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Understanding The World We Find Ourselves In
Posted by Tony on 11th May 2015 at 14:12:47
Understanding The World We Find Ourselves In
an attempted short cut through too many dot points

The following is an accelerated attempt to lay out a path to some currently held positions that have been informed by many incompletely developed stories which need, for this purpose, to be taken as read. The major stories were identified in Connecting Dots. Many will not be explicitly referenced here, but that does not reduce their importance in reaching those currently held positions.

There are two important horizons to what we can know. The first can be an unhelpful truism that as individuals there is a sense in which everything we think we know is a creation of our cerebral neuron network. But given the assumption that there are others like us functioning in a shared external reality which is accesible to sensory and scientific examination, all the information directly available to us is still mediated by electro-magnetism. Even the other nowadays confidently discussed "fundamental forces" only show themselves through their effects on photons and outer shell electrons, not directly to our senses. So this scientific view is very much a product of theory-laden observation, although I am confident that view is far less biased than most views informed by more traditional sources. And we are in an information explosion which requires our minds to be more concerned with indexing external information stores than about trying to retain everything internally.

So what really underpins the world we find ourselves in? Despite the information explosion, it often seems we are making very little progress towards a persuasive account of fundamentals. While I do have my own crude model of evolutionary cosmogenesis, the only point here is to explore some of the persistent obstacles to even asking the right questions. Starting with the weak anthropic principle, we have an obviously true statement that our world must allow us to exist. Yet even that is resisted from both sides: by those who are either uncomfortable with basic physics being constrained by anything so far removed from its fundamentals; and by those who want to strengthen it to the point of insisting that our existence is the defining purpose. Stepping back even further, the question becomes why is there something rather than nothing which leads us into trouble with confusion as to what is meant by "nothing"?

It is challenging to try to strip thoughts about non-existence right back. It is particularly hard to imagine anything below the notion of "empty" three dimensional space with a clock ticking that best approximates our lived experience, albeit in air. My extensive experiments with cellular automata and similar, toy worlds with alternative physics, eventually showed it was more productive to think of what are generally known as "dead" cells as "empty" instead. The common bond of empty 3D vacuum and such empty cells is that they facilitate the passage of many entities unimpeded. This suggest they are a long way from the "nothing" we are trying to reach. You can finish up asking not just where space, time, energy and matter came from, but where the rules governing their behaviour also came from? Again the point is that it is a legitimate question, not that we should imagine we are in sight of an answer. So lets move on to some fundamentals we can be more confident in.

Those aforementioned experiments have been for the purpose of better understanding emergence in complex systems, a challenge which is definitive for biology and nowadays equally recognised in the domain of social sciences, where it can be even more accessible, sans ethical issues, and in condensed body, especially planetary, physics. Despite such obvious universality of a range of principles, they are widely assumed irrelevant to "fundamental" physics of the smallest and largest scales. Given experience of cellular automata it is easier to think of our world as everywhere occupied with producing its next local state from its previous local neighbourhood state, where "neighbourhood" is limited by the speed of light. While space can be asymptotically empty, it is the non empty bits that hold most of our attention, demanding explanation and classification.

Top level classification identifies order, chaos and something that isn't exactly either but is often labeled "complexity" and which includes us. Such order involves generally cyclic predictability. Such chaos is inherently unpredictable. My work strongly suggests that complexity occurs where order and chaos can apply depending on local configuration. Empty space and empty cells are peak order. While I have found diverse examples of dynamic boundaries in overwhelmingly fragile cellular automata, contested boundaries are much easier to study on a more resilient planetary surface. Theoretical focus falls naturally on strongly repeated patterns such as those found in biological evolution and development. Much less focus is placed on the often opportunistic processes of succession where repetition is only ever fractional. The trigger to exploring this short cut was a growing realisation that there might be even more practical knowledge to be obtained through recognising the commonalities between succession processes across domains as in more stable and repeatable corners.

All that hard earned knowing would be next to useless if it failed to inform some effective actions in whatever little time I might have left to try. While there will always an underlying goal of promoting wider appreciation of supervenience as a framing for understanding the power of applied reflection to act in the world, I am trying to reign in my practical activities to serve three more specific targets. Firstly I want to help undermine the paternalistic framing that promotes this mining profit fantasy driven third round genocide by descendents of the British occupation against Australian aboriginal nations. A constructive first step might be to pay a reasonable rent for their land we occupy, say 2.5% of our income which is much less than we traditionally paid to the churches that were so complicit in round two. My second among equals priority is to remove both the oxymoronic conjunction of and separately the doctrines of sustainable and growth from the relationship between human society and the unmanaged natural world which nurtured our ancestors. This demands rewilding vast swathes of continents and oceans which could coexist with more than adequate food and housing given another 2.5% tithe, albeit globally. My third might seem on the surface to fly in the face of the other two, but going away isn't a real option, so I would really like to continue contributing to community-based approaches to improving planning for Melbourne and hinterland.

Just getting to this point has required acceptance of uncomfortable facts. As the once proud holder of an office five levels abstracted from reality, Review Officer, Standards and Review Section, Information Technology Department, Bureau of Meteorology, Australian Government, the realisation of the degree to which naive white collar hegemony devalues real work in favour of professional skimming comes as a challenge. But in terms of public good, one palliative care nurse is worth ten accountants, one bus driver is worth ten lawyers. While I don't doubt my white collar colleagues are well intentioned, they believe their own publicity monopoly and play roles that can only be described as parasitic. Another way to frame this is in terms of the map and the territory. While the map, be it textual, numeric, multimedia or cartographic, has taken on sufficient import to serve as territory for specific studies, the pendulum has swung far too far, now serving the contrived artefact of income redistribution in the wrong direction. Addiction to money is as precarious as any other addiction, especially flying in the face of full equality maximising total happiness. Most challenging of all is the realisation of wider implications of the linguistic map having come to dominate our awareness. While language can be a powerful tool for revealing truth, it is much more efficient at spreading mistruth. And our consequent verbal blindness hides much that even our more distant cousins in the animal world know through other channels.

The verges of the well worn track up river to Jebbs Pool or the near overgrown west track to Cumbo beach, fishing rocks and cave reveal succession processes in your face, reestablishment of local order after disturbance by human or storm following a recognisable pattern with much local variation. Sovereign states have imposed appearances of order on diverse local conditions and practices as a means to ensure prosperity of the centre, oft to levels of destabilising excess. But now in a world where states retain an effective monopoly of force, defeating the spirit of the US Second Amendment without hint of harm reduction, those same states aggressively unshackle a network of businesses based on legalistic misapplication of a notion of personhood and we are supposed to accept that too many rapidly grow too big to fail, now so self assured as to propose assuming extrajudicial veto over government policy in service of potential profit. It seems nothing succeeds like success, at least not until we come up with a better succession process, a planned exit strategy or crash and burn.

After an extremely privileged, indulgent life and despite having long gotten over most materialist incentives, I have to face the serious prospect of not just not seeing as much as I'd like of how it all turns out but also of any capacity to influence rapidly fading. The learnings and friendships from the East West Link battle have been great, but the last thing I want to be remembered for is battles against anything. It's much better to contribute to constructive outcomes, often through challenging preconceptions. The balance of evidence is also tilting uncomfortably towards the likelihood that we might be the only society capable of aspiring to know everything within at least half a billion light years. That ought to encourage us to put self indulgence aside in favour of a commitment not to irredeemably foul our nest while we find a path forward.

Hopefully I will find time to adapt the above to presentation format for wider sharing.

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