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January 9, 2014 - August 31, 2014
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Daniel Dewey: on 6/6/14 at 15:40pm UTC, wrote Hey Steven and Steve, Nice work! I like your essay quite a lot, and I...

Vladimir Tamari: on 6/4/14 at 15:14pm UTC, wrote Steven and Steve, If I read your essay correctly you seem to conclude that...

Margriet O'Regan: on 6/4/14 at 14:50pm UTC, wrote Hello Steven & Steve ~ Your essay is an essentially cautionary one. Now...

Luca Valeri: on 5/25/14 at 21:03pm UTC, wrote Steven, Your essay is much to short. I'd like to here more. You're...

Michael Allan: on 5/7/14 at 20:11pm UTC, wrote Hello Steven and Steve, When you're able to catch up, may I post a short,...

George Gantz: on 5/7/14 at 13:03pm UTC, wrote Steven and Steve - You've provided a very thoughtful contribution on the...

Joe Fisher: on 5/6/14 at 14:18pm UTC, wrote Dear Mr. Kaas, Your essay was quite interesting to read and I do hope that...

Peter Jackson: on 5/6/14 at 10:24am UTC, wrote Steven, Interesting approach about the connections with morality; "there...


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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.

Can Time Be Saved From Physics?
Philosophers, physicists and neuroscientists discuss how our sense of time’s flow might arise through our interactions with external stimuli—despite suggestions from Einstein's relativity that our perception of the passage of time is an illusion.

A devilish new framework of thermodynamics that focuses on how we observe information could help illuminate our understanding of probability and rewrite quantum theory.

Gravity's Residue
An unusual approach to unifying the laws of physics could solve Hawking's black-hole information paradox—and its predicted gravitational "memory effect" could be picked up by LIGO.

Could Mind Forge the Universe?
Objective reality, and the laws of physics themselves, emerge from our observations, according to a new framework that turns what we think of as fundamental on its head.

August 26, 2019

CATEGORY: How Should Humanity Steer the Future? Essay Contest (2014) [back]
TOPIC: Who steers who steers? A note on identifying vulnerable moral propensities by Steven Kaas [refresh]
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Author Steven Kaas wrote on Apr. 29, 2014 @ 13:57 GMT
Essay Abstract

There are a variety of processes that steer the future; that is, they move it toward certain states and away from others dynamically, with changing behaviors in response to changing conditions. Our decisions now don't just steer the future directly, but influence what the major steering processes in the future will be. Certain dangers attend such a project. Often the replacement of part of an ecosystem or a society with an engineered substitute, designed on the basis of a partial understanding, meets with severe drawbacks from unrecognized missing functionality that was demolished or displaced. In the same way, a project to take into hand the steering of the future, to fulfill its potential according to some moral vision, risks demolishing or displacing some unrecognized steering processes that generated and preserved the correctness of the moral sense behind the vision. While this risk cannot be avoided entirely, it can be mitigated by developing better tools for identifying or avoiding interference with unrecognized steering processes. In light of modern physical ontology, and in light of the abstractness of some of the plausible processes (such as the relative market success of firms, or historical evolutionary selection), we suggest that such tools should be rooted in a very conservatively general theoretical framework, based on finding factorizations of the world's state space into potential "steering" and "steered" state subspaces, with partially coupled dynamics.

Author Bio

Steven Kaas has a master's degree in Econometrics and bachelor's degrees in Mathematics and Physics. He has previously done research on the economics of self-improving artificial intelligence (with Steve Rayhawk) as well as its implications for effective philanthropy. Steve Rayhawk has a bachelor's degree in Mathematics and has done research on the use of probabilistic models in futurism and in communication of futurist projections.

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James Dunn wrote on Apr. 29, 2014 @ 18:10 GMT
Should our present morals dictate future morals? I would think providing people with greater abilities to comprehend issues is more important than creating a rigid set of morals that supposedly would not change with time.

Also, to grow physics opportunities requires greater application of predicting consequences (business planning) so that the future includes potentially destructive technologies (warping space-time) but the human race has the tools to deduce broad consequences and make informed decisions.

Teaching Teachers to Teach Common Sense

You've been thinking about this. How do you initially propose to interactively model "steering the future" related processes?

You concept fits in with Deep Thunder (IBM weather simulation software) as a form of broadly modeled finite element analysis.

How might we model public policies, political systems, economic systems ... with physics opportunities as an overlay?

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James Dunn replied on May. 4, 2014 @ 03:19 GMT
Back again,

Contributing to your concept of monitoring everything everywhere to anticipate the outcomes of complex changes.

This is the foundation of what I believe is such a system. What you propose is the type of system that would be needed to controllably warp space/time.

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James Dunn replied on May. 4, 2014 @ 03:27 GMT
i.e. if you warp space/time what are the broad consequences of the proposed action?

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Denis Frith wrote on Apr. 30, 2014 @ 01:54 GMT
Who steers what? Humanity can only steer the tangible operations of the tangible systems of civilization. People can only make decisions, good or bad,about how the infrastructure operates as it uses up limited natural material wealth, produces immutable material waste and degrades the environment. Humanity can steer the future in a better direction if it comes to understand what the present infrastructure is doing wrong.

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Anonymous wrote on Apr. 30, 2014 @ 10:08 GMT
Hi Steven,

Thanks for a very interesting essay. Your precautionary warning of moral steering is fascinating. If I am understanding you correctly, you are saying that a moral project leading to some social outcome, which you differeniate from unplanned moral change, can have potentially unforseen effects including outcomes that alter or destroy that morality? This is a fascinating argument...

view entire post

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Ross Cevenst replied on Apr. 30, 2014 @ 10:09 GMT
Above was me, was logged out while writing.

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Peter Jackson wrote on May. 6, 2014 @ 10:24 GMT

Interesting approach about the connections with morality; "there is a state subspace for the "morality" and a state subspace for the "nature", with partially coupled dynamics." which I see as as valid for steering the future as disaster prevention or 'physical' utopias.

I particularly agree that too often we fail to realise; "If a process which influences the future is being steered by another process, then it is the latter process that is ultimately doing the steering." I suggest it's the same with fundamental physics advancements. Many of the essays here consider symptoms not cause.

An interesting novel view. But are you going to engage in the process here and read others essays s Steven? It seems many won't bother to even read essays, and certainly not score them well, where the authors are absentee and don't respond, Most of the value of the process is then lost.

Best wishes


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Joe Fisher wrote on May. 6, 2014 @ 14:18 GMT
Dear Mr. Kaas,

Your essay was quite interesting to read and I do hope that it does well in the contest. I do have one minor quibble that I hope you do not mind me mentioning.

Reality is unique, once. Morality is not unique. Quantum Physics is not unique.

With my best regards,

Joe Fisher

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George Gantz wrote on May. 7, 2014 @ 13:03 GMT
Steven and Steve -

You've provided a very thoughtful contribution on the conceptual and practical difficulties posed by this FQXi essay question. I was particularly interested in your focus on moral norms as being integral to the problem of steering, something which I also raised in my essay The Tip of the Spear. You identify a key question in this passage: "there exists or could exist some entity in the world strategically trying to direct the world to some particular state..." My sense of your essay is that you do not take a position on whether there is any strategic direction inherent in the course of human civilization? If there is no a priori guiding principle, are we then left to the vicissitudes of random moral drift, or are there clear "objective" principles for which you would advocate?

Thanks - George Gantz

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Michael Allan wrote on May. 7, 2014 @ 20:11 GMT
Hello Steven and Steve, When you're able to catch up, may I post a short, but sincere critique of your essay? I'd ask you to return the favour. Here's my policy on that. - Mike

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Luca Valeri wrote on May. 25, 2014 @ 21:03 GMT

Your essay is much to short. I'd like to here more. You're touching an interesting topic. The very question on 'how we should ...' is a moral one. And with changed circumstances our moral will change. Would be good to know how.

I'm not sure, what you mean by factorization. Sounds like searching for the socio economic factors for certain morals. A bit like Marx did.

Weber on the other side emphasised the reverse dependency of who the moral influences the development of the socio economic factors.

Both might be right. So we would have a loop back system.

Anyhow. For addressing that important topic I think you earn a good rating.


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Margriet Anne O'Regan wrote on Jun. 4, 2014 @ 14:50 GMT
Hello Steven & Steve ~

Your essay is an essentially cautionary one. Now that we have the fate of pretty much the entire world in our hands, caution should indeed be our watchword. Nevertheless as I read I hoped that you would make some more concrete suggestions as to the 'road' or pathways we might take.

As I say in my essay I'm convinced that not only does nature have our fate firmly under control but that it is ultimately a very desirable destiny, none other than that state of being which is in perfect harmony with the universe.

On the other hand if we humans don't understand this & as a consequence don't re-align ourselves with this most enviable of 'fates' we'll just wipe ourselves out, & tragically most of the rest of creation too, but nature will 'merely' start all over again & next time some several millions or billions of years from now it (nature) will produce a more tractable fully evolved, perfectly adapted life form, which entity will possibly know of our own checkered existence via the worldwide relics we will have left behind.

You yourselves spoke of 'natural selection' as being one of the processes steering our future. I feel that one of our worst lapses is our misunderstanding of the evolutionary process & that rightly interpreted it can be seen as our salvation - that which could steer us towards a much brighter future than most of us realise.

Hope you have time to read & rate my essay which is second in the 'submissions date' list.

Best regards,

Margriet Anne O'Regan

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Vladimir F. Tamari wrote on Jun. 4, 2014 @ 15:14 GMT
Steven and Steve,

If I read your essay correctly you seem to conclude that the concept of steering the future is a highly abstract proposition hard to pin down. I did too and in my essay made Einstein seem to say so. At one point you write

"In other words, it will be necessary to consider (in principle) all possible states of the observable universe, and all possible factorisations of that state space (under the appropriate formalisation); and then try to find rules to identify factorisations containing moral processes which plausibly qualify as attempting to steer the future."

That is indeed an abstract, i.e. impractical proposition! But it is laudable that you emphasise the need for moral courses of action. We may all turn to (or at least think like) robots; even so we must follow the first law of robotics: not to harm other robots - er humans.

Good luck to us all


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Member Daniel Dewey wrote on Jun. 6, 2014 @ 15:40 GMT
Hey Steven and Steve,

Nice work! I like your essay quite a lot, and I think the problem of identifying "moral perspective sources" is a really interesting and important problem. It's such a hard problem that I am having trouble even coming up with interesting things to say about it.

In practice, I think I make some kind of assumption about a "status quo" under which moral progress happens; for example, I would expect an Earth that transitions safely to post-scarcity and then exists at a fixed population size in a society similar to our current one for a very long time would be quite good at generating moral perspective, but I can't justify this intuition very well. Something about free exchange and evaluation of ideas, and that the morally best memes will have a strong advantage in that environment--- but that could just be wrong. Call it the Fitness of Moral Memes hypothesis, or something.

Anyway, I hope you have luck in pushing forward on this stuff, it seems valuable.



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