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Current Essay Contest

Contest Partners: Jaan Tallinn, The Peter and Patricia Gruber Foundation, The John Templeton Foundation, and Scientific American

Previous Contests

Undecidability, Uncomputability, and Unpredictability Essay Contest
December 24, 2019 - April 24, 2020
Contest Partners: Fetzer Franklin Fund, and The Peter and Patricia Gruber Foundation

What Is “Fundamental”
October 28, 2017 to January 22, 2018
Sponsored by the Fetzer Franklin Fund and The Peter & Patricia Gruber Foundation

Wandering Towards a Goal
How can mindless mathematical laws give rise to aims and intention?
December 2, 2016 to March 3, 2017
Contest Partner: The Peter and Patricia Gruber Fund.

Trick or Truth: The Mysterious Connection Between Physics and Mathematics
Contest Partners: Nanotronics Imaging, The Peter and Patricia Gruber Foundation, and The John Templeton Foundation
Media Partner: Scientific American


How Should Humanity Steer the Future?
January 9, 2014 - August 31, 2014
Contest Partners: Jaan Tallinn, The Peter and Patricia Gruber Foundation, The John Templeton Foundation, and Scientific American

It From Bit or Bit From It
March 25 - June 28, 2013
Contest Partners: The Gruber Foundation, J. Templeton Foundation, and Scientific American

Questioning the Foundations
Which of Our Basic Physical Assumptions Are Wrong?
May 24 - August 31, 2012
Contest Partners: The Peter and Patricia Gruber Foundation, SubMeta, and Scientific American

Is Reality Digital or Analog?
November 2010 - February 2011
Contest Partners: The Peter and Patricia Gruber Foundation and Scientific American

What's Ultimately Possible in Physics?
May - October 2009
Contest Partners: Astrid and Bruce McWilliams

The Nature of Time
August - December 2008

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Peter Jackson: on 5/23/14 at 18:32pm UTC, wrote Ted, You make some excellent and highly valid points showing the failings...

James Hoover: on 5/20/14 at 22:08pm UTC, wrote Ted, It grows late, so I am revisiting and rating. Your abstract says,...

James Hoover: on 5/7/14 at 23:06pm UTC, wrote Ted, But you have oligarchy as well as monopoly / oligopoly. Corporations...

Georgina Woodward: on 5/4/14 at 0:17am UTC, wrote Ted, thanks for your reply and for sharing your optimism and vision of the...

Vladimir Rogozhin: on 5/2/14 at 11:27am UTC, wrote Dear Ted, Each contest FQXi - a contest for new ideas. In your essay, I...

Ted Howard: on 4/25/14 at 10:20am UTC, wrote Thanks Tom Been on my list for a while. Had 5 serious attempts, and...

Thomas Ray: on 4/23/14 at 11:03am UTC, wrote Ted, in the years I have been reading these FQXi essays,there are a few...

Ted Howard: on 4/22/14 at 21:12pm UTC, wrote Hi Jim, Just realised it could be powerful to expand on your first point...


Zeeya Merali: "Viviana Fafone is a member of the VIRGO collaboration that detects..." in Micro and macro-physics...

Zeeya Merali: "Antonino Cataldo describes the how to synthesize bio-nanotechnologies to..." in Bionanotechnologies and...

Zeeya Merali: "What is the scientific approach? Matteo Martini talks about the..." in The 21st Century News...

Zeeya Merali: "in this introductory lecture, Frederick Van Der Veken discusses physics at..." in Big Machines, High...

Zeeya Merali: "FQXi's Catalina Curceanu discusses how particle physics experiments at the..." in Strangeness in Neutron...

Zeeya Merali: "Leader of the NEXT group, Stefano Bellucci, discusses applications of..." in Nanomaterials for...

Zeeya Merali: "FQXi's Lorenzo Maccone delves into the one of the deepest question in..." in What is Time? by Lorenzo...

Fabio SCIARRINO: "An introductory lecture on how developments in quantum physics over the..." in The Second Quantum...

click titles to read articles

Building Agency in the Biology Lab
Physicists are using optogenetics techniques to make a rudimentary agent, from cellular components, which can convert measurements into actions using light.

Think Quantum to Build Better AI
Investigating how quantum memory storage could aid machine learning and how quantum interactions with the environment may have played a role in evolution.

Outside the Box
A proposed quantum set-up that could predict your game-playing strategy resurrects Newcomb’s classic quiz show paradox.

The Quantum Agent
Investigating how the quantum measurement process might be related to the emergence of intelligence, agency and free will.

First Things First: The Physics of Causality
Why do we remember the past and not the future? Untangling the connections between cause and effect, choice, and entropy.

May 31, 2020

CATEGORY: How Should Humanity Steer the Future? Essay Contest (2014) [back]
TOPIC: Sustainable Abundance, Security and Freedom by Ted Howard [refresh]
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Author Ted Howard wrote on Mar. 25, 2014 @ 17:31 GMT
Essay Abstract

Human beings are cooperative general purpose computational entities. What we consider "best" depends on the value sets we choose. Our society seems to be driven by some very poor understandings of the two key concepts of evolution and money. Evolution is not just about competition, cooperation is a natural result of evolution, and human beings exhibit many levels of evolved cooperation in action. Cooperation is arguably the highest and most powerful expression of evolution. Market value is fundamentally based in scarcity. Markets inherently devalue real abundance to zero, and cannot incentivise the delivery of abundance of anything to everyone. Technology can deliver abundance of all the necessities of life to everyone. Technology seems likely to deliver indefinite life extension soon. Once the threats of survival needs and aging are removed, many others remain, some involving social issues around justice and some that require massive engineering capacity. Social justice requires that we deliver the necessities of life to everyone, and where they go from there is largely up to them. Our security and common future relies on us moving away from the incentives of the market, and into a conscious choice to develop and distribute the technology to deliver abundance of all the necessities of life to everyone. We have a real option of creating a future of freedom, security and abundance for all, with the necessary diversity that comes from those components; and it is clear that market incentives cannot deliver such a future. We have a choice to make. Will we make it?

Author Bio

Ted Howard has a BSc in Zoology, 17 years Commercial Fishing experience, and 28 years running a software company. As well as being self employed most of his life, he has had a strong community focus, through many groups: service - JayCess and Lions; environmental - Greenpeace, Friends of Earth, Coromandel Watchdog, Forest and Bird; political - Values, Labour, Act NZ and independent; governance - Thames Valley Regional Development Council, Kaikoura District Council, Kaikoura High School Board of Trustees, Kaikoura Zone Committee, Kaikoura Coastal Management Group; Humanist Society, Mensa and many others. Currently activities include the LifeBoat Foundation.

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John Brodix Merryman wrote on Mar. 25, 2014 @ 23:20 GMT

I like your level of moral clarity and communal enthusiasm, but I feel you are starting fairly high up in an evolved order that is not inherently stable and building from there, therefore relying on foundations which might well not support what you propose. I have to say I don't see our technological future as quite the panacea many think. Biology developed similar, if not far greater levels of complexity hundreds of millions and years ago and has been refining it ever since, with many notable ups and downs. Which is not to say we shouldn't continue looking up, but that we need to be far more concerned with where we do step, as it is a long way down. I do think there are many aspects of life and reality that need to be better understood and some of which are due for a reset, before we really continue to progress.

Obviously I'm pushing some of the views expressed in my own entry, but this contest does open up an opportunity for truly broad based and necessarily hard nosed debate. Hopefully some viable seeds are planted in fertile soil.


John Merryman

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Author Ted Howard wrote on Mar. 26, 2014 @ 21:03 GMT
Hi John,

Stability is an interesting notion. When used in a nautical context it usually refers to the ability of a vessel to stay upright, and not turn over in a rough sea; when used in a control context like in racing cars, it can refer to the point where maximum control is available to the skilled driver, right next to the point where the vehicle becomes uncontrolled.

Certainly I am advocating using highly evolved and developed systems at several levels.

Certainly also biology has produced many systems over evolutionary time, and we would be wise to study them at all levels.

My thesis is somewhat in conflict with your own in terms of the manner in which you define economics, yet is closely aligned in many other aspect. Should have some more time tomorrow.

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John Brodix Merryman replied on Mar. 27, 2014 @ 15:52 GMT

Quick comment;

I would see the nautical example as stability, in that as many allowances as possible for the unexpected are incorporated, while I would call the second example balance, where all possible safety zones are pushed to the limit. As I see it, the world economy is attempting the second example in the former condition. All possible safety zones are being shaved as close as possible, but we exist in a situation of increasingly rough seas.


John M

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Author Ted Howard replied on Mar. 28, 2014 @ 00:23 GMT
Hi John,

There are some profound questions around stability.

Do you want to live in a market based mindset forever?

Do we really want to stabilise the economic system, or do we let it do what it is incentivised to do, then when it is clear to the majority that the system as a whole is fundamentally unstable, introduce a new system, which is inherently stable, and does actually support abundance for all?

Until then, we set up and test and refine the system that will replace the market.

I have been looking for ways to stabilise a large number of systems for about 40 years. And in that process it has become clear that it is markets and money that are the fundamentally destabilising factor.

It is clear to me that it is logically impossible to stabilise a system based on money and markets - that is what my essay is about.


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John Brodix Merryman replied on Mar. 28, 2014 @ 01:06 GMT

We seem to be on similar ground. My entry.


John M

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Turil Sweden Cronburg wrote on Mar. 28, 2014 @ 13:55 GMT
Thank you for your essay, Ted. I appreciated it.

You might find my junior high school level math demonstration of how the monetary system causes suffering, and how being free eliminates suffering. It complements some of your ideas about the monetary system. It’s here, as a video:

Also, as to your concerns about cheating and violence, in my experience as a teacher and counselor,...

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Author Ted Howard replied on Mar. 28, 2014 @ 19:44 GMT
Hi Turil,

Thank you for your response.

I went raw vegan 4 years ago, and survived terminal cancer. I also lost a lot of weigh. I have gone onto a mixed diet, still vegan, but some cooked foods, and have put a little weight back on, with out any return of cancer. Looking to find a balance that is optimal for me. Where I live is too cold to be too skinny.

Growing food is...

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Turil Sweden Cronburg replied on Apr. 1, 2014 @ 14:28 GMT
Whoops! I forgot to put the link into my post, for my math video about money and suffering. Here it is:

Also, I'm really glad to hear about your raw diet and recovery! I'm always surprised about people saying that you can't be raw in a cold climate, since I'm raw and live in Maine right now, and I don't really have much heat in my current place...

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Joe Fisher wrote on Mar. 28, 2014 @ 16:10 GMT
Dear Mr. Howard,

I quite enjoyed reading your thought provoking essay and I do hope that it does well in the competition.

You wrote: “Abstraction is the ability to see patterns of relationships.” And of course you are completely and utterly wrong. Every physicist who has ever lived has completely missed the only relationship necessary for the understanding of how the real Universe is occurring.

All of the stars, all of the planets, all of the asteroids, all of the comets, all of the specks of astral dust and all real things have one and only one thing in common. Each real thing has a surface and an attached non-surface. All surfaces must travel at the constant “speed” of light. All non-surfaces must travel at an inconsistent “speed” that is less than the “speed” of light.

As for your other assertion that: “All things are related at multiple levels and all choices, even the choice of inaction, have consequences.” I am afraid I must disagree. As I have gone to great pains to point out in my essay, REALITY, ONCE, all things real and imagined are unique, once.

My very best regards,

Joe Fisher

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Author Ted Howard replied on Mar. 28, 2014 @ 19:51 GMT
Hi Joe

Thanks for you comments.

I do not wish to get into discussions of the implications of Einstein's discoveries, and we are perhaps not so far apart in that as you imagine.

As to everything being the eternal now, I can align with that too in a sense.

And there is also a sense where there appears to be probability functions connecting instants past, present and future - even though in reality there is only ever a present, we (as conscious entities) don't live in reality directly, but rather it seems that we exist in the model of reality that our brains create, which model appears to be our only access to reality. So it seems clear to me that there are many levels of connectedness, of all things, both within our models, and in the wider reality that they model.

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Georgina Woodward wrote on Apr. 20, 2014 @ 13:16 GMT
Hi Ted,

I enjoyed reading your essay. It certainly is a very optimistic outlook. I fear the resources will run out before abundance for all is achieved. With the effects of climate change agricultural production is likely to fall as population continues to rise. Persistent drought in the American grain belt is likely to reduce the food available as aid. Biotechnology has largely failed to provide a second green revolution and as oil runs out there will not be the means to carry out mechanized agriculture and produce and deliver fertilizer to the farms. Enough of my pessimism.I liked the clarity of your writing and that you are pointing us in a direction we can aspire to, even if it may ultimately be un-achievable. Good luck, Georgina

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Author Ted Howard replied on Apr. 20, 2014 @ 22:26 GMT
Hi Georgina,

We have no need to be short of many resources.

The sun converts over 600 million tons of hydrogen to helium every second. The tiny fraction of that energy that reaches the earth is equivalent to a layer of oil 6 inches deep over the entire planet. We are not short of energy. What we have is a paradigm deadlock. There is no money to be made from harvesting solar...

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Georgina Woodward replied on May. 4, 2014 @ 00:17 GMT
Ted, thanks for your reply and for sharing your optimism and vision of the future. Although there are still problems Cuba's return to small scale organic farming could be a good model. Organic agriculture in Cuba Though it grew out of necessity and has not so far been taken up with the same enthusiasm in other countries.

The idea of watering robots reminded me of those in the film "Silent running", directed by Douglas Trumbull, 1972

Three is also a lot of waste in food production. I live near to some apple orchards. The majority of the apples are never picked, but left to fall and rot. Those ones do not meet specific high quality standards and there is not enough profit in them, as fruit or juice, to justify paying pickers. It is a sad sight when there are people who are going hungry.

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Anselm Smidt wrote on Apr. 22, 2014 @ 16:34 GMT
Zustimmen viel. Implementieren Sie wie?

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Author Ted Howard replied on Apr. 22, 2014 @ 19:39 GMT
Thanks for the agreement Anselm.

Implementation is the tricky bit - at several levels.

At one level the problem can be expressed in terms of money - in paying wages to develop systems.

At another level it can be expressed in the form of system. gives a sketch of the form.

Developing a more comprehensive description of details will take more resources.

So yes - very interesting question.

I don't have detailed answers that work for all aspects yet. I am one man.

I need a large team.

About 10,000 people for 10 years should do it.

Only a smallish town really.

Have tried lots of options over the years.

Got a few more in process.

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James Lee Hoover wrote on Apr. 22, 2014 @ 17:18 GMT

In our world of global market and oligopoly, I don't see market value based on scarcity alone, but more and more on monopoly and control of the market. Our common future does rely on moving away from the incentives of the market and better distributing the fruits of technology, but I don't really know how to achieve that in our current world.

The automated systems we have already developed are geared toward profit rather than service to the people. Your mention of cooperation as a trait of evolution I find interesting. I'm still not sure how cooperation is a natural development from competitive environments.

Thanks for the interesting read.


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Author Ted Howard replied on Apr. 22, 2014 @ 19:32 GMT
Hi Jim

A lot of work has been done on competition leading to cooperation.

Axelrod did some of the earlier work, though like always, he built on the earlier work of others.

John Maynard-Smith did some interesting work based largely on Axelrod's. There is a huge literature on the subject of the mathematics of cooperation and games theory. All I could do was give a hint of it.

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Author Ted Howard replied on Apr. 22, 2014 @ 21:12 GMT
Hi Jim,

Just realised it could be powerful to expand on your first point too.

In a very real sense, monopoly is simply one of the mechanisms used to create scarcity. In a very real sense, the more power you have to withdraw a product or service from the market, the greater is your monopoly control, and the greater the premium your can extract from the market as a result. And supply is only one side of the market equation. Manipulating demand to create the impression of scarcity is another frequently used ploy - a major aspect of advertising and fashion and legislation involving standards at any level. It is a very complex multi-level set of systems, potentially infinitely recursively so.

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James Lee Hoover replied on May. 7, 2014 @ 23:06 GMT

But you have oligarchy as well as monopoly / oligopoly. Corporations are so huge they are too big to fail or be prosecuted, only fined at relatively miniscule amounts.

They are privatizing everything, even getting into our schools, claiming private schools trump public schools. they have the power and control to effect privatization here too.


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Thomas Howard Ray wrote on Apr. 23, 2014 @ 11:03 GMT
Ted, in the years I have been reading these FQXi essays,there are a few that I long to see developed into a book-length format. Yours is one of them.

We are of the same mind on the liberal ideal. Food, clothing, shelter, education and mobility are individual entitlements to be cooperatively distributed, not prizes to be fought over.

All best,


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Author Ted Howard replied on Apr. 25, 2014 @ 10:20 GMT
Thanks Tom

Been on my list for a while.

Had 5 serious attempts, and haven't been happy with any of them.

Doing this essay has helped me focus on an approach that has promise.

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Vladimir Rogozhin wrote on May. 2, 2014 @ 11:27 GMT
Dear Ted,

Each contest FQXi - a contest for new ideas. In your essay, I saw these new ideas to address global problems, a more successful future for Humanity. Your ideas are close to me. Let's all work together in building up a more sustainable future of Humanity and hope for the best! It's time we start the path... The New Era and a New Generation demanded action.

«The choice is ours...» and «Freedom is the recognition of necessity.» (Hegel)

I wish you success in the contest. I invite you to my blog.

High regard,


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Peter Jackson wrote on May. 23, 2014 @ 18:32 GMT

You make some excellent and highly valid points showing the failings of market incentives and the 'dog eat dog' approach to bringing advancements. We may think somewhat alike as I was raised in a fishing family and I'm now a governor of the Lifeboat Institute and offshore representative level race helmsman. I certainly agree your thesis, which was well presented and certainly worth a high score. Some of my favourite quotes are;

"Abstraction is the ability to see patterns of relationships. It seems that there are potentially infinite levels of abstraction and awareness available to us, and most of those appear to be potentially infinite within themselves." That's exactly my approach to nature, exposing far more than maths alone can.

I've also written on the atrocious situation with 'privileged access' to research and lobbied with success for open access policies. But I'd never imagined quite that outlay! It's quite criminal.

My essay goes a different route and is quite unique in showing that a 'quantum leap' (to classical logic) is possible in our understanding of nature, with massive implications. Our present science is patch on patch on bandage on splint on sticky plasters. I had to smile at your;

"Forcing a skilled gymnast to use a Zimmer frame to reduce the risk of accidental fall is not an acceptable outcome." That applies to science too, it needs a zimmer frame now but I show it's really a gymnast. However those familiar with the zimmer frame have no vision. I hope you like my allegorical tale and can support the hypothesis (10yr olds can now understand 'QM' in this way!)

Very well done for your essay, like a good haul, rich with abundant valuable species to feed everybody if we can get the distribution right and honest.

Best wishes


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