Sunday, December 30, 2007

Karma or Schmarma?

Earlier today I was informed again that,"what goes around comes around." It seems most of us either believe something like that or want to believe it, as if fate was somehow a living thing with an innate sense of justice and the power to enforce it. And of course consequences can at least be de facto punishments or rewards.

So if we (or certain other organisms) sense or feel a reason or purpose for everything, and that "purposefulness" is built into our calculating mechanisms, then we have likely factored in the possibility that these reasons also involve some form of reward or punishment. And if so, what might we have done to deserve either and be the cause of the "consequence" in question, and what might be done to change those results now or in the future? If it's punishment, can we somehow make it seem unjust and thus affect the consequences in "mid-stream," and if a reward, what should we NOT do that would tend to alter or stop the process?

And if the "consequences" can possibly be a combination of both reward and punishment, what can be done to affect one aspect of this purpose without adversely affecting other aspects by mistake in the process?

So we can see that the mere consideration of purposefulness by an organism in making calculations complicates the process considerably, especially when the assumption is that everything results from a purposeful act, and if so, from an actor that senses feedback and can assess the effectiveness of its efforts.

And chances are it's only the more advanced organisms that can afford to consider some things as purely accidental in making these calculations, as such considerations would have to come after attempts were made to counter an act, rather than first trying to see if it was in fact intentional. Benefits from recognizing an act was accidental might only come to an organism advanced enough in its calculating and strategic abilities to find value in ignoring the aspect of purposefulness.

But note that even the most advanced or emancipated of us believe there are no accidents in the sense that every occurrence is in some way consistent with a "natural law," and the existence of such laws themselves may not be accidental.

But can't we then believe they may serve a purpose while not at the same time be purposeful? I'd like to think so.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Are we just Kicking the Gong Around?

I just read with interest the article in ScienceDaily,, titled "Astronomers Find Gaping Hole In The Universe." Associated press has a follow-up article "Giant hole in universe found."
This later article has a comment from a UH astronomer that holes probably occur when when the gravity from areas with bigger mass pulls matter from less dense areas, and that after 13 billion years these holes are losing out in the battle to where there are larger concentrations of matter.

Both articles make reference to the universe beginning with the "big bang" as does the "13 billion years" comment. But my other reading indicates a number of scientists now question whether time, or the universe as we think we know it, actually began with that big bang - as they appear to have found evidence to the contrary.

It seems we have had an easier time accepting that something came from nothing than, in the alternative, there has always been a something and never a nothing. But then a further question would be, if there has always been something, would there not be a finite amount of whatever that something is? Because for that mass of energy or matter to increase, we come back again to acceptance that something may well be able to come from nothing.

But then there's this: If the universe had no beginning, can there still be limits to its size and dimensions? And if not, can there be finite limits to its matter at all?

So if the universe that we can observe includes signs there was matter around before the big bang, does the "gravity pulling matter from one area to another" theory hold up as the likely reason for these gaping holes? Because if so, what pulled matter into areas where there apparently was none before, if matter didn't start with the bang, and yet has expanded into our sphere of the universe since that event?

Did some mystical "big banger" pull stuff from somewhere else and push it our way, or is there a "big recycler" in action somewhere? Clearly these gaping holes have given us a lot more to think about, and we can't turn to the usual suspects for answers.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

The Ugly Truth about Beauty?

A recent Seed essay contained comments that we are hardwired with several natural instincts for knowing truth - referring to beauty as one of these to illustrate that a sense of truth seems inherent in our very make-up.

My comment in turn is that statements like this are fanciful at best.  A sense of beauty is less than reliable as an indicator of truth, as the appearance of beauty is often used to conceal truth or to mimic it. Beauty offers an incentive to approach with the expectation of finding desirable qualities within the object that projects it. It is not a quality in and of itself, but an illusory representation of those qualities.

Yet in studying nature, we can't seem to help but apply our "understanding" of the way life projects beauty to natural objects in general - as if their beauty was also created for a purpose and as a signal that these too were objects of desire.

We are wired to make accurate predictions, but in my view it's not a sense of truth that is inherent in our make-up, but a sense of the most probable - about which we are of course frequently mistaken.

We almost certainly have "premises" built into our calculating mechanisms that make truth less than obvious from the outset.  Before we acquired some facility in the use of abstractions, our more primitive mechanisms would have included the built-in equivalent of these concepts if and when they added to our chances of survival.  And these mechanistic "assumptions" will have had a margin of error - which guaranteed then and now that any resulting predictions will be less than absolute where "truth" is concerned.

One important example seems clear - that there is a presumption built or wired into our calculating mechanisms that all cause and effect stems from an initial purpose, so that any accurate or reliable conclusions will need to have first taken an element of purposefulness into account. We evolved by the necessary "assumptions" that other life had a strategy similar to ours, and that nature was the fountain of this life and therefor of its purposefulness as well. And while our more rational mechanisms have since been able to see in the abstract that this purposefulness may have begun with life rather than preceded it, our hardwired mechanisms still operate from an opposite presumption.

But as assumptions go, there is at least a third possibility, if not a probability, that purposefulness does exist elsewhere in the universe wherever there are other life forms, and that somewhere some of these forms have or had the propensity to interfere with whatever other such forms are out there. But whether or not they are responsible for any of the beauty we observe in the universe - representative or not of some universal truth - is for the moment highly uncertain.

And as a corollary to the above commentary, my feeling has been that If there is some conceivable purpose behind, or involved with, the evolution of the universe, it is nevertheless unlikely to be one that's immediately responsive or amenable to human persuasion. And thus its "beauty" would likely be indifferent to any demonstrations of our adulation.

On the other hand we clearly have good reason not to trust in nature's beneficence. It's the effort to earn that beneficence through an appeal to its proverbial "good nature" that will be essentially unproductive.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Tinkered Predictions

I wanted to add that I have some problems with game theory as it applies to predicting animal and especially human behavior - and the fault may just be in my own lack of understanding. But if what I understand is correct, game theorists will deliberately ignore aspects of a situation they don't see as relevant to determining the relative payoffs that result from the choice of available strategies, AND they seem to choose only those strategies that offer alternative routes to the end or ultimate "payoff."

But in doing so, they will have assumed that the end payoff is the determinant of all behavior from the outset. And yet that is most often not the case when considering the purposes for which animal (and human) intelligence have actually evolved

For example, they would seem to be completely ignoring long term versus short term payoffs, and the necessity to survive for the short term before concerning oneself at all with long term goals.

Instead, they appear to see short term solutions as ultimately controlled by long term consequences, when in fact the reverse may be more often true.

So why then does game theory seem to work in spite of this apparent error in its general concept? It may be because when the predicted results are inconsistent with other observations, some tinkering occurs - sometimes by adding what are referred to as "equilibrium refinements." Or as at least one adherent has said, one of the most valuable features of game theory is that additional relevant features of the interaction may be integrated into the game-theoretic models.

But when we tinker with the theory of the game in this fashion, is it still the same game? Or are we just applying logical corrections to what must inevitably result from flaws in the initial premise of game theory?

Thursday, May 31, 2007

An Alternative to Truth

This is something I had on another site since 2006, but since it was hardly ever accessed there, I thought, why not post it here as well so there would be another place from which people could choose not to read it!

Investigative Strategy and Assumptive Differences - Reliability versus True or False

The noted philosopher and logician, Bertrand Russell, at age 92, wrote that reason had its limitations. "Beware of rational argument," he reminded us; "you need only one false premise in order to prove anything you please by logic." Leading me to an illustration of how, when it comes to investigative strategies, the rational parts of our brain are more prone to error than we might have suspected:

Take for example this version of the liar paradox (also a subject of Russell's writings), which was ascribed to the ancient Greek, Epimenides the Cretan, who said that, ’All Cretans are liars.’ We have here a statement that seemingly cannot, by traditional logic, be judged either true or false. Can it be true if this Cretan is not a liar, yet can it then be false if this Cretan is not lying?

But instead of just reading that statement, imagine that you actually met Epimenides, and he said to you personally: "All Cretans are liars." Your first reaction might be to wonder why, being a Cretan, would he say that, even if he thought it was true. And secondly, does he mean all Cretans always lie, or that no Cretan always tells the truth, or no Cretan ever tells the truth?

Your "emotional" and intuitive brain areas are thus examining signals reflecting the degree of probability that the statement is or is not reliable, as reliability is the key concept here. In a face to face encounter, these parts of the brain will automatically consider multiple scenarios, such as the speaker's motives, rather than operate from a presumption that the statement will be either true or false. It's the "rational" brain's assumption that things have to be one or the other that creates the apparent paradox.

"Paradox" has been defined as an assertion that is essentially self-contradictory, though based on a valid deduction from acceptable premises. And of course there's no paradox if Epimenides is simply lying about being a liar. Or if he is simply wrong and doesn't see the contradiction implicit in his also being a Cretan. But because we can't make a valid deduction without having more evidence available, we will intuitively treat the statement as unreliable, yet not necessarily know why, or know how to resolve the apparent contradictions.

Clearly, an assumptive premise that a thing is either true or false would be the flaw in this process, and without the input from the rest of the brain that the statement may be deliberately deceptive, for example, the rational brain, given that initial premise, would have a harder time realizing that this additional aspect of assessing "reliability" can be in fact the key to the problem.

The inference to be drawn here is that a "true or false" assessment alone is not sufficient as part of a successful investigative strategy. It is reliability that we are seeking through these strategies, and the concepts of "true" and "reliable" are not interchangeable. Truth is a part of the reliability assessment, but the main component is the degree of predictability involved. The brain is essentially a predictor of consequences, and the reliability of these predictions is more important to it than assessments of whether they are simply right or wrong.

Aphorism for thought: We might find more truth in a search for reliability, than find reliability in a search for the truth.

As to the paradox per se, here's its simplest form: "This sentence is false." Is it true? If so, it's false. Is it false? If so, it's true. My own solution: It's not necessary that it's either, especially if it's both. Because it's simply true that it's false. Or not so simply.
Because it's not false that it's true.

Monday, May 28, 2007

Do We Muse In Multiple?

I read an article in Scientific American (6-2007) concerning "The Traveler's Dilemma" and the application of game theory to its solution, and found it of value as an an exercise in showing that the form of logic used by game theorists is - at least in this case - less than careful in guarding against false premises, as the assumptions behind the premises involved were themselves based on an inaccurate assessment of actual human behavior.

And to me, the greatest error in these predictions appeared to stem from a belief or assumption that human brains calculate from one or two premises or inferences that are complimentary and follow a linear or at best bilinear logical process to a hierarchy of possible/probable solutions.

We may receive that impression through awareness of a stream of consciousness that seems to rise from a single source or result from a common analytical process. But more than likely we are seeing elements from several thought trains as they intersect with our consciousness for a variety of monitoring purposes. And what we don't see is the final arbitration process in the emotional and otherwise unconscious brain areas.

Because it's fairly clear, in my view, that our brains operate from multiple suppositions, some complimentary and some antagonistic, and the "logical" processes follow multilinear and complex routes in both competitive and cooperative fashions to "solve" the same or different aspects of the same or different immediate problems. Survival needs for the here and now have not permitted us the luxury of doing one thing at a time, so to speak.

Why would I presume the above to be true, or at least highly probable? To me that's not the right question, as it's clear from recent brain-imaging experiments alone that there's more than one "module" of the mind acting at the same time to address the same given problem, but with different strategic parameters. But intuition should have told us that, if nothing else. The real question is the extent to which this is happening.

I would speculate this extent involves the need the brain has - and that certain individual's brains may develop - for the number of multiple processes that most efficiently deal with what have been the most urgent and pressing needs for solutions through each species' evolutionary "experience."

Perhaps the more deceptive and therefor dangerous the environment, the more need for separate "modules" and/or biological "algorithms" to operate concurrently to overcome these dangers and form a consensus as to the most trustworthy paths to take in each instance. But as we may find there are limits to the efficacy of decisions made by committee, there are doubtless limitations to these processes in each species' nervous systems and brains for the same general reasons.

Factoring in what scientists have now observed about the brain's structure, it would appear a viable proposition that any biological systems which could have developed such a multiple "algorithmic" mechanism would have gained a distinct competitive advantage. And because we're becoming more and more aware that the progress of evolution is fueled as much by need as by happy accident, what is both possible and valuable to that progression might well be probable.

2-20-2008: I regard the following item as offering a modicum of support for the above speculative musings:

Nature Reviews Neuroscience
March 2008 Volume 9 Number 3

"There is a growing consensus that different types of memory are mediated by multiple distinct systems, but how these 'multiple memory systems' are organized in the brain is still a topic of debate. Nature Reviews Neuroscience presents a series of articles that discuss recent findings and controversies regarding the neural substrates of different memory systems and their components, drawing on data from neuropsychological, cognitive, neuroimaging and animal studies."

I wish I had access to the complete series, but as of now, I don't.