes and species evolving in nature. Function and meaning in the largest sense can only be determined by considering context in the largest sense. We can only understand cognition to the degree that we understand nature. We can only understand consciousness to the degree that we understand nature, cognition and the social processes that enable consciousness.


In order to discover function and meaning in the contexts of cognition I propose a method of synthesizing contexts using system theory. I will then pose a hypothesis for why we find it difficult to understand consciousness and outline one possible interpretation of cognitive functions within nature in an attempt to synthesize three recent theoretical approaches in physics and neuroscience.


Contexts of cognition


What are the full physical contexts of cognition, how do quantum fields and thermodynamics interact to produce the genetic, metabolic and physiological processes that facilitate cognition? How are those processes integrated with the evolutionary, developmental and social contexts of cognition?


Our body, brain and mind are the products of natural selection, they are the adaptations of our species to environmental conditions. Those evolving fundamental conditions set the parameters of our physiological and cognitive adaptations. Our conscious cognition of fundamental conditions is a subset of cognition which is a subset of our adaptation to an evolving environment.


The existence of a species is dependent upon its successful coevolution with other species in a biome of relatively consistent environmental conditions. The survival of a species depends upon the successful conception, development, adaptation and reproduction of at least some of its organisms and the eventual death of all. The existence of an individual organism depends upon the previous successful conception, development, adaptation, reproduction and death of all of its ancestors and its survival depends upon a cooperative family or community within a biome of coevolving species. The consciousness of an individual originates within that community and it is sustained within the community's culture. Our conscious cognition of those fundamental social conditions is a subset of our adaptation to an evolving species.


The scientific process of proposing a hypothesis, testing predictions, evaluating results and reformulating theories has produced a set of fine regularities that help us define specific and fundamental conditions. However scientific process limits physical and temporal variables in order for theories to be testable and for experiments to be replicable. Limiting physical and temporal scales implicitly assumes that the laws of nature are fixed and do not evolve or change. The cosmological implication of that assumption denies the existence of time and implies laws are consistent across scales of space. The results of evidence based scientific process in that framework is therefore limited to producing a gradually increasing probability of accuracy in defining subset processes within static fundamental conditions.(Smolin)


But hypotheses can also be developed with the statistical thermodynamics of a closed system model of system theory so models can be extrapolated to both micro-states and macro-states over time. Those models then can be used to form hypotheses of a dynamic whole system which can be tested within subsystem processes.


Biomes, species and organisms are defined in system theory as open systems within a closed system universe, a framework that integrates thermodynamics, information theory and evolutionary theory. Biological open systems paradoxically conform to the second law of thermodynamics by using free energy (energy in the environment available to perform thermodynamic work) to decrease entropy within their boundary and increase entropy outside their boundary.


The fundamental condition of the non-equilibrium evolution of free energy to a generally higher entropy state includes areas of relatively constant temperature and pressure where morphogenic physical processes and autocatalytic chemical processes used free energy to instantiate regularities and lower entropy in prokaryotic organisms. Evolving prokaryotic organisms used free energy to symbiotically incorporate other prokaryotes or archaea within themselves to form complex eukaryotic cells.


Most of these eukaryotes form cooperative relationships with other eukaryotes and prokaryotes. Some cooperating groups of cells create boundaries and enclose themselves to form self sustaining organisms. These symbiotic organisms use free energy to instantiate regularities and lower entropy in eukaryotic organisms of emergent levels of genetically reproducing species.


Species and their organisms are maintained over time in a condition of homeostasis due to ongoing organic processes that maintain internal constancy and reduce entropy. Those biological processes maintain homeostasis by updating internal states with sensory information and that can be modeled by Bayesian statistical inference. A prior probability distribution determined by genetics and epigenetic conditioning is factored with a likelihood function determined by current sensory evidence to produce a posterior probability distribution or an updated working hypothesis of the world.(Friston)


Fundamental and cognitive bias


Homeostasis is the physiological basis of emotion, the natural biological response to immediate or potential disruption of internal constancy. Every physiological variable in the body has a normative set point, e.g. the normal body temperature of humans is 98.6 F. When one or more physiological variables are deviated away from their normative values by intrinsic or extrinsic processes then related physiological variables within that subsystem alter their normative set points to compensate and maintain homeostasis. Related systems in the body then alter their normative set points to compensate and maintain homeostasis. The whole body effect of that interactive and dynamic process is emotion. Physiological emotional process is unconscious but it is subjectively experienced as instinct subconsciously and as feeling consciously. When an organism is ill or threatened by something in the environment subconscious or conscious emotion signals the initiation of a survival response and the restoration and maintenance of homeostasis. Anxiety is the demand for certainty exceeding the supply. Emotion in that sense necessarily grounds all cognitive processes in biologic value, prioritizes cognitive attention, motivates action and gives memories a dynamic valence.(Damasio)


The fundamental emotional bias of homeostasis is the constant subconscious feeling of the need to establish and re-balance internal constancy as well as a sense of agency that can maintain that internal stability. This basic emotional bias shapes the nature of our perceptions, memories, motivations and actions so our conception of reality is structured by this homeodynamic drive to survive.


The intrinsic emotional bias for certainty is counterbalanced by a natural cognitive bias in our sensory and motor inferential processes; the constant search for and detection of unpredicted and novel events. Sensory processes prioritize variant events or the absence of predicted invariance, predicted invariance is processed unconsciously. Boredom is the demand for novelty exceeding the supply.


The primary emotional demand for constancy conditions the prior beliefs of Bayesian inferential process with a bias for regularity. The cognitive bias for detecting novel or irregular process insures that organisms at least factor that emotional bias with relevant evidence of likelihoods from the environment in order to produce updated adaptive beliefs about the environment. But the cognitive bias is secondary to and in service of the fundamental survival requirement of homeostasis.


This Bayesian inferential relationship of biased prior beliefs with our experience of novel or random events is repeated within the history of human culture and it evolved into the scientific method. We emerged from prehistory, as from the womb, with the predilection to believe that the world revolves around us and with a desire for the world to be orderly. We unconsciously test that world in our waking state and when it does not conform to our biased predictions then we become conscious of change and we alter our theories of the world. The scientific method established the testing of hypotheses as a conscious and social act. That rapidly increased the spread of adaptive beliefs but the fundamental bias for certainty remains.


Our cultural conception of reality is based on the testable macro-state mechanics of Newtonian physics. With that foundation we assume that locality and causality are universal across scales of space to reinforce our belief that space and matter are predictable and fundamental. The molecular realities of quantum superposition and entanglement are not perceptible to us because of the temporal and physical scale of molecular change. Our cognitive bias for the detection of novel process originates within molecular perceptual processes that only register quantum decoherence so our experience of reality is described by classical physics. That is inevitable because as organic macro-states we can only perceive or in fact embody thermodynamic order with the statistical regularities of our relative size.
    "The laws of physics and physical chemistry are inaccurate within a probable relative error of the order of 1/ √ n, where n is the number of molecules that co-operate to bring about that law –to produce its validity within such regions of space or time (or both) that matter, for some considerations or for some particular experiment. You see from this again that an organism must have a comparatively gross structure in order to enjoy the benefit of fairly accurate laws, both for its internal life and for its interplay with the external world. For otherwise the number of co-operating particles would be too small, the ‘law’ too inaccurate. The particularly exigent demand is the square root. For though a million is a reasonably large number, an accuracy of just 1 in 1,000 is not overwhelmingly good, if a thing claims the dignity of being a ‘Law of Nature’." What is Life? Erwin Schrödinger 1944

If the regularities of matter and space that we perceive are only emergent manifestations of quantum processes then time must be fundamental to the emergence of Newtonian mechanics from quantum fields. For thermodynamic macro-states that depend on the organic reduction of entropy to survive in an environment of increasing entropy, time and uncertainty are fundamental.

We try to understand our consciousness based on beliefs that are conditioned by the maintenance of homeostasis and our emotional demand for certainty. We assume our minds exist in an environment where the laws of nature are constant and those laws define predictable processes. Religious and scientific endeavors express our collective and individual demand for certainty by constantly striving to find and elucidate timeless laws and truths. But artistic endeavors and the cognitive bias for novelty are evidence that we have evolved within an environment of increasing entropy where irregular and random processes exist in combination with regular and predictable processes.


The fundamental emotional bias for certainty also leads us to believe that we are physiologically and cognitively autonomous. We do have some degrees of freedom to act within non-equilibrium probabilistic thermodynamics with probabilistic predictive sensory and motor inferential processes. But we are constrained by the biological imperative to conform to species homeostasis and our consciousness originates and is sustained within a symbiotic web of social cooperation, language and culture.


It is in our fundamental nature to think that the laws of nature are constant and that we are autonomous beings. We find it difficult to understand consciousness because it is a socially emergent adaptation to a complex and fundamentally uncertain quantum reality that we cannot consciously experience in it's totality.


Hypothesis: Homo Sapiens, like all organisms, have an intrinsic biological bias that prevents us from accurately perceiving the totalized fundamental processes that constitute a mind evolving in nature. That bias is the expression of the biological imperative to maintain internal stability over time and functions to help us survive and reproduce, nothing more.


If we can accurately infer the properties of that bias then we can begin to factor that in the formation of hypotheses to more accurately reflect fundamental processes and our full relation with nature.


A theory of knowledge


Premise 1: Time is real and fundamental, the Second Law of Thermodynamics implies an irreversible arrow of time. The laws of nature are not fixed, they evolve. (Smolin)


Premise 2: Homeostasis is the distributed organizing principle of organic open systems within a closed system universe. Homeostasis is maintained over time within an environment of increasing entropy by a process that can be modeled by Bayesian inference. A prior probability distribution determined by genetics and epigenetic conditioning is factored with a likelihood function determined by current sensory evidence to produce a posterior probability distribution or an updated working hypothesis of the world. (Friston)


Premise 3: The fundamental homeostatic bias of living bodies is the necessity for the constant re-balancing of internal constancy and the agency to maintain that internal stability. This is the physiological basis of emotion. Homeostatic bias structures our cognition and consciousness and determines the nature of our perceptions, memories, motivations and actions. (Damasio)


Genetic replication, reproduction and development physically instantiates regularities and intrinsically reduces entropy within organisms. Memory is the cognitive instantiation of regularity and the precursor to the reduction of entropy in the species. Fixed implicit memory is the expression of molecular and genetic regularity. Dynamic implicit memory is the epigenetic instantiation of patterns of regularity with homeodynamic valences. Working memory is the short term inference of regularity with homeodynamic valences.


Waking consciousness is awareness of unpredicted percepts factored with the constant Bayesian inferential justification of implicit memory (priors) with working memory (likelihoods). The adaptive product of that synthesis are optimized predictions of the immediate future. The accumulated prediction errors of waking consciousness are inferentially consolidated during sleep and that instantiates patterns of regularities of the environment into dynamic implicit memory.  


The instantiation in implicit memory of regularized symbolic absential objects and a regularized embodied syntax for tool use are the necessary precursors for language and an extended human social consciousness. Language mediates social homeostasis and offloads adaptive regularities of symbolic objects and embodied tool use syntax into the social environment. Culture is the social process of instantiating those adaptive regularities into the physical environment as technology which reduces entropy within the species.


Animal models

 The cognitive task of all biological organisms is the maintenance of internal homeostasis within a physical environment of increasing entropy evolving in time that is a mixture of predicted, unpredicted and unpredictable random processes. As elements of a species organisms also have the cognitive task of adaptation to social homeostasis and the facilitation of reproduction within a social environment evolving in time that is a mixture of predicted, unpredicted and unpredictable processes.

 If adaptation to unpredicted and random processes is conscious and adaptation to predicted processes is unconscious then biological organisms have interoceptive cognition, interoceptive consciousness, exteroceptive cognition and exteroceptive consciousness. Social cognition and social consciousness are subsets of exteroceptive cognition. Humans have all those types of cognition along with an extended social consciousness.

A. Interoceptive cognition is the expression of the organism’s processing of predicted percepts in the body. It is the parallel processing of expected visceral processes acting with implicit memory. Interoceptive cognition is unconscious although it is experienced by interoceptive consciousness proprioceptively.

B. Interoceptive consciousness is adaptation to unpredicted percepts in the body. It is awareness of unexpected homeodynamically evaluated visceral percepts, inferential factoring of the percepts in the Baysian networks between working memory and dynamic implicit memory, prediction, action and learning from reaction. Interoceptive consciousness is active when a physiological imbalance determines that a change in cognitive attention is required in order to maintain homeostasis.

C. Exteroceptive cognition is the expression of an organism’s processing of predicted percepts in the environment. It is the parallel processing of sensory and motor reactions with an embodied syntax of learned procedural memories within implicit memory. Exteroceptive cognition is unconscious although it is experienced by exteroceptive consciousness proprioceptively.

D. Exteroceptive consciousness is the adaptation to uncertainty and increasing entropy in the environment. It is awareness of unexpected homeodynamically evaluated percepts, inferential factoring of the percepts in the Bayesian memory networks, prediction, action and learning from reaction. Exteroceptive consciousness is active when a homeodynamic evaluation of percepts determines that a change in cognitive attention is required in order to maintain homeostasis.

C. Social cognition is the individual expression of the processing of predictable interpersonal percepts. It is parallel processing of learned social responses within implicit memory. Social cognition is unconscious although it is experienced by social consciousness proprioceptively.

D. Social consciousness is individual adaptation to the species adaptations to increasing entropy. It is the cognition of socially modified adaptive behavior that requires communication or cooperation between individuals at any level. It is awareness of unexpected homeodynamically evaluated social percepts, inferential factoring of the percepts in the Baysian memory networks, prediction, action and learning from reaction. It is driven by the emotional response to immediate or potential social disruption of homeostasis or a hormonally induced homeodynamic imbalance in the organism naturally selected to provoke and reward instinctual procreative, parental and subsistence co-behavior. Social consciousness is active when emotion determines that a change in cognitive attention is required in order to maintain social homeostasis.

Ontogeny of cognition

 The precursor of working memory and implicit memory develop in utero in the inferential relationship that is the origin of both sleep and cognition. The fetal working memory factors unpredicted percepts of interoception with fixed implicit memory, the instantiated regularities of genetic information that guides natal development. This creates new dynamic implicit memories of the physiological processes of the homeostatic self.

 As the organism grows and is exposed to exteroceptive percepts the accumulated prediction errors of sensory and motor inferential process in working memory are used in slow wave and REM sleep networks to inferentially consolidate associations and instantiate updated patterns of regularities of an embodied syntax of adaptive procedural memories into dynamic implicit memory. In organisms with extended consciousness this is subjectively experienced as dreaming; a self disoriented in place and time (because there is no external sensory input) within a virtual reality of re-consolidating memories.

 Primary consciousness is initiated upon waking by synchronizing exteroceptive sensory and motor inferential process with the Bayesian networks between working memory and dynamic implicit memory. That facilitates the potential to simultaneously react to predicted percepts with unconscious embodied syntax and unpredicted percepts with working memory factored with dynamic implicit memory before initiating predictions and actions in the environment. Immediate feedback from actions in the environment effectively enables real time learning and adaptation within working memory. In organisms with extended consciousness that synthesis is subjectively experienced as a self acting within a virtual reality of memory but oriented to place and time with the serial ability remember past scenarios or to attend and act on sensory input.

 Learning occurs at two levels; in conscious working memory from ongoing predictive inference with the environment and in unconscious implicit memory from inferential consolidation of prediction errors in sleep.




Evolution of human extended consciousness

The co-evolution of tool-use and social cooperation in the three million year epoch preceding the emergence of pre-modern homo sapiens out of Africa around 100,000 BC created a set of genetic and epigenetic adaptations that are the precursors of human extended consciousness. Those adaptations are; 1) the subconscious (proprioceptive and mimetic) social sharing of an extended embodied syntax that includes tool-making and tool use (e.g. right hand/subject, action/verb, left hand/object), 2) the symbolic vocalization of absential cognitive objects and 3) the dropping of the larynx to enable complex vocalizations and symbolic speech structured by an embodied tool use syntax. These adaptations enabled hominids to survive the changing environments of the Ice Ages with the use of tools and complex social cooperation facilitated by the development of a proto-language. Those adaptations did not in themselves result in human consciousness, neoteny was required for the development of an extended social consciousness.


As brain size increased the limited pelvic opening required by bipedalism enforced premature birth and neotenous child rearing. The neotenous infant required constant protection and attention, only possible within a cooperative social system.


The neotenous infant’s sensory and motor interaction with the environment is primed by fetal cognition of maternal speech to predict patterns of vocalizations. These patterns are given value by the child's projection of intentionality and reproduced by mimesis. When left alone the child rapidly learns that their survival is dependant upon something that can potentially be absent and that their vocalization can result in maternal attention. Motor development thus becomes dedicated in part to the manipulation of vocalization and the child begins to form cognitive absential objects.


The sleeping neotenous child gradually instantiates regularized symbolic representations of absential objects and the regularities of embodied syntax for tool (toy) use into implicit memory. As those two parallel but separate abilities develop the waking infant begins to use tool use syntax within the Bayesian inferential networks of memory to construct abstract ideas and scenarios with symbolic cognitive objects. Playing and learning with objects in the environment is mirrored internally with playing with abstract objects in the narrative self process. That is the process that the child uses to create a model of a self acting within a virtual reality of memory that is based on the external model of the parent, the primal absential object.


The child gradually internalizes the parental model until it is incorporated into the child’s homeostatic state and it then represents the child’s sense of identity and agency. The perception of self and the perception of time are mutually interdependent artifacts of this virtual self. The greater the contents of memory the greater the potential expanse of virtual time and thus the greater the sense of self. Infants have the proto-conscious element of internal inferential potential in utero but lack the memories of environmental engagement to construct a narrative self.


Neoteny is required for extended social consciousness because an embodied tool use syntax is directly integrated with motor procedural memory for speech and that becomes the subconscious shared social substrate for language acquisition. As the child develops a vocabulary of symbolic objects the embodied tool use syntax also serves as an internal substrate for the construction of abstract ideas and an internal virtual reality. The natal developmental synthesis of social and cognitive applications of embodied tool use syntax with symbolic absential objects becomes the autocatalytic engine of dynamic human cognition, language, culture and technology.






The adaptive advantage of consciousness


 An environment with the fundamental property of increasing entropy presents particular challenges, particular opportunities, and particular constraints for organisms. The challenges are the unpredictable and debilitating effects of increasing entropy. The opportunities are the possible actions enabled by effective predictive inference within non-equilibrium probabilistic thermodynamics. The constraint is the biological imperative for individuals to conform to social homeostasis and the species level adaptations to increasing entropy. Consciousness is an adaptation to increasing entropy that uses the opportunities of action to mediate the challenges of unpredictability within the constraints of species homeostasis.

Consciousness is memory (priors) factored with awareness (likelihoods) within homeodynamically evaluated self processes. Memory disengaged from awareness does not integrate self processes with the body or environment and offers no adaptive advantage by itself. Awareness disengaged from memory isolates self processes in the eternal present and denies it the advantage of learned responses.

Animal primary consciousness is awareness of unpredicted interoceptive, exteroceptive and social percepts factored with implicit memories of predicted interoceptive, exteroceptive and social experience. Primary consciousness serves to promote and maintain homeostasis within the individual and the species by channeling evaluated unpredicted percepts with possible threats to homeostasis into the Bayesian networks of memory to be factored with learned responses from prior experiences. That forms predictions of optimal actions. Predictions are enacted and feedback from actions is cycled through evaluation to learn from feedback. All of those processes require the transmission of information over time. Primary consciousness mediates uncertainty by using an internal virtual reality of learned adaptive memories to improve responses to unpredicted threats.

Human social consciousness is animal consciousness integrated and extended into a narrative self process created with socially constructed language. Extended consciousness improves the individual's adaptation by channeling an individual’s awareness of unpredicted percepts into a 100,000 year old shared virtual linguistic reality of constantly updating adaptive memories. Shared cultural narratives of trusted predictions become instantiated and embodied in the manufacture and use of tools so parallel processing of predicted percepts for the individual is offloaded within technology. This frees up the individual’s cognitive resources to be in a constant cooperative and corrective cycle with their culture and that enables the chain of reciprocal learning that improves individual adaptation and reduces entropy within the species.

Extended consciousness is subjectively experienced as the maintenance of an ordered present that recursively attempts to create a reality of an ordered future with a narrative of optimized predictions. If an organism of a species is homeodynamically motivated to maintain internal order and it has the ability to create relatively accurate predictions within non equilibrium probabilistic thermodynamics and it is integrated in a social body that cooperates to instantiate adaptive predictions in technology then that organism will impose order on a disordered environment. That has been the radically adaptive strategy that has allowed Homo sapiens to thrive and reduce entropy within the species.

Damasio, A. (1999). The Feeling of What Happens: Body and Emotion in the Making of Consciousness. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

Friston, K. (2013). Consciousness and Hierarchical Inference. Neuropsychoanalysis, 15(1), 38-42. doi:10.1080/15294145.2013.10773716

Schrödinger, E. (1944). What Is Life. Cambridge University Press.

Smolin, L. (2014). Time Reborn: from the crisis of physics to the future of the universe. Penguin Books.

Wiener, N. (1950). The Human Use of Human Beings. Houghton Mifflin.

Also influenced by the theories of Terrence Deacon, Daniel Dennett, Gerald Edelman, J. Allan Hobson, Stuart Kauffman, Lynn Margulis, Nicholas Schiff, Michael Tomasello, Zoltan Torey and E. O. Wilson.


Questions and testable hypotheses


What are the molecular mechanics of the organic reduction of entropy?

If homeostasis is the distributed organizing principle of organic bodies and entropy is reduced in an environment of increasing entropy by a process that can be modeled by Bayesian statistical inference then how is Bayesian information communicated and homeostasis coordinated across the whole body? Is that done by the synchronized oscillations of electromagnetic fields?

If the properties of quantum fields are the causal locus of non-organic macro-states do thermodynamic organic macro-states create their own emergent causal locus?

Is time just our subjective experience of the second law of thermodynamics, the non-equilibrium probabilistic evolution of free energy to a generally higher entropy state from the perspective of a relatively low entropy open system in contravention of that evolution?


The problem of a general synthesis is that the hypotheses are so general that they may not be falsifiable. This is a preliminary attempt to develop an evolving set of testable hypotheses. Suggestions welcome.


1. How do I test the hypothesis that humans have an intrinsic biological bias that limits or alters our interpretation of percepts in a way that prevents a totalized representation of nature and our relation to it? Are there consistent observable perception errors that cause corresponding misrepresentations of events and the self that is evident in behavior as well as subjective reports?


2. How do I test the hypothesis that homeostasis is the distributed organizing principle of biological organisms? Is there a measurable statistical artifact of homeostatic process within physiological systems and the whole body? If so what are the parameters and variations of those artifacts and can variations consistently cause disease or directly affect the wellbeing of an organism? Is body temperature a measure of distributed homeostasis organization?

3. How do I test the hypothesis that emotion and the subjective experience of self is caused by the physiological process of maintaining homeostasis over time? If there is a measurable statistical artifact of homeostatic process can that be consistently correlated with specific physiological responses and subjective reports?


8.11.2011

Globalization is undermining the basic stability of nation states. The globalization of labor markets hollows out the middle class in developed nations and spurs the rise in incomes among the poor in developing nations. But the corporate class that benefits the most from the economies of scale of globalization has no allegiance to any nation state anymore, labor is disposable and subject to arbitrage. So there is no incentive to pay for the physical and institutional infrastructure that nation states provide, corporations can just hop to the next developing nation willing to bid down the price of labor.

Global supply chains turn nations into specialized units in the chain so whole sectors of a nations economy are decimated in the interest of global efficiency but the result is that nations become less self-sufficient and more dependent on globally supplied commodities and services. Then nation states have less control over their economies, are less able to generate dependable revenues and less able to provide basic services to their citizens.  

But the external costs of doing business - pollution, infrastructure, social disruption and resource depletion - are only external to the quarterly balance sheets of global corporations. Those costs get passed on to the economies of nation states subject to global arbitrage. In a globalized economy there are no externalities, only delayed costs. And now we are all beginning to pay for those costs.

Workers in a globalized economy are expendable. People who work for a living are being devalued, whether they have a job or not and whether they live in a developed country or not. And the governments who represent those people have been bought off by the 1% and refuse to see the problem. 

3.04.2010


The social demand for political certainty is usually greater than the supply of evidence that supports that certainty. Politics is primarily driven by belief, not evidence.

Evidence-based certainty uses rational scientific process to gradually develop testable theories based on empirical evidence. Belief-based certainty works in the other direction, the desired certainty is known and rationality is abused to build on selective evidence to “prove” that belief.

Belief-based certainty has higher political value in the short term because it satisfies the immediate emotional demand for certainty. If a belief immediately resolves uncertainties and complexities and it is repeated within the culture then it becomes a political fact for those that need it.

Evidence-based inquiry is a process that only produces a gradually increasing probability of certainty in the long term. Facts usually lose the news cycle but eventually win the cultural war.

Markets mediate the uncertainty of survival and governments mediate the uncertainty of markets. The uncertainties of competition in the market motivates individuals to create efficiencies and innovations in order to enjoy the greater certainties of wealth. Government regulates the market to insure competition where it works to create opportunities and replaces the market where it restricts opportunities and exploits inequalities.

So the uncertainty of competition is both the bull that drives the economy and the bear that everyone seeks shelter from. Government has to both enable and disable the uncertainty of competition for the greater good.

Those on the left seek shelter from uncertainty in public sector employment, labor unions and government programs that provide a safety net where markets fail as in education and health care. Those on the right seek shelter from uncertainty in government contracts, government regulations that protect businesses from competition and public funding of the externalities of business which includes the costs of infrastructure, pollution and periodic market failures of the financial system.

Neither side wants to pay for the other side’s protection racket. Both sides have to be kept in check and both are prone to their own particular kind of corruption.

But when multinational corporations cooperate to pit one country against another to create a regulation free global business environment then those corporations have the upper hand and that only creates certainties for a tiny minority at the top and cascading waves of uncertainty and disruption for everybody else.

3.03.2010

An individual's political perspective can be roughly determined by two interacting factors; wealth or privilege and tolerance for uncertainty. When one has much to gain and few advantages to lose from political change they are open to reformers and populist policy change. When they achieve a certain level of wealth or advantage they begin to fear they have more to lose from change than what they would gain. 

That point varies from person to person depending on their own particular tolerance for uncertainty. if one has little tolerance for uncertainty and they perceive they have any amount of advantage to lose then they resist any change. If they have tolerance for uncertainty then they can be wealthy but not reflexively hostile to those who promote political change. 

So poor workers with little tolerance for change who feel they have a marginal advantage from racial privilege will resist change. And young professionals with little tolerance for change find they no longer agree with the reformers of their college days.

1.03.2007

If God is what we do not know then prayer is curiosity, love is faith and sin is acting as if we know what God is.

12.14.2006

Analysis deals with a set of knowns and ignores everything outside of the set. But when we consider context first, including what we do not know about a situation, we are confronted with the assumptions that we use to deal with the unknown; religion, superstition, folklore, conventional wisdom and the prevailing cultural norms. So when we consider context before analysis it becomes clear that the underlying currency of our cultural transactions is certainty based on either evidence or belief.

Those are two interconnected sets of certainties, our physical limitations within our environment and a cultural set of shared symbols and values. Our language and shared beliefs help us mediate the uncertainties of our physical existence. Those beliefs are embedded in a personal narrative.

If you were to closely observed someone throughout one day you would find that they acted in ways that reflected a broad range of beliefs. Survival requires adaptability, sometimes we need to be absolutists (to respond to challenges that threaten our welbeing) and sometimes we need to be relativists (to understand the challenges in order to learn from them). However if you asked that person to explain their actions throughout the day you would probably find that they defined their behavior in a narrow singular sense. We like to have a narrative that we can wrap all of the uncertainties of the world—and perhaps more importantly, the uncertainties of ourselves—into a compelling story.

The emotional context of our experience may determine the narrative of how we mediate the unknown. If we feel our past was chaotic then we seek absolute explanations of problems and solutions. If we feel our past was restricted we resist singular deterministic explanations. We all use absolute and relative judgements but explain those judgements in partisan terms to maintain our consistency.

Our narratives do determine many of our decisions but they do not limit our choices. The danger lies when our narrative overrules our intuition, when absolutists impose their judgements upon everyone else and relativists refuse to judge themselves.

12.02.2006

If God is what we do not know then we are as God to the experience of others and others are as God to our experience.