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?


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.