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CATEGORY: How Should Humanity Steer the Future? Essay Contest (2014) [back]
TOPIC: A Participatory Future of Humanity by Dean Rickles [refresh]

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Author Dean Rickles wrote on Apr. 15, 2014 @ 11:55 GMT
Essay Abstract

Humans, in general, are greedy. They are often arrogant. And often over-estimate their ability to control. However, in this paper, I argue that in an important sense, they also radically under-estimate their ability to control. To control the future, that is. This disconnect from the future (a temporal myopia) is at the root of the worst irrational and destructive behaviours of humans. As a corrective, I show how participatory' approaches to quantum mechanics, such as Qbism, and aspects of the philosophy of time, might inform a solution to the problems of humanity by establishing a more active, direct link with future events and future selves.

Author Bio

Dean is an ARC Future Fellow at the University of Sydney. His primary research focus is the foundations of quantum gravity. However, he also has strong interests in musicology, econophysics, climate science, neuroscience, psychology, computing and philosophy of religion. He plays the piano as often as he can (and the drums as often as his is allowed).

George Gantz wrote on Apr. 15, 2014 @ 19:07 GMT
Dean - Wonderful essay, thanks. I was a bit surprised to find you taking the tack at the end of blaming the "social brain" for the defects in human behavior. In my essay (The Tip of the Spear), I came to the opposite conclusion - that we stand the best chance of survival and progress if our empathic attributes (e.g. the social brain) are strengthened.

I do agree that we have a problem in human perception of control (or lack thereof). There is an argument that 19th and 20th century scientific progress fostered a deterministic mindset in the population at large (e.g. the clockwork universe) - remarkably this ideology still seems to have a firm grasp in some fields including neuroscience. Determinism rejects free will which denies the concept of agency. If we are going to hold ourselves accountable we first have to agree that we can make choices.

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Author Dean Rickles replied on Apr. 16, 2014 @ 09:48 GMT
Thanks George.

On the empathy point - I wasn't suggesting an elimination of empathy, but rather a more neutral, impersonal kind of empathy that isn't rooted in the various spatial and temporal biases I mentioned. In fact, Asperger's people often have this impersonal, more logical, impersonal empathy. This leads them to empathise with a greater range of things, including spatiotemporally distant persons, non-human animals, and even inanimate objects. Hence, my point was to have *greater* empathy for others, broadening the range to include spatiotemporally distant others (including your own future self).

Best,

Dean

George Gantz replied on Apr. 16, 2014 @ 16:24 GMT
OK. Perhaps this would be similar to emphasizing, in the language of social capital, the importance of bridging social capital over bonding social capital. Or from the buddhist perspective, replacing "attachments" with a more generalized compassion.

With this understanding, my essay would be in agreement with yours, as the human empathic attribute of love in its most universal form is directed towards all humanity and all future states.

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Turil Sweden Cronburg replied on Apr. 17, 2014 @ 15:17 GMT
George and Dean, as a counselor and teacher, I have seen that the problems in humans, and all other animals, stem from stress and the fight or flight system. It's not any specific region of the brain, it's the environmental factors that threaten the health and wellbeing of the individual that cause disorder. Maslow showed us, more than 50 years ago, that humans have specific needs that if not consistently met, cause distress and lack of thriving, which means that individuals can't contribute their best, most "high-minded" selves to the world. That's why a focus on supporting people's basic needs, and supporting only the high quality versions (not cheap, corporate crap), so that everyone actually can function well, mentally and physically. Right now, nearly everyone is constantly under stress from lack of something important from the most basic needs, even though most people aren't aware of it! (The stuff that most people eat is seriously low quality. The air and water we take in is polluted. And folks are constantly worried about "earning a living" just to have a home and transportation and food and such.)

Once we focus on taking good care of ourselves, as a global community, we'll see how the human mind can function when it's not stuck at the bottom levels of Maslow's hierarchy. :-)

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John C Hodge wrote on Apr. 15, 2014 @ 19:18 GMT
“Humanity’s steering of the future must involve going beyond humanity.” I note the word “must”. I suggest such attempts take too long. We must deal with humanity as it is. You note “David

Hume argues that human nature has remained pretty much constant over time, as has a penchant for

complaining about one’s present times in favour of the past!”

That is done with organization not morals change.

There are other ways.

A business leader or any other leader that doesn’t plan for the future soon fails. A plan is a way of deciding what to do now. It is not a pre-decided statement of what to do in any part of the future. Hopefully, if the plan is based on some understanding, the outcome will be favorable to the goal. But the actions to achieve the future may, and probability, will not be what was originally planned.

I like your marshmallow example. If one cannot predict the future, one takes the 1 marshmallow. Humans cannot predict the outcome of its actions far enough in time.

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Member Sabine Hossenfelder wrote on Apr. 16, 2014 @ 10:08 GMT
Hi Dean,

This is an interesting connection you draw. When I started reading your essay, immediately Mermin's recent Nature piece came to my mind - I see you cited it. (I'm about to write a blogpost about it.) Your argument bears much similarity to Lee Smolin's, did you read his last book 'time reborn'? Best,

Sabine

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Lawrence B Crowell wrote on Apr. 16, 2014 @ 19:12 GMT
Dean,

I thought your article was interesting. I am not sure how well the human mind can conform to quantum logic or Qubism, but maybe turned into some sort of practice similar to Taoism or Zen it might have some impact.

I argue along lines similar to Raamsdonk that space and time are manifestations of entanglements. In fact I think general relativity and quantum mechanics are different manifestations of the same thing. The ADM Hamiltonian constraint equation is NH = 0 which in the quantum sense is NΨ[g] = 0. This departs from the Schroedinger equation because there is no -i∂Ψ[g]/∂t term. There is then no global Killing vector of the sort K_t = ∂_t. However, local observers measure time according to a clock. So a local observer in region A measures time, but this may be different from region B. The Hamiltonian for this system is for independent states then H = H_a⊗I ⊕ I⊗H_b so that a time dependent |ψ_a(t)> may be found by projecting onto the total state vector |Ψ[g]> with the local vector

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Lawrence B Crowell replied on Apr. 16, 2014 @ 19:15 GMT
This text editor does not like left carrot signs; so to continue:

\rangleψ_b|. This means that time is a subjective quantity just as any state vector or wave is.

In Misner, Thorne and Wheeler “Gravitation” with Ch21 there is the discussion of the “many fingered time,” which points to how the analyst or observer can push time into the future according to any procedure. Time is in effect chosen by the analyst-observer and not something “given” by nature. I think in some fashion this is what connects quantum mechanics and general relativity, in fact implies an equivalency between the two.

Cosmological examples of this are the de Sitter and anti-de Sitter spacetimes. The metric equations are not globally extendible on the entire manifold, but exist only on certain coordinate patches. There are then no global coordinate systems, and by extension no global meaning to time. In the eternal inflationary scenario regions of the manifold quantum tunnel into a different vacuum state and define disconnected manifolds as pockets or bubbles. These then have their separate time direction with no extension to the dS manifold of inflation. A similar case may be argued for the AdS manifold as well.

I am not sure to what extent this can be translated into the future of humanity. It might have some philosophical resonance with ethics and what Heilbronner calls worldly philosophy.

Cheers LC

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Author Dean Rickles replied on Apr. 16, 2014 @ 22:28 GMT
Thanks Lawrence,

I should just quickly clear up the role of Qbism here. I'm not saying that we should 'reconfigure minds' to conform to Qbism (I'm not even sure what that would mean). The Qbism is there since the essay competition description called for physics/cosmology links, and the Qbist picture described something like the kind of participatory worldview that I think could eliminate some of the temporal myopia I mention. There aren't many such views like this (most tend towards a fatalistic picture of time).

The actual practical solution comes at the end of my essay, concerning the neurobiological aspects of reward mechanisms.

Best,

Dean

Joe Fisher wrote on Apr. 17, 2014 @ 14:04 GMT
Dear Professor Rickles.

I found reading your essay was a truly awesome educational experience, and I do hope that it does well in the contest.

You wrote: “Personal experience (the stuff that matters most to humans) has been eroded from science.) Fortunately for us all, it has not eroded from non-scientists with common sense such as myself.

Based only on my observation, I...

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Georgina Woodward wrote on Apr. 18, 2014 @ 05:32 GMT
Hi Dean,

I enjoyed your thought provoking essay. You have raised a very important point about people thinking that they can not affect the future. I think the concept of Qubism may be difficult for most people to grasp but I agree that some sense of empowerment to affect the future could be beneficial in getting more positive action. The current situation reminds me of the failed UK public information campaign which showed lots of people dropping litter and each saying "my little bit of litter won't do any harm"( or something along those lines)

I saw a similarity with Sabine's essay when you talk about people not feeling connected to distant problems. It is an important issue worth highlighting. The World's problem's are now global and interconnected. Global, social and political, effort and collaboration, in order to implement solutions, or mitigating adaptation, may be required, rather than relying upon the good will of individuals.

Good Luck. Georgina

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Author Dean Rickles replied on Apr. 23, 2014 @ 03:38 GMT
Thanks Georgina,

Being a rather cynical fellow, I would certainly never rely on the good will of individuals!

Good luck with your essay - I'm slowing making my way through them and will reach yours soon.

Best,

Dean

Wesley Wayne Hansen wrote on Apr. 21, 2014 @ 14:58 GMT
Dean,

Your essay seems resonant with much of the wisdom expounded upon by the Rishis and Lamas of the world: all of humanity's problems have their foundation in undisciplined human nature and the way to mitigate these problems is to simply transcend this undisciplined nature. There is a rapidly growing body of scientific evidence demonstrating the efficacy of ancient yoga and meditation...

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Author Dean Rickles replied on Apr. 22, 2014 @ 01:59 GMT
Dear Wes,

Thanks very much for the Davidson et al. reference - this kind of "self-control" intervention is bang on target.

Thanks also for mentioning Knuth and Goyal's work. I do know this quite well and recently co-organised a conference at which they both spoke: http://informationandinteraction.wordpress.com/programme/.

Be
st,

Dean

James Lee Hoover wrote on Apr. 22, 2014 @ 18:02 GMT
Dean,

Densely packed essay.

You don't believe that we can't throw off the human nature of "possession and greed" given a society without scarcity, let's say brought on by the exploitation of the most abundant element, hydrogen with fusion, for example.

I like your suggestion that "steering" is the wrong metaphor. Improvising is better since the course is not clear and may change.

Jim

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Author Dean Rickles replied on Apr. 23, 2014 @ 03:21 GMT
Hi Jim,

Scarcity alone is surely only part of the problem: we have evolved over long periods to deal with scarcity and our brains are wired for such a harsh, competitive world. Do those *without* scarcity of resources stop accumulating and piling up the capital? I don't see that happening (maybe in very rare cases) - hence the massive wealth inequality. Enough will never be enough while we have brains built such as ours. I'm pretty sure we already have enough for everyone to go around, without cheap/efficient fusion, but our stupid brains won't allow it to happen. I personally have enough, and yet I can't kick the feeling of wanting to upgrade everything thanks to this primitive brain of mine.

Best,

Dean

James Lee Hoover replied on May. 22, 2014 @ 17:21 GMT
Dean,

Time grows short, so I am revisiting and rating.

We have certainly disconnected from the future. Everything seems to be geared toward the short-term. My essay speaks of "the future self," regarding "looking beyond" the orthodox and "looking within" regarding the untapped capabilities of the brain, which I see as a microcosm of the universe.

Have you had time to read my essay. I would be interested in your thoughts on it.

Jim

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Member Rick Searle wrote on Apr. 23, 2014 @ 13:37 GMT
Hi Dean,

Very enjoyable essay. Loved your ending where you say "improvising" is a better metaphor that steering. Spot on in my view.

One question, which I brought up in regards to Sabine's essay as well. You seem to be focused on individuals,but should we be thinking in terms of institutions as well or even more? I know that institutions are made up of individuals, but they also have rules that bias individual behavior in a certain way. Perhaps we should be thinking about how to make such future biases more effective?

Best of luck!

Rick Searle

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Author Dean Rickles replied on May. 29, 2014 @ 03:19 GMT
Hi Rick,

I would say that since institutions are one way of implementing social norms, then setting their rules up correctly would be crucial. But this is understood in terms of the guiding role they have on individual behaviour (and interactions between individuals). In the end, I think, whichever way you look at it, individuals are at the core.

Best,

Dean

Member Tejinder Pal Singh wrote on Apr. 24, 2014 @ 13:17 GMT
Dear Dean,

I have very much enjoyed reading your essay, especially in the context of the comment you left on my page. It was exciting indeed how you emphasize the need for getting out of the here and now, and planning for the there and then. While at first sight, we seem to be advocating diametrically opposite stances, I feel we actually are in agreement. When I talk of being in the here and now, I mean avoiding unproductive worry / anxiety / fear of the future. As I do note in my essay, if the here and now is used to productively plan for the future, that is an absolutely welcome thing to to do. I am glad that you highlight its importance much more emphatically than I do, and am in full agreement, so long as envisaging the future is constructive planning, and not fear of uncertainty.

As for indulgence in destructive behavior’ in the here and now, I have inferred it as a consequence of the thought clutter’ of the unconscious mind, which would go away if one operates from the conscious I’.

Best wishes,

Tejinder

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Author Dean Rickles replied on May. 29, 2014 @ 03:22 GMT
Dear Tejinder,

I'm very glad to hear we are in agreement in the fundamentals - obviously anxiety (about the future) is one of the psychological problems that would have to be battled against, and I'm sure can be found to be responsible for many instances of self-gratification (=future-thinking-avoidance).

Best,

Dean

Laurence Hitterdale wrote on May. 3, 2014 @ 18:52 GMT
Hi Dean,

Aren’t the implications of Qbism opposed to the change in thinking that you recommend? I say this even after reading your note in which you clarify that you refer to Qbism only for its general tendency rather than for specific beliefs (April 16, 22:28 GMT). The general idea of Qbism seems to be, as you state, “subjective experience . . . is the fundamental thing.” Furthermore, as you also state, “spacetime is an inference (an abstraction) from this.” But subjective experience is always experience in and of the present moment. If subjective experience is a fundamental reality, and maybe the only fundamental reality, then it would seem to follow that the present is the only real part of time. At least, the present would be real in some deeper and more important way than the past or the future. That view would in turn seem to justify and encourage focusing on present experience here and now. But that “temporal myopia” (as you call it) is just what you want to argue against. So I am not clear about this.

In any event, I appreciate your comments on my essay. My response there was brief, because you and I agree that we cannot invoke radical transformation of the human condition as the solution to the problems of present humanity. I think that my proposals, like yours, avoid that mistake. Thanks for your comments.

Laurence Hitterdale

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Author Dean Rickles replied on May. 29, 2014 @ 03:16 GMT
Hi Laurence,

The whole point of using the Qbist interpretation as an example of a participatory physics is that it appears to dispense with the Block Universe picture, in favour of the present. But presentists don't believe that the present never changes: there is becoming of course. The point is that how one acts in this present moment is actively linked to the following present moment (experience). [Qbism isn't solipsistic by the way: the subjectivism is participatory in something like the sense of Eddington's selective subjectivism.]

The fact that subjective experience is of a present moment is of course behind the temporal myopia (and related biases). By showing how your future selves and experiences (with early training to avoid instant gratification for example) are a direct result of your actions we might be able to get beyond the biases. Hence, I agree that we do focus on the "present experience here and now" (my argument is based on the idea that this is the root of many of humanity's problems). But the elimination of the block picture doesn't justify the behaviour (I'm not sure how it would for the reason given above: the present is not an unchanging present). One can still be concerned about present subjective experiences (rather than experience) in the knowledge that future subjective present experiences will be had, and can be good or bad depending on how you act, and will happen to you.

Cheers,

Dean

Cristinel Stoica wrote on May. 4, 2014 @ 08:54 GMT
Dear Dean,

I enjoyed very much your very profound, well thought and well written essay. I think it captures a (if not "the") central problem by which the individuals allow bad things happen. Indeed, it is important to understand and continuously be aware that we can affect the future. We have free will.

I find very interesting the connection you point with Qbism. Of course, the...

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Author Dean Rickles replied on May. 29, 2014 @ 03:03 GMT
Hi Christi,

Cause and effect is exactly what I have in mind (hence the business of being actively linked to future events). The Qbist link is clearly causing some confusion (my fault). I am not suggesting that changing our interpretation of QM will resolve problems (obviously). The Qbism was simply there to highlight that there are approaches to fundamental physics that are consistent with the kind of approach to "steering the future" that I defend (which is not based on physics at all, but on individuals and their biases). Should have made this clearer...

Cheers,

Dean

John Brodix Merryman wrote on May. 4, 2014 @ 16:26 GMT
Dean,

As you point out, we develop habits which might offer short term gratification, but long term trouble and even when we realize this, cannot easily change course. As is said of drunks, sometimes they just have to hit bottom before they can see the light of day. It seem humanity as a whole is headed toward that situation and so the question then becomes, how do we then change our...

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Author Dean Rickles replied on May. 29, 2014 @ 02:59 GMT
Hi John,

I agree with some of what you say. But we have reached bottom multiple times as a species, but still repeat the same self-destructive patterns - as if it will all be different this time. Bubbles are an especially good example of how quickly we can forget 'lessons learned' at rock bottom. Already dirt cheap mortgages are flourishing again... This is why I think we have to explicitly train kids early on to avoid the behaviour patterns that cause people to behave irrationally. We have to accept that our brains are primitive in all sorts of ways (the various biases I mention, which was of course just a small sample) and act early to to avoid the kinds of serious problems they lead to. This is actually implementable and is not expensive, though it obviously is not good for business!

Cheers,

Dean

Mohammed M. Khalil wrote on May. 6, 2014 @ 16:22 GMT
Hi Dean,

Great essay! It is well argued and beautifully written.

I agree with you that we can control where our future is headed. I also agree that spreading to other planets is not the solution to our problems. In my essay, I argue that science can lead humanity's future, and we have to make the conditions right for science to do so.

I especially enjoyed how you linked Qbism with finding solutions to humanity's problems.

Best regards,

Mohammed

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Peter Jackson wrote on May. 12, 2014 @ 15:46 GMT
Dean,

I'll start by agreeing your last line, we create and "improvise" the future. I'm not sure many see it otherwise, but worth that reminder. I also agree your two points;

1. The planet is in a dire state: socially, politically, economically, and naturally. and 2; That humans are largely responsible. but largely as we don't well enough understand nature so can't see the real implications of our actions.

I'd not studied Qbism but find it coincides closely with my own findings. You may recall my last years essay (The IQbit, 2nd Community scorer) agreeing the Beyesian view. Indeed I find a profound discovery emerges from quantum states as only subjective, and an observers 'experience' which I describe this year, a hypothesis which may revolutionise understanding of QM by deriving quantum 'correlations' from an observer defined classical mechanism. Bell is circumvented as he anticipated by his 'so what' option (no singlet states and a Copenhagen-like view). I hope you may help by analysing with respect to Qbism.

I agree most of your views, but do you not think better education and methodologies of thinking, and better understanding of how nature works, would contribute greatly? Particularly to discover exactly 'what' among the many things might bring our end while there's still time to mend our ways?

I subtly suggest that escaping 'Earth centric thinking' enables a giant classical (quantum?) leap. The foundations of the model (consistent with my previous essays) may allow a version of Feynmann-Weinberg recursive gauge QG with hidden likenesses with Chaos, strings and Godel's n-vale logic. I'd appreciate your views.

I consider yours is very professionally written, interesting and relevant and I think it should be placed higher. And thank you for the heads up on Qbism (also one of my favourite art schools!)

Best wishes

Peter

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James A Putnam wrote on May. 13, 2014 @ 13:28 GMT
Dear Dean Rickles,

I don't recognize the people or the world that you describe. I am not denying the existence of some of what you describe. What is missing throughout your essay are the qualifying words 'some' and 'others'. Outside of the box that you have built, there is a world where some people act one way and others act another way. I won't be rating your essay.

James Putnam

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Author Dean Rickles replied on May. 29, 2014 @ 02:52 GMT
But I point to the large individual differences in the final paragraph, and also say "in general" (i.e. predominantly) in the abstract to the essay. If you don't recognise that the traits I mention are predominant in society, that I'd like to move to whatever planet you live on.

Cheers,

Dean

Thomas Howard Ray wrote on May. 16, 2014 @ 16:21 GMT
Dean,

I'm really happy to see your essay among a number of solidly rationalist proposals in this year's competition.

I like the distinction you identify between space and time dynamics:

"After all, the spatially distant selves are genuinely distinct individuals, while our future selves are us."

I am persuaded that a multi-scale map of sufficient variety shrinks the spatial distance between individuals and lengthens the time trajectory of the evolving society; in other words, allows recovery time for transition from immediate gratification to a rational future. (I am tempted to parody the classic 'Saturday Night Live' parody of Blue Oyster Cult: "More amygdala"!)

In a more philosophical vein, Martin Buber spoke of "Will without caprice," in constructing one's future. Societies should be able to do the same.

Nice job! I hope my rating helps bring your essay closer to the position it deserves.

Best,

Tom

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Ajay Bhatla wrote on May. 20, 2014 @ 17:27 GMT
Dean,

Enjoyed the variety of thoughts you brought in to make your essay. Your key point (that I fully concur with) to me is: "... for it is us ...". You use it to justify Qbism, but it is the basis of every kind of action that can be contemplated.

I have a question on your "If we can set up positive pathways for future-based thinking ..." Is it not already true that every one of us, regardless of age, skill, economic condition, social status ... has at least one (and usually many many more) positive pathway already embedded in each individual mind? Isn't the real issue of concern around imposition by anyone of their pathway on others? I am looking forward to your response.

My essay (here) basically says: give people the ability to make real the positive pathway they see for their own life. Please read my essay and let me know what you think.

-- Ajay

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Author Dean Rickles replied on May. 29, 2014 @ 02:47 GMT
Hi Ajay,

I'm wishing I'd left Qbism out! It was a case of reading the essay competition guidelines literally, and so linking directly to physics. In any case, I didn't use any argument to justify Qbism: the idea was simply that there are aspects of participatory approaches to physics (in general) that have the scope to link present states with future states. thus getting rid of some of the temporal myopia. Qbism is a good, well-worked out example of such an approach, showing that my general argument is consistent with the worldview (or one possible worldview) of physics.

On your question, I of course agree that *self-directed* positive pathways are not enough alone. But as I understand it, rational self-directed pathways automatically include others (since they can also destroy the planet and our happiness). This is something like group selection in evolutionary biology.

Best,

Dean

James A Putnam wrote on May. 29, 2014 @ 13:57 GMT
Dear Dean Rickles,

I have returned to planet Earth. Upon my return I have reread your essay. It is as if I were reading it for the first time. I was wrong. I apologize for what I wrote. Your essay was not a superficial indictment of the human race. My reading of it was a superficial and represented what I was thinking in my mind rather than what I was reading. Now I think that I learned...

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Author Dean Rickles replied on May. 29, 2014 @ 23:26 GMT
Welcome back - and thanks so much for the rating boost!

Peter Jackson wrote on May. 30, 2014 @ 19:08 GMT
Dean,

You didn't respond to my (12th May) post but I hope you may now get a chance to read and comment on my essay with the extend scoring deadline as I'd value your opinion. I hope you won't be misled by the allegorical setting.

Thanks and best wishes

Peter

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Member David L. Wiltshire wrote on Jun. 7, 2014 @ 00:17 GMT
Dear Dean,

I think I must have shared most of your views on what the problem is before I read your essay, and so I enjoyed reading it. But I still do not see a clear way through the problem of how is humanity to survive the next century. If we promote wider rational thinking, and more people taking a Qbist stance in their own lives, how does that translate to collective rational decision making? There are inevitable hard global self-organization questions that have to be faced.

All best wishes,

David

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