Saturday, June 8, 2019

Free Will is Real (1), Really?


A recent philosophical argument that seems to hypothesize that free will is real (1) because of the "existence of alternative possibilities, choice and control over actions," may be faulty. As the philosopher attempts to make a distinction between reductionism and "intentional agency," he seems to have fallen into a "reductionist trap."

Both physics and philosophy suffer from the same basic issues. Decisions, choices, observations, particles and systems do not stand independently. There are spatial and temporal connections among them, disallowing hypotheses based on singular instances. It is not that a human being is making a choice among possibilities that are indeterminate but rather she is forced into a choice by optimizing a sequence of interconnected decisions. Thus, apparent flexibility and control observed at a decision point is an illusion. By dynamic programming, the decision-maker reaches an optimal choice (as defined as utility maximizing for her). That decision is determined mathematically and not by choice.

Physics, now fully infused with determinism and reductionism in spite of a century old theory that shows nothing is deterministic and philosophy, always struggling to prove what has not been defined yet, are both unproductive avenues for humans. They are certainly academically rich but neither in their current posture will be able to advance thinking. To move to a different regime, we need simplification and humility and a macro understanding that humans may be hypothesizing based purely on illusion.

Free Will is Real, Really?

(1) https://blogs.scientificamerican.com/cross-check/free-will-is-real/

Thursday, June 6, 2019

The trouble with conservation

A recent article (1) articulates how well intentioned conservation policies could have unintended effects. From inception, humans have been attempting to shape the environment, first to their own tactical benefits and then for undefined strategic goals. Humans generally deliver bad outcomes to a plethora of life designs surrounding them and themselves. They like control and satisfaction emerging from their efforts to destroy and then attempting to mend the greenhouse they are part of.

Conservation, the darling of millennials and those following them, could turn out be a bad thing. Those engaged in these sentiments also do not like "markets," and would like to set everything "right." What they may be missing is that there is a cost to playing with nature and humans do  not appear to be smart enough to predict the effects of singular actions on a highly non-linear and connected system.

Good intentions are necessary but not sufficient for better outcomes. More importantly, the idea of manipulating a complex non-linear system with linear policy choices is fraught with danger. The universe appears to be anchored on "markets," as illustrated by evolution. However, it is too crude and thought experiments in the direction of universal optimization may be apt. But ironically, it does not mean that such a state can be reached by incremental manipulation of the status-quo.

Stuck in a trough, humans appear to have bad instincts. Most of them want to climb out of the hole but the policy choices they impart are likely sub optimal and may pull them further down.

(1) https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/when-one-protected-species-kills-another-what-are-conservationists-to-do1/?redirect=1

Sunday, May 26, 2019

36,000 days and optimization within a catastrophic constraint

Humans have a very interesting mathematical problem. They have to optimize within a harsh time constraint. Although the endowment is not known, it is increasingly predictable. Even though the range is broad - from 0 to say, 36,000 days, the variance has been going down, thanks to modern medicine. But most humans sub optimize. Materialism, ignorance, hunger for power and a variety of other value destroying metrics have misguided nearly 100 billion samples from inception.

The time afforded to a human appears limited. Irrational thinking has led most astray, some believing "God," is going to save her and others trying to create "legacy," in the absence of such an entity. It is unclear what a random individual is trying to maximize. For half the contemporary population, it is all about maximizing the probability of higher utility in after life. For the rest, it is more complex. As the seconds wind down to the inescapable event horizon, most humans run for tactical metrics without any value.

What would human 2.0 feel like? For her, contribution to society will be supreme for anything else seems meaningless. As the event horizon is specified without any flexibility, it would be important to contribute before she crosses the inescapable boundary. It is counter-intuitive as it is not that a human has to contribute to the perpetuation of a species, that appears less interesting, but rather that her role in the larger context, has meaning. It is meaning for society we are after and that is likely too conceptual for many.

Human 2.0 - If we ever get there, it could be a fantastic world with a simpler objective function, something that maximizes happiness not wealth, something that maximizes knowledge not ego, something that maximizes society not the individual, something that maximizes ideas, not the mere description of them, and something that maximizes empathy not the portrayal of the same.

Friday, May 24, 2019

Drifting apart

A recent article (1) hypothesizes that relational quantum mechanics (RQM) suggests physics might be a science of perceptions, not observer-independent reality. More generally, every individual is living in her own world of reality, and the "notion that we share the same physical reality is an illusion." For over a century, quantum mechanics has been throwing a wrench into simplicity and now it is possible that "perceived physicality is merely a representation of surrounding mental environment, brought into being by an act of observation."


Humans are in a tough spot. On one hand, they theorize about reality and rationality and on another, they find that reality is a function of the individual's observations. There is no physical reality and what an individual observes becomes the reality for her. It is conceptually elegant and it may explain why the 8 billion almost identical specimens of human genome complex across the world see things differently. It also means that systems that seek consensus, such as democracy, may be obsolete.


Eight billion parallel universes, each of which catering to an individual, are difficult to fathom. If each individual has a customized physical reality then it is likely that humans will drift apart from each other over time. Just as the universe expands into nothingness, human societies could fragment to such an extent that islands of individuals are the only available choice. 

A random assemblage of complex molecules, the human, apparently rising from a quantum phenomenon, is constrained by her observations and customized reality. She can never understand phenomena outside the reality afforded to her. And, that explains most of the ills of contemporary societies.


(1) https://blogs.scientificamerican.com/observations/the-universe-as-cosmic-dashboard/?redirect=1


Saturday, May 18, 2019

Quantum health

A recent article (1) poses an intriguing question that if information such as one's genetic composition and proclivity to diseases are available to a patient, whether that could change her physiology. As argued in the article, the outcomes of a quantum phenomenon are intricately connected with the observer and analogously, this could happen in health. It is an interesting thought experiment.

My company, Decision Options, is currently involved in helping a speciality hospital identify patients at high risk so that a higher level of care could be provided to ameliorate such risk. In the status-quo, this knowledge is available only to the medical professionals, attending to the patient. However, it is fascinating to think about the possibility of providing such information to patients if beneficial effects could be garnered. It is a double-edged sword as humans are notoriously prone to suggestions. Psychosomatic illnesses command a measurable portion of healthcare expenses.

The observer does define the outcomes in quantum physics. In medicine, a plethora of complex phenomena including the placebo effect as well as the structure of observers - patients, providers and payers and the interactions among them, complicate matters significantly. However, it may be time to think about a regime driven largely by unconstrained information as it likely leads to better outcomes.

There are two orthogonal axes in medicine - how does an informed observer change outcomes and how does the availability of information result in negative effects related to human internalization of such information. We need a few experiments to tease this out and it may well be worth it.

(1) https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/can-knowing-your-genetic-risk-change-your-physiology/?redirect=1

Saturday, May 11, 2019

"Shoddy simulation," asserts Mario

A recent philosophical banter (1) that speculates that the complexity of the universe may be emanating from a shoddy construction job of the entities that are simulating it, is thought-provoking. However, the illogical and complex stance of the universe could also be due to many other reasons.

First, anybody who has ever designed a simulation knows that such games never consider how simulated entities view it. But rather, the objective function is always exogenous, trying to optimize the players' needs and requirements. Humans often fall into a trap of assuming that they have some level of importance and if we are indeed in a simulation, we could be completely irrelevant. So the fact that the expansion of the universe will result in complete darkness in the future is only illogical from the perspective of the simulated entities.

Second, many of the characteristics of the observed universe appear to follow the general specification of games that tends to get harder over time. Assuming there are observers outside the context of the simulation, they may be progressing to higher and higher levels of the game. Again, from the perspective of the simulated entities, this may appear illogical as they are contained in a miniature theater within an apparently infinite stage.

Finally, what is observed by the simulated entities - illogical construct, complexity, and lack of control - could all be by design. By placing hard constraints on mobile agents across the universe, the game maker may be running an experiment to test if they could escape it. Since nobody wants to play an infinite game, it may be programmed to self destroy in the absence of a progression in the intelligence of the simulated entities.

It appears likely that the experiment will end without proving that the agents could surpass the initial constraints placed on them.

(1) https://blogs.scientificamerican.com/life-unbounded/the-lowest-bid-universe/

Saturday, May 4, 2019

Quantum initiative: Lifting humanity from mediocrity

The US National Quantum Initiative (1) is arguably the most important science and technology initiative today with far-reaching beneficial effects. With a foundational change in computing, humans could possibly begin to understand themselves, their genes, approaching diseases and their date of expiry. They could seek consciousness in Silicon, costless energy and space travel. They could attempt to mend a broken planet and provide resources for the next generation to rise. They could invent materials that aid space elevation, instant terrestrial travel, and skyscrapers that truly scrape the sky.

It is late. Conventionalism has dominated science and technology lately, most constructing careers by proving what has already been proved. They have slipped further into mediocrity, some taking pictures of black holes and others proving gravitational waves exist. But, if the technologists are truly practical and would like to make a difference, why don't they try to solve problems that are more difficult than collecting data and deploying supercomputers on it. The answer is that there is no money in it. The ones who made a difference did not seek money and for the last hundred years, it was money that drove science and technology.

Not even those sitting on top of mountains of data have any interest in advancing technology in a step function fashion. If they do, their own technologies and R&D would be rendered instantly useless. It is an ironic state of affairs - the technologists without an understanding of sunk costs attempt to protect it, while the governments who play second fiddle to the monopolies, play along.

Humans are a funny lot.


(1) https://science.sciencemag.org/content/364/6439/440


Tuesday, April 30, 2019

Freedom and the value of options for humans

The value of a human is the aggregate value of options held by her. Puts such as insurance and calls such as jobs, influence the overall value of the human portfolio. But this presumes that options are devoid of counterparty risks and timing constraints. Lack of freedom for the individual and society will impose constraints on the exercise of options held by humans. Thus, freedom is not just conceptually attractive but it is the basis of the value of humans.

Freedom is foundational to human societies for, without it, the value of humans will decline sharply. As they roamed out of Southeastern Africa with infinite horizons in front of them, freedom was important for humans. Those who object to capitalism on symptoms related to contemporary inefficient implementations should think more broadly about how value is created and disbursed. Humans create value by exercising options optimally and any constraint on this will reduce the value of the individual and society.

The autocrats, who span from the West to the East, substantially reduce the value of societies by imposing arbitrary constraints on individuals. Policies that reduce freedom are unambiguously value destroying but what the politicians do not have the capability to understand is that freedom is a multifactorial construct. A fickle greenhouse afforded to nearly 8 billion human specimens could be destroyed in a matter of decades, substantially extinguishing all option values held by humans. Progress made in over a century to assimilate populations, cultures, and colors could be arrested by ignorant leaders, substantially reducing freedom for humanity.

An advanced society will maximize the value of options held by its members - all of them. It is a portfolio maximization problem, something politicians are unlikely to appreciate. Stuck in a trough, humans may find it hard to climb out.