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.