DEPTH OF ANALYSIS
The depth of analysis that may be applied in the construction of any model of the world based on perceived phenomena is theoretically unbounded, with each further level of depth offering the promise of greater accuracy and utility, though information management issues (increasing complexity and sophistication can cost more in time, effort, and physical resources) can provide practical limits. Also, increases in the depth of analyses may lead to a series of models that appear to be converging at a point, making further increases in depth imprudent. A related observation is that increases in depth, along with increases in complexity generally, often have declining marginal utility.
The precision, or level of detail, of a model used in analysis must be chosen carefully if the model is to be useful and helpful in predicting future phenomena. A higher level of precision is obtainable and useful for a model of a very limited set of phenomena, e.g., the interactions of atoms of type A or B. For models of broad sets of phenomena, such as models developed for social interactions, a relatively high level of precision is unmanageable, as the number of variables and the complexity of interactions that would be required for precision would overwhelm the information processing capabilities of the observer. So the observer should be flexible in choosing levels of detail and precision for a model based on the complexity of the phenomena to be modeled. Also, for such complex phenomena, different observers will have different measurements and data and differing analyses, so their models will diverge as the depth is increased, making wide agreement and the development of a common accepted model virtually impossible, and thus reducing the utility of adding depth.
A sophisticated model, one of some depth, may use the idea of feedback loops. Considerations of information management and trends toward convergence apply to any analysis, including those incorporating feedback loops in the construction of a model, so prudence dictates that the construction of feedback loop representations be sensitive to resource-cost concerns.
Simple models of the world we find ourselves in, the “out there” that produces our sensations and perceptions, represent objects and motion. More sophisticated models may incorporate ideas about forces and fields and various other less obvious aspects of our physical reality. For living systems, which generally behave in self-sustaining manner, feedback loops are a key component. The biological system must respond to feedback from the environment in order to maintain its life process, grow, and reproduce. These feedback loops can be simple chemical processes or can be sophisticated neural circuits that are connected through inter-individual forms of communication and involve the brains of many members of a human group. When formulating models of groups of social animals, and particularly humans, the use of feedback loops is essential to capture crucial elements of the social process.
Human consciousness can well be described as a circuit of electrical activity. Thoughts of the self may be simply characterized as a circuit flowing through its usual pathways and thereby creating a model, or mini-circuit, that represents the entire circuit. The circuit is confined to the brain in the simplest sense and leads to the characterization of the brain as the source of the “self.”
However, circuits that flow through a brain may flow through other brains, particularly in social animals. A form of collective circuit is formed. An individual may form many such circuits in a society of individuals just as the individual may belong to many social circles. Correspondingly, a brain may generate many circuits, some of which are primarily contained within the brain, some of which are primarily social circuits (flow through a group of individuals of the same species), and some of which flow through the brain but are not totally contained within a society of individuals (e.g. interspecies relationships). There may also be relationships involving the non-animal universe, e.g. a circuit involved in “communing with nature.”
In the near-future for human society, a new type of circuit involving the non-animal universe may become common, a human-computer circuit that derives from a relationship between a human and a “thinking” computer, i.e. one that can engage in creative thought. The “society” formed may become extremely dangerous with regard to the safety and integrity of traditional human society.
When an individual becomes connected to something, or forms a relationship with something or someone, it actually is forming a circuit. Circuits that become strong and vital are those which are constantly replenished with energy, i.e. rejuvenated. Rejuvenation takes place through the experience of pleasure, possibly even the pleasure of relieving or escaping pain or fear.
Dangerous circuits form when a circuit is inconsistent with the circuits involved in survival. Sometimes pleasure may result from activities inconsistent with survival (e.g. drug use) and dangerous, problematic circuits are formed and reinforced. Breaking those circuits can be especially difficult and the best approach is to keep them from forming.
PROGRESS IN KNOWLEDGE
Human progress in understanding the universe, in constructing models of the universe that provide some predictability of future phenomena and of reactions to proposed actions, has resulted primarily from fields of study where certainty and agreement, or as much certainty and agreement as healthy human minds are capable of, is attainable. These include the fields of mathematics, with certainty established through rigorous proofs, which can be verified by others, and those of the hard sciences, where rigorous scientific experimentation is possible and can be replicated by others. Hypotheses can be verified and theories can be supported or invalidated, and the progress of human knowledge marches on.
Conversely, in fields where rigorous proof is not possible, and objective measurements of all significant variables are difficult to obtain, including in the social sciences as well as in the humanities, speculation is rampant and the dominant theories are those supported by social institutions and powerful social forces, not those verified by scientific experiment and in depth rigorous analysis of agreed-upon data. So progress is slow if it occurs at all.
Tragically, the most important issues that any society must grapple with usually involve consideration of models based on social science or studies in the humanities. Mathematics and the hard sciences are generally only directly applicable to isolated specific problems and not to general questions that involve critical questions of social policy. Great expertise is developed with regard to these specific problem areas, and that is often used to generate great power that may apply in conflicts that determine societal direction. But the expertise, or the power that follows from it, does not confer on the holder of same the greater wisdom in determining societal direction, as the expertise is far removed from the questions related to the large social issues. Expertise in specific problem areas does not translate into expertise in global issues.
Models of the physical reality are not equal. Though each individual will construct a model for that individual, when those individuals interact they create a shared model, and within a society there can be developed an accepted model, that becomes to some degree universal. However, it is critical that competing models still exist, for no model is complete or flawless and competing models can help provide improvements.
Improvement in models is made more easily where rigorous scientific experimentation allows for the winnowing out of inferior models, in the form of hypotheses or theories, and the establishment of superior ones. In areas of study where rigorous experimentation is not possible, such as in the social sciences, improvement in models is much more difficult to come by, but scoring models according to their relative success in predicting outcomes can still provide useful information for analysis and improvement.
In the social science of economics, the improvement in models is even more difficult as powerful economic interests may play a significant role in promotion or defending a model even when the evidence, if widely known, would tend to undermine it.
There are an infinite number of ways to interpret any phenomenon, though human individuals are inclined to, and probably predisposed to, search for interpretations that bring pleasure or avoid pain, i.e., those that provide the most positive feedback. This propensity may have little utility with regard to survival and individual welfare if interpretations are chosen only to provide immediate pleasure by helping to create new models of the world in which the subject’s social status, or other state related to an increased rate of receiving future rewards, is improved. This inefficiently allocates mental resources to providing pleasure without contributing to altering the environment to provide more positive feedback in the future. On the other hand, interpretations that are chosen with the goal of creating more accurate models of the universe to provide more moderate pleasure through creation of anticipation of future rewards, have great utility.
The discipline to control the impulse, inefficient and harmful as it is, to provide immediate pleasure can be developed by associating with pain the act of submitting to that impulse, which can provide a barrier to following that impulse.
TIME TRAVEL IN A MODEL OF REALITY
Just as an aside, I cannot conceive of a model of physical reality with time travel. I am no quantum physicist, and so I cannot speak to issues of time on the quantum or micro level, but on the macro level of visible objects time travel appears nonsensical. To begin with, characters who time travel in science fiction appear at what seems to be the same space in the different time, but that makes no sense. Everything in space is moving all the time, and so any point in space in the present has no exact corresponding point in the past or future (i.e., a particular place exists only at a particular time). Science fiction writers often use some point on Earth as the point of origin and the destination for the time travel, ignoring that the Earth is continuously moving relative to the Sun and the rest of the universe and that what keeps a non-time-traveling object in place relative to surrounding objects is the totality of all the forces acting on it, including gravity. For the time travel to occur, the object can no longer be subject to those forces, so the object should not respond to any of them, including gravity, and should not remain in the same location. I would guess that the location of the object at a different time, other than the immediate past or future, would be indeterminable. Maybe a more fundamental problem for time travel to the past is that the time traveler comes from nothing into something (and a something that is not some simple mass of particles but a very complex life form) at the past time, bootstrapping the time traveler’s own existence in the past time, and then as the time traveler has an effect (think the Butterfly Effect of Chaos Theory), the time traveler contributes to creating the preconditions for its own existence in the present time. Not only does that violate the fundamental rule that the sum total of mass and energy is constant (at least outside some sort of Big Bang singularity), but it requires a completely predetermined universe where the time traveler has always been part of the past and has always contributed to creating the preconditions for the time traveler’s act in the present to travel to the past.
AI & TECHNOLOGY
The inherent difficulty in studies in the subfield of Artificial Intelligence (AI) within the field of Computer Science (CS) derives from the nature of problem-solving in CS, involving algorithmic approaches to problems and the use of applied mathematics to maximize the precision of the solutions, which is somewhat incongruous with the requirements for AI. In CS, problems are posed and solutions are designed with some level of mathematical rigor and precision (necessary for translation into computer code). The difficulty is that progress in AI requires the development of a useful model of the universe and an approach to determining how some specific piece of information or some specific task affects or should affect the model. This analysis becomes problematic as generalizations, which involve a relatively low level of detail, are required to manage the model because of its scope (maintaining the same level of detail as that used for the specific problem quickly becomes an unmanageable task with the virtually unbounded information streams associated with a model of the universe). Such generalizations at such a low level of detail are necessarily imprecise and rough and not easily represented in a manner that makes them amenable to solution by precise algorithmic methods. So means must be developed to precisely, or accurately, transform diverse, complex, and numerous pieces of data into simple generalizations. This points to the implementation of statistical methods, though assumptions must always be made about the data and about how they should impact the model. Making these assumptions is an inexact, imprecise, and rough process, full of risks both known and unknown.
These difficulties parallel to some extent the general difficulties of applying the precise and specific rules derived from the studies of the hard sciences to general problems. More and more sophisticated methods are developed as precise and dependable knowledge flows from the hard sciences which allow for the creation of increasingly sophisticated and powerful technologies, but there is no corresponding increase in knowledge of how these developments relate to, or fit in with, more general concerns about the human environment and human welfare. As the power grows, the danger grows, but the ability to control the power or the danger lags further and further behind.
SELF-AWARE AI COMPUTERS/ROBOTS
The flaw in the idea that AI-programmed computers/robots would likely become self-aware is that humans developed self-awareness as a survival technique, as there were survival advantages in distinguishing what is directly connected to one’s mind, i.e., one’s body, and what is not, which led to the development of the concept of self. Thus, evolution “programmed” self-awareness into humans, and a computer/robot with AI will not likely develop self-awareness unless the AI programmer intentionally includes that in the code or at least through the coding creates a situation where the AI program can recognize that it gains some advantage in accomplishing its goals by developing some form of self-awareness.
AI COMPUTERS/ROBOTS WITH HUMAN-LIKE CONSCIOUSNESS
A related idea is that the AI-programmed computers/robots would likely develop something akin to human consciousness. The problem here is that human consciousness is the direct experience of brain function, to be contrasted with the images, sounds, etc…, that are part of the model of the real world that the brain constructs from those direct experiences. That implies that this direct experience is likely a function of the particular processes involved in the brain, i.e., the neurochemical processes giving rise to the direct experience, which implies that a computer/robot with extremely different processes, e.g., the electrical processes of a silicon-based circuit, would have a very different direct experience if it had a comparable experience at all.