A UNIVERSAL THEORY OF ETHICS

A UNIVERSAL THEORY OF ETHICS

I. INTRODUCTION

II. LIFE CIRCUITS

III. LIFE CIRCUITS AND THEIR APPLICATIONS

IV. SYSTEMS OF ETHICS FOR GROUPS

V. SIMPLE PROPOSAL FOR NEW SYSTEM OF ETHICS

VI.  BACKGROUND:  FREEDOM, KNOWLEDGE, AND CONSCIOUSNESS

 

I. INTRODUCTION

An ethical system is a set of rules that provides guidance for and shapes relationships within a group of social beings.  Ethical  systems are built on the moral systems of the members of the group and the moral systems are based on what the members of the group value.  What people value is determined to some extent by their own personal experiences, as their emotional/motivational connections are shaped by the combination of their genetic propensities and their perceptions from their own unique situations.  But they can use knowledge, particularly scientific knowledge, to guide them in strengthening or weakening particular emotional/motivational connections in order to optimize the sustainability of those connections that energize them the most. This is an attempt to develop an approach to achieve that optimization.

The goal here is to create a fundamental calculus of relationships that can serve as the basis of a robust ethical system that can survive the challenges of revolutionary changes in technology in the third millennium, including those related to Artificial Intelligence, Robotics, and Eugenics or Human Genetic Engineering.

An ethical system will survive, or thrive, to the extent it is reinforced, and not undermined, over time. It will be reinforced if it tends to improve the welfare and prospects for survival of the group employing it. In order for such a system to have success and be reinforced, it must depend on models of reality that best represent the most significant aspects of the world the group operates in and therefore have the potential to provide the greatest predictability of future events that may significantly impact the group’s welfare (assuming an agreed upon method for assessing group welfare) . A significant part of a model of the world for a group of humans is a model of a human individual. Such a model should accommodate the concept of incomplete identity over time and recognize the importance of time considerations in the understanding of “will” or “free will.” Models should make use of complex, multi-entity feedback loops in representing human individual and social behavior. Models of human social environments also should include clear rules regarding group identification and group definition.

II. LIFE CIRCUITS

A.    Creation of Circuits

1.   Life regenerates itself by creating circuits of a sort (self-sustaining feedback loops, usually positive feedback loops). Life processes are programmed by their genetic code, developed through the process of evolution, to search (experimenting with different outputs) for circuits that will provide what the life process requires for continuation, i.e. survival and propagation (the genes that produce such an organism are the ones that continue). The most sophisticated life processes, those of a brain, seek connections between the organism’s needs and environmental resources to fill those needs, with the most fundamental of such needs, those directly connected to survival and propagation, being in some manner to some extent pre-programmed in the brain (possibly what is pre-programmed are propensities towards creating neuronal pathways that create sensitivities to certain forms of stimuli from the environment the organism evolved in). As those connections are developed, self-regenerating life circuits are formed, e.g. as X discovers that water quenches X’s thirst, a connection is formed in X’s brain between water and quenching thirst, and as X learns that going to the river facilitates X’s acquisition of water, a further connection between water and the path to the river is formed, etc… So connections in the brain lead to actions that lead to meeting needs that lead to stimulation of reward centers in the brain. And more connections with more strength are formed as a result of the stimulation and the whole process may be viewed as a self-regenerating circuit.

2.   In social or group animals, the self-regenerating life circuits often go through members of the group. As relationships are formed between brains, life circuits travel through one brain and to the next through communication and then through that brain and then back to the first brain or to other brains in the social group, which may be seen as a larger circuit. Those larger life circuits can have sub-circuits just as groups can have subgroups. And these larger life circuits facilitate the development of more sophisticated and intricate models of the universe that can be shared within the group, as any members of the group can contribute through communication to the breadth, depth, or consistency of any shared model.

3.   Any individual may have any number of life circuits with any number of groups. To the extent that the groups overlap or interconnect, the life circuits may overlap or interconnect. As each social circuit involves communicating some shared experiences and shared models of reality, which may include desirable goals or shared priorities, different life circuits that involve overlapping or interconnected groups will come into conflict if their models and any associated goals and priorities are incompatible or inconsistent, not in harmony, with each other.

4.   Note: The circuits described here share some characteristics with the circuits formed by the connected “Desiring-Machines” of Deleuze and Guattari in Anti-Oedipus but are not derived from that source and are intended to be more universal and encompassing.

B.  Individual and Group Action

The requirements of survival would indicate that individual brains have predispositions toward forming life circuits tending to increase the probability of survival of the self and the group, with reproduction being one requirement for group survival. As an individual learns the individual’s life circuits tend to become more developed and efficient, and when the individuals in a group learn from the group the group’s life circuits tend to become more developed and efficient as well, particularly when the learning is from others in the group who are behaving consistently with increasing the strength of the group’s life circuits, which should generally be consistent with improving the group’s welfare (which is true to the extent it is a healthy group). As individuals form group life circuits, they develop shared models of the universe that help coordinate activities and further direct the development of new life circuits and new models. However, for individuals to prosper within a group they must make distinctions between what the shared group model indicates is valuable, e.g. the king’s life and the nation’s wealth, and what their own model indicates is valuable, e.g. their own lives and welfare. Physical and mental sustenance for the individual requires positive feedback from life circuits regarding the individual’s narrow interests, though the more the narrow interests are secured, the more that broadened interests involving more broad life circuits may be pursued.

 

III. LIFE CIRCUITS AND THEIR APPLICATIONS

A.  Interests, Life Circuits, and the Broadening of Life Circuits

An individual’s life circuits correspond well with what is often termed “self-interest.” So that as one forms more and more broad life circuits, with the recognition that such circuits must be re-energized with rewards in order to be maintained, then one’s self interest expands and to some extent merges with the community interest. In this way, traditional leftist politics may be seen as an attempt to create broader life circuits and more merging between self-interest and community interest, and traditional rightist politics may be seen as an attempt to limit the expansion of life circuits and the expansion of self-interest to the broader community. However, a danger exists that an individual following a leftist course may overextend and create life circuits too broad to receive adequate reward to be maintained, with the likelihood of inadequate rewards increasing as the individual attempts to create and maintain life circuits much broader than those of the great majority of the population the individual participates in. Also, the desire for social freedom limits the emotional rewards an individual may receive from cooperative group activities, as humans readily develop an aversion to allowing others to have control over an activity the individual is emotionally invested in.

B.  Limitations on the Broadening of Life Circuits

1.  The rewards of some small narrow life circuits are stubbornly zero-sum in that when X receives the reward that means that Y will not receive the same reward. These include social rewards such as those from sexual relations and those derived from an individual’s high social status. The life circuits involved here cannot be broadened because they involve competition and not cooperation. And the motivation and individual sustenance developed by these small narrow life circuits, including constructive positive motivation that may produce output to strengthen the broader life circuits of the general society, is substantial and can contribute significantly to mental health and satisfaction.

2.  A related point is that a high level of constructive motivation may be built with small narrow life circuits that promise rewards involving the acquisition of some level of credit, e.g., money or wealth, that may be used by the individual in the furtherance of some other life circuits, generally narrow life circuits that are zero-sum, e.g., to secure sex, a spouse, or some personal item for possession or consumption.

C.  Analysis of Existing Institutions, Social Behavior, and Social Systems

1.  Using life circuits as the fundamental components, new models of existing institutions, patterns of behavior, social systems, and human groups should be developed. Healthy and sustainable processes may be determined by analysis of the life circuits. Perspectives may be developed to allow any self-sustaining life circuit to be analyzed as an entity itself (having a life of its own), independently from the individuals that contribute to it.

2.  By providing historical context and a scientific perspective with an emphasis on likely propensities and patterns developed by human evolution (considering feedback loops, including life circuits, involved in evolution), assumptions about appropriate groupings and boundaries in human societies may be challenged. The standard and popular groupings and boundaries have been formed primarily through pressures applied by dominant or powerful interests in human societies, and these groupings and boundaries can be catastrophically maladaptive for the species in an evolving world society.

D.  Analyzing Political Systems and Thought

The life circuits provide a new and simple method for analyzing the extent to which a policy or political program serves individual interests or rights vs. the interests or rights of a group, including a society or nation. It serves individual interests to the extent the life circuits are more confined to the individual and serves group interests to the extent the life circuits flow throughout the group.  Also, a policy or political interest can be evaluated with respect to the degree it results in the development of coordinated or highly correlated feedback loops and life circuits throughout the society or nation, which would tend to improve the general welfare.

 

IV. SYSTEMS OF ETHICS FOR GROUPS

A.  A Very Brief History of Systems of Ethics

1.   Humans developed rules of social behavior in order to better regulate behavior within a group of humans, including behavior with regard to other potential members of the group, which may serve to improve the welfare and increase the probability of survival of the group, though all sets of rules have to some extent been fashioned to serve the interests of the group elites who made and enforced the rules. Over hundreds of thousands of years of evolution, it is likely that humans evolved to appreciate rule-based systems for behavior. As human brains and intellect grew, more sophisticated rules of behavior, systems of ethics, developed and typically were accepted by most individuals in the group, particularly in the groups that would flourish and dominate.

2.   For early humans the social life circuits involved only small groups, but over time groups merged and populations increased and so the size of the group grew, and the leader of the large group became known as a king and the territory of the large group began to be thought of as a nation. And these larger groups prospered only to the extent the life circuits within the group were healthy, i.e. consistent with group welfare, and the probability of this increased when rules were developed with regard to what types of circuits or associated behaviors would be allowed or promoted. So rules of ethics can be thought of as limitations on life circuits, ideally with the limitations designed to maximize group welfare, though often the limitations were designed to maximize the welfare of the well-positioned group members.

B. Designing Systems of Ethics

A successful system of ethics must be a function of, be developed consistent with, human motivation potential because rules unlikely to be followed would not achieve their purpose and as a result the group would weaken and would not survive. And the system of ethics that succeeds best provides some combination of maximal group welfare and maximal long-term probability of survival of the group. So the system should maximize the extent to which strong self-regenerating life circuits are available that are consistent with group members’ desires and potential desires and consistent with group welfare and survival. There is a strong argument that innate sensitivities to certain types of stimuli, phenomena, were developed through evolution that were consistent with the survival and welfare of the group. Thus, it appears likely that actions that result in a perception of achieving such goals (survival and welfare of the group) have the potential to take advantage of such innate sensitivities and stimulate pleasure centers, thereby creating healthy self-regenerating life circuits for individuals and for the group. And a rule of ethics that guides individuals into choosing such actions, and thereby creating such life circuits, would be likely to be adopted and followed by many or most individuals in the group, thus not only increasing the number of healthy self-regenerating life circuits but also strengthening its own ethics rule circuit. And it could strengthen the general ethics rules circuit – promoting belief and trust in rules of ethics and the advantages of following them — as it achieves the primary purpose of rules of ethics.

C.  Determining What is the Group

1.   A group is a set of individuals who commonly interact and for that purpose usually have common rules of behavior. Members of a group share certain common life circuits that are crucial to their welfare and survival. Groups constantly form and grow and also decline.

2.   Because of the growth of communications technology, international travel, and international trade, communication and interaction across the globe has become common in the 21st Century and that has created global interconnectedness composed of a great many life circuits. So the most fundamental and natural group in the 21st Century has become the entire human race.

D. Manipulation in a Group and Predatory Life Circuits

Individuals may produce life circuits that involve the manipulation and use of others, which may be characterized by a predatory relationship in which the manipulator gains from the relationship while the one manipulated loses while there is no net gain, and usually even a loss, for the main social group. Typically deceit is an essential component of such a life circuit. Those who are manipulated or used may sometimes come to feel part of a life circuit that takes from them more than it gives back (such individuals are sometimes colloquially referred to as “suckers” or “tools”). Often the manipulators make use of primal impulses, e.g. sexual impulses or basic desires for social status, that they connect in the victim’s brain to phantom rewards. These are predatory life circuits for those who are manipulated and such individuals become weaker as a result. The manipulators reap all the rewards of such life circuits and are strengthened unless a greater life circuit that they are subject to, e.g. the main social group, provides punishment for such manipulative behavior.

E. Group Action

Group actions are usually initiated by those identified as leaders, i.e. initiators of new life circuits within an existing group or forming a new group. Though the main life circuits and sub-circuits of the group may encompass all members of the group, the individual that is the leader might not participate in any strong life circuits that encompass all or nearly all members of the group. Sometimes the leader only participates in strong life circuits that encompass only a small subset of the group, though the leaders may participate in weaker life circuits, particularly ones where the leader is in a dominant position and most are in subservient positions, with all or virtually all members of the group. Note that the leader may engage in manipulation, particularly in the weaker life circuits. Also note that in a life circuit where there is competition for resources, as the position of some is maximized, the position of others is weakened, particularly when it is the same individuals whose positions are maximized time and time again.

 

V. SIMPLE PROPOSAL FOR NEW SYSTEM OF ETHICS

There is the potential for the widespread adoption of a new system of ethics that is sustainable. The success of the system would depend on creating self-regenerating life circuits for the system that would be consistent with short- and long-term survival needs and the health, vitality, and welfare of individuals and the group as a whole. Certainly a system that encourages the development of sound small life circuits, e.g. the life circuits of the family, could be sustainable as such small circuits may provide immediate rewards, physical and mental sustenance, and dependable connections. And some of these small life circuits could be broadened into larger life circuits and others (those that are more stubbornly narrow because of zero-sum properties) could be woven, slowly and carefully to avoid over-extension or disharmony, into broader life circuits in communities of larger and larger size.

 

VI.  BACKGROUND: FREEDOM, KNOWLEDGE, AND RELATED ISSUES

A.    Issues Related to Freedom

1.  Determinism

(a) The fatal flaw of simple determinism results from removing the subject from the universe in which the subject exists. The subject is an actor in the universe and as an actor has part of the power and force of the universe and is a source of causality. An actor is a source of causality like any other force in the universe and the time of the action, in the unbroken chain of actions through time, is as important as any other time in the succession of events. If one models the universe as following deterministic processes, an actor must be viewed as both determiner and determined. The action may be depicted as starting with the actor at a particular time just as it may be depicted as starting with any other part of the universe at any other time.  It is all a matter of perspective.

(b) Though any time in the unbroken chain of actions through time is as important as any other time, that does not mean that any actor or any action is as important as any other actor or action.  Human brains, along with other animal brains, evolved to increase the ability to determine what actions and what actors have more effect than others, so that they could focus their energy on making change in the environment that would be most cost effective.

2.  Free Will

Any X, any actor or object, forms and acts in response to all forces acting upon X, both internal to X and external to X. The internal forces in the brain of a sentient being may be described as comprising “the will.” The term “free will” is problematic because it implies an independence from forces of the universe and there can be no such independence. However, it should be noted that the term is often used loosely to refer to freedom from social pressures, and that usage is not directly contradicted by the analysis here, though it is apparent that complete freedom from social pressures becomes virtually impossible if an individual interacts with, and becomes dependent on in any manner, other individuals in a society (acknowledging that an individual in a low-population-density and low-interaction society would have relatively more social freedom).

3.  Identity over Time

Human identity over time is approximate, not complete, as all living things change over time (time really is a measure of change). As a human being grows and has experiences, the human brain changes in response to stimuli, both in an immediate sense and over time in response to analyses of stimuli. The brain evolves over time as it encounters and absorbs, or even merges with, the energy from new stimuli. The brain at time T(n) is thus a function of what it was at time T(n-1) and what it experienced between time T(n-1) and time T(n). So the identity of the individual at time T(n) is not equal to the identity at time T(n-1) and can only be at best approximately equal to what it was at time T(n-1). Actually, at time T(n) the identity is the result of the combination and interaction of the internal forces at time T(n-1), the external forces that impacted the brain through perceptions between T(n-1) and T(n), and any analysis that occurred between the two time points, and of course any biological changes from aging and any disease or injury or other ongoing chemical processes.

4.  Freedom and Will

(a)  The freedom to act in situation S is where there is a will to act by the individual (“will” is the motivation/desires of an individual as determined by the internal brain forces), and an absence of external forces in situation S to prevent or significantly interfere with that act.

(b)  Will over time: The will evolves as the individual encounters new energy that shapes the individual’s identity through perception and repercussions of perception, including the adoption or formation of new life circuits or evolution or diminution of existing ones. The will also evolves because of biological changes, e.g. hormonal changes or the processes of aging, injury, or disease.

(c)  Freedom and will in life circuits: The will includes the forces from self-regenerating life circuits, including those wholly contained in the brain and those that go through other brains, i.e. a group life circuit. At an instant, one can represent the force of a group life circuit as an internal force, though over a larger time frame it would be more accurately represented as a partially if not mostly external force. Thus, in the smallest time frame following those life circuits could be represented as an act of individual will and thus as an act of so-called “individual freedom” but in larger time frames it could not.

(d)  Manipulation example:

(i)  As individual X exerts will in changing the brain (mind) of individual Y (e.g. changing Y’s beliefs or understanding), then Y’s brain in part becomes an agent of X’s brain (X creates a life circuit in which Y’s brain is included). Then Y’s brain may be a function of X’s will. If the relationship is symbiotic and the life circuit serves Y as well as X or the goals of some larger group then the relationship and life circuit may be manipulative but not abusive. If the life circuit serves X at the expense of Y, then it is abusive manipulation.

(ii)  If Y acts as a result of X’s creation of the life circuit and manipulation of Y, can Y’s act be represented as an expression of freedom? It depends on the time frame from which freedom and will are analyzed. From the time frame starting after manipulation T(m+), Y’s will was exercised and Y’s act may be expressed as an act of Y’s individual freedom (ignoring other forces acting on Y besides X). From the time frame before manipulation T(m-), X’s will was expressed in Y’s actions, and Y’s act cannot be expressed as an act of Y’s individual freedom.

(iii)  Note that if X creates a life circuit that includes Y’s brain and the circuit is beneficial to Y and so X’s act is not abusive manipulation, from the time frame before X’s influence T(m-), X’s will was expressed in Y’s actions, and Y’s act cannot be expressed as an act of Y’s individual freedom even though Y acted and Y benefited.

5.  Focus on Social Freedom

The term “freedom” is most often used with regard to the social freedom of the individual in a loose sense. This social freedom is not any sort of absolute freedom, but merely the absence of a perception by Y of direct control by X (the desire for such social freedom may have originated as a survival mechanism, for the individual and the individual’s genes, in human groups where those who allowed too much domination by others fared poorly in terms of nutrition and in terms of mating opportunities). Positive feedback for Y from life circuits Y is invested in can be disrupted by interference from X, and this would tend to make the disrupted circuit less dependable and pleasurable and even lessen Y’s trust in other related circuits, resulting in a less active and less successful Y.

6.  Control

(a)  Note that the term “control” can sometimes provide greater clarity if substituted for the term freedom.” Discussions without context about the freedom of X can be misleading as they ignore that X’s freedom to act may limit Y’s freedom in some way and vice versa. When the term “control” is used, it may become clear in some situations that X’s freedom to do A and Y’s freedom to do B are mutually exclusive, i.e. cannot exist together. What X seeks in the freedom to do an act A is control over the environment in some manner so as to allow X to do A. That control may be indirect or it may be in cooperation with others, as in a so-called “democracy,” but X may need to acquire the means to carry out A for X’s freedom to do A to be anything more than illusory. And X’s control over the environment to do A may be inconsistent with Y’s control over the environment to do B.

(b)  One example concerns the freedom of speech. In order for X to exercise the freedom of speech, X must be able to control the means to produce the speech and, possibly with government help, control the means to block others, such as Y, from preventing, restricting, inhibiting, or drowning out that speech. Without such control, the freedom would be meaningless.

(c)  Another example concerns the freedom to control one’s own health, which requires control over environmental quality. In order to exercise the freedom to control one’s own health, X must be able to limit the freedom of others to create environmental hazards.

7.  Harmony

(a)  The “search for harmony” better describes the human condition than the “search for freedom.” A non-trivial model of the environment accounts for the interconnectedness of physical phenomena, which makes the search for freedom a poor description of an individual’s goals using that non-trivial model. Finding harmony between the individual’s needs/desires and the individual’s model of the environment is a better description of an individual’s goals.

(b)  To put it in terms of life circuits, the harmony that X achieves internally is based on the extent to which X’s life circuits meet X’s needs and that requires harmony between X’s circuits and the external environment (as well as X maintaining internal harmony). The extent to which X achieves harmony, i.e. forms life circuits to meet X’s needs that are in harmony with the external environment, appears to be a crucial factor in determining X’s quality of life.

8.  Consideration of Feedback Loops

So much of human thought consists of perceiving, internalizing, and repeating thoughts of others in the same group in the construction and operation of group feedback loops.  The human that survives within a human social group is only part individual and part group member.

9.  Using Best Constructs

What is often lost in discussions of “freedom” is that this is a mental construct that was created in efforts to describe experienced phenomena. If this construct is found to be lacking, insufficient, or misleading in creating a reliable and accurate model of the world then it should be replaced by more effective constructs such as that of “harmony” or “control”, and it should be used with recognition of the social reality of group feedback loops that the individual exists within.  The word “freedom” is often assumed to describe a goal in and of itself, but the most fundamental goal of any animal behavior is to receive positive feedback, as in the development of life circuits, in the animal’s search for survival and procreation, and this is furthered by the construction of the best model possible.

B. KNOWLEDGE

1.  Nature of Knowledge

(a)  Knowledge of a world, an environment, is a set of data obtained through interaction with an environment and through the processing of previously acquired knowledge. The processing of the knowledge may include the formation of rules and generalizations regarding the knowledge, including knowledge about the actor and about the processing of the knowledge.

(b)  Knowledge of the environment becomes useful to an actor if the actor creates a model of the actor’s environment that allows the actor to predict repercussions of the actor’s actions and other future events, i.e., what new data will be encountered, in the environment. The actor’s model may include a model of the actor and even a model of a model of the actor, and so on, recursively.

2.  Limits of Knowledge

(a) (i)  Briefly, mathematics is comprised of representations of the most fundamental rules regarding the relationships between phenomena encountered in the environment. Such rules serve as the foundation in the construction of the models of the actor’s environment. Mathematics is purely abstract and involves the creation of general models of phenomena or of types of phenomena, e.g., classifying phenomena as some type of object such as a circle or a sphere, and allows for grouping and comparing different phenomena. The actor may choose which phenomena and relationships to form general models of, and mathematical rules are generally based on simplifying assumptions about relationships which make certainty possible. Relationships expressed in mathematics, as in mathematical theorems, are those on which the strongest reliance is placed as they are developed through rigorous logical proof and are based on the most fundamental and defensible assumptions. Mathematical relationships and rules are helpful not only in directly developing and organizing useful models of the actor’s environment, but also in providing tools, such as the analytical tools of mathematical probability and statistics, for developing other fields of knowledge that can further enrich the actor’s models . Models for phenomena studied in those other fields can be tested using knowledge of mathematical relationships to determine whether the models are in compliance with the data.

(ii)  After mathematics, the most fundamental and reliable knowledge is that derived from the study of the fundamental elements of nature in what are commonly referred to as the natural sciences or the “hard sciences.”  The accepted theories of the rules, or laws, of nature are those that have been proposed and are left standing after a rigorous winnowing process involving experimentation and statistical analysis, which show that particular theories, or models of how some part of the universe works, have more predictive ability than others, i.e. are consistent with new data obtained from experiments. No theory comes with a guarantee that it cannot be improved upon, and the most one can say about a theory is that no superior theory, i.e. one with better predictive value or with equal predictive value but some other advantage (e.g. simpler), has been validated by experiment. Since the depth of analysis, the number of levels of analysis, is unbounded, it seems likely that any theory can be improved upon as the analysis goes deeper and deeper.

(iii)  Fields of study that do not allow for rigorous experimentation and control of all significant variables, e.g. the social sciences, offer much less certainty, and theories in such fields can never achieve the level of certainty or acceptance of those in the hard sciences. However, rules regarding complex processes, that such fields of study focus on, may be developed through extrapolation from more fundamental knowledge from the hard sciences, and such rules may provide some level of predictability, but rules developed through excessive extrapolation should be adopted with great reservation.  It should be noted that theories in the social sciences can have recursive properties to a far greater extent than those in the natural sciences, in that a theory can significantly impact the way that others think about social science theories in general, including the particular theory or related theories.

(b) (i)  Knowledge of general theories and rules does not guarantee any degree of knowledge of a specific phenomenon of nature. From a simple and straightforward application of elementary mathematics it would appear that there are an infinite number of perspectives in space and time from which any specific phenomenon may be analyzed. It would also follow that there are theoretically an infinite number of ways and degrees to which the phenomenon may be divided and represented in the construction of a model of the phenomenon. Thus, with finite resources available it is impossible to guarantee that one has a complete model of any phenomenon at any point in time. And without certainty of having a complete model, and thus with no certainty of knowledge of a phenomenon, assuming only finite models are possible (because of finite resources), all actions of all entities in the universe are never completely predictable, completely known, or even completely knowable from a theoretical perspective by a finite information processor.

(ii) If a phenomenon is labeled an X(i), note that a causal relationship may be established between an X(i) and some X(i-1), where X(i-1) occurs before X(i) and is within relativity limitations, and a causal relationship may be established for any X(i-n) generally, where n > 1 (again within relativity limitations). And there is no limit on the number of X(i-n) that may be established to have causal links with X(i). As the causal relationships are unlimited, some phenomenon X(i) could be described as the result of an unbounded number of other phenomena, each with an unbounded history of causality (infinite number of infinite chains of causality). But models of phenomena are finite (certainly useful models are), and so the phenomena giving rise to X(i), e.g. the X(i-n), cannot be completely detailed in the model constructed to represent X(i) and at best can be generalized or approximated. Of course the great majority of the X(i-n) will have negligible effects on the X(i), but since all X(i-n) to X(i) relationships cannot be analyzed, there remains an uncertainty about the effects of innumerable X(i-n).

3.  The Purpose/Function of Knowledge for an Organism

Possession and use of knowledge developed as a useful tool for organisms struggling to survive in the organisms’ environments. An organism survives by making adjustments, or adaptations, by either changing internal settings, those of the organism, or changing the external settings, those of the environment, so that internal settings mesh, find harmony, with external settings in a way that leads to meeting the organism’s survival needs. This also applies to meeting reproductive needs, as determined by instinctual desires. This continual process of input, adjustment, and output can be modeled as a self-regenerating life circuit (a type of self-sustaining feedback loop). An organism’s brain creates internal life circuits that model external life circuits. A sophisticated brain may even model the organism itself and its internal life circuits and even engage in self-reference and self-reference of self-reference, though this self recursion must be cut off at some point as it is of declining utility as it progresses.

4.  The Organization of Knowledge and Use of Models

(a)  Organization of knowledge may increase the advantage of possessing knowledge. Organized knowledge can allow for comparisons, facilitate the development of more general and accurate rules, and aid in the elimination of contradictory and useless knowledge that could otherwise become a nuisance or even a hazard.

(b) (i) Organized knowledge can be used to produce a model of any phenomena experienced and can be used to produce a model of the universe itself, the source of all experience, and with analysis can provide a set of rules regarding the relationships of different phenomena in the universe. With a model of the universe, and a set of rules that phenomena in the universe follow, one may predict future phenomena in the universe, including reactions to one’s own actions and one’s own reactions to those reactions and so on. And thus such a model may be used by an organism to optimize the search for self-regenerating life circuits. Note that any such model, as well as its accompanying rules, will always be limited and incomplete and can at best be a gross approximation of the source of phenomena producing the input that is the basis of the model, and of course it follows that the accuracy of predictions is limited by the limits of the model. Generally, a model that provides greater predictability of future phenomena is the superior model. However, a model that provides greater detail (i.e., richer information), a wider variety of dependable, tested rules (e.g., mathematical axioms and theorems and laws of nature derived primarily from the hard sciences), and conclusions from deeper analysis of the state of nature using the rich information and the tested rules can generally be expected to provide greater predictability of future phenomena.

(ii)  The general approach described in item (i) above is related to that of the philosophy of science known as instrumentalism in that predictability of phenomena is the key and determines the value of a model.

(c) (i)  A nontrivial model of the universe takes into account that an infinite number of possible sources of energy may create, map onto, a perception of a phenomenon (organism input). Ultimately, all scientific or other analysis can do is provide information regarding the likelihood that different phenomena will occur or reoccur given that other phenomena have been experienced, i.e. provide some form of approximate predictability about phenomenon X(i) given phenomena X(i-1)…X(i-j). Note that if Source S(x) and Source S(y) always produce the same input or at least indistinguishable input, i.e. the same perceptions for the observer, say Observer O1, then S(x) will be treated by O1 as identical to S(y), and O1’s model for S(x) and S(y) will be identical, even if there may be a difference between S(x) and S(y) to observer O2 (e.g. a typical human observer). S(x) and S(y) may have different effects according to the perceptions of O2 but O1 never experiences those differences. One illustration of this is the science fiction scenario where S(x) is the standard models of the universe, and S(y) is a universe where an alien intelligence inserts electrodes into O1’s brain to control O1’s perceptions and thoughts. As long as the mimicry is complete and exact for the duration of O1’s life, there could be no difference to O1 and S(x) and S(y) could then both provide identical experiences for O1 and O1 would produce identical models of the universe for both S(x) and S(y), even though O2, e.g. the omniscient reader of the science fiction, has quite different models for them.

(ii)  From the same set of perceptions of phenomena an observer could potentially form an infinite number of hypotheses to explain those perceptions, including an infinite number of hypotheses that each assume different possible individual gods or sets of gods as being the source of the phenomena. That observer could use the perceptions of those same phenomena to argue for any number of models of a god or gods. To put it another way, the same evidence, the same set of recorded observations, can be used to argue for any one theorized god or any number of such gods, including an infinite number. Scientists, for the sake of utility, prefer to use the simplest model of the source of phenomena, with the fewest assumptions (Occam’s razor), that is consistent with experience, i.e. with the evidence, and that has predictive value. That is why scientists prefer to avoid models involving a god or gods in developing hypotheses and theories. Theologians do not highly value utility in choosing the best model of the source of experience, and do not rigorously test predictive value of a model, and so they have no method for winnowing down the possibilities other than their “sacred” texts,” which they consider as indisputable fact that any hypothesis must comport with.  Theologians do not abandon their hypotheses involving gods because a theologian has a personal interest in maintaining any belief system which provides the theologian with authority and power by virtue of a position as interpreter of the most important rules of the universe.

(iii)  Models of the universe that are based on speculation regarding the source of our reality being a computer simulation suffer from the same shortcomings as the deity-based models of the theologians in that they are inconsistent with Occam’s Razor in that they introduce unnecessary and purely speculative assumptions and offer untestable hypotheses.  Also note that while the deity-based models at least offer some comfort and reassurance to the adherents with their claims of simple absolutes and promises of an afterlife to the faithful, any computer simulation-based model would tend to be open-ended as it is natural to assume that their could be other layers of reality, e.g., other computer simulations creating the simulation, above the layer of reality creating the simulation, and there is no aspect of the model that offers reassurance or security to those who believe in it.  If anything, such a model would only be useful to individuals seeking to minimize their feelings of obligation to other individuals.

(d)  Absolute certainty of the exactness and completeness of information with regard to the phenomenon for which one is constructing a model is impossible to attain even for one moment and even more so for an infinite succession of moments, regardless of the amount or degree of analysis. Also note that analysis is necessary to determine the optimal level of resources to be allocated to analysis of any particular subset of the model, as an infinite number of levels of analysis are possible and so each subset of the model, each problem, could demand infinite resources. Of course the analysis of allocation could also be infinite, and so some educated guess, e.g. a heuristic, must be followed to determine a cut-off point, though past experiences with costs associated with such analysis may provide pressure to reduce the time and energy spent on such analysis, i.e. a perception of declining utility may provide guidance. And note that pre-programmed, genetic, human propensities and abilities may also play a role in determining cut-off points.

C. Consciousness

1.  Consciousness consists of the direct experience of thought, as thought continues over time, as opposed to a model of a thought or of any phenomenon in experience. The duality of existence is between the direct experience and the model of the experience. All that we can communicate, and all that we can explain, are models of experience, not direct experiences. When we form a memory, we form a model of an experience. When we think about experiences we have had, we are creating and manipulating models of experience. When one thinks about past thoughts the images of models (visual, auditory, or other) formed come to mind. Memory may function to record past direct experience, i.e. past consciousness, including the emotional component, but the act of committing such direct experience to memory creates a model of it and so what is remembered is the model, though recalling this model may generate a similar consciousness to the one that produced the model. Most likely any creatures with similar physical characteristics of perception and cognition would have similar experiences of consciousness. But a thinking object or entity that is vastly different from a human brain, such as an electronic silicon-based computer, could not be expected to have a similar experience, particularly if that thinking object does not have continuous electrical activity involving feedback loops.

2.  Consciousness is not properly represented as consisting of moments of thought experience, as the duration of a moment is undefined (could even be infinitesimal), and there are no clear markers to place boundaries to determine individual moments of thought. Instead, consciousness is better represented as consisting of in-brain feedback loops or circuits of varying duration, possibly of indeterminable duration, that operate in a continuous fashion.

 

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About John

Retired Attorney
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