A companion blog, The Metacognition Project, has been created to focus specifically on metacognition and related consciousness processes. Newest essay on TMP: Language As Tool And Trap

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

The RFM (Reality Free Media)


If you are trying to think about the world around you as a system that can be rationalized – if only you could figure out the rules, if only you could find the right reporters/commentators to explain events – then you have missed the point.  The reports and essays that appear everyday at Common Dreams, Mother Jones, Counter Punch and their kin – or The Drudge Report, World Net Daily, Breitbart, etc. (New York Times, Wall Street Journal, The Guardian, Daily Mail, etc. are the same only different!) [1] – are like descriptions of a sporting event (thus the easy metaphor of politics as sports); and sports are intentionally made-up systems of rules for orderly functioning within a defined context separate from a larger reality. 

A pawn is not allowed ‘to take’ a piece directly in front of it – there is no natural reason for that! Killing the most effective player on the other team is ‘not allowed’ in American football – though it is understood that attempts at incapacitating him are acceptable within certain limits!  In almost all places in the world human lives are pressed into equally arbitrary systems that vary in their force of application from social discomfort to murder.

What we face today are sports-like rules dominating the public space and argued over as if they are really to be followed. Violations of these rules are regularly committed and denied (or attributed to the ‘other team’).  The actual Reality of biophysical processes are increasingly being damaged by direct, knowing human action and unknowingly by the summed activity of our consuming billions.  Our “game” is being rained out and we are denying that we are even getting wet.  We throw up our “explanations” and “understandings” of events as though they were umbrellas sufficient to reject the reality of the gathering waters.

But they are no more than arguments over the rules: “You tried to move your knight one up and one over!”  “Your guy jumped off side.”  “You don’t get another pitch; the third strike has been called.”  “Your credit score is too low to be acceptable for the job.” “You are the wrong religion.” And the rain comes down; the water is getting waist deep.  What will the rules matter when you are swimming for your life?

Of course, there have to be rules.  Knowing what to do and how to respond are essential requirements of the living condition.  But, the source of the rules, increasingly for the human species, must be given the greatest scrutiny; taking a set of rules as given only makes sense – and survivability – when the context is clearly recognized as the game being played. Unfortunately, human cognitive process has no natural device or structure for such distinctions: the greatest numbers of us accept the rules of the game that we grow up with as natural and necessary reality.

But clearly, life is not arbitrary: life does not perform equally well in any arbitrary system.  Remove any organism from the primary conditions of the Living Order and its organized substance rapidly loses the ordered configurations of life.  Remove most organisms from the conditions to which they are evolved and their behaviors will fail to keep them alive.  Deny a species veridical sources of information from the primary environment to which it must adapt and it will decline and disappear.  These statements are beyond argument for every organism on the earth other than the human species; I contend that they are also completely true for humans as well:

Only with a caveat: the human Conscious System of Order has produced arbitrary behavioral constructions that consign the destructive consequences of our actions to other species, economically weaker humans or to future generations of all life.  It is these arbitrary behavioral constructions (games) that most of us call unquestioned reality. 

The other species, organized into ecosystems, have buffered our human profligacies by adapting in their own ways to stay alive, thus continuing to supply ecological “free” services; economically weak humans perform similarly, often finding ways to serve the arbitrary realities of those more economically and technologically dominant.  In this way some concessions to biophysical reality are wrung from our actions.  This, however, can only go on for a short time (in evolutionary terms).  Any rational consideration of the present world makes clear that we are in the end game.

The major reporting of world events seen in newspapers, on the internet and on other forms of media are only sideshows: in the center rings are human profligacy, environmental disruption and imminent necessity of major and rapid changes to how humans live in the world.

It is only the presentation of these ideas in as many forms and forums as possible that will first allow and then drive the essentially arbitrary process of human rule-making toward greater contact with biophysical necessity.

[1] I am not suggesting an exact equivalency between the “progressive” media and the reactionary media, in general “progressive” media is making an effort to rationalize events while reactionary media is functioning on the agenda (most often hidden) of the oligarchic and plutocratic elites, but both are largely devoid of meaningful contact with the larger reality.  (The elite agenda is one of the major elements in skewing the public narrative, but the “progressive” media generates its own reality-free system anyway.)

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Blowing Reality Bubbles Is No Child’s Game


The level of discourse within which we typically attempt to understand our world is the product of cultural habit and biological adaptations to, what were in our evolution, consistently important causal and correlative environmental events: the human generated informational environment of today has only the most tenuous relationship to that history.  In other words, our capacity to generate changes to the conditions that immediately surround us has not only modified physical surroundings by many orders of magnitude on many dimensions, but has constructed changes in the probabilities and importance of events to the point that our responses to those events, and understandings of them, have become essentially arbitrary.  The arbitrary and the random have become the “solid” ground upon which we judge and guide our present and our future.

But we are not biologically equipped to recognize the arbitrary and the random.  Our cognitive machinery will produce a cobbled-together order out of almost any disorder as the only option; and an “order” so created will almost certainly be maladaptive even as it seems to take on the quality of being essential for the functioning of social systems.  A social system driven by arbitrary order, like a poorly made machine, will, quickly in biological time, tear itself apart through its own operation.  Human history is a record of social systems self-destructing more and more rapidly, and with increasing consequences, as the systems are based on more arbitrary and random elements and fewer environmental/biophysical realities.

We have reached the point where a few billions of people value financialized activities more than the actual, hands on, production of food, cleaning of our environmental wastes, delivery of potable water, construction of protective dwellings, socialization and education of children, equitable distribution of resources or other primary productive activities.  And billions more wish to join more closely with that madness, to be “freed” from having to consider activities that are in their essence the basic biological activities that directly sustain life itself.

One need only ask themselves what would this Planet of Life be like ‘if every animal and every plant were “freed” from having to live within the restraints of its biological condition’ to realize the absurdly arbitrary standards that “civilized” humanity have come to.  The scientific details of climate change, evaluations of industrial pollution, measurements of ecosystem degradation, descriptions of and choices among political/economic processes, are all symptoms of this larger and ultimately simpler understanding.  The essence of life on earth is in the direct living of its possibilities by each organism, the taking and giving that maintains the precarious balance of those possibilities.  An organism that takes too little and gives too much quickly disappears; equally, an organism that takes too much and gives back too little destroys the conditions that sustain it: it is this simple calculus that has guided evolutionary processes through the many billions of iterations of the living organism.

That an ape evolved an adaptation allowing it to put off the consequences of living outside the basic evolutionary paradigm does not change the calculus.  The consequences are put off onto other organisms and the biophysical systems that sustain the Living Order.  The ultimate consequence can never be avoided: biophysical systems and ecosystems will simplify as their integrity is challenged, removing the ordered and stable conditions required by complex life.  That such a process takes thousands of years is no argument against this form of change; it is the expected time line.

The ape we are lives within the sophistry of our own manufacture: a product of the arbitrary, the random and the unavoidable biological nature of a nervous system that creates order whether it exists or not.  And we come to depend on that manufactured order, not only for the sense of safety that any order supplies, but for the most basic biological needs. We largely ignore the actual origin of need meeting, conflating and assuming that the needs are met as the ‘natural’ consequence of political and economic choices rather than from organic growth, biophysical soil production, wetland water filtration, hydrological cycle, carbon cycle, nitrogen cycle and so forth.  So, we ignore the actual origins and focus our attention on the arbitrary order that seems, but, of course, is not, more immediate.

It must be a key understanding that our organism will produce an ordered mental/social structure from our experiences.  If those experiences are closely connected to biophysical Reality, our ordering systems will align our behaviors with the sustaining Reality, quite independently of how we might ‘think about’ or describe the reasons for that alignment.  If our experiences are disconnected from biophysical Reality, our behaviors will come from the arbitrary ordering of random experiences regardless of how well we might ‘think about’ scientifically sound biophysical principles.

This means, quite simply, that much of humanity must change drastically how it lives out daily experience if our behaviors, as a species, are to comport with the most foundational of biological/evolutionary principle: neither take too little or too much and neither give too much or too little.  The functioning of this principle requires intimate, immediate, constant and effective connection to the events and processes of biophysical Reality: the kind of connection enjoyed (and suffered) by every organism on earth with the exception of a majority of humans and their several ‘servant’ organisms. 

Essentially all maladaptations are traceable to the disconnection of daily experience from biophysical Reality, traceable to some localized ‘bubble’ reality quickly forming and popping.  The human adaptation of Consciousness Order is admirably suited to the creation of such “reality” bubbles.  Religions, economic forms, political systems, social systems, all have become primarily represented by ‘reality bubbles,’ self-referenced systems with little connection to biophysical Reality.  No amount of “right thinking” or scientific clarity can overcome the maladaptive consequences of living in such ‘bubbles’ of experience.

Humanity needs a revolution.  It must be the most revolutionary of revolutions; a reordering of the present experience of life.  Such changes will only come with a heavy price, since we are so far away from where we must eventually be; most of humanity will cling to maladaptive order to the bitter and brutal end.  And it is even possible, even likely should such a revolution actually begin, that its very brutality would so sour the well-spring of human feeling that the result would not be worth the price.  This, however, cannot be a reason not to try; the other option is for our maladaptive behaviors to run their course to an even more bitter and brutal end.

The beginning can be only of the weakest and most unsatisfactory sort: a local, gradual change in how some people think about their lives.  As they change the way they think about and value the activities of their experience, then their experiences will also change.  And these changed experiences will change, even more, how they think and value.  It is the great and only hope that such thinking and understanding have always existed in some small percentage of humanity; some people have always seen through the bubble realities and struggled to maintain some meaningful connection with the substantial world of earth and life.  Added to that hope is that even many of those people who live within the bubbles of maladaptation feel a sense of ill-ease and unrightness; creating a admittedly weak readiness for something different.

Of course, in powerful opposition to increasingly Reality-based conceptions and actions will come from those who benefit from the details of bubble realities – each such bubble reality has its own constituency: the temple priests, the obscenely wealthy, the warmongers, the power-mad, the sadists, the psychopaths and sociopaths – the true dregs of society and community: they of the velvet lie, the arcane theft, the concealed knife, the openly pointed gun and the threat of atomic annihilation.  These are the champions of sophistry, of solipsism. 

These are the people who must ultimately be repatriated as human beings, defeated and reformed or destroyed.  There is no glossing over this bit of reality bubble: the Great Many, if they were not essential to the various so-called elites, would be thoughtlessly destroyed by them – and where they are not essential, have been and will continue to be destroyed in the most sadistic ways (un)imaginable.  And yet we recoil in horror at the thought that the Great Many might have to control or remove the so-called elite (a truly parasitic and pathological lot) in order that humanity might continue to live on in a world of biological stability and health.  Keep this thought in mind as we proceed.

The most important thought up to this point is: “The functioning of this principle (evolutionary principle of Reality-based adaptation) requires intimate, immediate, constant and effective connection to the events and processes of biophysical Reality: the kind of connection enjoyed (and suffered) by every organism on earth with the exception of a majority of humans and their several ‘servant’ organisms.”  Humans must live in “natural” communities that have intimate, immediate, constant and effective connection to the events and processes of Biophysical Reality.  Such an arrangement would not make living a utopia, but would only make living possible.

Our species would have to take a great deal less from, and give back a great deal more to, the biophysical systems that sustain life in the thin fecund layer covering much of the surface of this planet.  Take no solace in the thought that if we do not do this voluntarily, that the evolutionary process will do it, only with greater pain.  There is only voluntarily: unless we make this revolutionary change by our own actions, the momentum of human exertions on the delicate and finite living space will almost certainly reduce its capacity to sustain complex life to a level that will leave only a few, if any, mammals and birds, drastically change the composition of the atmosphere and the oceans and make a comparative waste-land of what is now millions of species organized into complex life sustaining ecosystems.

Our species, all of us, must come, very soon, to live with a material simplicity largely unimaginable by the 2 billion or so people of the industrial nations; a simplicity that meets the condition of intimate, immediate, constant and effective connection with the actual processes and conditions of the planetary surface.  And in the process of adapting to a materially simple life, the wealthy peoples must supply the substance by which the poorest peoples are given the most basic material support to develop local sustainable, need-meeting systems appropriate to a materially simple, but informationally complex world.

This doesn’t mean that all people would have to live in wickiups, chickees or tipis, though some might find living in the great out-of-doors pleasant.  Quite a bit of present technology would remain and even expand, though at a somewhat less frenetic pace since resources would move more slowly and in reduced amounts through human industrial and research systems.  Energy systems could easily be localized and reduced in scale, communication systems could expand in scope and importance.

I am imagining a world of tiny houses and large gardens organized into communities numbered and size-scaled by the principles of face-to-face communication and effective walking distances.  Industrial production would be scaled to be served by public transportation from one or several communities, and would be part of the commons as worker run cooperatives.  Educational institutions, health institutions and most governing would function on a similar model.
* * * 
From the perspective of the present collection of bubble realities, how to accomplish such changes is impossible to imagine with any actual detail of action.  There are no institutions designed to collect the wealth of the rich and organize its salutary uses among the billions of the most destitute; our institutions are structured to steal the labor of the poor and concentrate it in the hands of the most pathologically greedy, and to protect that collected wealth from being used for the benefit of humanity.  In fact, the primary ‘bubble reality’ is grown from the almost complete ascendency of the economic/power elite in their long and committed struggle with the essential basis of the species, the very numerous ‘average’ human animal upon which the elite depends for all that they have.

What makes this time so different, however, is that human action, especially as led by the power elites, is not just impacting other humans with marginal consequences on a few other species, but is changing the chemical composition the earth’s living space, modifying the basic energy exchanges among land, sea and air and endangering all of life….  Sorry, didn’t mean to burst your bubble!

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

The Need For New Foundational Principles


Preamble: Proposing political and economic changes without establishing a new system of ideas (deep social change) becomes only a matter of reallocating the continuing form of existing power relations.  The depth of the changes has to be more than ‘surface’ deep.  A new system must address all the issues, explain and perform better than the old and extend into the future some degree of wisdom.  In this way a new political/social/economic system is like a theory in science – the summation of the best evidence organized by systematic ideation and tested by consensus among those best informed on the matters at hand.  There is no certainty here and the incentives of power, privilege and wealth are always nipping at the heels of the truth, but it is all that we have.

Broadly there are two ways to approach the organization of experience: one is to attempt to put together an understanding event by event; the other is to find some foundational principle or principles from which to evaluate events [1]. Both methods have their failings. In the first case, there is no reason that the events alone will present any accurate picture of what underlies and organizes them, and further, the perception of events can be controlled by those reporting on them since over our many years and achievements there have come to be many more events of substance than it is possible for an individual person to directly perceive.  In the second case “foundational principles” come in all forms from the completely insane, to the distantly removed, to the reasonably veridical; the primary danger is that the selection of such principles will be made to support some pragmatic and ongoing social or power relationship that offers no useful source of broad-based understanding.

It seems obvious that a ‘correct’ summarizing of many events would lead to the structuring of useful broad-based foundational principles; this is the essential process-based principle of science… as well as the essential Consciousness Order human adaptive process. It is also obvious that comprehensive, appropriate foundational principles applied to a cacophony of events could organize them into understandable systems of actions.

The sand in the gears is, of course, methods for establishing the correctness of event evaluation and selection of foundational principles. Science pragmatically ‘solves’ this dilemma with subject-specific training for research, clear expectations of ethical standards and peer review of research studies; and consensus requirements for the formation of foundational scientific theories.  Science process, therefore, can only properly study events for which research rules apply, and these are generally quite strict – mathematically strict.  This doesn’t mean, however, that important understandings based on how science process works can’t be gleaned and applied to the less precise, actually messy, world of daily life.

The sine qua non of human expansion of numbers and influence has been that rather than having to test all of our behaviors against the uncompromising standards of life and death – as do (almost) all the other organisms whose only tool for carrying information to the next generation is evolutionary/genetic process – we humans create “understanding” of events, plan actions tested in ‘what-if’ constructions and prepare optional actions based on ongoing details as they unfold.  This has worked marvelously well, if not too well.  However, as the ‘degrees of freedom’, meaning the limits of error for our actions, have been reduced by our increasing numbers and the incomprehensible power of our technologies, we have to be more and more right about everything…. with the rules of evolutionary process always there, ready to have the last word! [2]

The present methods for evaluating events and constructing foundational principles used in our social, political and economic lives is, and I stray a bit from academic understatement, completely fucked up.  The great masses of people have a very tenuous connection to any information, good or bad, about the most monumental events.  And what information they do get has been massaged (or butchered) to benefit those who control its delivery.  The conclusion that can be drawn, must be drawn, is that attempting to gain understanding by organizing meaning from a summary evaluation of events as they are reported by media is haphazard at best, compromises understanding and impossible at worst.

The acceptance of the normalcy of this condition is madness.  All organisms must have direct and immediate contact with the primary conditions of substantive reality as informational source and guide: not some organisms, not some members of a species and not some members of a society of organisms.  It is a very simple thing. Without a consistent, veridical source of information, behavior becomes erratic and maladaptive.  Humans have adaptations that allow them to put off the consequences of their profligacy for a time, but this only allows the digging of a deeper hole within which to fall.  The conclusion is also simple: humans require a consistent source of information about the relevant facts of their world.  This source must not be filtered through a self-selected, self-interested group since such filtering will distort information for the benefit of the self-selected, eventually leading the whole human enterprise to maladaptation.

The selection of commonly available foundational principles is just as disappointing.  The most obvious list includes the dominant ideologies, religions and, distantly, philosophies.  All of these have arisen through messy historical processes and are presently driven by flagrant self-interest narrowly defined by material wealth and power. And, all of the most widely held principles have come to be based on deceptions and lies.  “Free market” capitalism has nothing to do with functional systems for the exchange and distribution of the earth’s productivity. Christianity, as a political tool, has nothing to do with the community-based values to which it once gave lip-service. Patriotism and nationalism have become weapons of power over the Great Many rather than binding forces for community.  Other, less savory, principles include racism, sexism, other phobic reactions to the various detailed negative, rejective principles taken up by “dog whistle politics” to frighten and restrain: abortion, demonization of egalitarian principles, and general fear of the other.  

Human cognitive processes and cognitive/emotional comfort require foundational principles with which to organize experience, but those most common today, suggested above, are not systematically derived principles; they are codes useful to some power center, propagandized to the general public.  The dangerous truth is that we have no generally acceptable methods to arrive at ecologically sound, veridical foundational principles.  There is only the struggle among competing illusions with their varying degrees of distortion, insanity and militancy to recommend them.

Christian, Jew, Sunni, Shia, Hindu, Buddhist, pagan; capitalism, socialism, communism, conservatism, liberalism, libertarianism, monarchism; ‘American’, French, Chinese, on and on; supremacists of all flavors!  These seeming choices no longer have a future in the present world.  They only lead to conflict; and conflict only benefits those who are positioned and willing to parasitize the living world.

Humanity needs foundational principles that incorporate ecological economics, especially ‘ecological footprint’ understanding based on the earth’s regenerative and productive capacity; biodiversity impacts on ecological stability; the increasingly clear understanding of the human condition from social biology, ethology and evolutionary psychology; the common principles of all ‘spiritual’ belief systems rather than the dividing specifics; applications of the principles of scientific and philosophical investigation to social valuing and status systems.  There are more, but these would make a fine beginning.  The dilemma is, of course, as noted above, there is no method or powerful constituency to move toward these principle-forming information sources.

[1] There may appear to be, to some people, at least a third way: a sort of fuzzy thinking gauzing over these two options.  But, the failure to realize, or the active denial, of informational and neurobiological reality does nothing that hasn’t been part of human confusion for thousands of years – it is just the same old story told with what are presented as new characters.  However, the desire to reject the bullying of a narrow scientism is completely understandable; those “scientists” who try to make science knowledge and process even more exclusive, than is the unavoidable consequence of the detailed study of anything, are doing a disservice to everyone (science should have no trade secrets!).  The epistemology of science is not only easily understood, it is the basis of how we come to know those things that are undeniable across all cultures; in other words, those things that are fundamental to our existence. 

It has become fashionable to (often smugly) reject evolutionary principles and even physical laws (especially when they are not understood).  This reflects both the poor quality of education and the misuses of science, by what has become narrow scientism, to bulldoze people with ideologies that empower the few over the many.  This is nothing new; religions have been used in this way for thousands of years; and as long as fuzzy thinking prevails, it will continue.

[2] Exactly the opposite conclusion is often drawn: it has become typical to assume, as humans become more powerful in the world, that there is nothing that cannot be done.  A sort of madness prevails believing that humans are right, the world is wrong and must be remade by us to function as we require.