Friday, September 18, 2015

Perspectives in the Resource-Patterns Model of Life: A Search for Externalities and Who Can See Them

People commonly “talk past each other”. Each person represents a different perspective. But we often fail to see this difference in perspective as we struggle to be civil.

The Resource-Patterns Model of Life (RPM) calls our attention to the need for specific perspectives and shows limitations under which living things must somehow develop perspective. By focusing our attention on the development of perspective, I would hope that RPM would make us more aware how our perspectives serve our specific interests.

My discussion here of perspective was stimulated as a side effect of another question. I suppose it may be helpful to compare RPM with older, well established models in physical and social science. In this vein I have started to compare RPM with models familiar in mainstream economics. I have looked in RPM for the some of the objects with which we are familiar in economics, objects such as “commodity”, “price” and “market”. Recently I came across “externality”, another object familiar in mainstream economics, and realized I had not identified externalities in RPM. Uncomfortable with my ignorance I explored the question. Most of what I found, it turns out, is about the development of perspective, so that became the main subject in this post.

Let me offer a definition of “externality” for those readers who have not learned how economists use this term. An externality is a side effect of economic activity, an effect upon parties not part of the economic exchange, parties that is who are external to the activity. For example the smoke which comes out the stack of an electric power plant is an externality if we assume that neither the producers nor the buyers of the electricity are motivated to care about the smoke. Normally we think of externalities as being negative. But externalities can also be beneficial, if for example your neighbors have a loud band playing in their back yard for a party – and you like the music. Wikipedia offers a longer definition of externality.

The first two perspectives

As we search for externalities in RPM we will use the model of tabletop critters. The critters, as you may understand if you’ve been following development of this blog, start out as dirt-poor hunter-gatherers. Then the critters gain prosperity as they gain new ways of cooperating among themselves, cooperating to exploit resource patterns in their environment.

Figure 1. A community of critters prospering without knowledge of either their relative prosperity or the causes of this prosperity.

Figure 1 shows such a prospering organization of critters, organized in a line of exchange between the model’s two essential resources, water and sugar. For review, the water and sugar constitute a single resource pattern (RP).

Externalities have not yet been mentioned in the development of this model, but when we ask if there are externalities which result from the cooperation among the critters in that line, we easily imagine that externalities could result from such enterprise. An externality could be added to the model if we wanted to experiment with its effects. The externality could be added in either of the two classes of models we might employ: (1) thought experiments or (2) computerized agent-based models. The externality might be smoke or trashing of the environment surrounding the line of exchange. It would impact other critters not in the line of exchange, or other living things also added to the model. Let us add such an externality. I have not attempted to show the externality in the Figures in this post, but please assume it is there.

Let us notice who is noticing this externality. We human modelers who have created this thought experiment can see the impact of the enterprise in the line of trade upon other life, i.e. the externality. Or at least we humans who have learned the meaning of “externality” can see the externality.

But the critters in the line of cooperation cannot see the externality. We can assert that the critters cannot see the externality because we created those critters as we created this model. We gave them a list of capabilities and those capabilities do not include capacity to sense the welfare of another critter, at least not in this early and not-much-extended application of the model.

My confidence that these critters can not sense or think some things grows from my computerized modeling. I have written computer programs which are the “brains” of such agents, thereby I can know what the critters can “sense” or “think” or “remember”. For more about the psychological capabilities of the critters see the draft chapter on psychology.

The need for a new perspective

The critters in that circumstance described above benefited from a RP because of a good fortune which lay outside of their control: the RP was there in their environment and we modelers gave them the rules of cooperation which would empower them to exploit that RP even if they could not perceive the RP.

But the critters would enjoy a still brighter future if they could:
  1. perceive the RP which feeds them,
  2. start to act in ways which constitute a search for the locations of other RPs like the one that feeds them.
Those two abilities suggest what I will define as “perspective” for our purpose here: Perspective is the ability of a living thing (LT) (or an organization of living things, see life in levels) to adapt its actions in response to some feature in its environment. The actions of the LT to which I refer may be either internal (thoughts or decisions) or external (physical movement).

Let us suppose that the critters of Figure 1 live in only a small part of a larger universe. Near the center of Figure 2 we see that same prospering community of critters from Figure 1, but now the scale is reduced to about one-third of the former size to show the larger surroundings. Now we can see that the universe of the critters contains many pairs of water and sugar, many RPs that is. In fact we see a larger pattern, a pattern of RPs. But, while our critters have happily colonized the RP from which they derive their sustenance, we humans can see that the critters could do much better if they could perceive what it is that makes their success possible (the RP and the rules we gave them) and start a search for other similar RPs.

Figure 2. The same thriving but unperceptive community of critters from Figure 1, but seen in the larger universe of their surroundings, a universe with many opportunities for extension of critter-life.

With a new perspective the critters may go on to occupy their corner of the universe. Figure 3 shows what this little world might look like with all the RPs being exploited, a consequence of the critters succeeding in developing the perspective we have suggested.

Remember that our goal as human modelers is to gain insights from RPM, insights about ourselves and our society. So we will proceed by extending the model, giving the critters new sensual and computational powers, trying to understand which additions are necessary to empower the critters in the model to take this next step toward mimicking our human experience.

Recall also that life exists in levels. In RPM a living thing can appear singular, as a single critter or single human. But an organization of living things can also be conceived as a single living thing, a LT on a higher level. Conversely, rather than look up in the order to larger living things, we can look down in the order to smaller living things: Any single living thing, such as a critter or human, can probably be dissected and discovered to be an organization of smaller living things, LTs on a lower level. The development of perspective, the ability of an organization to recognize and act upon an RP, is a key component of level-to-level advance.

Figure 3. The critters, having learned a perspective of their larger environment, have populated their larger environment.

How a new perspective might be developed

While I cannot predict how our critters (aided by much human tweaking) might eventually gain ability to develop the new, needed perspective, here I will briefly describe two broad avenues of development.

Avenue 1: Diversity in population along with specialization

Some of the LTs in an organization may have or develop special abilities. For example we might extend our model of tabletop critters such that some fraction of the critters are born with a rudimentary sense of sight, so they can detect a concentration of particular colors of light coming from certain directions, and we might also give distinct colors to the sugar and water.  So these critters gifted with rudimentary sight can directly sense the resource pattern which enables the prosperity of their community of critters. This new ability within the set of critters may constitute one step in development of the needed perspective. Other needed steps may include rudimentary signaling, or language, and induction or the ability to propose the existence of additional RPs.

Avenue 2: Systematic organization, spontaneous order, moral codes

This second possible avenue for development of perspective grows from spontaneous order, or the relatively new science of chaos theory and its kin. An entire population of constituent agents, when viewed as a single combined agent, may often exhibit behaviors which we humans could not have predicted from our knowledge of only the abilities of the constituent agents. A set of LTs within RPM may act in a way that enables it to discover and exploit neighboring as-yet-unused RPs, although we observing humans may not be able to explain how this happened.

In this avenue of development we may consider an analogy with our own human nervous systems. The psychology of a human being derives somehow from the interactions of millions of nerve cells. We could not predict the behavior of a human even if we could perfectly understand the behavior of the human’s constituent nerve cells, or so it is commonly asserted and I probably agree.

Reflections on development of perspective

Here are a few reflections on the development of perspective in RPM.
  • We human modelers face a challenge to give the critters enough powers (senses, physical actions, and calculating or “thinking” power) so that they can develop the needed perspective. This challenge is large and difficult. It is probably more than I can accomplish. It may require the careers of a score of modelers.
  • I find it difficult to write about this topic because I want to write clearly and concretely. But I am groping into a dark, unknown region. The words at my disposal serve poorly to convey either what I am finding or what my findings may mean. But then I suppose that this is the experience of any new science, of anyone who hopes to describe new concepts, which have not yet spawned their own terminology, with our existing set of words.
  • In spite of the difficulty which clearly lies ahead for RPM, I claim that the structure provided by RPM is a big step forward. RPM narrows the problem of development of perspective, providing a resource-constrained framework within which to work.
  • As noted above, we humans struggle to invent new language so we can discuss what we see in RPM. But we also notice that the critters in our model could use some ability to communicate. They could, we may imagine, discover the RP which empowers their present level of success if they could give signals to each other. A vocabulary with only a few meaningful symbols may add considerably to their ability to organize. I hope to learn more with subsequent research.
  • Recall that this discussion about the development of perspective was stimulated by an observation about economic externalities: Educated humans can perceive an externality in RPM, but the low-level critters at the start of our thought experiment could not perceive the externality. Now, after we have discussed development of a higher-level perspective for our critters, in which perspective the critters can perceive the RP that sustains them, we may wonder if this higher-level critter can perceive the externality. No. We still have not given them anything like general overview of affairs in which an externality may be perceived.
  • Wealth spawns philosophy and exploration, or at least that is an assumption I make about societies. The golden age of Greece would provide a first example among humans. Second, present American civilization has wealth which spawns both space exploration and my development of RPM. A third example is provided by the critters in Figure 1. They can obtain all the resources they need to survive with only a small fraction of their time-effort. As such they have resources which they may apply to the challenge of learning about their universe, and that exploration may yield discoveries which increase the probability of the long term survival of their descendants.
  • One human speaker sometimes challenges another to explain what the other means by the word “we”. We humans often shift our base as we speak, sometimes speaking only for ourselves, sometimes speaking as representative of an already-extant group, sometimes hoping that the group suggested by the “we” will come together at some future time. I am trying to hone my skills in recognizing when I shift base while speaking, or when I hear another speaker shift base. I believe I have a long way to go in gaining this skill and I sense that I am not alone. But RPM may help us with this education, help us to see that “we” represents a specific interest. Critters which specialize, using abilities often helpful for the larger community, will probably signal with an implied “we”. Each perspective may have its own “we”.

Correlation between perspective and interest

RPM reveals a strong correlation between perspective and interest. A given perspective, if it either aids or promises to aid the expansion of a population, will probably be valued by agents in the population. Those agents have an interest in the perspective as I will argue here.

But let us start with our initial population. Recall the condition in Figure 1. This population of critters enjoyed a comfortable standard of living but at that stage no critter could perceive the RP which fed them, so no effort to find neighboring, similar RPs could have started. There were none among them whose wellbeing relied upon the perspective which developed later in our story. So obviously, at this preliminary stage, there were not any critters whom we might characterize as having an interest in the perspective not yet developed.

But after that perspective of the resource pattern was developed and used (as illustrated in Figure 3), then a much larger population was made possible by use of that perspective. It follows that the lives of most of that larger population depend upon that new perspective. Without the perspective their lives would not exist. We humans looking into the model from our perspective can reasonably conclude that those critters have an interest in the perspective. The perspective, having been developed and used to advantage, correlates with an interest among the critters.

A nuance may catch our attention. Consider the specialization paradigm which we described above (the first of the two avenues for development of a new perspective). Under specialization some critters may come to have or to control large amounts of saved resources, and those powerful critters might be expected to risk some of their savings in research which might yield a profitable new perspective. Research may be funded that is. So we may expect funding to give rise to another specialty, being researchers, critters willing and able to perform research for compensation. Thus researchers naturally have an interest in the search for new perspectives which provides their livelihood. So, in exploring this nuance we discover the effect of a new and not-yet-described RP. The funding of research, overseen by some powerful critters, becomes an RP for other critters, and this creates a distinctive inner niche where life – if following appropriate rules – may thrive.


Stimulated by “externality”, a concept familiar in economics, and by the question of whether externalities can be spotted in RPM, we have been sidetracked into a discussion of perspective. It has become clear, I hope, that an externality in RPM can be spotted by a human modeler educated in economics. But there is no way the primitive critters of the tabletop model can hope to “see” or “know about” an externality. We modelers know what calculating powers we have given to the critters, so we can know with considerable confidence what the critters cannot know.

We have lingered over the challenge presented by development of perspective. RPM lays this problem open to us, on a workbench as it were. In the example presented, we see how a population of critters could grow if the critters can develop a broader perspective. We see programs of research through which we may seek a deeper understanding of our own individual and group psychology, and these programs are given greater, realistic focus by RPM.

We humans often seem to blame other humans for being wrong on some point; we wish we could shout some truth into our opposites. But what we do not always see is that our opposites have a different perspective, a different interest. They are seeing a different RP or opportunity for organization.