Monday, May 29, 2017

Reply to Vedanta Society discussion of types of knowledge

Thank you for posting a review of three types of knowledge according to Vedas/Upanishads. Unfortunately, I read your post when I was on travel for a month, and cannot copy the original, but the issues are important and easy to remember. 

Your post reminded me of warm memories of reading the Hume translation of principal Upanishads in 1963, initially sitting on the concrete floor of the Princeton (undergraduate) library and then later in the house I lived in at Lawrenceville. It also reminds me of a friend who knew Oppenheimer very well, who discussed how Oppenheimer learned Sanskrit just in order to be able to read the Upanishads in the original.

If I understand you correctly, you are reviewing and applying a three-fold classification of knowledge into: (1) knowledge based on direct personal experience (essentially, the flow of direct sensory inputs) to a person; (20 knowledge based on what we impute the experience of others to be, and (3) knowledge based on logical reasoning. As I recall, some parts of the Upanishads suggest that mystical enlightenment, the seeing of the world through many eyes at once ( i.e. the brahman/Atman viewpoint), appears as a manifestation it extension of the third principle, the reasoning.

In 1964, that was my interpretation of what I saw in the Upanishads and in reality. It seemed more elevated and pleasing and logical than the "yoga alternative," present in other parts of the Upanishads, in which enlightenment could be seen "merely" as an extension or manifestation if the first type of knowledge, the direct and substantive personal experience. Sometimes an abstract concept or representation is of real value only to the extent that it "opens our eyes," by enlarging what we consciously see, expanding the power of the direct personal experience. That is how I see this now, after many years of reassessing based on all three types of knowledge.

On netlix there was one great season of a show called "sense8," which ultimately failed commercially (perhaps due to unnecessary confusion and baggage related to sex) but which did contain beautiful images of what it means to see through many eyes at once.

This is not just an academic issue. At the present stage of development of the economy and technology of humanity, the species itself us under very clear threat to its very existence, and traditional concepts of balance of power may not be enough to offer us hope of a sustainable resolution of deep conflicts of ideas. The yogic approach in general (which has manifestations in all the great cultures of the world) is more and more essential, and of course in need of more advanced development.

Just as parts of the ocean nay be mapped according to depth and longitude, not just latitude, the ocean of knowledge can also be mapped according to other dimensions in addition to .., .. and .. For example, there is great value in being mindful of the distinction between knowledge which takes the form of strings of words, versus knowledge which takes a form like images in fields of neurons exactly as we see in the brains and minds of other mammals who do not use words. A key part of the yogic approach, and of some enlightened aspects of Confucianism (like Meng Tzu's concepts of zhengqi), is to respect always the nonverbal "half" of our minds. Professor James Anderson of Brown has compared the formal "half"  to a "new but still buggy alpha version of software." It gives a great extension to the power of the mind, but we do need to get the bugs out, and put it into proper relation with the bigger, older part. 

Spirit lessons from Tlingits and quantum physics

(Copyright pjw, picture taken near chilkoot lake, Alaska, may 2017)

I apologize that the title may remind you of fuzzy new age stuff which I disagree with as vehemently as anyone does ( in part because I am a perfectionist by nature). Please don't try to guess what I have learned just this past week.

Still, I do start from a kind of bedrock belief in the core of Quaker Universalism. Quaker universalists believe that the same greater living spirit (or spirits, depending on how you count) have been active all over the earth, and has had valid expression and manifestation beyond the mundane aspects of culture all over the earth. And thus, "our spiritual heritage" is the combined heritage of all of humanity, not just the Christian roots which Quakerism started with (and retains). We are called to learn as deeply as we can from all major parts of that heritage -- and certainly we try to learn to see through the eyes of "people of the book," from core mystics like yogins and sufis and Buddhists and Western mystical traditions, as well as Daoism and Confucianism.  And also from shamans and the most interesting traditions of native Americans in general.

But let me get straight to Tlingits and quantum physics, and say more later about the context.

In Alaska this month we had many contacts with Tlingit people, from a mix of native and hybrid culture. For example, we heard from a Tlingit who later became an official ranger, and spoke for an hour on the Holland America cruise ship we took from Seward to Vancouver in the final third of our Alaska trip from May 14 to May 29, today. 

Alaska today has a population something like half a million people, half of who live in Anchorage. The Tlingits of Alaska, ranging from yakutak to ketchikan along the Pacific coast, had a serious Civilization based in long-distance trade, with a population greater gan modern Anchorage, just a few centuries ago -- but a series of tragedies cut it back an order of magnitude.

The Tlingits were deeply upset by the ruthless behavior of the Russian fur merchants who first oppressed them (not unlike Spanish fortune hunters we heard about in Peru last year), but they much preferred the open ecumenixal and respectful attitudes of Russian Orthodox priests over those of Presbyterian missionaries, who, while Christian in their way, were dedicated to smashing and breaking the core tlingit culture, stories, language and traditions. Many people told us of how tlingit chiefs banded together to request Russian Orthodox churches and clergy to come to Alaska, and expand their presence, because they did not want their heritage to be erased from the earth. (For example, 2 conversations in St Nicholas church in Juneau, where they preserved primary sources.)

The ranger on the cruise ship told us especially of a tlingit story told to him by his grandparents when he was growing up in yakutak, a story of two brothers lost at sea who in despair, many times, prayed both to their ancestors and to the creatures of the sea. "The history teacher and others in our church school told us to throw away such stories, and told us that praying to ancestors or animals is evil, work of the devil, in need of eradication and total forgetting." (I wonder whether Korean Christian churches ever went all the way that far?) "But they did not understand. We fully understood and revere the greatest spirit of earth and sky, but as small creatures we also can communicate with other lesser creatures who can help in other ways, all part of God's community we are part of."

In the original Christian Church, it was ok to pray to saints, and even to try to tube into them, and become part of the communion of saints. So why would it not be ok to build community with other humans and mammals and even ancestors, so long as it is understood we are all part if something larger?

When I heard the ranger, I thought at first "his earth and sky are a lot like the pachamama and pachatata we discussed in Peru." (These are good search terms for this blog, giving more context.) "But what about those apus? Did they make it here?" But as we traveled hundreds of miles from Denali to the Pacific border of Canada, we saw nothing BUT landscape with mountains, and Apus were not lost.

So now let me jump to connections with my own culture, including recent discussions with Yeshua ben David by email, and the book by David Deutsch which I read in the cruise ship (thanks to Holland America). 

My whole life I have been a kind of hard core "materialist". More precisely, since age 14 (when a kind person in a suit at the weekly tea service of the mathematics department of Princeton explained Einstein's core vision to me),
I have mostly believed in "Einsteinian materialism," the doctrine that everything which exists at all in the entire cosmos is governed by mathematical laws, by partial differential equations (PDE) operating over the curved minkowski space described by Einstein's general relativity (GR). Mostly -- but I believe even more deeply in the scientific method which calls on us to be open-minded, to look actively for alternative possibilities and so on. Yet at present I see more reason than ever before to believe that everything we can see in the cosmos can be explained as phenomena which emerge from the operation of those underlying mathematical laws.
Most well-educated physicists do not believe that the laws if the cosmos could be so simple, but I have worked hard to study this "alternate view" of physics; at Google scholar, you can easily find my open access papers justifying this heresy. In summary, I am ultra materialist relative to today's mainstream physics.

But.. science requires that we face up to the weirdness if our cosmos, no matter how much we prefer simpler explanations for things. Long ago I was compelled to accept the reality of what most folks call spiritual or psychic phenomena, but, now that we know about the vast ocean of dark matter connecting our galaxy with many other galaxies, that reality does not force us to abandon the Einstein viewpoint. And so, until 2014, I still thought of us humans as patterns of life and mind in the objective 4-dimensional universe. I respected the achievements of David Deutsch (search this blog for context!) in quantum computing, but I simply lost interest back in the 1970s in the many worlds, parallel universe theory of quantum field theory he used in inventing digital quantum computing.

2014 was a great zinger for me. As I was developing a mathematical, forward time model of what a photon does, picosecond by picosecond, as it travels through polarizing sunglasses (look for cmrfp in my papers), I noted how a photon can "crinkle up its face like that guy in the old British comedy about a guy who makes a deal with the devil, and retroactively erase the whole time stream it is part of." Given what lamar Smith had done to nsf, I wondered briefly:"why can't I do what that photon can?" And suddenly it struck me that I can, in principle.. because like that photon I am a pattern which is a function of one possible scenario, not of all of objective reality. In practice, scenarios interact even in my mathematics (and in the feynmann path version), not just in Deutsch's cosmos. So Einstein's picture may be correct at the deepest level, but Deutsch's image works and is unavoidable at our level of existence.
(In my view, our level is governed by mqed, which is basically a variation of many worlds dynamics combined with a new, time-series way to model macroscopic objects used to make measurements.)

But this year.. I have paid attention to what Deutsch and yeshya been David yace said about a more radical concept, a kind of metaphysical idealism. I am not convinced that this is the most promising theory if the underlying!physics, but is it possible once again that Deutsch is right in a practical sense even if not in a theoretical sense?

In the past, I spoke about intelligent systems at the level of earth (noosphere) and galaxy, but should I pay more attention to the idea that the underling model of the cosmos could be understood as something like an intelligent system, even if it simply implements Einstein's vision?

For a long time, many serious physicists and mathematicians like Penrose have argued that "the universe looks more like a great mind than a great machine." But what if a mathematical model which we thought of as a great machine ALREADY has properties of a mind?

Our best mathematical model of mind as we know it are based on RLADP (see my talk posted at arxiv.org on mouse level computational intelligence, MLCI), the approximate maximization of a utility function across time. Is a statement like the cosmos less intelligent if it maximizes its values (Lagrange function) exactly over space time? It is not my mind as we know it, because its maximization is perfect (to the best of our knowledge so far), but do not people say "God is a mind, as we are, but is perfect and already knows everything." Is this actually a reasonable way to think about the deeper dynamics which our surface level of experience, mqed, emerges from?

In the past, I assumed that "mere PDE" could not be do interesting, but the insights of 2014 and the new .. feedbacks.. suggest they can be. For example, the structure of mqed involves probabilities, which are always positive, and are consistent with .. a positive view of things.

David Deutsch and yeshua Ben David both are pushing a strongly positive view of our destinies in the cosmos, and that's the number one reason I picked up Deutsch's book from the ship. I could use a bit of practical positivity, as I watch scary terrible global politics unravel. In a way, Deutsch says we can do anything at all, if we manage the explanation and the narratives more carefully. On second thought, I was even more depressed, as I thought of how crazy bad guys could do anything. But on third thought.. the doing anything stuff is more relevant to earth and galaxy as a whole. Like that tlingit lost at sea, I am not responsible to link up to cosmis mind myself; it is enough to better appreciate what earth and galaxy link to, and work in explanations and narratives within their smaller domains. And yes also be part of the community as well. So it is a more positive balanced outcome in the end.

Not a fire hose of information, but an ocean in 4d.

============

Addendum: the ranger also spoke of Tlingit traditions about how they once traded across the Bering Strait, back before the famous great events of about 1200BC. It is speculative, but I couldn't help noticing various links to megalithic sea peoples, who really did travel much further than history knew when I was a child.

Father of quantum computing writes on science, knowledge, future

Professor David Deutsch of Oxford, the father of mainstream quantum computing, qubits, and all the technologies based on then, has written a relatively new book, the Beginning of Infinity, which discusses the foundations of science and of the human future in general.

Because science tends to be highly political these days, only about half the writing out there gives proper credit to Deutsch. Many writers like to give credit to the most famous or friendly person they can imagine. Thus many people quite how feynmann once said "there is plenty of room at the bottom." But those words did not actually produce the new technology! In Google scholar, it is easy to locate Deutsch's seminal papers, where he proved that his concept of (digital) quantum computing, based on superposition and on the many worlds 
version of quantum field theory (qft), provides a new universal platform for computing, just like the old Turing machine concept but more universal. This kind of failure of credit seriously hurts science, because it causes people to pay less attention to important new work by the same person, like the book I just read this past week.

In essence, the book describes how explanations (narratives) are crucial to solving the problems now facing us, not only in science but in society (where the threstsbtomour very survival are serious indeed, but Deutsch builds a message of hope).

But first, what IS science? It is scary how  many people c!aim to know how to manage science and science agencies without even an adequate understanding of what science actually is! Understanding what if us becomes more and more important as it grows more complex and as larger vested interests try to filter the discussion!

Many of us have already learned a lot of the basics, by paying real attention to the history parts of our science courses, and by understanding basic facts about Francis bacon and the Renaissance. Still, many people who study science itself say it is important to go past the simple basics, by seriously studying the work of two key thinkers, Thomas Kuhn and karl popper, who shaped the deepest reassessment of science in the twentieth century. For myself, I read only kuhn's work. More and more, I have learned how Kuhn's vision, passionately implemented by Dr. Joe bordogna (a former director of the National Science Foundation NSF) , was crucial to the greatest golden age of NSF, and his loss of that vision due to congressman lamar Smith was a huge tragedy beyond what I had imagined likely even so late as 2013. 

But what of popper? Deutsch quotes extensively from Popper, and gives a new more modern version of Popper's ideas and their implications. Here are my comments on those thoughts, addressed to a listserv of professors who teach Popperism: 

=================================
Yesterday I read moderately far into David Deutsch's book, the Beginning of Infinity, which argues very strongly and clearly for a vision of what Popperism really is and where it might lead us. Given the scope of the book, and the solid achievements of the author, it might be more useful for your discussion group than what I have seen so far. 

It is true indeed, as the book says, that the mainstream of quantum computing and quantum communications today all flows from the fundamental analytic ("critical analysis" ) work of Deutsch, giving a kind of sequel to the analytical work of Turing which until recently totally dominated the mainstream of computer science. You could even choose to cite it as an example of how self-conscious applied Popperism can actually work.

Before I observed your group and read into Deutsch's book, I never used the word Popperism. Popper was just a person to me, not a person I argued with, a person who made a couple of important points we agreed on. Deutsch's book is serious, modern and substantive, in a way I find it easier to come to grips with in a constructive way than other written expressions of Popperism I have seen (other than the Popper experiment in quantum optics). 

At the end of the day, however, I view his position (his version of Popperism) as very useful but incomplete and overextended in an important way, exactly as I view his position on multiverse.

These are tricky issues, requiring a kind of careful splitting of hairs in mathematics and in concepts, but not in words, where splitting of hairs on semantics is most often a waste if time and a distraction from reality. In fact, it is worth everyone's time to remember that "semantic fascism", behavior which puts too much importance in demanding the absolute truth and supremacy of one community's definition of a word over another's, is a clear common warning sign of a gross failure of logical, rational critical analysis. I have seen that over and over again across ever so many areas of science and life. Semantic fascism is a back door manifestation of authoritarianism as a form of "reasoning." Deutsch was clear in rejecting authoritarianism, and I never saw popper support it, but it is clear that some folks claim to be popperists who vigorously implement semantic fascism.

Deutsch's book addresses many important topics, but I will focus mainly on epistemology, which ties it all together, and multiverse, which I knew about long before this book. Crudely, the epistemology part is an interpretation or extension of popper, quitting popper extensively. The multiverse part is an extension of famous work by Everett and Wheeler, which Deutsch understood well enough to build a whole new technology based on that strong and clear understanding.

On epistemology, Deutsch uses the word "induction" with the same kind of definition your discussion group assumes, but he explains in much more detail precisely what he attaches to the definition and, most important, what his alternative is. 

Unlike some of the postmodernist hermeneuticists in the group, Deutsch is firmly committed to the concept of objective reality and to the quest to understand and explain it. Popper and I have/had the same commitment. Some in the group might question that, but for God's sake, why do they imagine Popper pushed the experiment he proposed to try to refute quantum philosophies of unreality? (I previously gave a URL to physorg, describing that experiment and how it seems to support Popper, but remains controversial.) 

Deutsch talks about other types of epistemology which stifled progress in past centuries and in other cultures, but mainly focused on "empiricism" versus Popperism, and he does let us know he is seeing these things through the eyes of a physicist. He defines the word "induction" as an aspect of "empiricism", in which response to the incoming flow of data is "the whole game" in determining what we do or should believe (or predict or conclude) in response to that flow of sensory input. 

Deutsch's alternative epistemology based on Popper is to focus mainly on explanation, in the kind of critical analysis needed to make sense of what has been observed and of the reality which lies behind what has been observed.

In my view, his concept of empiricism and his concept of Popperism are like thesis and antithesis, both pure (and useful) extremes, but both incomplete. Both are capable of being extended (or redefined by folks who say "we knew it already and we only talked about it half the time") in a way which unifies the two extremes into the kind of synthesis we really need.

One should really not underestimate the relevance of the most well-grounded neural network theory to this issue. There is a very close connection between the questions "how can it should humans best learn from experience and reason?" versus "how DO human brains learn from experience and reason?" versus "how do mice and rats learn from experience and from whatever happens in their brains?" Neural network theory has gotten very deep into all three questions and into their interconnections. In truth, as brilliant and broad as Deutsch is, I do know more than he does about neural network theory. (As I type this, I am returning home from giving a plenary at this year's international conference on neural networks -- but yes Deutsch should be offered the same if he were interested, because it is a crossdisciplinary conference.) 

What Deutsch calls empiricism or induction is essentially what neural network folks would call naive forgetful real-time or online learning. 

Deutsch stresses that we do not just learn to predict, but also to learn the dynamics which explain what we see and to reconstruct the underlying reality. In fact, all three aspects are essential to what we learn and to each other, not only in neural network models of intelligent states like brains but also in their more primitive linear ancestors like Kalman filtering. Attention to prediction error really is essential as a kind of reality testing. Without it, computer programs can totally diverge from reality. When humans try to reason with words, without paying enough attention to the preverbal information common to both human and rodent brains, they too are capable of diverging from reality and from progress in a very florid way. That is ever so common today! How could any evolved biological organism ever lose touch with reality so much as humans often do? The key explanation (discussed in www.werbos.com/Mind_in_Time.pdf and the many more technical papers it cites) is that reasoning with words is a relatively new behavior in our line of mundane biology, and that we need to discipline ourselves to learn to do it well enough to avoid gross and dangerous mistakes.

In the neural network field and in kindred parts of AI , we generally embrace both "empiricism" and "induction" and Occam's Razor, as essential foundations, but we assume different definitions from what Deutsch assumes.

In past decades, many of us believed in a narrow synthesis of Deutsch's "empiricism" and Popperism (without reference to Deutsch or to Popper). Let us call it the Solomonoff epistemology (though I independently developed it myself in undergraduate days, and discussed with Minsky).

In the Solomonoff epistemology, we all have a substantial need to do exactly what Deutsch proposes, the real core of his practical approach to science: to work hard to develop a promising and coherent list (explicit or generative) of possible, competing theories of how reality works. (I will assume my variant of this, where the operations include a random number generator.) That needs to be done over and over again, as experience is accumulated and remembered. Yet we also need to be able to evaluate the choice between theories, which is also important when we upgrade the list. We do this by applying Bayes' Law, an extremely important theorem, and we hope that folks who claim to be devotees of rational analysis would properly respect such a fundamental theorem. We MUST evaluate, in numbers, the relative probabilities of competing theories to be true ...

Notice the fundamental assumptions:

 1. We of finite brains and minds can never legitimately claim certain knowledge of one theory being true. The best we can do is to maintain a list, and a shorter list of explicit and complete possibilities than of implicit possibilities.
2. The best we can do us to continually update the probabilities which we attribute to the possible theories, and keep updating the list itself.  We must assess probabilities.. in order to have a rational basis for making decisions. (The need to make decisions is present even in the mouse brain, which is >90% homologous to the human brain.) 

We view the application of Bayes' Law, explicit or implicit, as part of the core of induction, and of any ability of humans or other mammals to learn from experience. 

Bayes' Law has a very tricky property which cannot be avoided, and has caused endless confusion. The problem is that the probability of a theory being true, after a long stream if experience which we may call "memory", always depends on pr(theory), the probability which the theory had PRIOR to any experience. More precisely, we may write:

Pr(theory | memory) = pr(memory | theory)*pr(theory)/Z
where pr(theory | memory) is the probability that the theory is true AFTER the experiences recorded in memory, where pr(memory | theory) is the probability that"memory" would have happened according to the theory being evaluated, and Z is a general scaling factor slightly beyond the scope of this email.

My short time of email access us running out. Some key summary points --
1. www.werbos.com/Erdos.pdf explains why we really need some version of occams razor in order to explain or replicate how brains can learn from complex experience
2. Yes, we have learned to do a bit better than the simple Solomonoff version we started from. Modern concepts of analog priors and robustness are crucial, and begin to reflect his our current explicit list if their is can never be complete.
3. As Deutsch sats, multiverse phtsucs and further concepts of physics are crucial to rounding out the picture. I tend to think of human learning as a kind of ouroboros work in which objective and subjective views are equally fundamental in different ways, linked together. New experiments beyond Popper I will be crucial to cultural acceptance if reality.

All for now. I apologize both for excessive brevity and for excessive length.

Best of luck,

Paul

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Do people go crazy when they just look at Donald Trump?

More and more there is a drumbeat of belief that Donald Trump is going crazy, and that he should be replaced. But there is a whole lot of sloppy thinking going on, both when people imagine how great things would be after his replacement, and when they allow self-righteousness to blind them to their OWN craziness. Yes, Trump shows obvious signs of breaking under stress, and no, I did not vote for him, but I always remember what Jesus said, roughly: "Before you try to remove the splinter from your brother's eye, first work on the beam in your own."

Speaking of blind eyes -- I continue to be amazed by how many people in US politics and media now know how vast and pernicious the effect of dark money has been on national elections
(as in the famous book by Brock, later hired as Clinton's media response person, and the book
Dark Money)... without understanding that the agenda which they report on involved the management of the federal government itself more than elections per se. At some level, those folks feel they don't even need elections, and I seriously worry they might get rid of them. I recommend reading Orson Scott Card's trilogy, Empire, to get a feeling for the mindset. (Not that it is a realistic mindset. Like the jihadi mindset, it is a reality we need to face up to, and of course there are some of us who understand how both of those mindsets are suicidal in the bigger picture.)

SO WHY DO THEY ASSUME GOVERNMENT AGENCIES ARE UNTOUCHED, BY
AN OUTGROWTH OF THE JOHN BIRCH SOCIETY DEDICATED TO FIGHTING CONSPIRACY WITH ITS OWN CONSPIRACY, to fighting government tyranny by using the same Soviet tactics they remain haunted by, which ultimately mean creation of a new tyranny uninhibited by government or democracy? (Then again, Erdogan's crew is no better, and his money men are certainly not limited to Turkey or Egypt in their operations or ambitions.)

Is Trump just lying when he says something different from Comey about their recent discussions? Some people would naturally assume, since Trump is crazy and unreliable, that Comey must be telling the whole truth and most be unimpeachable, like his former deputy now running the FBI.

But what of a little caution here before rushing to judgment.

Could it be that BOTH men are putting spin on what they are saying? (How could I imagine such a possibility for a fine upstanding government official? Well, I have seen a lot of fine upstanding government officials first hand, and I know so well that they are neither devils nor angels. And one needs to understand the context to have any idea what is really going on.)

Could it be that Trump was immensely frustrated when people just took Comey's perfection at face value, "at least this time he is the incarnation of truth and justice," and that he was helpless in defending himself against an excessive tendency to just assume that Trump is the source of all problems on earth? Could the conversation taping thing be just a wild expression of wishful imagination, wishing he had a way to show what really happened?

At the end of the day, I still remember the last chapter of the book "A G Man's Journal" , and I remember what I have seen first hand talking to people in many government agencies.
If Trump goes, do not expect a gentle honorable man like Ford surrounded by a classic democratic environment. Trump himself might resign himself to becoming a puppet of the new imperialists,
as in his health care legislation, but if he is impeached it now seems >90% that folks worse than him will take over.

If only the investigations would dig out the rot which has grown up in the executive branch.
It is clear that Comey was deferring to Lamar Smith and his pals, in much the same way that I saw Pramod Kargonekar do at NSF, deploying unAmerican tactics of control quite similar to what Erdogan has used on Turkish NATO officers. As they investigate Russia, will they investigate the much bigger money stories, the penetration which has ACTUALLY occurred already, and points back to places other than Moscow? Or will Trump pick a new FBI head who is ready and eager to lead the imperial coup d'etat? He might. Poor guy does have a problem with situational awareness.

And no, information technology is not a small part of this. It is a big part of the narrative of how tyranny can lead to death. Or is it just to fading away or gotterdammerung?

But for me, it is just IT now, and then retreat to some PDE mathematics in early June, if we all live that long.

================

I was thinking this morning of posting something more practical and useful:


Could honest conservative principles work better than a carbon tax?

The current Administration has strongly opposed all actions, whether subsidies or national regulations or even a carbon tax, to  reduce greenhouse gas emissions or dependency on fossil fuels. But could there be a silver lining in this cloud? Could it it be that conservative principles which the administration has promised to push harder this year would actually do better than a carbon tax in expanding market-based profit-based renewable energy?  Could it be that the outcome would be better if we pushed them to actually implement their principles instead of just paying lip service or being distracted by other things?

Many economists would say “That could only be possible if there has been a huge market failure here.” That is exactly what
the problem has been.  The most important barrier to economically sound growth of renewable energy has been endless regulation blocking the development of interstate transmission lines. The reason for that is simple.  Renewable energy in the best sites is now costing as little as 3 cents per kwh, in actual Purchase Power Agreements accompanied by actual construction, in regions of sun so reliable that it isn’t intermittent energy any more. But wind and solar in areas of mediocre weather and less sun costs far more, to the point where many demand subsidies worth 40 cents per kwh to justify it, and utilities have to pay a lot of additional money to compensate for the intermittency.

Why is it that FERC was long ago given the authority to cut through unnecessary complexity, and approve interstate gas pipelines, but never given that same authority for long-distance electricity transmission? Why does the political system give special preference to projects like pipelines to enable the Canadians to sell their gas to the Chinese, while not respecting the huge unmet potential for Texans to sell electricity from wind or sun to the East Coast US (especially between noon and 8PM Eastern Time, where the numbers look good even without subsidies)? (It’s not because the gas pipelines encounter less local opposition!) Why did Congress rubber stamp the requests of the oil and gas industry, while rejecting the findings and recommendations of the Edison Electric Institute back in 2008?  This is not a level playing field. This is a rigged system, picking Americans as losers and Chinese as winners. Maybe this might be a good time to put a stop to this kind of imbalance.   

Of course, support for interstate commerce was one of the founding principles of the United States.

Some further sources:

www.werbos.com/Atacama.pdf





 =======================

But honesty isn't what I see anywhere on CNN right now, and important as this step would be, it is not enough by itself by a long shot. So much would be needed to get us to a sustainable situation!

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Reply to Vedanta Society on machine consciousness, possibility and threat

As part of a long discussion, one of the people on the Vedanta discussion list posted: 

The problem with his [Turing] test is that machine can one day pass it not by being more clever, but because the humans could regress, due to its growing reliance on them. A bit like a taxi man who can no more read a plan, due to its reliance on the GPS system ...


This is a very real threat to us today, no longer just a hypothetical possibility. I like the term "Artificial Stupidity" (AS). True strategic awareness would lead us to be very serious BOTH about the dangers of AI, AND the dangers of AS.

The painful tradeoff between AS and AI first hit me back in high school (1962-1964), when I asked: "What happens when we rely more on data -- statistics, analytics or new predictive systems -- to decide what to expect of a student, or of a possible criminal detected by the police? A less accurate system could end up being like an automated version of racial stereotypes, with all the horrible dysfunctional implications that has. A more accurate system might do less of that, but do more bending to the specific goals of the folks who own the system - with risks of things like extreme political abuse or enslaving people to a requirement to focus only on money." But of course, human learners performing the same tasks are subject to the same kinds of risks. The problem already existed, before there were machines.

The next big stimulus to my thinking on this subject came in the year 2000, when I had to skip the intriguing last day of a workshop in Cambridge organized by Brian Josephson (a day I still regret missing), in order to show up in time at an NSF-NASA workshop I had organized, to discuss how machine learning and robotics might be applied to a testbed challenge, the challenge of creating space solar power (SSP) as a useful energy source for the world. (Some of you may know that Abdul Kalam was a great champion of SSP. I was grateful to discuss this with him over dinner a few years ago. Most of the talks at the workshop are posted somewhere at www.werbos.com/space.htm.)

A key issue with SSP was how to assemble a large structure way up at geosynchronous orbit (about 30,000 kilometers above the earth),
where radiation hazards and distance make it even more difficult to support a human workforce than at low orbit. Therefore, using the full support of NSF, we were able to get leaders in robotics form all over the world to discuss the challenge. Many people were very excited by the hope of reducing cost by reducing the mass of what had to be lifted up from earth, for example by designing a 50 ton "seed crystal" containing robots to be sent to the moon, to reproduce themselves using materials on the moon, and supply lots of material for use all over earth orbit. 

As we evaluated that possibility, many images came into focus. Instead of designing superintelligent terminator type robots, they wanted the simplest possible robots capable of exponential growth in population on the moon. It began to seem more like an artificial cockroach, and less like an artificial human.   

Can you imagine what happens if humans caused an entire world (the moon) to be infested by exponential population growth of metal artificial cockroaches, intent on reproduction? And what of the risk that a few might ride along somehow, as cockroaches do, and get to earth? And what of the risk that natural selection on such a large population would make them less and less what we intended them to be? People came up with entertaining but unrealistic ideas for how to address these problems. It became more and more clear that these are very serious kinds of challenges. In addition, the technology for simple, less intelligent machines making machines already exists in prototype on earth, especially in Japan, and DOD has experimented with artificial cockroaches already in its efforts to "bug the enemy."
(Should I name names? Perhaps not today.) Thus AS is indeed an issue. Human-level intelligence is not needed for a risk to be real. 

A third dramatic warning came to me in 2013-2014, when a certain Congressman turned the screws on his idea of remaking NSF, so that instead of serving universities and basic science it would serve certain large stakeholder corporations he liked, more or less like some other bureaucracies which had been less pure for a long, long time. There were four important meetings (none governed by the privacy act) where spokesmen for IBM outlined their new "Watson" reorganization and plan for the future. (There was also a meeting representing priorities of the oil industry of the Middle East.)

At that time, their logic was as follows: "Soon every concrete decision in the world -- from pacemakers to vehicles to generators to factories to security systems to factories to cities -- will be executed by embedded chips or small computers, with internet connection. This is the Internet of Things (IOT). At present, the IOT is a chaotic and inefficient system, as things are not designed to work together as a whole system, or as an intelligent system.    Our business plan is to fix this. We will design and build a new control system for the global IOT, which will be highly intelligent and efficient, and will of course make lots of money. The famous Watson system will take over everything." "Yes," said the current local boss (ironically a Brahmin caste guy, a person more caste than Brahmin -- all groups have their "black sheep") ,"I want you all to give priority to helping make this real."

At one of the four meetings, a colleague who had spent his life studying rational decisions and industry networks, asked:
"What do you mean 'efficient'? Efficiency is a meaningless concept without a metric, without a measure of the values which the system is supposed to serve. Aggregating values is a difficult technical challenge. How do you plan to address it?"

The IBM guy looked very puzzled by this question, and took some time before he replied:"VALUES? Values, shmalues. Don't worry, we have excellent software engineers, and they know very well how to build perfectly efficient system." After a bit more silence and reflection he said," But yes, as I think over what some of our new systems might do, I suppose there could be some hotheads out there who might say we are crushing their (ugh) VALUES. But don't worry, we are building some very effective new security systems to take over those kinds of hotheads." (In a later meeting, they described how they have been building about twenty large physically secure server farms around the world, two planned to run the US government, emphasizing physical security and armed guards and such.)

Then a woman spoke: "This is quite a vivid picture of the new world you are building. But I have a problem trying to envision where the PEOPLE are in this Internet of Things?" Then the local boss smiled a big alligator smile, announcing how clever he was. "There is a very easy answer to that question. The answer is simply to change people into things. What do you think the purpose is of all this work on Brain-Computer Interface we are now pushing you to prioritize?" And they are further along in that work than most people would expect.
On my last day in that building (guess why I retired?), he said: "A lot of people have complained about what I have done for Lamar Smith, but (smile) that IS where the money comes from, and we have to be realistic." I believe I remember a small press piece where Smith also bragged about how he was directing the FBI people investigating Hillary Clinton, and I suppose that Comey was a lot like our own local boss in bending to certain kinds of pressures (which may have had lots of support from beyond Smith himself). There were also clear links to folks managing computer records.

So yes, there are serious risks here, and my six simple slides at www.werbos.com/IT_big_picture.pdf include links to more of the technical and political problems in play.

IMPORTANT CAVEAT: I have since heard that as word got out, IBM reconsidered its strategy. Some of the real champions of earth as a robot world moved to Accenture (a web site I studied closely just yesterday). I have met great and balanced people from IBM, and I hope that re-reorganization will empower them more to do more constructive things -- but it is not at all a good time to become complacent.
We are at a real crossroads in determining the future of IT, and in making sure that the deepest spiritual needs of humans are not trampled on. 

==========================
===========================

But none of this says whether AS or AI systems  can actually be "conscious." I still remember a guy from the UK who would look at a piece of computer hardware or software, and ask "But is it conscious or is it not?" I regard that as a preposterous question.
At  https://arxiv.org/abs/q-bio/0311006, I discuss how "consciousness" has many legitimate definitions, ALL of which are a matter of level or degree, not a "yes/no" situation. I do not advocate building computers which are more conscious than human brains are, but it certainly looks possible to me. I do hope that groups like the Vedanta society, higher yoga and their cousins can help humans manifest the higher level of consciousness which they are capable of attaining -- as is ever more important even to our survival as a species.

Best of luck,


    Paul   

=====================

I probably should have added... if Turing were reincarnated and alive today, I would guess that she would not be relying on that famous old Turing test in words... but rather on more mathematical metrics of intelligence or consciousness related to the concept of Turing machine, extended by various complexity measures and priors,
not unlike the ideas of Emmanuel Kant.

And: to understand how bad AS could be, try to imagine certain voicemail systems you have experienced making all the decisions on earth.

And: I deeply respect some of the people I have met from the Vedanta Society, but I am not a member myself. As a Quaker Universalist... I try to learn what I can from the whole of the human experience, none of which shows perfect knowledge but some of which is more constructive and enlightened than others. I see more variation in the degree of enlightenment WITHIN each of the world's great religions and philosophies than between them. 

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Does God want us to learn to drink from a firehose?

 This is not science or The Watch, but a bit above both. (Also, I will not say more about what the word "God " means to me; an earlier blog was detailed enough). 

For many, many years, I have spoken about the importance of learning to “drink from a firehose” of information.

I first heard that phrase many years ago, at an open pubic meeting where some folks from NSA said that their number one job was to “drink from a firehose” – to extract coherent understanding from a flood of data and input beyond what anyone before had ever had to cope with. They even have a little museum along US route 95, where they exhibit the supercomputers which were perhaps the world’s first, part of how they worked to cope with the challenge.

But NSA people are not the only ones on earth called to drink from a firehose. When I heard the phrase, I immediately latched on to it, as part of my own life. (I wonder: has the healthcare experience also raised the interest of our President in coping better with complexity? I hope so.)

Last year, in Udaipur, Luda showed me an article in the Smithsonian magazine about NIH experiments with psilocybin.
Before that we saw a movie “Men who stare at goats” which talked about DOD folks who experimented use of drugs to stimulate psychic abilities.  In Udaipur, I argued hard against that approach, and cited a book by Annie Besant (Thought Forms?) where she said that there are natural barriers in the mind which prevent an inflow of information too complex and challenging for it to cope with effectively. “Don’t break down these barriers by artificial means. Instead, work to make your mind more capable of coping with the complexity, and then the barriers will fade away in a more natural way.” In Udaipur, people were skeptical when I mentioned a book (The Seven Lives of Annie Besant) which described Annie Besant as both spiritual and political teacher and mentor to Ghandhi (a fact understandably not stressed by folks working to build pride in India)... but when we got to Mumbai, they saw the street named after her, and saw her books in Gnandi’s bookshelves. (I posted a photo on an earlier blog here). Besant would probably say “The earth is a school, and learning to really drink from a firehose is a key part of everyone’s highest spiritual calling.”

In truth, I latched onto the phrase for personal reasons. I have worked very hard for many decades to develop the kinds of cross-cutting mathematical foundations, paradigms and cognitive maps which make it possible to assimilate very large and diverse pieces of information without turning into a useless passive sponge-head (like many jellyfish type intellectuals I have met).  I have also worked on the mystical path (first person science, as described in www.werbos.com/Mind_in_Time.pdf). My primary practice now is on the order of an hour in very early morning, in bed, in state I associate with Bucke’s famous book “Cosmic Consciousness.”

But yesterday Luda said: “I am so tired of hearing that old metaphor.  It’s not really a firehose. It’s an ocean.”

This morning, of the hundreds of thoughts which flowed through my mind, this was the one most strongly flagged.
More precisely: “Yes, Luda was right. It is a vast four-dimensional ocean, with vast currents in all directions.” Not a firehose. Not a point in space-time. And not shooting at my face, either. Not exactly a new metaphor, but a metaphor worth revisiting with new clarity, and new respect for others who have used the metaphor in the past. From firehose to ocean...
And of course the currents include what we think of as quantum mechanical currents, and physics deeper than
the best quantum mechanics we know today (MQED, in my view).

=============================
==============

But maybe I should say just a little more about "God." At the discussion group this morning, at Quakers, I decided
not to be a negative force by correcting technical details, as people read writings from a medieval Christian mystic talking about "how God gives us suffering, as a gift with love, to help develop us." I resisted discussing the important work of the Harvard psychiatrist Valliant on the important issue of how people cope with pain and frustration.  But after a woman expressed HER discomfort with the idea of too much acceptance of suffering... I broke down and said:
"I would think of God as more like a kindly Montessori school teacher. Sometimes the kids may think she is trying to torture them, when she makes them learn some hard mathematics, and they may even feel mathematics might hurt their soul. She does NOt want them to just sit there with empty minds and a big smile, learning nothing but accepting the pain.  She WANTS them to be active, to learn to be intelligent entities in their own right, but not to create a big mess or bad feelings in the classroom. She wants them to relax and focus and learn what they need to learn." So is this whole world a school?

I do not pretend to know. My main theory is still "Einsteinian materialism," that everything which exists in the cosmos is the emergent result of relatively simple PDE., far simpler than today's physics at its base. We need to strive for a simple solid foundation, the simplest possible axioms, but also for a full ability to be flexible and open to cope with a very cplex world of emergent phenomena. A solid place to plant our feet, and lots of room to move our arms, just like what Archimedes asked for.   Emergent phenomena are a lot more complex and rich than most folks imagine. But I also think at times about two "alternative" (or complementary?) theories from the world of idealism: (1) PARWIN (the people are real, the world is not); and (2) the universe as stories or narratives (as in the little novella "Muse of Fire").  Who knows? Back to curious new stories, a firehose or ocean of them...  

===

P.S. Of course God wants us all to learn more math. I hate it when people portray God as an illiterate innumerate idiot... like themselves? 


Friday, May 5, 2017

just the watch: what if Le Pen is elected this Sunday?

No, this is not science. Just "The Watch," casual impressions as I watch the world, as friends like Quakers and Yeshua urged me to do months ago. (Previous post.)

Is it science fiction? I certainly do not predict that LePen will win. That would be a bit crazy, when France 24 reports polls saying it is 60-40 Macron, that Obama has endorsed Macron, and when all Europe has memories of fascism which they associate her with emotionally. But this year, we have learned that crazy things might happen, and that it pays to be prepared for unexpected contingencies.

In fact, I watch France24 more and more lately. Just the other day, when Trump came on CNN to gloat about the House cation on health care -- Watch or no Watch, my stomach has limited ability to cope with what my brain and my radar would report; change channels; the debate between LePen and Macron was far more within my ability to handle, and more justifiable even to The Watch, even to the US manifestation of The Watch. But even so, it was a bit hard to handle, as they screamed at each other in a more disorderly and focused fashion than any of the US debates this year (yes, that is humanly possible!), and as I tried to sort out words from two male translators having troubles with the flow and speaking at the same time. (Should I look for a better version on U-Tube today? I would if I lived in France.)

France24 reported that other EU nations (including UK for now) expressed envy of their uninhibited deep dialogue, but that most people polled said "the winner" was whomever they supported before the debate. Some other folks said "no content."

Well, to me, there was a lot of content. So much content that I would seriously consider voting for LePen myself if I had a vote... but of course if I did I would look a whole lot more closely first.

Let me emphasize that I did vote for Hillary Clinton over Trump this year, albeit in a halfhearted way without anger or prejudice or even emotional opposition to family members who voted for Trump.
I was halfhearted mainly because I feared what they would do to Hillary if she were elected, though I suppose I was also worried about her ability to connect with leaders and cultures in other parts of the world.

This reminds me of the old sufi story where a guy asks his friend how he gets so much cooperation and love form his mules or his camels. "Oh," says the guy," It's because of how much love I treat them with." "Oh," says the guy," but I tried that and it never works for me." "Well, let me show you." So guy two goes up to a new camel, hits it hard on the head, and then... Guy one says: "But that's not love." "Well," says guy two," First I needed to get him to notice me." I would strongly object to a mystical teacher who really acts that way (or really puts a student's head under water), but maybe Trump does better that way sometimes than Hillary does, or maybe Putin never really got Hillary's attention despite trying that way. Whatever. In my view, a really good sufi teacher would TELL these stories, and try to wake up his student, without really causing even mild danger or pain. But then again, when I read McLaine's "Out on a Limb," I swore I would never follow or respect a teacher who dragged a student off onto such a dangerous and unnecessary trail... but I certainly did follow Luda in Crimea when she dragged me onto a trail which was much MORE dangerous. (Past blog post mentioned our trip to Crimea a bit.)

But between Macron and LePen... the debate created a very different first-order impression.

Remembering the debate, I also remember trips Luda and I made to many far parts of Italy and Spain, where we spoke to people about their lives and their politics. talking to people added a kind of 3D reality" to what I see on France24 and other media. In essence... after the Great Recession of 2008,
the big priority issue was JObs Versus Debt. Big issue number one. A stupid problem, due to lack of in-depth vector intelligence (or knowledge of the energy sector) by folks making decisions. But that has been supplanted by the complex of Third Caliphate movement (led by Erdogan) and associated issues of terrorism and Islamization of Europe, which also lies behind brexit. In the debate, Macron made it clear he is fixated on the older issue, and committed to nice airy-fairy Kurzweil-type solutions guaranteed to make problems worse (SEE my earlier post on jobs, jobs, jobs), and grossly in denial about the second problem.   LePen has her Trumpain tendencies, which are certainly not perfection on earth... but the greatest primary danger of fascism today is from Erdogan (and his backers and fifth columns), not from her.

When Macron accused LePen of trying to sell "pixie" dust, I was amused and pleased at the rhetoric.
It was funny to see the translators and commentators trying to explain this unique Gallic concept not translatable into English... and I wonder if it came to France via the French version of Peter Pan. In any case, it was nice to hear an echo of my feeble attempts to get people to think more rationally about space policy, and to avoid being suckered EITHER by "blue pixie dust" (like Lamar Smith and his minimum-tech Space Launch System brown jobs boondoggle) OR by "pink pixie dust" (like Macron and the nice friendly elves who work for Musk, nice people but not exactly Rickovers or Carnegies). But Macron's pink pixie dust is more delusional than Musk's, and I see more hope for Musk to jump a level than I do for Macron right now.

And so: "Pick the psychosis of your choice. Vote for mania or vote for depression, but whatever you do, vote." I certainly would vote, if I had a vote in this election. We are all part of humanity, and should not pretend that failure to vote is not an affirmative action in itself. I do hope we do not see a Frexit or a loss of NATO... let alone a loss of human rights in France like some of the sad things Trump is doing right now... but Islamization of Europe  under Erdogan's style of control would not be so good (or so stable) either.

Sad things: "Who came up with that complicated system in the Senate?" Jefferson, that's who. Should we really replace the Jefferson book with a new Trump book? Does Trump appreciate the challenges and requirements of stable democracy as much as Jefferson did? Likewise, separation of church and state, where George Washington and the Free Quakers may have understood the higher needs of the human spirit a bit better. It's even more complicated than health care, folks! Hitting the car with a sledge hammer is not such a good idea.

The sledge hammer of our choice?

In the larger picture, no, do not choose ANY sledge hammer!! But when voting, it's a different story.

Best of luck. We need it.