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January 26, 2011

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George Mobus

Would be commentators:

I've gotten at least one report of difficulties encountered with the Typepad editor and failure to be able to post a comment. I've actually experienced this myself in responding to other comments in other posts. If you experience a problem, please let me know at George DOT Mobus AT gmail DOT com.

Meanwhile, you can try writing your comment in a separate editor and then pasting into the Typepad editor window. I've done that several times and it seems to work.

George

Georgi Marinov

It's quite a conundrum indeed.

Basically, if civilization is to survive, we need an amount of social engineering that has never been seen before. Without social engineering from on top, things will simply slide into complete chaos if left on their own so top-down social engineering is absolutely required. But social engineering is a dirty word in almost everyone's mind because of the legacy of the totalitarian regimes of the last century. And the legacy of the totalitarian regimes is what it is not because they were totalitarian, nothing prevented Stalin from ruling without the kind of repressions that he implemented (he got rid of some of his most loyal people just because they were getting dangerously popular in his own eyes, how is that necessary??). The problem is that there is no way a sapient person of the kind you like to talk about can get that much power without the whole society becoming sapient - in a society like ours, it is only the ultra-paranoid obsessed with power types that can do it (revolutions tend to select for that psychological profile particularly efficiently), and those are not the people that can direct the kind of change that's needed simply because that's the last thing on their mind. Actually, nobody could even if you or I were, by some magic, to become dictators of the whole world because the needed changes in attitudes and expectations are so fundamental that whoever tries to enforce them will get quickly swept by the wave of mass outrage.

So the council of elders can only come into existence if everyone agrees that that's the way to go, but everyone could agree on that only if everyone understands why that's necessary, which can not happen unless there is a sufficiently strong force to effect that change in mentality on a sufficiently large scale. But such force neither exists, nor anything remotely approaching it can come into existence. Because you have to fight with millions of other human beings trying to maximize their societal status led by their basic evolutionary urges, and since your goal is to get them not to do that in the name of the long-term future, that's a battle you are always going to lose - it's like a Jainism practitioner against a heavyweight boxing champion...

The outlook is pretty bleak...

George Mobus

Georgi,

The problem is that there is no way a sapient person of the kind you like to talk about can get that much power without the whole society becoming sapient...

In which case no one need be seen as having any power other than that of foresight and great judgment!

But this point is exactly why I claim there are no feasible solutions to save Homo sapiens. The only way out of this conundrum is the evolution of the genus to Homo eusapiens. My hope remains that the coming stresses on the biosphere and humanity will act as the selective factors that favor higher sapience. Of course only time (and a lot of it) will tell.

In the meantime, the crash of civilization, followed by the crash of the species (a bottleneck event) is, in my view, almost inevitable. At least I am not able to see a way out or around.

As you say, the outlook is bleak, at least for Homo sapiens.

George

Mark Twain

To start with, here's a quote from Mr. Twain, that reflects some parts of your excellent post:

In religion and politics people's beliefs and convictions are in almost every case gotten at second-hand, and without examination, from authorities who have not themselves examined the questions at issue but have taken them at second-hand from other non-examiners, whose opinions about them were not worth a brass farthing.

In reading your post, I am stuck on the exploration of the overlapping domains and your definition of intellect as the location where all 4 domains overlap. I keep thinking that there is another element/domain needed, which you do discuss, but do not include in the diagram:

We also use judgment. That is, we use tacit knowledge to steer our decision processing in directions that pertain to a larger and older context.

To my mind, without what you categorize as "judgement" no wisdom is possible. But, I don't see it as that simple - it really is a fifth domain, not a result of the intermingling of the other domains (plus intellect).

My argument is that those that we hold in high regard as "brilliant" or "genius" are those who possessed an uncanny judgement that multiplied their intellect many times over. Einstein comes to mind as an easy example. As does Twain.

Their insight - their uncanny judgement - allowed them to glimpse what I refer to as "simple truths": ideas that, once you hear them, are so essential that you understand them completely. Perhaps, I should even say that one "groks" them - or that the genius "grokked" them and shared their insight with the rest of us.

This is a great post, George. I have more that I'd like to discuss, but this idea of "judgement" as a distinct domain is what I want to flesh out further (for my own understanding). That your explanation, while excellent in many regards, is missing this piece. And, without this piece, Homo eusapiens is not possible. It is as important as the other 4 domains (plus intellect).

Mr. Twain discussed this idea. An intellect needs something external (this idea of "judgement" or "experience" or ???) in order to work properly (or, at all!).

A man's brain (intellect) is stored powder; it cannot be touched off itself; the fire must come from the outside.

As always, thanks for the excellent thinking and writing, George. But, mostly, thanks for the excellent thinking.

John Dyer

My pet peeve is that for most people it is a given fact- a law of nature if you will- that the economy MUST oscillate in an ever increasing upward trend. We had a recession; it intuitively follows that a recovery must occur after. Therefore we must be in a recovery. No critical thinking required!

George Mobus

Mark,

In my series of working papers on sapience, the third in the series breaks sapience down into its components. Judgment, is a prime component of sapience. See: Sapience Components.

Judgment is the generally subconscious application of our acquired tacit models of how the world works to provide what amounts to top-down guidance to decision making. Since I wrote that paper, I have been delving into the efficacy of judgment a great deal more, especially the deficits caused by inherent biases in the brain. I am currently delving into the "Heuristics and Biases: The Psychology of Intuitive Judgment", edited by Gilovich, Griffin, & Kahneman, work first made famous by Kahneman and Tversky. It is intriguing to me that the higher sapience level in some human beings may be due to brain circuits (in Brodmann area 10) that are able to counteract or diminish the impact of biases by supplementing the ordinary heuristics (e.g. anchor and adjust) with more efficacious processing. One possibility is that more sapient people simply have better models of how the world works so that when they apply model-based heuristics the results are simply closer to the real world situation than for ordinary folk. For example, in the anchor and adjust heuristic, the source of biases is from inadequate adjustment. This can be shown to be either from inadequate background (tacit) knowledge (naivete) or from not funneling adequate processing resources to the adjustment process, leading to less than realistic solutions.

I plan to rewrite my paper one of these days to include this body of research as it strengthens my claim that ordinary Homo sapiens have too many lingering (evolutionarily) impediments to really superior judgment, i.e. inadequate sapience.

George

George Mobus

John,

Don't we find that most people judge the future based on their understanding of the past?

In my comment response to Mark, above, I mentioned the heuristics and biases work of Kahneman and Tversky (and many others since). One such heuristic is to simply ignore counterfactuals. If a pattern has always been seen in the past (we always spiral upward) and becomes part of the zeitgeist model of the times, then most people are going to have real trouble imagining any alternative (counterfactual) such as we could spiral downward in the future. Curiously, even some people strongly trained in statistical methods (and reasoning) often fail to consider counterfactuals in predicting the future based on probabilities of occurrences. The evidence suggests (strongly) that we are simply not wired to generate counterfactual hypotheses when thinking about the future!

And, critical thinking requires effort. Most people also suffer from the sense of truthiness(!) or bias toward what they already believe and are, for the most part, too intellectually lazy to apply the effort (hence the subject of this post).

Of course we should not beat ourselves up (or others) just because our average genetically endowed wiring diagram doesn't often include the right circuits to counteract our proclivities (inherited from the late Pleistocene) to laziness. We are what we are. The only route out is evolution of greater sapience.

George

mikkel

George, I have a couple of general modifiers about "wisdom" to see if you have written/have thoughts about them.

Critical mass of cooperation: For many things in life the action that maximizes individual outcome depends on how many other people are doing it. If enough people do the right revolutionary thing the system is better overall, but until that tipping point anyone that tries is punished severely. I should also note that systems that are too cooperative tend to be fragile to cheating.

Time preference: maximizing short term gain reduces long term gain while working for the long term can give better outcomes but also leaves you vulnerable to circumstances changing before you have any gain.

Aging/parenting: as I grow up I'm becoming more sensitive to how different priorities are based on age and parental status. I know a lot of very intellectual people that feel completely constrained from doing what they know is right because their external obligations give them a short term time preference and they are very wary of getting punished for nothing if there isn't a larger groundswell. Moreover, most of the people that have the resources to do anything functionally different won't be around to see it so they are very much about protecting what they have because they only see the opportunity for loss.

Short of an immortal or hive mind species, don't these basic truths suggest that societal sapience is fundamentally impossible?

Odum's power maximizing principle perfectly explains our behavior and in genetic algorithms, we see the same "human" actions arise out of basic rules of competition + natural selection.

What if it's just computational and not psychological?

Florifulgurator

Methinks a crucial characteristic of the "American brand of democracy" is the two party system. Being cemented by a pre-telegraph age voting system, there is no chance for a third party to emerge. Thus no chance for any meaningful "middle ground".

Being a duel of parties, political discourse almost inevitably dumbs down to bickering and posturing.

In a triel of parties, there's an incentive to score by pointing out the bickering and posturing of the others. So, there might even be an incentive for educated politicians to educate the voters.

Sometimes reality can function as a third party. Alas it seems when reality speaks up in obvious and unequivocal terms even the 'Merrican politician can't weasel around, then it is too late.

----------------

Actually methinks the SOTU wasn't that dismal:
1) It was perhaps political smartness that Obama avoided pointing at a reality (climate change, peak oil) evaded by a large fraction of folks.
2) Instead he focussed on solutions. (Talking about "clean coal" doesn't hurt, for it is nonexistent.)
3) Talking about cancelling fossil fuel subventions sure is a smart idea: 3.1) It would be an ersatz tax on fossil fuels, 3.2) He turned the Reds' budget cut promises against them. Now they look stupid.

George Mobus

Mikkel,

What if it's just computational and not psychological?

Afraid you lost me here. I was with you on the aspects of trade offs. But I don't understand what you mean by a dichotomy between psychological and computational.

----------------------------
Flor,

May be political savvy but reality won't care how smart it seemed. No matter how you slice it, the political process is broken.

George

mikkel

George, I mean that since we have identified non-sapient strategies in non-cognitive species (even simulated ones) that perhaps it is a fundamental property that the winner in any evolutionary scenario will always eventually destroy the environment if it has too good of an adaptation.

It is an inquiry about this part:

"But high sapience is not what our species possesses. At least not at present. The end will come and the destruction will ensue. Strong arms will win in the short run, but wisdom will prevail in the long run. There will still be remote pockets of wise people who saw it coming and prepared. "

I'm asking if "wisdom" as you define it is even theoretically possible in groups as a whole due to the points in my first comment. We can identify those as psychological preferences in humanity but the fact is that those preferences make computational sense for "winning" in the evolutionary sense and I don't see any way that will change.

In an attempt to be more explicit, there is the argument that any cognitive alien species we meet will be cooperative and benign because interstellar space travel requires extraordinary technology and mindboggling resources. If the aliens were competitive then they would have surely destroyed themselves or the environment before they mastered space travel -- or so the theory goes.

But a corollary is that any species that was inherently cooperative would never evolve to higher intelligence or become a dominant force on their planet because it is a poor evolutionary strategy for those purposes.

Thus arises the idea that the Singularity -- with its universal and instantaneous psychological enlightenment -- is the only conceivable way that there could ever be a long term successful species. So, basically magic.

I hope this makes sense. It is widespread enough that I know a lot of science fiction books use either the Singularity or immortal or incorporeal species as a plot device to get space travel started (and then of course that technology falls into the hands of the lesser species).

Maybe sapience is just impossible? I would point out that a huge number of the historically wise have said that very thing.

Georgi Marinov
Short of an immortal or hive mind species, don't these basic truths suggest that societal sapience is fundamentally impossible?

Odum's power maximizing principle perfectly explains our behavior and in genetic algorithms, we see the same "human" actions arise out of basic rules of competition + natural selection.

Posted by: mikkel | January 30, 2011 at 09:46 PM

The above is mostly correct - our biobehavioral characteristics are such right now that we are set up for self-destruction. And there is a cooperative effect that works in the opposite way of what you describe - humans will cooperate with other individuals immediately surrounding them but will fiercely compete with other groups.

Hive species achieve such a level of altruism through some very serious genetically encoded modifications of their behavior that take a lot of time to evolve. And it is far from certain that we would like to become a hive species - hive species overshoot and collapse just as other species, they just do in groups, so more altruism alone won't make a difference. More altruism today would mean, for example, the rich sharing their wealth with the poor. That would be a very admirable and necessary thing to do that they should be doing, but it won't help solve the basic problem which is that in the not so distant future there won't be enough for the survival of both today's rich and poor at any level of consumption.

My understanding is that George's hope is that after the bottleneck a new "sapient" species will emerge. I am not so optimistic because while bottleneck events indeed often have very serious consequences for the evolution of populations, there is no guarantee that all of the following will be in place:

1. There will be surviving humans after the bottleneck (there is a non-zero chance that we will be extinct by the end of next, maybe even this century, depending on how dumb we are in the next 50-60 years)

2. There will be selective pressure towards that sapience.

3. There will be sufficiently large selective pressure combined with sufficiently large population size for that selection to take place. By its very definition, a bottleneck would mean a greatly diminished effective population size (Ne), even more so with the fragmentation and limited mobility of human populations in a post-collapse world, and small Ne means that the power of selection will be very weak. The kind of event we can envision will, if anything result in random fixation of variants in the genome, not so much fixation as result of selection unless that selection is extremely strong.

4. Selection will be present everywhere or if it's not, that the groups that evolve "sapience" will be able to outcompete those that don't.

5. However, there is no guarantee that is is even possible to select for "sapience" - for that to happen, there have to be genetic variants in the current population that predispose towards sapience; there is no reason to think that's the case, it may very well be simply a function of the education, information and personal experience of the people that we can classify as "sapient" right now, with no connection to genes whatsoever.

GaryA

Georgi; interesting comments.
Perhaps accelerated sideways cultural evolution combined with epigenetic selection can induce sapience? (I dont believe judgement/wisdom can be tought)
Perhaps 'the crash' will be longer term racheting crumble of civilisation and like a drug addict,the longevity of the crisis will push towards self analysis?
We all as individuals cerebrally evolve; our personal experiences and chance intellectual finds propel us foward. The selection pressure for complexity/intelligence must be phenomonally strong for homogeneous hydrogen plasma to condense into a living planet and human brains in 13.7 billion years!
Maybe the collapse of civilisation (just like its rise) is an inevitable intrinsic stage of this selective pressure to a greater self awareness of the universe?
George would say thats a very teleogical way of thinking and I would agree. I believe too much cosmological and biology theorising is to circumnavigate and banish all teleology. I'm not suggesting ID or Gods or any external agency more a form of evolutionary animism; matter complexifys itself to higher and higher states given the right conditions-and catastrophy events propells that complexifing (life) force forward.

The more I think teleogically rather than excused 'telenomonally' the more radical possibilities emerge.

Florifulgurator

Gary & Georgi,
methinks it more likely there will be evolutionary pressure towards sapience: First, like Gary methinks it plausible there will not be a sudden crash, but a crumble. Second, after the bottleneck, when all is spoiled and wasted, how else to survive and multiply than by careful "stewardship" and repair of what is left of nature.

On naturalist teleology and purpose, there's e.g. the writings of biologist Stanley N. Salthe. The key is off-equilibrium thermodynamics.

Georgi Marinov
We all as individuals cerebrally evolve; our personal experiences and chance intellectual finds propel us foward. The selection pressure for complexity/intelligence must be phenomonally strong for homogeneous hydrogen plasma to condense into a living planet and human brains in 13.7 billion years!

Actually that's no quite the case - if anything, selection weeds out too much complexity. The power of selection is directly proportional to the effective size of the population (Ne). The organisms with largest Ne are bacteria and bacteria have remained small and relatively simple for billions of years, precisely because of that. While it can be shown that the best explanation for most of the complexities we see in eukaryotes and multicellular organisms is the combination of small Ne and the resulting random non-adaptive fixation events.

That's a very good book on the subject

http://www.amazon.com/Origins-Genome-Architecture-Michael-Lynch/dp/0878934847

BTW, that came quite as a shock to biologists, so much of a shock that it still hasn't found its way to textbooks and you pretty much have to be in the subject professionally to know these things. You can imagine given how hard it is to teach evolution in school as it is, how much harder it would be to talk about these things and explain how humans are the result of a long series of maladaptive traits being fixed because of their small Ne. Which is very unfortunate, because that's one of the scientific results with greatest relevance to understanding who we are and why we're here and everyone should be familiar with it.

George would say thats a very teleogical way of thinking and I would agree. I believe too much cosmological and biology theorising is to circumnavigate and banish all teleology. I'm not suggesting ID or Gods or any external agency more a form of evolutionary animism; matter complexifys itself to higher and higher states given the right conditions-and catastrophy events propells that complexifing (life) force forward.

The reason biologists hate teleology is that of all science, biology is where teleological thinking has done the most harm. It is very natural and tempting to apply teleological thinking in biology but it universally fails spectacularly, which is why people in biology have gotten very sensitive to it. But it's by no means an organized campaign against teleological thinking

George Mobus

Mikkel,

Here is what I think I see happening. Homo sapiens evolved during a time when group selection favored grandparenting wherein the older generation could pass on acquired knowledge to their children's children (c.f. Grandmother hypothesis) There was, I think, strong selective pressure to increase the capacity of grandparents to pass on wisdom to their grandchildren and that was the origin of sapience, evolutionarily. This corresponds with the enlargement of Brodmann area 10 in the prefrontal cortex. So I think there is a perfectly sound explanation for the origins of sapience in human evolution.

Now the questions are: a) what happened to turn the selection pressures off (because we don't see any further development of sapience in modern humans) and b) what might turn it on again?

The first question is answered by examining the effects of cultural-biological co-evolution after the advent of agriculture (about 10 to 12k years before present). Our species had also been selected for extreme cleverness and the ability to invent solutions to local, short-term problems such as how to increase and assure our food supply. But this very invention changed the selection pressures on sapience and we became, as it were, evolutionarily stunted.

Prior to agriculture, group selection favored cooperation and altruistic behaviors. There would always be the occasional throwback, of course. Genetics works that way. But by and large, humans were evolving toward a new form of biological integration (somewhat like eusocial insects had, but based now on insight and motive - moral sentiment). Then our cleverness in inventing social mechanisms changed our own world and changed the kind of selection pressures that had been in effect to those that favored short-term planing and local optimization solutions.

In this play it is never the case that anything is purely to one extreme or the other. Our culture favors some mix of cooperation and competition. In more sapient individuals I think cooperation is emphasized while in the possibly more dominant version of Homo sapiens the competitive urges are favored. In biological populations you need not choose one extreme or the other. Both are represented but in different proportions depending on the selection pressures.

I am not much of a fan of the singularity notions - too religious for my tastes. My thoughts are that there are a small but potentially powerful number of individuals who are much more sapient than the majority (not unlike there being more and lesser intelligent individuals in the population). What I am positing is that these individuals, once self-aware of their attributes, will aggregate and prepare for the coming bottleneck in such a way that they will be positioned to pass on their genetic endowment (higher sapience) to future generations. No singularity needed. Just wisdom.

----------------------------

Georgi,

Perhaps my comments above help a bit. I am not suggesting that the emergence of eusapience will be a passive event in evolutionary terms. Rather, I'm suggesting that eusapient-tending individuals will, before the bottleneck, take necessary actions to ensure their survival.

In a sense this is a test of eusapience itself. Though I don't really like the term, a 'pre-adaptation' in anticipation of an environment that will only be survived by clever beings (as opposed to all other of 'god's' creatures!) by high levels of good judgment.

You are certainly correct that there are no guarantees of any particular outcome. But what I am suggesting is that we may witness (or rather the world may witness) a new kind of evolution in which the evolving creatures (us) play a more active role in setting up the conditions of selection. There is precedence. Physical evolution gave rise to chemical evolution and that to biological evolution. There is no reason to assume that we (humans) are stuck in biological-only evolution.

Some philosophers of evolution have noted that with the advent of human consciousness evolution has come to recognize itself. What are the implications?

----------------------------

GaryA,

Mikkel,

Here is what I think I see happening. Homo sapiens evolved during a time when group selection favored grandparenting wherein the older generation could pass on acquired knowledge to their children's children (c.f. Grandmother hypothesis) There was, I think, strong selective pressure to increase the capacity of grandparents to pass on wisdom to their grandchildren and that was the origin of sapience, evolutionarily. This corresponds with the enlargement of Brodmann area 10 in the prefrontal cortex. So I think there is a perfectly sound explanation for the origins of sapience in human evolution.

Now the questions are: a) what happened to turn the selection pressures off (because we don't see any further development of sapience in modern humans) and b) what might turn it on again?

The first question is answered by examining the effects of cultural-biological co-evolution after the advent of agriculture (about 10 to 12k years before present). Our species had also been selected for extreme cleverness and the ability to invent solutions to local, short-term problems such as how to increase and assure our food supply. But this very invention changed the selection pressures on sapience and we became, as it were, evolutionarily stunted.

Prior to agriculture, group selection favored cooperation and altruistic behaviors. There would always be the occasional throwback, of course. Genetics works that way. But by and large, humans were evolving toward a new form of biological integration (somewhat like eusocial insects had, but based now on insight and motive - moral sentiment). Then our cleverness in inventing social mechanisms changed our own world and changed the kind of selection pressures that had been in effect to those that favored short-term planing and local optimization solutions.

In this play it is never the case that anything is purely to one extreme or the other. Our culture favors some mix of cooperation and competition. In more sapient individuals I think cooperation is emphasized while in the possibly more dominant version of Homo sapiens the competitive urges are favored. In biological populations you need not choose one extreme or the other. Both are represented but in different proportions depending on the selection pressures.

I am not much of a fan of the singularity notions - too religious for my tastes. My thoughts are that there are a small but potentially powerful number of individuals who are much more sapient than the majority (not unlike there being more and lesser intelligent individuals in the population). What I am positing is that these individuals, once self-aware of their attributes, will aggregate and prepare for the coming bottleneck in such a way that they will be positioned to pass on their genetic endowment (higher sapience) to future generations. No singularity needed. Just wisdom.

----------------------------

Georgi,

Perhaps my comments above help a bit. I am not suggesting that the emergence of eusapience will be a passive event in evolutionary terms. Rather, I'm suggesting that eusapient-tending individuals will, before the bottleneck, take necessary actions to ensure their survival.

In a sense this is a test of eusapience itself. Though I don't really like the term, a 'pre-adaptation' in anticipation of an environment that will only be survived by clever beings (as opposed to all other of 'god's' creatures!) by high levels of good judgment.

You are certainly correct that there are no guarantees of any particular outcome. But what I am suggesting is that we may witness (or rather the world may witness) a new kind of evolution in which the evolving creatures (us) play a more active role in setting up the conditions of selection. There is precedence. Physical evolution gave rise to chemical evolution and that to biological evolution. There is no reason to assume that we (humans) are stuck in biological-only evolution.

Some philosophers of evolution have noted that with the advent of human consciousness evolution has come to recognize itself. What are the implications?

----------------------------

GaryA,

The more I think teleogically rather than excused 'telenomonally' the more radical possibilities emerge.

Not sure on the use of the term 'excused'. This is a deep philosophical consideration. If I interpret your meaning correctly it seems you are saying that teleonomy is a 'weak' rationalization for holding onto teleological explanations. Correct me if I am wrong.

For myself, I find teleonomy to be a satisfying solution to the problem of teleology. My perspective comes from that of Harold Morowitz and the "Flow of Energy in Biology" in which the flow of energy drives systems toward higher organization and lower entropy. What looks like a purposive process turns out to be a consequence of thermodynamics and systems far from equilibrium. The appearance of teleology is actually explained by a teleonomic process. As I said, correct me if I've misinterpreted.

----------------------------

Flor,

Thanks much for the link. I plan to read his thoughts.

----------------------------

Georgi,

Thanks also for the link. The issue of the evolution of (e.g. increase in) complexity is extremely subtle. I will delve more into Lynch's perspective, but have developed my own view of complexity and it's "management" in a systems approach. I have been writing about this in my book on systems science and hope to have a broader reading in 2012. I attempt to resolve the apparent dichotomy between the success of bacteria (for example) and higher-order multicellular organisms like us. I am not sure how non-adaptive fixation events actually explain the rise of multicellular evolution. In my own view the issue is the resolution of hierarchical control of complex systems, e.g. that a new level of coordination emerges to allow the settling in of higher complexity (for the purpose of maintaining dissipation). Have much work to do on that.

George

GaryA

George
My point about teleonomy is that it can be viewed (and used) as a convenient way of explaining away the problem of teleology.

Back to my point about a universe full of thermodynamically homogenous hydrogen plasma becoming conscious of itself in 13.7 billion years. We forget to be astonished by this brute fact!
What are the statistical chances of this emerging by random ionic, atomic and molecular collisions albeit aided by far-from-equilibrium thermodynamics? There has to be a ‘complexifing’ force acting on emergence.
The fact that it rebounds after every successive geological global catastrophe event with (eventual) renewed vigour suggests it is immensely powerful.
Is consciousness a fundamental emergent property of the universe or is it an inconsequential fluke? What is the purpose of nature? There is a tendency among some scientists to see such questions as a form of intellectual neurosis; that questions of meaning, purpose and even any ‘whys’ cannot be answered and should not be asked.
Some would say thats a form of intellectual cowardice!

I would suggest consciousness; via humans is terraformimg this planet as much as cyanobactreria did in the Archean eon. It has every appearance of an immensely powerful evolutionary trait and perhaps traits do not arise randomly but for an environmental purpose.
I realise I’m wandering into strictly philosophical territory here and I have run out of my lunch hour. Thanks to all for the stimulation and I will read the links ASAP.

Florifulgurator

GaryA: I like to think the ultimate purpose of consciousness is help keeping the biosphere running as Sun grows hotter.
The biosphere lifetime estimates range from 100Myr (Lovelock & Whitfield 1982) to around 1Gyr (Caldeira & Kasting 1992, Lenton & Bloh 2001). So, there's some time left for true sapience to emerge...

George Mobus

GaryA,

There has to be a ‘complexifing’ force acting on emergence.

Having read the works of both Pierre Teilhard de Chardin (complexification) and Harold Morowitz (Energy flow in biology) I would prefer to think that there are completely non-teleological ways to view these phenomena. Teilhard believed in a pulling force (the Omega point - Christ consciousness) that was responsible for the noosphere emerging from the biosphere. But a more prosaic view of emergence driven by energy flow dynamics (Morowitz) works as well to explain increased complexity and the emergence of intelligence, etc. I have explored this in the nature of hierarchical control theory.

Ultimately philosophical and scientific perspectives have to reconcile. My own search is to find that reconciliation and make it explicit.

------------------------------
Flor,

We'll hope for the latter estimate!

George

Ron Smith

I have begun reading your working papers on Sapience, a.k.a. Wisdom, and have not yet found a specific definition of what you mean by that term. The closest I have seen so far is:
"We need to have a better handle on how to use our cleverness, how to modulate and appropriately use our emotions and feelings, to make life sustaining decisions for humanity and the Ecos."

I am somewhat puzzled how this differs in any fundamental way from what you call mere cleverness that is applied to long term problems instead of just short term ones. I like to think of myself as being wise, at least more so than the bulk of people I encounter. And, if it is any indication, other people have said the same of me. However I do not see my wisdom as being the direct result of any capacity that others are lacking, rather it is the indirect result of my applying my intellect, cleverness if you like, which, perhaps, I do have more of than most, to larger scope, long term, questions and problems instead of local immediate ones. Maybe one could claim that my preference for building and examining Big Picture models of my environment, for example my interest in philosophy, is a result of some innate wisdom, even if the thought process I use is not demonstrably different than the processes I use when figuring out how to solve a mechanical problem in a household device.

I tend to think instead that the preference I have for Big Picture questions is simply the result of 'taste', by which I mean genetic predispositions to find some kinds of problems more interesting than others. Those problems (of any type) that I do apply my problem solving capacity to I seem to have a greater chance of coming up with solutions, sometimes novel, than most other people do. When I achieve this sort of result in regards to interpersonal relationships, psychological, or philosophical questions, I am called wise. I am not claiming to be an expert or original thinker in these subjects, just that my conclusions are generally better thought out than most peoples, and they can often recognize this.

My point is that this 'wisdom' is not the result of some special capacity, but rather my application of what you call cleverness to issues that most people, even people as clever or more so than myself, do not seem to be as interested in.

On the other hand I will admit there is one difference I have noticed when contemplating such issues. These issues tend to carry a significant emotional component, that is to say I have to carefully examine my conclusions to filter out influences by the less evolved parts of my brain that tend to favor simple knee jerk solutions.

Now perhaps this is what you are referring to as Sapience? The capacity to carry out such filtering?

There might be something to that, but I would need some convincing. To me it still seems just an application of 'cleverness' to the problem of filtering out emotional content, motivated by my particular interest in questions that need such filtering.

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