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Thursday, October 30, 2008

The Devil in the Omitted Details

Email missives on whether there's any way to positively influence the direction of the world, or whether we're just doomed to suffer the blights we do:

[It isn't what the masses do, but rather what my own friends do that] has convinced me we are just doomed. As long as intelligent people continue to think in over-generalizations like socialism vs. capitalism, republican vs. democrat, Obama vs. McCain, most humans will be blind to half of the evils in the world, and we will continue to play political ping-pong as we have been for decades with the only constant being steady progress toward fascism.

Idealism is the enemy of reality. Reality is not ideal. Idealism has led people to proclaim AI just around the corner for the last forty years--an idealism born of a certain intuition about how it must work, and a complete failing to unfold the steps beyond the false certainty of untested intuition. The same sort of idealism plays in politics, where each side is convinced of something they have hardly scratched the surface of in terms of practical understanding. A lack of empirical data gives way immediately to "musts" by philosophical reasoning founded on sweeping omissions.

I once had hope that intelligent folks would find a common cause and positively influence the world through coordination and purpose, but now I know that a simple invocation of certain key words is enough to send them all scrambling with their hands over their heads, ranting nonsense like so many wind-up toys.

Each side begins with the premise that their system is optimal, and filters all observations through this. When something goes wrong, the question is never "what went wrong" but rather "where is the deviation from my system which explains this"? As long as this remains true, I have no hope for mankind. Think about it -- when two opposing sides both approach a system this way, where can it possibly end?

Each would do better to patch the holes in their own side of the boat, but neither can stomach the thought that theirs is imperfect, and so they all go down together.


I would have said a year or two ago that with the internet there might be room to educate people; but what I've learned is that faced with all the evidence they need, people simply re-apportion significance until the bulk supports their premises. The premises are programmed by a lifetime of subconciously-integrated experience, and a lifetime is not enough to cover the lessons that make the difference.


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Simon Funk / simonfunk@gmail.com