Comment on Changing our minds

starwalker Thu, Dec 24, 2009
Hello Spaceweaver,
gave indeed quite some thoughts to the last formulation of your question:

“In conclusion let me rephrase the question arising from the argument above. Given that our ethical bias towards wide consensus might become a serious hindrance to bringing humanity into its next evolutionary phase, can we agree that it might be ethically viable for a single person (or very few), under very special circumstances, to act without such consensus of the public or its knowledge (which is a distinct issue in itself) to achieve an effect that will drive humanity beyond this barrier? The point of my thought experiment was to lay out a contour of possibilities within which such question can be positively answered. Exploring this question has, I believe, profound consequences on the future of human evolution.”

I see the point of hindrance you are bringing into focus. Indeed our current political tools seem at loss (not to say vainly ineffective) when confronted with global questions. The sense of paralysis brings to my mind a few points of reflection before landing into the singular person act corridor. I would like to add them to this discussion, i know it is introductory but in my mind it is part of placing the ethical issue.

First point: “few” and “many”, “individual” and “groups/masses”, translate in our mind into signal/noise representation.
The “few” to “many” ratio, for example in politics, is our temporary organized method to extract signal from noise. Politics can be viewed as an organized version of “few” acting for the many, based upon the ‘authority/validation/wisdom’ of votes, electing individuals to act ‘in representation’.
Politics though also work with the principle that Order (signal), once extracted and validated by the many, needs to be imposed top-down in order to work, to achieve effectiveness and standards, by institutional organisms that stand in contradistinction to random hazardous behaviors. A principle which in itself can be questioned, yet which by all means if taken to extreme logical conclusions achieves immediate decisional efficiency when the ‘many’ are not included into top-down processes (other than as a herd to be contained – religion by the way works by a similar principle) making them quite rigid kind of processes.
As it seems, noise cannot be excluded from the picture, if for no other reason that even the ‘few’ are by now ‘many’ :).

While we are becoming a global phenomena, it becomes clearly more and more relevant to find new ways to transform that which we read as a noise (the many we are) into signal, possibly much more relevant than to filter it out or try to eliminate it.
I agree very much with your statement that politics (vote consensus as it is at the moment) does not seem necessarily the best solution to extract a good enough signal out of ‘us’.

second point: “globally influencing acts” as the one described in the gedanken experiment, are a unique category in the ‘individual versus consensus’ discussion.
A critical category in our current junction, as you very clearly point. By unique category I mean that in my mind it calls for considerations that belong to this case only, and do not necessarily apply to any other case of the discussion ‘individual vs consensus’.
The only way in which I understand individual autonomy of action in this category, is if we wish to define the Individual as our current most efficient solution for extracting signal, thus action, out of the global many. And am opening it as a question mark, for I do not have at the moment an a priori answer.
Such definition would require though a set of criteria establishing what is required for an individual to take up such function, and what would be the needed frame of its actuation (human network, experts network, AI network, volume of information, state of mind??). It would also require for the Individual in question the clarity to know her relation to the many: extraction of signal from noise while extending at best, through the frame, the possibility of including a wide picture; while knowing it is an approximation and no better than that. (Can we as humans perform this without falling back to either institutional burocracy or dictatorship or both?). But all of the above is basically a different way to introduce a kind of consensus, and requires in mandatory way stages of open information.

Third point: as humans we have more than one “kind” of active “consensus” - and do not yet manage to turn it into our advantage.
Votes, indeed we very much value the idea, yet Money is not less of a critical consensus of our age. We are factually developing our future wherever money is present to finance, and it is easy to see how money and vote are not necessarily coupled, both for the better and worse. There is a lack of coherency/integrity (just to mention one) in between the futures we wish to project for us and our future generations, and the way we express our lives. This paralysis from incoherent signals I expect to equally stall decision both on a political and on an individual level.

Some may say that on the individual level it is simpler to just ‘bypass’ the decision itself and let the most effective force at play lead the way. For an individual not to be overpowered by this kind of dynamics we also, as you mention, need to become more intelligent, much more. For the individual in my eyes does not operate in a vacuum, it is a place holder of complex dynamics ‘agendas’.

Climate change and geo-engineering do offer a closely related case to this discussion, presenting different ‘private’ courses already in action, see here. We can easily see a landscape in which different types of individual enterprises begins to operate independently upon quite unknown grounds that do effect all, while holding different agendas.

What would be the difference, in this category of acts, in between a political leader taking single handedly such a decision and implementing it upon validation of his political chair, and an individual business man doing the same upon validation of having the necessary resources it takes to actuate it (using money as consensus)? Again in this category of acts I cannot really put much ethical viability on any of the two options. Is a single scientist or thinker with private funding a better option? Very difficult to answer, especially independent from particular case and context.

Fourth point: how do we recognize arising of order – thus how do we search for it.
As perceptual phenomena we carry an historical bias of pointing out localities over pointing out complex dynamics. History is an excellent example. It is easier to project upon the individual (hero) extra-ordinary qualities, talents and integrity (or for that matter blame) than upon complex dynamics of collective interaction. When saying Rome, the high probability is that my mind shall bring up Julius Ceasar instead of the many obscure characters of the Roman Repubblica. Though it is the 500 hundred years of the Repubblica that still influence most of our political institutions and civil organization (maybe time to renew some:). Recalling Julius Caesar is my way to eliminate noise in a feeble signal - do not know enough about history to hold a strong complex signal, but isn’t this our case in almost all territories currently calling for action?

There may already be more efficient decision making dynamics than the Individual and we do not have the conceptual tools to see/recognize them, they may be lost in the spammed noise.
Humanity, as phenomena, did morph quite a while since the time of emperors. Our place on the scale spanning between hierarchical organizations to complex hyper connected phenomena did change fundamentally. Order has different physical laws than it used to.

I believe we have the critical need to construct the conceptual tool (or the need to renovate our bias) that can make the emergence of order visible to us (as some say if all we look for is ‘trees’ we shall continue to see ‘trees’ and treat all the rest as noise). In that I very strongly appreciate your question, points and discussion, I believe they set to outline such direction.

Coming to the question:

Given that our ethical bias towards wide consensus might become a serious hindrance to bringing humanity into its next evolutionary phase, can we agree that it might be ethically viable for a single person (or very few), under very special circumstances, to act without such consensus of the public or its knowledge (which is a distinct issue in itself) to achieve an effect that will drive humanity beyond this barrier?

Indeed the individual is known to this moment as one of our most efficient and effective machines of decision making and condensed direction for actuation. Upon this we justify full back-up in situations of emergency (and not only).
Yet this is held true in our current conceptual bias, where we search for recognizable causes, clear effects and extrapolate-able processes connecting the two. Do we have any other option without falling again into burocratic fields? If the answer is even a mild yes, justification for full back-up independent of consensus and/or knowledge in my eyes falls completely.

The other critical question that your proposition raises when coming to globally influencing acts, is: ‘which is the most encompassing capacitor of intelligence we have currently?’
To define currently the Individual as the best solution to extract signal out of noise, as I proposed upstairs, still does not necessarily imply the individual alone to be as well the most optimized repository and capacitor of the level of complex intelligence needed for such a decision and actuation.

Should we consider arising networks of humans across the world as a glimpse towards a possible approximation? Should we look to AI? Should we wait for AI to be the connection between networks of humans?

And last but not least, how to discuss moral viability in the category of globally influencing acts, while not knowing how to define benefit (the synergic sum of positive and negative effects)?

Assuming no negative effects (on the basis that they are not known) is equivalent in my mind to look at the question a posteriori, in the case in which more or less by chance the act did succeed. I do not have morals about such situation. It would move it again to questions about successive prevention without being a real basis to it (success being by chance).