Matter behaves deterministically, but yet life is built entirely on probabilistic behavior. If life was strictly deterministic, it likely would not exist in the first place – or at very best, a perfect paper clip maker. Throw in quantum work, and even the deterministic nature of existence is highly questionable. So today’s thought is all about how we have become addicted as cognitive humans to absolutism in an otherwise world where probabilistic systems inherently yield more advanced results.
So yeah, this will be another heavy meal in a post, so let’s hit the food first again – something easy that can offset the verbiage that follows.
Nothing like a big impromptu summer Sunday get together to justifying grilling out 50 pomegranate chicken thighs and drumsticks and with some coconut corn on the side. If you haven’t had the Thai street food of coconut corn, well, then you have never licked your sticky fingers clean to the bone before.
Secret Ingredient: that one bay leaf in the coconut basting sauce packs a wallop
Music Accompaniment: The Temptations, courtesy of Alexa thinking I asked for “My Girl”. Perfect.
So back to food for the brain. A branch of computer sciences focuses on “wetware” where circuits are design to not yield digitally definitive zeros and ones, but analog probabilities of zeroes and ones in which anything can happen, but otherwise things mostly behave consistently.
Go up the software stack and another big breakthrough that has helped with the deep learning crazes is Bayesian neural nets that consist of probabilistic data structures, where variances are built into the systems, and the programs must deal with not getting the same answer every time.
Both of these are of course built to better model the inherently messy configuration of biology, where chemical interactions occur in a messy soup of proteins and DNA strands. But the hope is that by supporting probabilistic processing throughout the system, one can build a more robust, self correcting, adaptable and ultimately advanced machine.
All this is context for my thoughts today. First, for the computer scientists out there, you know the typical design stacks out there from hardware, to drivers, to OS, to Apps, to UI’s. What if we add in more layers on top for the user? Keep adding layers for human senses to interface with the app, cognition centers for image recognition and sensory processing and aggregation, and then all the way up (Bloom’s Taxonomy included) to metacognition of language comprehension, abstract understanding, and ultimately to synthesis. It’s a nice stack – and one that we will need to embrace as we merge computers into our lives, and potentially our bodies.
Now, with that stack in mind, let’s bring back the concept of making all layers in that stack be probabilistic. So the EE’s and computer scientists are working on the computer side of things as mentioned above; the human body already has it down pat.
That leaves just the human brain with its identity, societal influences, perception of reality, ethics and belief structures. And what’s interesting, is just how much the brain thinks digitally despite being built on analog structures. Ethics are treated as black and white, when we all know they are not. Belief is assault for any lack of consistency, yet belief is incredibly probabilistic based on many influences (so many so that it is only a step away from random at times). Even identity is looked at as substance and not action – thus we believe we are built of predictable and stable rock instead of thinking of ourselves as a chaotic flame flickering with action.
This digital absolutism in our minds is there for a good reason. It was crucial to allowing us to step above our animal peers on the objectivity of existence. When building Rome we could agree that a Corinthian column in the architect’s mind was the same as that in the sculptor’s mind. We could have Socratic method to build ethical and political structures, ever vigilant for contradictions in logic.
So, I ask, what would happen if we embrace this idea that not only are our lives action instead of substance (a separate post to come), but also that all aspects of our mind’s actions are also probabilistic in nature. What if we root out anything in our mind that sounds absolute and replace it with squishy probabilistic thinking? What if we evolve our metacognition to embrace their underlying unpredictability like what we are doing in the lower portions of the stack with computers? Philosophically, what if we take the probabilistic ontology, and apply it to our personal epistemology?
This is more than philosophical relativism, and the deconstruction of absolutism finalized by Descartes’ Cogito. What am I talking about is embracing the relativism, and changing our concepts of self, society, perception, belief and ethics to all be and act probabilistically.
It’s an interesting thought exercise, but yikes – to get there, we have to undue all of the years of training from 10,000 years of civilization building. It would be returning closer to nomadic life, like an earlier post. And it would be a race against the building of those probabilistic structures in AI to the point of super intelligence singularity. But I believe we could be a better race in the long run to embrace probability into our identity.