Monday, December 29, 2014

The Propagation of a Story

Suppose I tell you a story. Will you retell the story to someone else? Or will you keep the story to yourself, seeing no reason to retell it?

In writing this blog I am trying to tell a story, a story which I believe carries profound significance. I have told it a half dozen times before. But almost nobody gets it. The significance has been sensed by at most a handful of people. As far as I know none of those people has retold the story.

So I am in a quandary. Should I work to retell this story myself in a different format which might imbue more readers? Obviously since I have come this far with this blog I have decided that I should try. But how hard am I obliged to work on this? And what manner of storytelling should I employ for best effect?

I have noticed media, in that it is a "medium" which retells a story. Why would any medium ever retell a story? Well obviously, if the medium is a person or a business organization, I might expect the medium to retell a story if there is some gain in it for the medium. Also let us consider the end consumer of a story. I expect a person will want to consume a story from a medium if there is some benefit in the story for that consumer.

In the industry of storytelling I notice novels and love songs. Some stories are in so much demand that people get paid to make them up; other people get paid to transmit these stories. So in the entertainment industry it pays to color (to craft) a story carefully. But this coloring of stories to enhance demand goes on, as most of us now can attest, in mainstream news and academic journals as well as in the entertainment industry. That's life. So I should consider the coloring of my story.

I am soaking up philosophy of science as rapidly as my slow brain can take it in. Thinking about thinking does not seem to promise definite answers, but it is helping me guess where I might be now  in the landscape of storytelling. Last week I saw again an account that Darwin's famous thesis had been published earlier by another writer. Almost no one had noticed that earlier publication (ref. Daniel Dennett, Darwin's Dangerous Idea, 1995, p. 49). But Darwin's telling of that story resonated with media. Darwin's telling was such a hit that it propagated itself. Interesting.

Curious readers may find some of my earlier reflections on media, about mainstream media in a democracy and airline security.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

A Second Resource Pattern Appears in the World of the Critters

This post continues development of the model of Tabletop Critters. We will add a second resource pattern to the tabletop world of the critters.

For readers needing a review of previous developments, here are the preliminary description, and
initial condition. In those circumstances, with the effect of a single resource pattern, we have seen that a set of critters can grow in prosperity if, after the resource pattern has been dropped into their world, these critters follow certain rules as they choose how to act. We see this in the top of the picture below. There we see a large supply of water on the left and a large supply of sugar on the right (a resource pattern). Critters can thrive if they form a line between water and sugar, following rules to move excess water to the right and excess sugar to the left.

A second resource pattern appears, in the bottom half of the tabletop above
The Second Resource Pattern
Now we have added a second resource pattern in the bottom half of the picture above. In most respects this second pattern developed just like the first resource pattern. That is:
  • It appeared in a world in which a small population of critters already lived. Those critters lived near the edge of starvation as hunter-gatherers.
  • After the resource pattern appeared, critters in that vicinity somehow discovered how to exploit the pattern and live better. By using their ability to pick up a resource, carry it a distance, and then set it down again, and by following rules about when and how to use this ability, they discovered a prosperous style of life. Their numbers increased dramatically in a line of trade between the water and sugar.
The principal difference which we notice between these two exploited resource patterns is the rules which the successful critters must follow. In this second pattern the critters must carry water down (in the direction of the picture) and sugar up, whereas in the first pattern the directions were right and left respectively.

You should notice that both of these resource patterns exist in the same model world. Both resource patterns, once deposited, start to affect the lives of critters who were already living as hunter-gatherers in that region. But I have left a considerable distance between the two resource patterns in order to make it seem unlikely that critters would develop a line of trade between the two. We will assume for the time being that critters do not discover and exploit the possibility of trading between the resource patterns.

As such we notice an implication of distance in this model: the farther it is between a supply of water and a supply of sugar the less likely it is that critters will discover and employ rules that will enable them to cooperatively exploit the pattern presented by these two resources.  Distance equates to difficulty for the critters.

Important Observations
We have two communities of critters who thrive by following rules, but the rules in one differ from the rules in the other. If somehow a critter found its way from one community to the other and then tried to become a productive member in the new community by following the rules which it had learned in its original community, it would fail in this effort. For example, suppose a critter that has learned to carry sugar to the left (in the upper resource pattern in the picture above) somehow finds itself in the other line of trade (in the lower resource pattern in the picture above) where physical reality requires that sugar be moved up, not left. This critter's effort to be a good citizen by following the rules it has learned will introduce waste, not help, into the new community.

Where critters discover rules which enable those critters to live better, those rules are dictated by the physical realities of the critters' nearby environments. Each new resource pattern may possibly introduce a requirement for a new set of rules. So even though we might think of our critters as constituting a single biological species, our critters must be capable of conforming to various sets of behavioral rules, rules as dictated by physical circumstances beyond the control of any of the critters.

As you must have guessed, I intend this modeling with critters to suggest explanations for some of our human experiences, as we will be seeing.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Psychology of the Critters

This is a draft for the book chapter

Psychology of the Critters

1 Introduction

The primary purpose of this chapter is to describe how a critter in our model decides how to behave. As I write I learn that my description of “deciding how to behave” necessarily includes a description of physical attributes of the critter and its world. A critter makes decisions because of physical facts concerning its body and its world. Furthermore I discover that my description of physical attributes, in this introductory level of the model, requires most of the writing in this chapter. A critter has senses, memories, calculating abilities, and ambitions to continue living and reproduce. For all of these we need a description.

1.1 The tension in this model between simplicity and completeness.

We want our model of a critter to be simple so we can easily comprehend behavior produced by the model. But we also want our model to echo aspects of our experience as humans, and this adds complexity and tension.

So I separate and clarify the description under this outline:

  • In heading 2, I will describe the critter’s operating cycle.
  • Under heading 3, I will describe the attributes needed by a critter in the initial condition in the model. In that condition critters survive at the lowest possible level as hunter-gatherers.
  • Heading 4 will present features necessary to allow the advancement in critter prosperity shown on the tabletop with a resource pattern.
  • Finally, under heading 5, I will list a few features that we will need as we extend the model to ever more humanistic situations.

1.2 Greater reality decides whether a critter succeeds in its chosen acts.

There is a way in which we need to remember that a critter has limited control. A critter will not necessarily succeed in completing an act which it has chosen. Some physical reality not anticipated in the critter’s calculation may limit the extent to which an attempt succeeds. This limitation is reminiscent of our human experience, of course.

Sometimes I write about a critter "deciding to act" without adding the notice that success is not guaranteed for the critters attempt to act.

2 The Critter’s Cycle

We model the critter’s psychology as an infinite loop, a cycle which repeats itself as long as the critter lives. I sometimes refer to one of these cycles as a “moment” in the critter’s life.

Here is a list of the major processes that occur in the critter during each cycle:

  • Sense the external environment (with whatever senses we give the critter).
  • Sense internal conditions. These conditions include the amount of water and sugar in storage and thus whether the critter is motivated by thirst or hunger.
  • Search memory for prior experiences which are relevant to the current situation.
  • Calculate or “think”, considering all data gathered from senses and memory. Reach a decision about what act should be attempted at this time.
  • Attempt the act.

We modelers, who are making these critters, remember that the above processes in the critter occur because they are driven by an enclosing process which is under our control, but not under the control of the critter. The cycles repeat for a length of time which is determined by our enclosing process, since we have not empowered the critter to commit suicide. It is the enclosing process, for instance, that declares the critter dead if the critter’s store of a resource falls to zero.

3 The Critter’s Attributes in the Initial Condition

In this section we consider the attributes of critters in the initial condition.

3.1 Body

The critter has a body which consumes water and sugar in every moment of its life. The critter’s body can carry a supply of each of these vital resources, so that a critter only occasionally needs to imbibe more.

3.2 Goals

The critter has goals. The reader should remember that a critter has not chosen to have goals. It has its life and goals because we have made it that way.

The principal goal is to keep on living and this translates into a goal to find water and sugar. Even if the critter has adequate stores of water and sugar for the immediate future, it still has the goal of finding more of each.

An additional goal is to reproduce.

3.3 Senses

3.3.1 External Senses

A critter has a sense area around its body in all directions. This area extends outward from the critter’s body a distance analogous to an arm’s length. A critter can sense any object that falls partly or entirely within its sense area but cannot sense anything outside its sense area. When a critter senses an object it also senses the object’s type, i.e. a drop of water, a crumb of sugar, or another critter.

A critter can sense where it is on the plane which is its world. It knows its location in terms of X and Y. A critter also has a sense of direction. In our model this is expressed as an angle in the X,Y plane. Whenever a critter senses another object in its sense area it senses the direction from itself to the object.

3.3.2 Internal Senses

A critter can sense the level of its internal stores of both water and sugar. In particular, there is a short-supply threshold which a critter can sense. If the level is below this threshold then the critter is thirsty (if for water) or hungry (if for sugar). Otherwise the critter senses the supplies to be adequate.

3.4 Actions Available

The critter has actions which it can perform.

3.4.1 Move

The critter can move in any direction which it chooses. The length of the move is a predetermined step size, a length probably about equal to the diameter of the critter’s body. But if the critter collides with another object when it attempts to move, then the actual length of the move accomplished will probably be shorter.

3.4.2 Imbibe Resource

The critter can imbibe a resource which lies at least partially in its sense area.

The amount that it can imbibe in one time increment is limited to some maximum analogous to a meal. This maximum is substantially more than the amount of the resource that the critter’s metabolism consumes during a single time increment, so that we can expect that the amount of time spent imbibing is small compared to the amount of time spent in other activities.

The amount that a critter can imbibe is also limited by the total carrying capacity of the critter for this resource, but probably, modeling humans, this upper bound is reached only after a considerable number of full meals.

3.4.3 Reproduce

A critter can reproduce when it has at least adequate supplies of both essential resources. It reproduces by dividing in two. Each of the offspring gets half of each of the parent’s resources. One of the critters retains the memory accumulated by the parent, the other starts new with an empty memory.

3.5 Memory

The critter remembers every previous instance in which it discovered a resource. For each such instance it remembers whether the resource was water or sugar, the time (the computer cycle number), and the X,Y location. It also remembers whether some of that resource was still there when the critter departed, presuming, of course, it did not consume all that it found.

3.6 Thinking or Calculating Capacity

The critter “thinks” following rules such as these.

  • If one of its resources is in short supply, it gives priority to finding and imbibing more of that resource. 
  • If it can sense a resource, it chooses to imbibe even if that resource is not in short supply. 
  • If no resource is in short supply, with low probability it might choose to reproduce.
  • Otherwise it will choose to move.

When a critter chooses to move it will also choose a direction for its movement. To choose this direction first it will notice which of its resources is in shortest supply. Then, if it is old enough to have useful memory of where it has found this resource before, it will use this memory to choose a location on the plane where it guesses it may find this resource once again. Naturally, in considering its memories, it will give preference to those memories in which there was still some resource on the plane when the critter was last at that location. The critter will move toward that location. But if the critter is too young to have any helpful memories it will choose a direction at random.

4 Additional Attributes with first Resource Pattern

Now we will consider what additional attributes we must give our typical critter when we want a population of its kind to be able to exploit a pattern of resources, as described here.

The critter will be able to pick up and carry a resource from one location to another. We will call this ability the critter’s “backpack”. The amount that can be carried in the backpack will be more than the amount a critter can imbibe in a single time increment but probably less than the amount the critter can carry in its internal store. We will give the critter ability to pick up the backpack’s capacity, as well as the ability to set it back down, in a single time increment. The critter will be able to sense the type and amount of resource in its backpack, and will be able to imbibe from its backpack.

The critter will be able to carry “rules” in its mind and will be able to recognize circumstances in which a rule applies to its choice of how to act.

5 Additional Attributes for the Fancier Critter to Come

As we try to make the life of critters more like the life of humans — more socially complex, secure, and prosperous — we will see that we have to give additional capacities to each typical critter. We will not go far at this time to list the attributes which will become necessary, but for the sake of looking ahead we name a few attributes which will prove valuable.

  • Ability to do nothing in a particular moment, to wait or remain idle.
  • Ability to embrace critter-specific rules of behavior, so a population will contain individuals which consistently behave in distinct ways.
  • Ability to recognize specific other critters, so other critters can become known as individuals. 
  • Ability to trade, including ability to offer to exchange one resource for the other resource.
  • Ability to signal other critters, comprising ability to display symbols and to recognize symbols displayed by other critters.
  • Ability to experiment with symbols, to remember experience with giving and recognizing symbols, and thus ability to spontaneously develop a primitive language.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Tentative Outline of the Book

There are nine chapters as you can see numbered below. After each chapter title I give an overview of that chapter's content.

Subject (and possible book title):

Our Mental Lives are Shaped by the Raw Materials in our Environment

1 Introduction
            The Resource-Patterns Model of Life proposes to add a constraint to our understanding of life. In the world in which we humans (and other living things) live, many resources are difficult to extract. Many resources can be exploited by us only if we work together. Flourishing requires us to learn rules of cooperation.

2 Example of the Tabletop Critters
            In the example of tabletop critters readers will meet primitive life-forms which face challenges and achieve successes which remind us of our experience as humans. They start as dirt-dumb hunter-gatherers, but they are capable of remembering and "thinking" (they can be educated), and they live in a world rich with resources, resources distributed in patterns which can be exploited only if critters discover rules of cooperation. Their population increases vastly and they live at a higher standard of living as they discover how to cooperate.

3 Psychology of the Critters
            It is easy for this computer programmer to imagine a program which constitutes an individual critter's psychology. It is a loop which repeats as long as the critter lives. Loop steps:
  • sense the environment and your own internal state;
  • search in memory for any experience like this before;
  • think about this situation as well as you are able;
  • decide what act to attempt;
  • start over.

            Naturally the critter’s psychological calculations are constrained by physical reality. The critter can get hungry since its metabolism consumes resources continually. Also, something outside the critter might defeat any act attempted by the critter.

4 Life Advances in Levels
            It is known in biology that life on Earth has advanced through at least these three levels: (1)prokaryotic cells, to (2) eukaryotic cells, to (3) multicellular organisms such as ourselves. In each advance multitudes of members of the lower (smaller) level somehow combined to form the next higher (larger) level.
            A key insight here: Level-to-level advance continues as we humans experiment with organizing ourselves. We form (4) human organizations, including inter alia companies and states.
            I propose there is a strong correlation between the difficult-resource-patterns in our world, which induce us to cooperate, and the lasting success of any organizations which we have experimentally built. When we seek to understand the success of a human organization, the first cause to consider is the presence in the environment of a difficult resource pattern.

5 The Learning of Rules
            We have established that rule-restricted behavior may enable cooperation which vastly improves the wealth and population of a set of living things. Now we come to the obvious but not-easily-answered question: Where do these rules come from? How will new and productive rules be discovered?
            Perhaps the dominant way uses simple civil behavior: Do all that you have promised; Do not do unto others what you would not have them do unto you. Charitable behavior can also help. Empathy such as consideration for slaves and porpoises grows in wealth, for entrepreneurial and aesthetic reasons. Evolution may favor a species that sprinkles among its progeny a few with penchant for proposing rules.

6 Philosophy in the Resource-Patterns Model of Life
            The Resource-Patterns Model of Life starts in my experience as a human. The critter models my human experience; I sense, want, remember, think, and try — not perfectly, but well enough it seems that I survive for a time. I seem to be one among many; others like myself exist.
            There is no fancy concept like "truth" or "reason" in the critter's mind unless and until the critter needs it for judging a plan. All of philosophy starts, in this model, because the critter's calculations in the "think" subroutine have become more sophisticated.
            As life on the critters' tabletop becomes fancier, the critters can develop meaningful symbols, language.

7 Public Psychology
            Each organization of critters, actual or proposed, can develop its own rules of behaving and habits of perceiving. Siblings on the tabletop (close relatives) may become incorporated in different organizations which succeed by exploiting different resource patterns; such siblings will develop different rules of behavior and different perceptions. When one class of critters discovers that it can feed upon another class of critters, the feeding class naturally discovers a self-justifying attitude toward the exploited class.

8 Public Policy Applications
            In light of this model we can explain: statism; libertarianism; class warfare; the perception of global warming.

9 Conclusion
            (nothing new here)

Saturday, September 6, 2014

A Resource Pattern Appears in the World of the Critters

In the previous post we developed an understanding of the initial condition in the Tabletop Critters Model. In that initial condition we see a population of hunter-gatherers living on the edge of starvation. Now we will take a step toward advanced civilization. We add a resource pattern to the world of the critters. Also we give the critters a property which they did not have or need in the initial condition: Now the critters can pick up and carry a resource (water or sugar) and set it down again without necessarily consuming any of it.

Our First Resource Pattern
We drop a large supply of water at one spot and a large supply of sugar at another spot. We identify these two additions (water and sugar) as a resource pattern. In the picture below the water is on the left and sugar on the right. We see a few critters too since this is the world in which critters have long been living as hunter-gatherers.

A resource pattern in the critters' world

You may notice that the scale of the picture has changed from the pictures in the previous post. We have zoomed out a long way to where the critters look small and are barely visible. Since we are thinking of a tabletop with tiny critters, perhaps single-celled organisms, we might think the distance between the water and sugar is one centimeter.

Life on the Tabletop, After the Resource-Pattern Introduction, But Before Critters Discover how to Exploit the Resource-Pattern
An important point is that the distance between the water and sugar is large compared to the distance a critter normally travels. We add a constraint that the distance between water and sugar is more than a single critter can travel in its entire lifetime. So the critters who find themselves near the water will probably never want again for water, and the critters who find themselves near the sugar will never want again for sugar. But all these critters need both water and sugar to survive.

Critters who find themselves near the water still need sugar. The most likely death they face will be for want of sugar. For water, they will remember where the big supply is, and return there when their water runs low. But for sugar they still have to forage, to move about continually hoping to happen upon a bit of the sugar that fate sprinkles into their environment at unpredictable times and places. Similarly, critters who find themselves near the large supply of sugar still need water and still have to fill their need for water by foraging.

So we now have a world with an abundance of the resources which these critters require to live. Or at least we can see abundance. From our vantage we see a world with resources which could sustain a huge number of these critters for a long time into the future. But the critters don't see it or know it, not yet anyhow. So the number of critters who can survive in this world has not increased significantly in spite of the abundance which we added.

Rule-Based Behavior Improves Life for Critters
Remember an ability we gave our critters: They can pick up and carry a resource (water or sugar) and set it down again without necessarily consuming any of it. So a possibility exists that the critters could live in a pattern between the water and sugar — if the critters in that pattern adjusted their behavior to follow certain rules. Such rules would include:
  • If you sense water on the left, carry it to the right and set it down.
  • If you sense sugar on the right, carry it to the left and set it down.
  • If you get thirsty or hungry, help yourself to what you need from the resources that pass through your possession.

Critters become comparatively wealthy by using their ability to carry resources short distances 
In the picture above we see that the critters have formed a line, roughly speaking, between the water and sugar. At any position in the line, except at the very ends adjacent to one of the resources, critters rely upon their fellow critters to carry in water from the direction of the water resource, and sugar from the direction of the sugar resource. At all these midpoints in the line critters find reliable supplies of both water and sugar, deposited nearby by other critters, in greater supply and with greater certainty than their ancestors could previously have hoped to find by foraging at other locations in this world.

It should be noted that the tabletop world still hosts a few critters who continue to carry on as best they can in the long-established lifestyle of hunter-gatherers. These critters live not in the line between water and sugar, but elsewhere. The possibility of living in this way did not change when we added the resource pattern. And the possibility of living this way will probably continue even if the resource pattern is depleted or somehow becomes inaccessible.

We remember that critters have the property that they can reproduce if they are healthy enough. That is a critter which has an adequate internal store of both water and sugar can divide and make two critters. Each of the two offspring critters gets half the parent's stores of water and sugar. This will be enough water and sugar to give the offspring a start and a reasonable hope to survive.

So in the line of critters that forms between the water and sugar many of these critters will be able to reproduce. The likelihood that a critter in the line will reproduce in any given time increment will normally be greater than the likelihood that a critter not in the line will reproduce in the same time. The density of critter population increases in the area of the line. As a consequence the population of critters in the entire world of our model increases.

We have concluded that, given a resource pattern and critters who follow certain rules, more critters can live in this world. The critters lucky enough to live in the line between the water and sugar can live at a higher standard of living than either: their ancestors lived in earlier time, before we introduced a resource pattern and rules of behavior; or their cousins who live at the same time out in the world somewhere away from the line between water and sugar. By a "higher standard of living" I mean that the fortunate critters live with larger internal stores of water and sugar, so they are less likely to die for want of either of those resources, and they are more able to reproduce.

I hope this conclusion is clear and convincing, because it is a cornerstone of all that follows. I will appreciate comments from any readers who have doubt about this conclusion.

Important Concluding Points
Based upon the conclusion we just reached, let us consider other conclusions which seem to follow:

  • The rules are not arbitrary. The rules work because they help the critters exploit an environmental feature which is bigger than any of the critters, and which none of the critters can change. So in a sense the environment in which the critters live determined the rules, more than the critters themselves. The rules were not decided democratically.
  • This model of critters hearkens of human existence on Earth. The population of humans is now vastly more than it was 10,000 years ago, and most of this enlarged population lives better than humans lived 10,000 years ago. But there continue to exist, in some places on Earth, small populations whose standard of living is not much better than it was 10,000 years ago. 
  • The origin of good things in lives of the critters is their adherence to rule-based behavior. If none of the critters are willing to conform to the rules then the whole population must diminish in both numbers and standard of living.
  • The perhaps-surprising fact that large numbers of critters can live successfully by following only a few simple rules derives from the simplicity of the environmental feature. The rules are simple because the feature (a distance separates the two essential resources) is simple. As a corollary to this, many of the jobs in which we humans can find employment seem to require little of our intelligence. If one of our critters happens to be both a genius and motivated to help the welfare of his whole community of critters, this genius may not be able to find a profession more beneficial to his fellow critters than simply carrying water to the right and sugar to the left.
  • The increase in population and living standard, which followed our gift of a resource pattern and appropriate rules, is probably reversible. If something goes wrong in the "city" of the line then the surrounding countryside can still support critters, although probably not in numbers nearly so great.

More to Come
We have not started yet to address the question of where the rules might come from. So far the rules have come from the beneficence of us gracious model builders. But could the critters have discovered the rules by themselves? Recall that these critters have "minds", i.e. memories and calculating capacities. This question about the origin of rules becomes so large that it will probably never be answered completely. But I hope to address this question in bits and pieces as this blog continues.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

The Initial Condition in the Tabletop Critters Model

This post will start a longer expression of  the model of Tabletop Critters which I presented a few months ago.  The model of tabletop critters, you may recall, is one implementation of the general Resource-Patterns Model of Life.  Tabletop critters show consequences which seem strikingly important to me.  But it seems that I have failed in the past to convince my readers about these consequences. So now I will add drawings and a more careful explanation of some points.

We imagine a world which is a flat surface, a little section of tabletop works well.  On the tabletop we find little living things which we call critters.  We might think of critters as single-celled organisms, but their size is not particularly important.

Preliminary List of the Properties of Critters
What is important is that these critters have certain properties which we would associate with living things. (The following list is adopted for critters from the general case for Living Things which was described in this post.)
  • The critters can survive only if they get adequate nutrients, water and sugar. Fortunately there is some water and sugar available in this environment, about which we will learn more later.
  • The critters can sense their immediate surroundings, noticing if they are nearby to water, sugar, or another critter.
  • The critters have a memory and can use it together with sensory inputs to decide (to calculate based upon some rules) upon an act to attempt.
  • The critters can act in various ways. They can move about.  They can consume water or sugar that they find within reach.  They can reproduce by dividing when their internal reserves of water and sugar are adequate.
  • The critters have motives, they try to survive and to accumulate internal stores of water and sugar to improve their chances of reproducing.
  • Time passes in this world and for the critters we model the passage of time in increments. In each time increment a critter can attempt to perform only one act. First, before that attempt, the critter senses its surroundings and internal conditions, then it searches in its memory to see if it has ever encountered similar conditions. It "thinks" as well as it can with the mind we have specified for it. Finally, it decides which act from among its capabilities to attempt.
  • In each increment of time a critter's body consumes some of its stores of water and sugar. The critter dies if one of these stores runs out.
We have critters as just described in our model world. In this world we also find occasional deposits of water and sugar. So we have an ecology in which it is possible for the critters to survive.

Symbols representing the three types of objects in our world

Additional Properties of Critters
As I have worked with this model, trying to make it run in computer code, I have continually discovered more properties which I had to specify in order to make the model achieve what I hope. One property is the distance a critter may move in each time increment. It may move a distance roughly equal to the diameter of its body (the yellow oval).

Critter movement

A critter may move in each time increment in any direction in the plane provided its body does not collide with anything, a resource or another critter's body. In order to preserve the visual clarity of the model, objects are not allowed to pile on top of each other in the plane.

Critter sense area inside dotted oval
The seven rays extending outward from the citter's body suggest the sense area. The dotted oval above shows this area. A critter can sense the presence of another object in its sense area but not anything outside that area. So in this picture it can sense the spot of sugar but not the drop of water.

A critter can attempt to consume a resource which it can sense in its sense area. It is not necessary that the critter move closer, for the purpose of consumption, so its body is adjacent to the resource. A critter cannot consume a resource outside its sense area. In the picture above the critter can attempt to consume the sugar but not the water.

A critter does not always accomplish what it decides to do. In each increment of time it decides upon an action to undertake, then it attempts that action. But larger fate determines whether and how much the critter's attempt succeeds. For example two critters may move in one time increment to where both can sense a single water drop. Both may decide to consume the whole drop with their next act.

Critters cannot always succeed in their attempted actions
In the picture above, both critters attempt to imbibe the water drop at time n+1. But obviously both cannot succeed. So the program running the model plays the role of Fate and somehow decides how to allot the water in the drop.

The Initial Condition
We start with an initial condition in which a small population of critters just barely survives by foraging for water and sugar. There is no steady and certain source of water or sugar. Instead a small portion of water or sugar appears now and then, randomly dropped into the world. These resources come as gifts from fate perhaps, or are carried in by the wind. In any case the critters' only hope of survival comes from moving about almost continuously in hope of encountering water or sugar. The critters are hunter-gatherers. Death because of starvation for either water or sugar is their most common fate. But fate can also be good sometimes.  Sometimes a critter finds enough water and sugar to enable it to reproduce. So the population hangs on — barely. In our initial condition the population of critters is near the maximum that the environment can sustain, given the rate of influx of resources.

Initial condition: critters foraging randomly
Note about sizes of objects in these pictures: I vary the sizes of critters and resources in these pictures in order to make each picture as effective for the purpose as possible.  As we zoom out to show a larger piece of the world I will sometimes have to increase the relative size of objects which initially appeared to be the smallest in order to keep them from becoming too small to recognize.

This completes our description of the initial condition in the model of tabletop critters. In a later post we will see changes in which the critters start to live richer lives. The images will remind us of prosperity which can grow in human communities, as I will try to convince you.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Looking for RPM's Cousins

The Resource-Patterns Model of Life RPM will probably seem alien to most economists. But it might have close cousins in two other fields: multi-agent modeling and gaming.

Multi-Agent Modeling
RPM falls into the field of multi-agent modeling (also called Agent Based Modeling). I have looked quickly into the literature of that field and attended one conference*. I have not found anything which I recognized as a parallel to RPM. But parallels might be there. One day I hope to look more carefully.

Also I have spent months coding and running parts of RPM as a multi-agent model. (I have a background in computer science.) The exercise has taught me a lot. But the results so far will not help me communicate what I believe is important in RPM. I may do better by calling to the intuition of the reader as I do in this blog  with English sentences and pictures which I create in a drawing program.

RPM could be implemented in a game. Here again is a field with which I am unfamiliar. I have not played computer games much during these past 30 years. There may be games now that use RPM. I need to catch up. If you are a donor who would like to fund this research, please feel free to send me a letter of application.

* note added January 2016. That "one conference" occurred in fall of 2007 at Northwestern University, sponsored at least in part by Argonne National Lab, and (from my current search) was titled "Agent 2007 Conference on Complex Interaction and Social Emergence".  Now I have attended and reported upon another agent-based conference, in fall 2015 at Santa Fe, New Mexico.

Monday, August 11, 2014

A Relationship with Austrian Economics

This week I have finally started to read a book, The Economics of Time and Ignorance by O'Driscoll and Rizzo, which I have noticed referenced many times in my reading during the last five or ten years. Although I am still in the first chapter, I am struck this book may be more relevant to my work than any other book I have started for the past 15 years. I appreciate how clearly the authors state some of the precepts of Austrian economics. The authors clarify some views which have always been murky to me. But also I notice what is not in the book so far.

So I think I am seeing more clearly how this blog's theme, the Resource-Patterns Model of life (RPM*), can contribute to economic understanding and study. I think RPM adds axioms which are essential for a better understanding of social intercourse. I report that I have seen nothing so far in Austrian or mainstream economic literature which adds what RPM adds. While Austrian economics seems good to me, more useful for my ends than mainstream economics, still Austrian economics leaves big gaps. (You may safely assume that I am a biased reporter. :)

I continue to suppose that I need to write RPM as a book. I believe the book promotes a new Kuhnian paradigm. So the book will not pause in an attempt to establish a base of credibility in either mainstream or Austrian economics. Rather it needs to stand on its own, accessible to a curious layman. If I find readers who value RPM, these readers will probably not come from among established economists, although I will certainly be delighted if any established economists prove me wrong about this.

Perhaps there will be a chapter's worth of tie-ins with mainstream economics. After RPM is laid out and given many clarifying examples, I believe it will be a helpful exercise for me and other economists to revisit ideas such as market and equilibrium, to see how such ideas relate to structures we imagine in RPM. Indeed, once RPM is established in the mind of the reader, I hope that many old ideas will gain depth when seen from the direction of the new paradigm. Additional old ideas which will gain new perspective include: policy, firm, price, institution.

I plan to attend a meeting of Austrian economists in northern Virginia on October 2. Before that meeting I hope to have finished the book by O'Driscoll and Rizzo.  And I hope to have drafts completed for a few of the chapters of my fancied book on RPM.

* RPM.  While adopting this shorthand for my model, I recognize the precedent claims of both Revolutions Per Minute and Robert P. Murphy.

Friday, June 6, 2014

Philosophy of Science

I am reading the introductory chapters of Introducing Communication Theory, by Richard West and Lynn Turner, 3rd edition, 2007.  I find a wonderfully helpful review of the philosophy of science.

This seems helpful to me because of what I am trying to do now in this blog.  I am trying to express a model of life which has important sub-models pertaining to economics, communication, and perception.  I have found myself wondering:  What is a model?  When have I adequately expressed a "model"?

Please do not take me as a complete beginner.  I have read perhaps eight books in the philosophy of science.  I have read Uncle Milton's famous paper, The Methodology of Positive Economics, two and a half times, but I can not claim that I have understood it once yet.  I have looked up "epistemology" in dictionaries at least five times.  Lately I've looked up "ontology" around four times.  But there are some words, such as epistemology and ontology, the meaning of which I seem incapable of learning from dictionaries.  I still feel I do not understand even after reading the definition many times.

West and Turner's textbook has sections on ontology and epistemology in Chapter 3, "Thinking About Theory".   After reading these sections I am ready to make a bold attempt to use my new word "ontology" in a statement.

The Resource-Patterns Model starts from a few assumptions:

  • There exists the universe, which contains
  • living things and
  • resources distributed in patterns.

This, if I've got it right, is the ontology of my model.  What exists.

Now in this model the living things face a challenge.  Assuming the living things aspire to survive and thrive, the living things need to "learn" about the patterns in the resources.  This is their problem of epistemology.

Do I sound like an educated philosopher now?  What help do I need?

Friday, May 23, 2014

The Resource-Patterns Model of Life

So far in this blog we have seen an introduction to our model of life.  That is, we have seen a list of assumptions to be made in the model, and we have seen two examples which use the model: Tabletop Critters and Mainstream Media.  Now it is time to attempt a direct description of the model.

This model is going to need a name. It will not do to keep on calling it "our model of life" as in the first sentence above.  Here is the name I propose: the Resource-Patterns Model of Life.

Outline of the Resource-Patterns Model of Life
The previously-listed assumptions apply.  As you may recall, the first assumption is Living Things exist in a Universe.  Then there are several assumptions about the properties of Living Things.  Finally there are assumptions about the Universe; notably the Universe contains Resource Patterns. (I sometimes abbreviate: Living Thing as LT, Resource-Pattern as RP.)

Living Things survive by finding and imbibing resources.  If LTs don’t find enough resources their numbers will decrease.  If LTs find abundant resources their numbers can and probably will increase.

In each increment of time each LT has a range of choices about how to act.  Probably most of these possible actions will be useless in that these actions will not contribute to the effort to imbibe resources.  So a LT needs to narrow its range of choices.  This focusing of choices is the principal requirement of the LT's calculating capacity.

Any particular supply of a necessary resource must be finite, assuming that this supply has been discovered by LTs at a particular place and time.  This supply can be exploited only until it runs out.  Ongoing life therefore requires an ongoing discovery of new supplies of necessary resources.

Cooperation may help LTs to exploit some RPs.  Consider three cases:
  • Some resources are abundant but far away, too far away for a single LT to exploit.  But such resources might be exploitable if a number of LTs combine in a linked network of trade.
  • Other resources are near at hand but too difficult to extract without specialized tools or knowledge.  Such resources might be exploited if specialized LTs cooperate.
  • Some resources may be extracted only through an effort which continues during a span of time.  It makes sense for individual LTs to participate throughout that span of time only if the environment is stable and predictable.  The environment can become more predictable if the future behavior of other LTs becomes more predictable, if the LTs can somehow form rules of cooperation.

Thus, if a set of LTs can discover modes of cooperation, that set of LTs may flourish in an environment where a similar set of LTs, but without cooperation, would perish.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Bias in Mainstream Media Is a Natural Consequence of a Democratic Constitution

In the previous post, Tabletop Critters, I showed a use of our model of life.  That post showed how a dense population of living things may owe its life to a pattern of resources in the environment.

This post will give another example.  It will attempt to convince you that the resources available in a modern, democratic nation give rise to bias in mainstream media.  My text copied below appeared previously in my classmate's Conscience Warrior blog.

Many people complain that mainstream media have a pro-government bias.  But, if there is such a bias, why would it exist?  I offer a theory.

First, let us notice that workers in mainstream media (henceforth MSM) and workers in government can both gain when they find ways to cooperate.  A MSM reporter can help a politician by writing a friendly story.  A politician can help a reporter by giving newsworthy information.  Both can gain if they fall into a pattern of mutually supportive exchange.

But, contrary to that, the relation between MSM and government does not always look like a scene of peaceful exchange.  MSM publish hostile reports as well as supportive reports.  The political scene is divided into factions, we know.  Each faction has players from both MSM and government.  These factions war with each other.

Nonetheless, unless I am mistaken, there seems to be a sense in which the factions fight among themselves over one single thing: What will government do?  The factions contend over how powers of government – powers which are implicitly taken for granted – will be employed.  By engaging in this fight, the factions seem to imply they believe government should have powers such as those over which the factions fight.  We observe something like a family fight in which family members battle each other while remaining loyal nonetheless to the overall family.

We may wonder: What common interest binds these political factions together?  Consider the constitution of a democracy.  In the US the Constitution separates the media from the formal structures of government; we quite correctly believe that no formal relationship exists in the US between government and media. But might informal ties grow? The process of democratic government requires the media.  It could not work without the media.  This type of government has voters who elect representatives who go to capital cities and pass government laws.  Voters naturally want to be kept abreast of what the representatives are doing, during the present session, and what those representatives might do in future sessions.  The representatives need sources of news about what is happening in their districts.

So democratic government creates a large demand for news and views.  The demand in turn creates an environment with profit opportunities.  In this environment well-managed media companies may support staffs of editors, writers, and reporters.  So even though the democratic constitution does not provide explicit ways to pay media workers, still it creates an environment in which some media workers will be able to make a living.

Now, after presenting most of my argument, let me clarify what I mean by “mainstream media” or “MSM”.  Hopefully it is already becoming clear.  By “MSM” I mean those media organizations in which a substantial part of the work entails reporting on the process of democratic government. MSM keep us abreast of what government is doing in the present, and MSM also look to the future by educating the electorate on problems for which it is presumed government might play a future role.  MSM are employed by this attention-focusing question: How will we govern ourselves?

I have tried to argue that MSM workers are employed by the process of democratic government, although not in a relationship of direct government employment.  I suppose there is a tendency for employees to feel loyal to the structure which makes their jobs possible.  This is how I would explain a pro-government bias in MSM reporting.

Writers from MSM will bicker among themselves on what they believe government should do, whether A or B.  But implicitly the MSM writers from all factions seem to agree: We (meaning the government) must do something.  MSM seem to avoid the proposal that democratic government should be strictly limited, and should not have power to do either A or B.  There may be no paying role for MSM on an issue outside the power of government.  Thus we should not be surprised to perceive pro-government bias in MSM.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Tabletop Critters

This example introduces use of the model of life which is being developed on this blog.

Imagine a flat surface, perhaps a tabletop, upon which some tiny, perhaps one-celled, critters live. These critters need both water and sugar to live, and this tabletop upon which they find themselves is basically a desert. The wind blows and occasionally deposits a few molecules of water or sugar within reach. This just barely enables them to survive and reproduce themselves.

Now suppose that onto this tabletop fate places a drop of water at some spot, and a crumb of sugar at another spot a centimeter from the water. Suppose that this distance, a centimeter, is much further than any one of these critters can travel in its entire lifetime, but suppose that the critters do have ability to pick up raw materials, carry them for small distances, and then drop them again.

This environmental feature, the pair of reserves of water and sugar, looks like a niche ready to be exploited. If the critters can learn appropriate rules of behavior, millions of them can start to live in a filament of trade between the water and sugar.

The critters who would make up this chain of trade would need to follow some simple rules. Such rules might be:
  1. If you see water on the left, carry it to the right and set it down.
  2. If you see sugar on the right, carry it to the left and set it down.
  3. If you get thirsty or hungry, help yourself to what you need from the materials that pass through your possession.
Now consider two points.
  1. The rules are not arbitrary. The rules work because they help the critters exploit an environmental feature which is bigger than any of the critters, and which none of the critters can change. So in a sense the environment in which the critters live determined the rules, more than the critters themselves.
  2. The perhaps-surprising fact that millions of critters can live successfully by following only a few simple rules derives from the simplicity of the environmental feature. The rules are simple because the feature (a distance separates the two essential resources) is simple.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Patterns of Resources in the Universe

This blog will develop and apply a model of life.  Here I give some assumptions which underlie the model. 

Living Things exist in a Universe.

Properties of Living Things

senses — living things can detect certain aspects of their surroundings.
ability to act — living things can attempt to act in particular ways.  Many such acts involve motor or muscular movement.  But other possible acts might be to wait idly or to calculate without moving. Living things can act to imbibe resources. Living things can act to reproduce themselves. Note however that a living thing's choice to act in a particular way does not guarantee that the attempted action will succeed.  Each attempt by a living thing to act might succeed or fail, depending upon circumstances.
purpose — living things have goals.  Typical goals might be to imbibe the resources necessary for life, to reproduce, or to gain security.
memory — living things have some ability to store a record of their experiences.
calculating capacity — living things can “think” about how to act.  Typically this calculation might consider: (1) the present state of the environment as determined through senses; (2) present purpose; (3) present store of resources; (4) memory of prior similar experiences. 
resource consumption — living things necessarily use up some of their store of resources in each increment of time.  The amount of consumption may depend upon the action undertaken.
resource storage — living things can store some of the resources which are necessary for their lives.  Typically living things can store an amount of each resource sufficient for multiple time increments, so that living things can spend some of their time in actions other than imbibing.
nondeterministic choice of actions — living things will employ their memories and calculating capacities to guide their choices of actions with as much "wisdom" as they can muster. But they will commonly find themselves with no definite knowledge about how to act. So, in order to avoid starvation which will certainly come if they remain idle, living things will sometimes guess how to act, selecting an act at random if need be.

Properties of the Universe

space — the universe has one or more dimensions.
resources — the universe contains raw materials and energy of the sorts required by living things.  Most of these resources are distributed in concentrations, i.e. in patterns. Such patterns of resources give rise to the prospect that living things may discover and exploit these patterns. The concentrations of resources vary widely in size, from tiny (perhaps atomic or subatomic) to huge (galactic or larger).
living things — the universe contains living things, in order to give some interest to our model.
time — time passes in the universe.  Resources and living things may move around with passage of time.

Obviously this model has been designed in sympathy with humans.  The living things could be us humans.  The universe could be the Earth.  But the model allows us to look at other implementations, at other “living things” and other “universes”.  These other implementations will ring with suggestions about our existence as humans, about our social orders.

Here I have listed many assumptions.  But note that I have titled this post “Patterns of Resources in the Universe”.  Thereby I highlight one of the assumptions.  I believe this one assumption leads to valuable and novel suggestions which will come from uses of this model.  Our social orders often reflect patterns of resources in the universe, as I seek to establish.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Statement of Purpose

Updated February 2024

This blog has a single purpose, being exposition of the Resource-Patterns Model of Life (RPM).

One-paragraph summary of the Resource-Patterns Model of Life (RPM)

We humans (and other living things) live in a universe in which the resources we need to survive are distributed in patterns — with some patterns being large or intricate so that we can exploit the patterns only through cooperation. Rules which enable such resource-pattern-dictated cooperation may be difficult to discover, and may be "discovered" spontaneously without anyone being conscious of the resource pattern being exploited. Resource patterns which may enable expansion of human life in centuries ahead may lie beyond the present range of human perception, as the resource patterns which enable the present level of human life were unknown in the 18th century. When cooperation succeeds and becomes a regular thing, the cooperating organizations become, in degrees, larger forms of life — as is commonly accepted by life-scientists. But the implications of RPM for social science remain largely unknown. These implications pertain to economics and psychology, affecting both individuals and groups. If we assume Darwinian survival has influenced our dispositions for both individual and group thinking, these dispositions derive in large part from necessity to discover resource patterns. We find explanation for group biases.

Work in this model may be part of a large scientific advance. This is a paradigm shift.

Book in Progress

On this blog I am posting draft chapters for a book. I am also posting notes and essays which may fold into the book. Here is an outline of the book. Here are drafts of: Chapter 1, Chapter 2, Chapter 3, Chapter 4, Chapter 5, Chapter 6, and Chapter 7.

Order of Posts in this Blog

For a new reader trying to understand RPM, I suggest reading the draft Chapters linked above, in order. An alternate approach would be to read the posts in this blog in chronological order, starting at the beginning (May 16, 2014). But unfortunately a blog displays the most recent posts at the top, which is opposite the chronological order. It would take some effort to find and read the early posts in chronological order.

Papers which Survey RPM

I have described this model before on a few occasions. Notably: