« Making Sense with Sam Harris

#40 — Complexity & Stupidity

2016-07-12 | 🔗

In this episode of the Making Sense podcast, Sam Harris talks to biologist David Krakauer about information, complex systems, and the future of humanity.

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This is an unofficial transcript meant for reference. Accuracy is not guaranteed.
Today, I'm going to be speaking with David Krakouer, who runs the Santa Fe Institute, one of the most interesting organizations scientifically anywhere and David is a mathematical biologist? He has a phd in evolutionary theory from Oxford, but being at the Santa Fe Institute puts him at the crossroads of many different areas of inquiry. We talk a little bit about what the institute is, but given that it's focuses on complex systems, the people, their attempt to understand complexity, using every scientific and intellectual tool available. Zero. David knows a lot about many things as you'll hear. In this conversation we start by covering some foundational concepts in science, like information and
laxity, and intelligence, then move on from there to talk about the implications for society and culture in the future. In any case, I love talking to David an I hope you enjoy the ground we covered and now I, you, David Krakauer? I have David Krakauer on the line David thanks for joining me on the podcast, to be with you so David. You gave a really fascinating lecture in LOS Angeles that I want to talk about, and I especially want you adjust track through that as as you can, without without your visuals and I'm going to only interested in the importance of culture and the importance of of artifacts, that we create for intelligence and resisting, slide into stupidity, would you would you talk about which was the focus of your talk, but before we get there, let's just set the stage a little bit.
A little bit about your scientific interests and background. So, but it's great to be with you first my scientific interests as I've to understand. Them are initially grappling with the problem of evolution of intelligence and, entity on earth. It's quite common for people to talk about intelligence, it's less common for people to talk stupidity, even though arguably it's more common, and so my background is in a mathematical revolutionary theory and I said she work on information and computation in nature That would include the nature that we've created that we call technology an where it came from it's today and where it's going in the future and so you would you describe your
off as a mathematical biologist. Is that the right category? I think it's reasonable. I think, unfortunately, with these categories are starting to strain and that'll yeah. Well it when you're at the now you're running the Santa Fe Institute, which I think quite happily is it since its existence in to be predicated on the porousness of these boundaries. Between disciplined or even their non existence, and so it may be described the the institute for people who are not familiar with it yeah. So the Santa Fe Institute is in Santa Fe New Mexico, as the name would suggest it was founded in the mid 80s by a group of Nobel Laureates Physics and economics and others who are interested in trying to do for the complex world. What mathematical physics had done so successfully for the simple? Well, I'm actually explain that, so the simple world would be the solar system
in organic chemistry or black holes, they're not easy to understand, but you can encapsulate their fundamental properties by writing down a system of equations when you get to the complex world, which basically means networked, active systems, so that could be a brain. A network of neurons it could be. Society. It could even be the internet and in those network, adapter systems, complex systems the kinds of formalisms that we had created historically to deal with simple systems failed. And that's why we don't have Maxwell's equations of the brain right. We have large textbooks with many anatomical descriptions. Some schematic, Rep then tations of function and some very specialized models and the question for Us Adessa fires are there general principles that have spam The economy, brings the internet and so on and what is the most?
natural way of articulating them mathematically and computationally how is Sfi different from the the institute for advanced study at where I think you also were, if I'm not mistaken, yeah, that's right, so the IAF Princeton is a lot older is found in the 30s. We were found in 80s and I ask is an extruder Place but the model, if you like it's much more traditional, so I Iis has Tanya It has departments and it has schools we do, I have ten yeah. Well, you don't have to department San. We do not have schools, so they've created in some sense of replicated, I guess very successful model. That is the university model. We decided to start again from a blank slate and we asked the question. If you are now reinventing research institute, based on everything that we now know post signs
it revolution, post, technological revolution, etc, what should it look like, and so it's it's a more radical model. And we said we just got decided very early just to discard any mention of Disciplines Department's and focus as hard as we could. On the common denominators of the complex systems that we were studying and it's true the interdisciplinary, you have economists and mathematicians and biologists and physicists all throw- they're in there to see and so on? The same problems? Is that correct absolutely I mean it just as an example, I mean we've, you know, there's all this, right now about the demise of the humanities, and but we from the very beginning decided that that wasn't a worthwhile distinction between the Natural Sciences and humanities, so we were working on the archaeology of the southwestern, using computational physical models since the 80s and have produced
What is by now a very well known series of theories for why, for example, some of the nature of civilized nations of the American SW declined the origin of ancient cities, and all of these are based on computational an energetic theories, an close collaborations between archaeologist since a physicists. So the way we do it, I don't like to call it interdisciplinary, because that's in some sense genuflecting in the direction of a superstition that I don't want to take seriously right. So what happens when you ignore? All of that and say: let's say actually use the skills that we've acquired in the disciplines, but let's leave them at the door and and just be intelligent about complex problems, but really what you have is an institutional argument seems to me for the unity of knowledge or consilience that really the boundaries disciplines are
more matter of university architecture and just the kind of bandwidth issues of any individual life where you have it a long time to get very good at one thing and by definition. You know someone starts out in one area as opposed to another and spends a rather long time there in order to get competent I think what you're doing there is is very exciting. Thank you. So before we get into your talk, there's a few things I just want you to enlighten me and our audience about because there's some concepts here that you are going to use that I think, are difficult to get ones head around it, and the first is the concept of information an. I think there are many senses in which we use this term and not all of them are commensurable. It seems to me that there is a root concept never that potentially unites fields like genetics. Brain science in computer science and even physics. So how do you think about information yeah? So I should say: we've talked about this
before salmon. That is it sometimes what I call the MQ mayhem that is M raised to the power three mayhem and the mayhem from not understanding the difference between mathematics, the first n mathematical models, the SEC M and metaphors. The third- and there are terms scientific terms, mathematical terms that are also used idiomatically or have a colloquial meaning and they very often get us into deep water. Enerji fitness utility capacity she information computation, and so we all use them in our daily lives and probably very effectively, but they also have a technical meaning, and what happens often is that arguments flare up Becaus one person is using it mathematically, then another person metaphorically, and they don't realize they're doing this. So that's the first point to make
and they're all valuable. I don't mean to say that there is only a mathematical definition of information, but it bearing in mind that when I talk about it, that's what I mean. So that's the first point, but it hasn't in beautiful scientific storied. History uh. You know, starting with essentially the birth of the field, that we now call statistical, mechanics and this was essentially a Boltzmann try. To understand the arrow, The time in in in the physical world, the origin of irreversibility. You know why is it that you can crack and break an egg but the reverse almost never happens. Why is it that you can burn words into action smoke, but the reverse almost never happens. He created in 1870s theory called the h theorem. Well, he Essentia Lee had in mind lots of little billiard balls bumping into each other chaotic Lee pulled it molecular chaos and through
collisions. You start with a fairly ordered billiard table, but at the end there distributed rather randomly all over the table, and that was Boltzmann. He thought maybe. The underlying molecular structure of matter was like lots of little billiard balls, and the reason why we observe certain phenomena in nature as irreversible is because of molecular chaos, and that was formally later by their things. American physicist Josiah Willard Gibbs. Many years later, the batch on was picked up by an engineer working at Bell Labs Claude, Shannon He realized that there was a connection between physics and IRAN disability and now have time end. Information is very deep inside. He had and explaining how that works. It's what it would could stand in June. He said: look here's what information is. Let's say I want you to navigate from one part of the city to another from a to B.
Car I could just drive around randomly. It would take an awful long time to get there, but I might eventually get there. Alternatively, I could give you a map or driving directions and you'd get there very efficiently and the difference between the time taken to get that randomly and the time taken together with directions is a measure of information and Shannon images that concept and said that is the reduction of uncertainty start of not knowing where to go. You the information in the form of a map were driving directions and then get there directly and he said he formalized that he called that information and it's the opposite of what Boltzmann and Gibbs we're talking about. It's a system going instead of going from the ordered into the disordered state. The billiard balls on the table, starting maybe in the lattice and ending,
randomly distributed it's going from age of bending random because you don't know where to go to becoming ordered, and so it turns Now that Shannon realized that information is, in fact the negative, a thermodynamic entropy, and it was a beautiful connection that he made between what we now think of the science of information and what was science of statistical physics? Well, so let's bring this into the domain of biology because I've been hearing now with increasing frequency. This idea that biological systems and even brains, do not pro information and that the analogy of the brain as a computer is more valid than the analogy of it is a system of hydraulic pumps or a wheel works powered by springs and gears or a telegraph. These are old, analogies to the most current technology of the time
and it was an article in a non magazine. I think it's just an online journal that probably a dozen people sent to me- and I thought it made this case very badly you- and I talked about this briefly when we first met yes now it seems mean no one. To my knowledge thinks that the brain is a computer. In exactly the way our current computers are. Computers were not talking about VON Neumann Architecture in our brains, yes, but the idea that it doesn't says information at all and the idea that the claim that it does is just as crazy is claiming that it's a mechanism of gears and springs strikes me as fairly delusional and I but I keep meeting, who will argue this, and some of them are very high in the in the sciences. So I was hoping we could talk a little bit about the ways in which biological cyst in particular brains encode. And and transmit information yeah. So this takes me right back to my m cubed mayhem,
because that's a beautiful example in that paper of the author, not knowing the difference between a mathematical model and a metaphor and so do you gave a beautiful example. You took that spring, The levers and there Is it cool, artifacts, uh, right and then there are mathematical models of springs in humans which actually used in understanding string theory. So, ok, so, let's Talk a little bit about the computer in the brain so important, because you mention and it spans elegantly that spectrum from mathematics to mathematical models to metaphors the first real. Theory of computing that we have is due to Alan Turing in the 1930s, and he mathematician many of him know me will know him from the movie the imitation game and for his extraordinary work on Enigma decoding german submarine codes in the Second World war. But what is
famous for in our world is answering a really deep mathematical question that was posed by the german mathematician. David Hilbert in nineteen. Twenty, eight and um Hilbert said Should I give a machine, a mathematical question proposition and would tell me in reasonable amount of time whether it was true or whether it was false right and that's the question. He posed could we in some sense automate, mathematics and in nineteen thirty, six touring in answering that question invented eight mathematical model that we now know as the machine and Beautiful thing, I'm sure you've talked about it when your show before and traded remarkably said. You know you can't answer that question. There are certain mathematical statements that are fundamentally uncomputable. You could never answer them and it was a really
they found breakthrough mathematics, and it said there are certain things in the world that we could never know. True computational so years later? Shooting himself in the 40s realized that in solving a mathematical problem he actually invented a mathematical model, the turing machine- and he realized that turing machine was actually not just a model for solving math problems, but it was actually the model of problem solving itself and the model of problem solving itself is what we mean by computation and in the 1950s actually sixty eight John VON Neumann, who you mentioned, wrote a book they famous book with the computer and the brain. They said. Perhaps what Alan Turing had done In his paper on, intelligent machinery is given us the mathematical machinery for understanding the brain itself, and at that point it became
measure. Four and John VON Neumann himself realized. It was a metaphor, but he thought it was very powerful and as they saw softener, so that the history. And so now, I'm up into the present. So, as you point out, there's a tendency to be a bit: you so a pistol logically narcissistic. We tend to use whatever current model we hit use and project that onto the natural world is almost the best fishing template for how it operates, here's, the value and the utility and disutility of the concept the value of what church on doing that did was give us a framework for starting to understand now problem solving machine could operate we didn't really have in our minds. Eye and understanding now that could work and they gave us a model for how it could work for many reasons
some of which you've mentioned the model is highly imperfect. Um computers are not robust if I stick pencil in your cpu. Your machine will stop working, but I can sever the two hemispheres of the brain and you can still function you're very efficient. And your brain consumes about twenty percent of the energy of your body, which that twenty, what's twenty percent of the light, bulb your laptop consumes about that and has you know some tiny fraction of your power and they are highly connected. The neurons are densely wired, whereas that's not true of computer circuits, which only locally wired and, most importantly, the brain constantly rewiring an adaption based on inputs. Annual computer is so we know the ways in which is not the same, but there are. As I say, it's useful as a full experiment for how bring me to operate, so that's the computer term. For now, let's take the information term
that one to me and that man, It's not really mentioned is criticizing information concept, not the computer concept, which is Lynn imagine we would agree. But the information concept is not right, so so we've already determined what information is mathematically. It's the reduction of uncertainty, And if you think about your visual system in, open your eyes in the morning? And you don't know what's out there in the world, true Magnetic Energi, which is transduced by photo receptors in your retinas and then transmitted through the visual search x, allows you to know something about the world that you did not know before. So it's like going from the billiard balls all over the table to the billiard balls in a particular configuration very formally speaking, you have reduced the uncertainty about the world, you've increased the information and it turns out. You can measure that mathematically and the extent to which that's useful is proved by essentially neuroprosthetics
The information theory of the brain allows us to build Cochlear Imp, it allows us to control chitlins with our brains. So it's not a metaphor. It's a deep mathematical prince, it's a principle that allows us to understand how the brain is operating and re engineer it, and so it's one of cases where I think the articles so actually confused that it's almost not worth attending to the now that's information information processing. If that's synonymous in your vocab, Mary with computing in the turing sense. Then you and I I agree that it's not right, but even for me, processing is what you do with Shannon information, for example, to transducer. True magnetic impulses into electrical firing patterns in the brain that is absolutely applicable, then how used
rich and then how you combine information sources. So when I see an orange, it's orange color and it's also a sphere, I have tactile mechanical. This is uh. I have visual electromagnetic electromagnet impulses and in my brain, that combined into a coherent representation of an object in the world and the Herent representation is in the form of an informational language spiking and so uh. You know it's extraordinary useful, it's allowed. Just to engineer near me- biologically mimetic architectures, and it's made a huge difference in the lives of many individuals who I've been born with disabilities. So I think we can take that article and shred it as I was reading, the article of a again this is it was one of those not even wrong glories of error, but I was thinking of things like G,
means can be on or off right. So there's a digital component going all the way down into the genome. And and the genome itself is a kind of memory right. It's a it's a memory for structure And physiology, and even certain behaviors that have proved adaptive in the past and therefore it's a template for producing those in future organisms. That's exactly right, and so that's the great power of mathematical concepts. Because and again we have to be clear in making distinctions being the matter memory right on the mathematical model of memory and went in the beautiful state. That's one mathematics is so strong and powerful. Is it Once we move to the mathematical model of memory, exactly as you say, you can demonstrate that there are men, He stood in jeans on their memory stored in the brain. There are men, this should in culture and they beranek. Ordinary family resemblance through
the resemblance in the mathematical equations, so you described it as Consilience Inec, Wilson's term, could describe as unification in the language of physics and they're totally legitimate uh, where we run into into trouble, is: if we don't move to math, maybe only remaining lot of metaphor and there. Of course everyone has a slightly matrix of associations- and you can never fully there's also the the ambiguities right, except though, even at the level forget about the math for a second. Let's just talk about something: that's perilously close to metaphor, but we are simply talking about cause and effect, relationships that in this case reliably link inputs and outputs right, so there's I mean there is just a even in that article. He was talking about the nervous system. Changed by experience. He just didn't want to talk about the resulting changes into
memory or information, storage or codeine, or anything else that that suggested analogy to a computer, but there's just this. This fact that change in physical structure can produce, reliable change in its capacity is going forward and the way we wanna call that memory or not or learning or not biologically physically. That's. What we're talking about absolute is what we're talking about New York right. You see, that's the point. It has to do with this. The judgment fear of anthropomorphic and uhm. I think that what we do in these sort of more exact- sciences- is try and pin down audit definitions so as to eliminate some of the ambiguities. They never go away entirely. But my is my suspicion. Sound is at the author of that Magical will simply find a language that isn't doesn't have its roots. If you like
in the world of information and apply these new terms, but we would realize if we read it through thoroughly They were, in fact, just synonyms right, right, find himself having to use these terms because they are to the best of our knowledge. The best terms we have to explain the regularity we observe right and we we don't have to use terms like hydraulic pumps or the four humors or we can grant that there I've been bad analogies in the past, where the details are not actually conserved in any way going forward. Well, they look at a good exhibit. You know it's a beautiful example because, where we have used that is in your, talking about your cardiac system yeah or you Reno general system. It is entirely appropriate to you- used RV's model- it was the pump, the ones that worked have stuck, and I think it's just time tell us whether or not
this is the information or concept is, will be an anachronism, will have enduring value for those of you who are interested to read this this paper that we are trash. I will put the link on my blog beneath where I embed this podcast. So now moving onto your core area of interest, we've dealt information. What is complexity yes answer, That's a very that's a wonderful example of one of these terms that We use in daily life, but also has mathematical meaning. So the simplest way to think about complexity is as follows: um. Imagine you had a very regular object. Like a cube, you could express it just by describing it's linear dimensions right, and that would tell you what a cube is
and imagine you want to explain something at the other end of the spectrum, like a gas in a room, you could articulate that very well, probably by just getting the mean velocities of particles in air. You know so these two extreme the very regular crystal I'm today random a gas of description, which is very short and so over the phone or the Skype is were speaking. I could describe to you very reliably a regular check for very irregular object But now, let's imagine you said, can you please describe to me David? A mouse. And I said well- who is this sort of weird, tubular thing,
as one end because long appendage at the other etc. It would take an awfully long time to describe and complexity is essentially proportional to that description. So that's and it turns out mathematically that complex phenomena live somewhere between the regular and the random and their hallmark signature? Is it their mathematical descriptions are long and that's what made complexity. Science Oh because Einstein could write down a beautiful equation, I equals MC squared. It captures the equivalence between energy and mass and has all these beautiful implications and special activity, lesson align, but how write down the mouse, which seems like a much more.
Ring thing, then in energy and master and you come, and so the that's one way in should your way of thinking about a complex phenomena, which is how long does the description have to be to reliably capture much of what you consider interesting about it, and one point to make immediately is that if you look at physical phenomena, they started off long to write so before Kepler, Lucien Ized understanding celestial mechanics we had on there is the is the movie's epicycles lefferts hate explaining it incorrectly. The circular motion of celestial mass and it took a while for us to realize that there was a very compact elegant way. I'm describing them, and it could be that for Merrick many complex phenomena. There is a very elegant compact way of describing
but many others? I don't think that will be the case. So complexity are, as I said, these networked adaptive systems, complexity itself as a concept, no Matically tries to capture how hard it is to describe a phenomenon and they get as they get more complex. To get lot these descriptions get longer and longer and longer and longer right right. You said something about randomness there that caught my ear, because I thought so if I gave you a a truly random string of digits and less you're. Talking about. There was some method by which to, do sit reliably. Let's say like the decimal expansion of pi yeah that can be compressed, but, It is just a truly random series of digits. That's not compressible right! That's just that's up to you right, I'm so that that it, you know, that's a very important distinction, and that is, I can describe the process generating had
sales by describing the dynamics of a coin, and so that's very short right. But if I was trying to describe the thing I observe Can you say it would be incompressible and the description would be as long as the sequence described the you in all of these cases, you're always talking about the underlying causal process that generates the pattern and not the pattern itself. And that's a very important distinction. So now I think this is the first time I've ever conducted a conversation or interview like this, which is just kind of stepping through definition. But I think it's warranted in this case who so what is intelligence and how? How is it related to complexity yeah. So if you know intelligences as I say, to people, one of the topics about which we have been most stupid, pitch
and and in so many ways- and I we probably shouldn't get into it- not least that is the topic which we are least evolutionary right, because all of our definitions of intelligence are based on measurements that can only be applied to humans and by and large humans that speak English or what have you so it's one of those areas with that's been extremely foolishly pursued, so I don't mean an iq test, ok, because the IQ test is not interesting. If you're trying to calculate the octopus, which I would like to know. Because I believe in evolution- and I think that need to understand where these things come from and just having a guy Mission applies to one chick ular species doesn't help us. So what is it? And we've talked about entropy and computation and they're going to be the keys to under and intelligence. And so let's go back to randomness, the examples I like to give is the Rubik's cube it consist of
mental model? Metaphor. If I gave you a cube, and I asked you to solve it and you just randomly mini since it has on the old road can tillian solutions with a very large number. You, basically, if you were immortal, would eventually solve it uh and but it would take the lifetime of several. Prices to do so that is random performance. Stupid performance is, if you took one face of the cube, and you just manipulated that one face and turned it. Rotated it forever and as everyone knows, if you did that you would never solve the queue If you weren't already at the solution,
it would be an infinite process that would never be resolved. That rule is, in my definition, stupid. It is significantly worse than chance. Now, let's take someone who's learned how to manipulate a cube and is familiar with various rules. And these rules allow you from any initial configuration to solve the cube in twenty moves or less. That is intelligent, behavior, so significantly better than chance and this sounds a little counterintuitive. Perhaps until you realize that's how we use the word. In our daily lives, you know If I sat down with an extraordinary mathematician- and I said I don't solve that equation, and they say No, it's easy here. This is what you do when you look at it and say: oh yes, it is easy right! You made that look easy! That's what we mean when we say someone is smaller
They make things, look easy even the other hand. I sat down with someone who was incapable and they just kept no dividing by two for whatever reason uh I said: what are you doing? What a stupid thing to do? You'll never solve the problem. You know what a foolish thing to do. Would I inefficient thing to do right, so That is what we mean by intelligence uh, it's the thing that we do that ensures that the problem is very efficiently solved. And done in a way that makes it appear. Effortless and stupidity is a set. Rules that we use to ensure that the problem will be solved in longer than chance or never right, and and is nevertheless pursued huge with electricity and enthusiasm, and so now closer to the the actual substance of the lecture you gave that I want you to recapitulate part.
Here, because it I just found it fascinating and, and and I mean you can you can recapitulate as much as you want to of it, but I'm in particular in interested in the boundary line you drew between biology and and the way in which culture is a machine really for increasing our intelligence, and then you at some point expressed some real fear that We are producing culture war, or steward, in our institutional intelligence in a way that is actually making us biologically or you know personally- less intelligent, perhaps to a dangerous degree in certain circumstances, so you can just get us there. Point yeah, so this is a little bit of a.
Plenty narrative, I'm gonna, try and compress it and make it as least complex as possible. So you know, most of us are brainwashed to believe that were born with a certain in each intelligence and we fun things up to solve problems, but our intelligence goes basically unchanged right and so- and you hear this all the time in conversation, she will say that person is really smart. Just they never worked very hard. They didn't learn very much. Where is that person is not very but they learned a great deal. It makes him look smarter. That sort of thing, I think, that's absolute rubbish, so I think there's a very real sense, which education and learning makes you smarter. So that's sort of in some sense my premise and but but it just stop there for second, you wouldn't dispute, though, that there are- differences in what psychologists have come to call g in general intelligence, and that this is somehow not
necessarily predicated upon acquiring new information. I would I would dispute that says he has you think that you think the concept of I q is just useless, not Justin occupied, but in people more or less, and- and I should explain Why- and I think you know, a lot of recent research is required to understand why and I mean free, let's just take an example. There was just canonical examples. You know the young Mozart right, people will say: well, look wait a minute. This is a kid who age of seven you know had absolute pitch and in his teens you could play him a symphony that he could recollect note for now. And reproduce on the score and etc right and surely this is an individual who is born, and what we now understand, of course, is that his father was a tyrant, infermon extraordinary young age, drilled him and his sister in in acquiring perfect to pitch in
in the subtleties of musical notation um can he was able to acquire very young characteristics that normally you wouldn't require, because normally you wouldn't be drilled and so and in fact, more and more studies indicating rich. If you subject individuals to deliberative practice regimes, they can acquire skills that seem almost in you know extraordinary. Let's take G and the iq in general, so we now know but what it really seems to be measuring is working memory and working memory tasks correlated and they live on this low dimensional space that we call Jim. And now one of the classic studies, Who is the number of numbers that you could hold in your head right? In other words, I recite the number of numbers- and I ask you to remember them in ten minutes later. I ask you
you're not allowed to write it down. But what you do is you we play them in your mind and you know People could do ten, maybe they could do eleven, and this was considered to be some upper limit on short term memory for numbers, and yet a series of experiments have now been studied where through very intelligent, ingenious have encoding numbers. We have people hum, can remember up to three hundred, and these are individuals by the way who at no point in their lives ever showed any particular extraordinary memory capacity. And so the evidence is on the side of plasticity, not on innate aptitudes and to the
the I q is fundamentally measuring working memory. We now know how to start extended. So that's that's an important point. I would you deny that there are innate variations. I mean I am not six foot five, but not even six foot should so. I will never be a basketball player, and so there are functions in the world that our responses to variation. That looks as if it's somewhat inflexible, but in the world of the brain, given that it is not a computer, and the wiring diagram is not fixed in the factory but actually adapts to inputs, It is much more hope that the variation is and, in fact, in fact, evidence that the variation much greater than we had thought so the plasticity trainability ride, atop variation and that exists, that is in eighty.
You could have differences in aptitude, with and without training, but that's exactly right I think so, I'm not precisely true- and I think the open question for us is how much of that uhm if you like in eight Lego material, is universal whereas how many of those pieces had already been pre assembled into little castles and cars, which we then could build a pond, and I think that oh, some people arriving on the stage with an advantage is actually not known, and I think all I'm reporting is that the current deliberative practice data suggests that that's less true right, the than we thought it was like that. Right well, which puts the owners to an even greater degree than most people- would expect on culture and on what you do with your time and on parenting
all of this machinery that is outside any indivi Your brain, which in a very material sense, augmenting its intelligence and so take us into that direction. Yeah. So that's a very important point. So that's why that connection is in to make so. Ok. So now, we've basically understood what intelligences with stupidity is. We understand that we are flexible to an extraordinary degree, maybe not infinitely so an and, as you point out, the inputs then become much more important We had thought in the past and so let's now move into intelligent or sometimes gets called cognitive artifacts. So here's an example your ability to do mathematics or perform mathematical reasoning, is not something you were born with. You did
invent numbers. You did not invent geometry or topology or cal, algebraic geometry, number theory or anything else for that matter. They will all go and you, if you chose to study mathematics as a class in a class and what losing allow you to do is problems that other people can not so, and so all of us in our line number is all of the you know. In some sense, the lowest hanging fruit in all mathematical education and So, let's look at numbers. There are many number systems in the world, yeah very ancient. Ancient sumerian Cuneiform numbers that five, he's old, ancient egyptian numbers and here's a good example of stupidity and culture. Western Europe, for one thousand five hundred years used roman numbers, roman numerals from about the second century.
A pc to about fifteen thousand one hundred and eighty towards the end of the holy Roman empire. And roman numbers are good at measuring magnitude, the number of objects, but terrible for performing calculation, so adding to that what's x, plus v, you know what x one one multiplied by one v and so on, it's just doesn't work, and yet for one thousand five hundred years the human brain object to deliberate over arithmetic operations using roman numerals. They don't work, and the consequence of that is that Europeans for much of their history could not divide multiply, and it is an extruder. I think that, because she's unbelievably stupid- and it's unbelievably stupid when you realize that in India and Arabia they had a number system started in India and moved to a
yeah that was available from about the second century That is the one that we use today. That would effortlessly be able to multiply and divide numbers, and so that's a beautiful example. The interface between culture and our own reasoning and the it's so intriguing is because once I I you and number system. Maybe in Arabic. Number system base ten number system. You don't need the world anymore. You don't need paper anymore, to write it down. You can do these operations in your mind's eye and that's what makes them so fascinating and I cool that kind of object that was invented. Over the course of centuries by many many minds, complementary cognitive, artifact and their unique characteristic to is not only do they augment your ability to reason in the form, for example, of multiplying or dividing, but when I take them away from you
you have in your mind a trace of their attributes that you can do. And and that it's interesting, that's probably what's knew and thinking about the evolution of cultural intelligence for learning time, psychologists, cognitive scientists, archaeologists have understood that there are objects in the world Allow us to do things we couldn't do otherwise right. I mean a fork right or a aside right or a wheel? You know it they understood, but there is a special kind of uh watching the world that not only does what the wheel and the side of the fork does, but it also change the wiring of your brain, so that you can build in your brain of virtual thought, or a virtual site or virtual we'll, of course not, and that is, I would claim, by the way, the unique characteristic of human evolution.
Wouldn't you put language itself into this category? Absolutely I would absolutely I would. My separate them by the way is that many people erroneously assumed that the For example, a derivative of language was famously mathematic. Some it was thought up until quite recently, which mathematical reasoning depended on linguistic reasoning and In fact, it was just a special form of it. We now know that's not true, in fact the Both humans and nonhuman primates are capable of representing number the equally well in fact humans, when they perform mathematics, are not using the linguistic parts of their brain, but the, to their brain that represent number that we share with non human primates. So what else would you put in this list of cognitive artifacts, so the complementary cognitive out
fix the things that have that desirable property that I mentioned numbers the other example buying very enamored of is the abacus and the abacus is a device for for doing arithmetic. In the world without hands and eyes. But expert abacus users no longer have to use the physical abacus. They actually turn out to create a virtual abacus in the visual cortex and that particular- really interesting, because a novice abacus, because he's like Neil you we think about the either verbally, the or in terms of a frontal, cortex, very inefficient. I bet you're really deliberate over how to do a very basic some, but as you get better and better and better place in the brain where the abacus is represented, shifts and it shifts from language like areas like burgers areas is visual spatial areas in the brain,
and so it really is a beautiful example of an object in the world restructuring the brain in order to be able to perform a task efficiently, in other words, by my definition, intelligently, maps. Maps repeat, for example, of this. So let's imagine we don't know how to get around the city over the course of centuries or decades, or Yes, according to the scale, many people contribute towards the drawing a very accurate map and but you in one generation could look at that map it. If you sit down and pour over it, you can right. The whole damn thing: and you now have in your mind's eye what took thousands of people thousands of years to construct. You've changed changed the internal wiring, your brain, a very real sense to encode spatial relations in the world that you could never have directly experienced right and that's a beautiful complementary
but I said, and then some mechanical instruments. You could say that an armillary is there an astrolabe or sextant will quadrant as you and one more similar with them. You have to use them less and less right, and so you build do you like a kind of a simulation, in your brain of the physical object and at some point in some cases you can dispense with the object altogether. The other shoe so there's another kind of cognitive artifact that you want to talk about and tell us about the downside all of our cultural creativity here, yeah so there's another kind of cognitive artifact- and I mentioned a few that aside for the wheel with a fork. Don't lend themselves to Rewiring and hence making the cognitive represe patient, more efficient, but in fact the opposite? and so considering mechanic. Calculator,
or a digital calculator on your computer it allows you it would mess use your intelligence in the presence of the device. And so me and my phone are really smart. Not right Take that away. We are certainly know better than you were before and you're probably worse, because you probably forgot how to do long division, because you're so dependent on your on your phone to do it for you, Now, I'm not making a normative recommendation here, not saying that we should therefore take the phones of people away from them and force them to do long division, I'm simply yeah, there's a difference. And and the difference is that these, what I call competitive, cognitive, artifacts, don't so much amplify human representational ability, but replace it. Another example that everyone is very enamored of now, rightly our classifier systems and machine learning, and so we have
Beautiful example recently of alpha go a deep belief, neural network being trained to beat an extraordinary ninth stands: go player um. That machine is basically opaque even to its designers, and it replaces our ability to reason. Out again it doesn't mention it. Another example would be the car. The automobile is one of my favourites, because an automobile clearly allows us to move very quickly over and an even surface. And we are actually dependent on them specially here in the southwest where I live. You took it away, It would be no better than I was before, and probably I would be worse because I would, be unfit. I've been so accustomed to sitting in for a long time, and moreover it's a dangerous artifact because it kills so many people and so the
it's a beautiful example of a competitive cognitive artifact that we have accepted, because it's you Energy value is so high, even though it actually compromises our ability to function without it, and I think the world can be divided into these two kinds of cultural objects, and the question, of course, is can we depend on these objects always being around. So in the case of the competitive cognitive artifact, if we cannot, then we should worry right because when the taking away will probably would be worse off than they were before, the car is an interesting example, because it's just to balance to do the next entered of leap into being competitive, want with self driving cars. So you can easily envision a time when self driving car those are the norm because they're much safer than eight driven cars, and yet that will probably be a time
almost certainly where people's driving skills will have atrophy to the point of virtual non existence so that you couldn't take over even if you certainly could be counted upon to take over in any competent way. Once we've lived with these in the presence of this technology long enough, that's absolutely right! It's interesting 'cause the drive this car does several things at once. One is eliminates the leg, and the second thing is it eliminates on map making ability 'cause, you don't have right and so on, so it actually assaults several cognitive capacities in at once. And I do think. I really think the debate that we need to be having This is where I've been somewhat frustrated by all of the singularity debate because or the Arii include a page, because the argument that seems to be playing out
in tech circles is, will we create a machine that will turn around and say you expend too much energy, You have a disrespect for the environment, I'm going to me. Battery the matrix nightmare where is the real discussion that we should be having is that might be discussion in one hundred years time? But the imminent and practical debate is what to do about compare. Discovered that effects that are already leaving an impression on our brains. That is arguably negative. And and what I did when I have a discussion with about this topic as a rule, the only recourse that they have and it's totally reasonable is They're not going away, and but there's something else it hasn't been mentioned here, and this is really interesting which has to do with the complex system. The brain and the
domino like effect and interconnectedness of representation systems. So it's been known, for example, for a long time that the abacus, if you become competent at the abacus you're, not just competent at arithmetic, it actually has really interesting. Indirect effects on linguistic competence and geometric generally, and so it's not. It doesn't have a firewall around it, such that its function. Advantages are confined to arithmetic and in fact I think, that's generally true for all interesting, complementary, cognitive artifacts. So if I give you a fork or chopsticks or knife, it's true you're, better able to manipulate and each food, but you also develop dexterity and that dexterity could be generalized to new instances. And for me the main concern is not only that the world will go s and will know
longer- have highways in cars, but actually the indirect diffusive impact of the eliminating a complementary cognitive artifact like a man. On other characteristics, that we engage in and I would really strongly train- and this is where the debate needs to be hand, because I don't have an answer. Is that? Your familiarity with map making and Topa graphic topological, geometric reasoning, generally valuable in your life? Not just in navigating across the city. And so taking away a map doesn't just make you worse at getting from one door to another. It makes you worse in many ways yeah. I think there are many other examples of this. I'm not very close to this research by know that many learning experts believe that cursive writing, for instance, is actually
important to learn. Even you know, we're living in a in increasingly a time World and ultimately a voice recognition world, because it's actually intimately connected with just the position of literacy itself and then just that the pace at which you right, when you write cursive Lee Thinking of letters is surrounded by a firewall is not a discrete task, is actually related to learning to read. Well yeah, I mean a good example of this by the way that you know both Einstein, Frank Lloyd, Wright depended upon was twenty cubes so early in their youth. They both became very enamored of these cubes and would instruct you know, but like mine, you know they just scrubbed construct these worlds out of cubes and both of them claimed frankly right in the case of architecture and
I understand he said the geometry of the universe that the intuitions they built up playing with these cubes were instrumental in their later lives and I would claim the same is true for maps right. I mean if you know how to navigate through a true space like euclidean space or a curved space on the surface of the earth that allows you to think about different kinds of spaces relationship spaces like idea, spaces and the notion of a path from one idea to the other. As a metaphor, actually, the immediate and natural implementation in terms of a path in real space, and so you can see immediately how these things are valued more broadly. But you prefaced what you said here that you weren't, making any normative claims right. The norms just come flooding in once you talk about the possible changes in our
cognition and in perhaps you know, even our ethics. Once you begin to change the the cultural landscape with competitive as opposed to a cooperative technologies, so Let's talk about the kind of normative claims one might want to make here because make here there's the norms that, as they apply to each person's specific abilities. I mean most of us want to maximize our our capacity. Get what we want out of life and if we were convinced that, technology that we were using was is reliably diminishing that capacity or producing a spectrum of effects that we were not considering But you know once once they came to our attention, we would have to grant that these were negative in our lives, and and then there's just the collective norms where we talk about holes dietes being capable of a certain kind of creativity and co,
duration and other societies, obviously not a societies that are just in a perpetual state of self siege, or you know, civil war, zero how do you think about norms in this context? Yeah, it's very tricky. I mean so. The first thing I should say is: I do agree with you. There uh in some domains, absolutely better ways of being and so I'll give you an example from you code for computers. Imagine that we still had to write with punk punched card I mean there would be no would process it right, so the idea of taking a typewriter and connecting it to a computer is an extraordinary invention right and let you work princesses and everything else. So you know well, it's good
yeah, then let's imagine that you could only interact with the computer using machine code or binary. There would be no software, as we understand it today, right, because the projects would always be just in scale and so the evolution of computer languages, that allowed us to efficiently right code from, Jeans was extraordinary and is responsible for the world that we live in today, including a deep mind. Alpha go and so there are better ways of interacting with the world and you know, having a sharp edge is better than not having the sharp edge, and I think, where things get tricky normatively is when you start talking bout refined, cultural artifacts and objects, and I know this is an interest of yours, different ways of reasoning. You know basically reasoning about the world will scientifically or mathematically or poetically and so on, and Are they, like? You know,
gene code versus Python? Is there a sense in which a certain culture has discovered a more efficient way of interacting is physical and cultural reality, and I think it's a really interesting question and I think that we know domains where the answer is. Yes right. You know, having mathemagics is better than not having it and there, since we can do like navigate when you have it so and put things on the moon and etc. So I think that so yes, it has incredible cultural implications and- and I think we're just to be honest- not many people think this way about the interaction between brain plasticity and the cultural accumulation of publisher artifacts. When you do. I have no doubt, and especially in the in relation to collective intelligence and collective stupidity. By the
which is rule systems that you've accumulated in the brain, which you thought you didn't need, and you didn't, but other people think that you do and allow you to interact with the world in a worse way than you did before, and that happens a lot as we both know, and so did that this is a brave new frontier and I would be, I would be extremely interest- understanding it. In fact, one project at the center for institute that we now have just started is what we call law os the law of the legal operating system of societies. Constitutions are beautiful example of a memory system that encodes um historical contingencies, events in the past and our response to events in the past that had hoped positive outcomes, and we actually now have five hundred and ninety a legal operating system constitution from around the world- and we can ask when do,
Well, when do they fail? What would that cultural implications? which ones are more likely to lead to despotism, which ones less likely. So I think this is needs to be addressed, but I don't have the answers. I wonder if there's a relationship, I mean complexity and ethics or into actual honesty. This is something I'm just thinking of for the first time here, but one difference between religious dogmatism and scientific curiosity is in the boundedness of the worldview. That result satin anyone's tolerance for uncertainty, ambiguity and complexity and the guys in line of one's cognition, so you for a dogmatist. The final answers are already given the reality, really can't be more complex and what spelled out in his favorite book, but for a scientist or for just a curious person generally, The investigation of reality is open, ended and who knows what we will learn in the future and who knows
now. This may or may not supersede or revise our current knowledge, and when I think about the differences between cultures, they often know what seems to me to be this simple store or most crystalline difference between a culture that between two cultures, that more or less tells you, everything you need to know about the other differences about them and my favorite example my favorite example of a culture that gets almost every important question wrong. Is the Taliban I've been in use and then for years, but you could also use ISIS or really any society organized under strict Sharia LAW at the moment? But I remember when my friend Christopher Hitchens described his reaction to the the fatwa on his friend, Salman Rushdie that came down in nineteen. Eighty, nine from it will Khamenei and IRAN and his first reaction to this when he heard about it. I think it was a journalist asked for his comment on it. And he said he was a. It- was a matter of
Everything he hated versus everything he loved the single datum a ruler of a state, born in the murder of someone for writing a novel right that encapsulated so much about the culture for me, I've often been thinking in terms of you know, I'm a father of two daughters and when I think about the life, I want to give them and the kinds of things I I delight in and worry about on their behalf and when I compare to the general attitude of men and and actually women frankly toward and girls in traditional muslim cultures, the Taliban being that the ultimate instance that difference to when's. So many other differences. It's like it's like. So when you take that into the d, the most excruciating case we take like honor killing, so you have a a girl who gets raped
or refuses to marry the the octogenarian that second cousin who her father picked out for her or who wants to get an education- and she is with some regularity, gets killed by may a male family member who considers this a dishonor again I'm not talking about the behavior alone psychopath I'm talking about someone who is psychologically normal in a culture that is enforcing behavior, that really only a psychopath in our culture could possibly indulge there's this single difference. You know the treatment of women and girls that I think tells us everything we need to know about the likely differences at every other level, intellectually, and ethically in that culture I mean so so we know a lot about what that culture is not going to do if it considers it a major priority to keep half of its pop
elation, illiterate and living in cloth bags, as is the case under the Taliban. You know I would. I would too so just in relation to this question. I'd say maybe two things um. So one is the systems that you describing. Intriguing instances of the persistence of rule systems who outcomes we would describe without hesitation, stupid and in certain, in relation to the treatment of human beings, and so that that is for me, a genuine scientific problem, which is, I happen to know as you do that many people in those societies are deeply unhappy. And these rule systems are imposed upon them, and so why is it there? So persistent, a raged and now by the way in western society, means that be clear. I mean.
In women. Didn't have the vote until you know the late 20th century, so we went that much better, but we You realize the error of our ways, so that's one in this and is the implication that I've already described, which is the rule systems leaving him print on your reasoning in a very tangible form, and so, if you are encoding a cultural form, that is, you know, hateful or intolerant. Just like the abacus is leaving Orange and how you reason this is leaving an imprint in how you think about the world, and so that's one and I think, that's really important charging and the second Uhm It is in relation to and it would be cool h. You know watch I guess I would distinguish a scientist from
from someone who has an orthodoxy. I mean is enshrined in Richard Feynman's, quote. To definition of a scientist is someone who believes in the ignorance of experts, though that notion is the singular precondition for the possibility of science, which is a fundamental distrust in experts and experts these including us right and that such an interesting concept that the rule system, the metro rule that allowed for the possibility of the scientific revolution, was my first response.
To any assurances skepticism, and that has something to do with information right, which has something you put it out, something to do with uncertainty, and I've often thought that we've cultures tend to treats symptoms not causes, and so you've described societies, barrier societies somewhat hostile doctrines. My feeling is that the way that you really should address these things is somehow start trading, a pedagogical schema that allows people to live with uncertainty. That makes them happy about that. Not unhappy about it. That reassurance should come in the form of possibility right, not the lack of it and uh,
that's a deeper issue and I think it's where our education students actually failing, because they're all symptomatically targeted, whereas what you're talking about you know Hitchens Response, but all that I had love and all that I hate is this deeper issue of? Yes, we live in a void. You know the solar system is a dense bit of matter in uh. As far as you know, do you like to search for? Are you referred by that and that kind of thing that psychological profile is the thing that inclined you two would signs towards orthodoxies? Ten, so kind of opening out to the future from there. How do you view the future of of civilization? our species. In light of this basic uncertainty feel free to to riff,
about various dystopian or utopian possibilities, but I mean it's obviously, on the one hand, there's the idea that we might destroy ourselves our that our global civilization might fail. Or there's a possibility that we can dimly imagine of us more or less engineering everything that's wrong with us out of existence and eventually exporting an unimaginable e advanced culture to the rest of the galaxy. Most people seem to feel like we. Our passing through some kind of bottleneck, now that this century is is more Crucial than most? Do you feel that way? I do, and I don't you know we talked about this and I there are clearly characteristics of the 20th century that are historically with respect to our own species. Unprecedented our population growth, all happened. Century in the last few decades right:
energy as we understand it happened in the last few decades. Medison that works according to Scientific principles as opposed to trial and error. Uhm is very knew. Hygiene and the understanding of the implication Jesus, biological evolution in terms of its the ethical treatment of of each other and non human animals is knew and so on. So it's an incredible century, I think in many but in other ways it's not. You could argue that the you know the first time, and that we committed out internal representation to the world in the form of cuneiform
lettering on clay tablets was a greater avenger in human history, with greater implications moving forward. So I don't I don't know. I think there are times in history where extraordinary things have happened and it's hard to apportion weight differential, wait to them, except though the one difference I would note there is that I think you certainly could defend that claim that they, was as important to breakthrough, and certainly the breakthrough that enabled all the other ones that we deem important, but what you don't have there with the birth of writing is a technology that give even a single individual to say nothing of of a state the power to destroy the species. You know intern in terms of just creating literally that the physical destruction. You know, if you're going to talk about biological terrorism
or or anything else that could get away from us. Yes, no, I know I think I look. I think that, as you know, a lot of this is quantity she's, not qualitative right. In other words, you know gunpowder and it was clearly extraordinary important machine gun, as opposed to the cavalry and as we saw in the devastation of the first World WAR I mean so there are so look I don't need to I. I do think we tend to it's a little bit like your earlier question about We have success with information processing now because we live in the computer age and do we not see revolutionary transitions in human culture in the past because we only think they can be computational and atomic or
biological weaponry in the present. You know that sort of thing, so just conscious of that, but I do think it's true that there are just extraordinary things are happening and, and not least, I think in our lifetimes the possibility of the demise of the nation state. I mean, I think that just me, the kinds of social networks that with the prequels to territories and ultimately, nature nations that are different now and the possible Kiva true reconfiguration of the terrestrial social systems is really intriguing, and for many people who live on Facebook or in computer games that has already happened effectively already happen, it hasn't happened in their tax system and it hasn't happened in terms of their electoral responsibilities and rights. But it's happened and how they live. So I do think it's true that there's a big change ahead of us. I, with respect to pessimism versus optimism. I believe
in intelligence, and I believe in reason- and I believe in civilized discourse- and I am frightened by unconditional optimism- and unconditional pessimism two bounds of who is upset me. You know and uh you know it's like extremes of politically correct and politically incorrect are both equally abhorrent rating and so The middle ground is always seem to people lukewarm and uninspiring, but to me, is exactly the boss. I want decision, and and somehow moving forward these devices. If we are aware of the distinguishes the complementary and competitors, their powers the effects they have on our biological. Ability to reason, then we should be, I think about them as a community in civilized people and make decisions
and uh. You know. One of my great fears to be honest, has been what I see The systematic erosion of human free will and you know, free will as in where does it come from in a terministic universe but the the morning patience of free will, and so the example. I often give is free will, is only as good as its empirical execution. That is when you get a chance to exercise it, And it doesn't matter if you have it if you contact the size it right. So if I incarcerated you, you know if ISIS came into power Imagine you had free will because they would deny you ability to execute it and so the but yeah, other Interrole choosing not to exercise and a few examples. You know what
movie? Should I watch Netflix? What movie should I watch? Well David? You watch these movies. You should watch this one. Thank you and next time, even more constrained and eventually only one. You know Amazon. What book should I read? Well people just like you read books just like this, and what this is doing is, if you think about it geometrically. Is it contracting the volume of my free choice and under the in some sense economic pretense of allowing me to exercise greater features, and it is absolutely true that I could say no, I could say no, but it gets harder and harder and harder, and I think that you know I've often imagined you could live in a world where, let's imagine I wrote an app and I sometimes called this app voter out
and what you do. Is you entrance this app your economic circumstances, where you live. Your history, interests in politics, and it will tell you better than you ever could who you should vote for and, let's imagine, equivalent medical app. You know how much is it sort of the I watched? four right. It measures everything about your body that could be measured. And it says no, you know I. When you go to the restaurant, you shouldn't really be eating an aubergine tonight, it's time for you know whatever chicken sandwich or The reverse so, and I think that's not alarmist. I think that over the course of the next decade, more and more decisions will be outsourced in this competitive form.
Such that. What remains in our competence and in our hands is a tiny particle of freedom. I'm not sure I guess I don't see that so much in terms of freedom, because it's kind of funny bring up free will, because listeners of this podcast will will know that. I spent a lot of time or doing that it's an incoherent idea. I mean it's not to say that everything else we care about is in coke I think they're. Obviously, differences between voluntary and involuntary action and not allow changes when you get rid of free will, but a few things change and we don't really have time to get into it, but my very last podcast was
me debating with Dan Dennett in a bar about free. Will it's important that it was in a bar said. Yes right, you had available to you yeah mechanisms for increasing it right, but I guess to hear those examples. I don't see it so much as a diminution in our freedom. It seems like it's there's, certainly a silo in effect of all this, so we are creating machinery that cure rates the available choices in such a way that, in a way that will presumably reliably give us choice. This is that we prefer to randomness right so But I I don't you see that that's precisely, but let me give you obvious example: The I am a western so your western male you're, probably wearing trousers and a shirt and the sartorial options.
Able to our extraordinarily small. If you look at world culture and historically, if you go, you know good Perdieron, Roman Empire and China, and you know it. The way we have chosen to adorn ourselves has been incredibly diverse and fascinating, and yet now is western men, we all look like clones and I would claim you're not exercising your judgment, you're being told precisely how to dress and where you get to exercise their judgment in his a very, very low dimensional space, texture and color, that the manufacturers of clothing, based on purely economic efficiency of decided to give you- and I think, that's what I'm thinking about. It's not you're. Absolutely right.
Could be. You can do with the row. You know you can do your own version about the civil disobedience and say no, you know at, but it's very hard to people and- and so when you lost me, what I'm concerned about is not inevitable. It's not deterministic put in last week choose to in some sense on a search, our individuality and our differences, constructive differences. We will, I think inevitably become a clonal species and not only in terms of the way we look at dress But the way we reason- and that is so you asking for my dystopian singularity- that's it the optimistic a future is the one where we say enough: uh, no more conformity, no more over curation of what you think. I should do anything and a kind of radical assertion of diversity are added
individuality that we somehow reconcile with a constructive. Communitarian drives, and I don't We've done that historically, very well how to be as different as we can be congenial with one another and that there is a positive future for me, but I think that that's the path of great labor yeah yeah. I think those examples are importantly different. I I take your your point on dress. It never occurs to me to even want to wear a kilt or something that's not pants and a shirt and K e in my own life. I take that to even greater extreme. I mean I I I am aware of just not even wanting to think about what I'm gonna wear that day. So I have like I, I basically have a uniform right. I just that's the mega points and yeah yeah, so I- and I am the I am the I'm the canary in the coal mine sartorial- is speaking but take the case of of Netflix or an Amazon book recommendations.
Normally what would happen twenty years ago or whenever that was is you would go into a video store you going to a bookstore and you would just kind of walk the aisles and it would be a fairly leaving reading book reviews aside, but that's also another curation process. You would walk into store and just find specific covers Alluring or titles alluring and things would jump out at you or not in a way it was not. All. It was really a largely a matter of happenstance and not There wasn't much information in the system to reliably promote anyone among the thousands or tens of thousands of candidates for reading or viewing to your your attention and so now what we have something like, Netflix or Amazon, where based on your reading, watching history based on
millions of people very much like you have rated to be incredibly enjoyable you're getting various. Emendations. Now, there's definitely again there's a I see a major liability here in just getting functionally get a wised, intellectually and and ethically, where your you know, we we Basically, this is happening online for most people, where they just they used to follow on social media people. They already agree with and there's just a we get really channelized and the walls of the channel, I think, are getting higher and higher in terms of the the ideas that we are exposed to It seems to me that you are sound. You know this project because that's let me be. There clear. I am not a pollyanna about the past right yeah. I do not I'm not arguing, I'm saying something different, which is the tools that we now possess, that are so incredible
should be allowing us to have freedoms that are unprecedented, not returning us to the ghettos fast, and so I'm with you, but the you know, as you say, I mean I used to choose my albums by that covers that wasn't necessarily the most thoughtful thing to do, but sometimes it works and a lot of time listening to yes, no, that isn't the kind of thing that works for me, but yeah exactly so the so I'm not saying the past is gage. I'm simply saying that if you develop a technology that could give you incredible right, why not use it to do that? That's the thing I'm saying, and I and I and I think, what's so intriguing right about his it's a realization technologies. Is it with every new technology that offers some increments of possibility. It comes with the greater possibility of that seven, a gain ship and so the books to examine the wonderful one we were limited by
by our access to good book stores and most of them are quite friendly with shity right I mean and had terrible taste, and it was just endless shelves of self help books that you would be helping us by keeping us warm by burning than reading. And so that's true, you know, and I'm very conscious of that and having Amazon is just don't say, with respect to access to books when you live in remote parts of the world, but what comes along with it. Is this uhm? You know all seeing eye that wants to impose out of largely economic considerations, constraints on what you do and it's our job to maintain the freedom of the technology. I mean. That's all I'm saying I'm saying: let's fight the instinct of the technology to
treat us as a nuisance in a machine learning algorithm. That would want to be able to predict as perfectly an surprise it constantly rate. Let's surprise message, and but yes, I, I have very little nostalgia for the past. What I know now knows in the time here: David, let's open it up beyond the planet, for a for a kind of fine, consideration what? How do you view the prospects of advanced intelligence elsewhere in the universe, and we do have an uh in about the Fermi paradox? Where is everybody I have an opinion. I think it's very well informed. The you know, I'm fascinated by this. I'm fascinated by space in fashion say that Currently, working on a new festival for New Mexico called Interplanetary, which what about the future destiny,
life on earth in the universe? So I'm we could talk about that at great length in terms of this uh calculation of life elsewhere. As you know, I mean, statistically it's real problem, Becaus any well informed. Statistical model has to have mulch, two independent instances theme to make an inference, and the problem with our case is that there is only one and so you can't reason about this question statistically, but you can reason about this question in terms of physical law and evolutionary dynamics and from that point of view, meaning you know physical lower the extent we can measure it is the same everywhere in the universe and to the extent that biological,
mechanisms are emerging to physical law. There's nothing particularly special about the earth and by that kind of reasoning based on mechanics like. I think we have every reason to expect late exists elsewhere, but you can't reason from statistics and it's and that also to another, fruitless discussion uh, but it regardless, though, of whether there is life in the universe or not beyond our own planet? We having intellectual obligation to populate it, and so that's where I stay, I don't matter I mean I, you know why do we do what we do and I think the church if I have any kind of quasi, mythical belief system, it's something to do with expanding the sphere of reason and and sympathy
into the world and beyond. Um if we could take the very best of what we've done and push it out into the universe? That would be an extraordinary thing that statement that we ethical obligation to populate. It is an interesting one which, I think will stray Many people as highly non obvious. I think it's our ethical ' nations to our descendants is something that is on one level obvious, but it's not it. What are our ethical obligations to people who don't yet exist? That's Anne may never exist. That's it's interesting to consider yeah. I agree that it's if we did something that canceled the future of the species,
right if they're, what we know we are that we know at at minimum that we have intelligent life on this planet. They can enjoy a range of of conscious states that can be incredibly beautiful and for filling and if we did something to end of the process and therefore not create our future descendants anything is wrong. That is, I mean it's not wrong in the sense that we are causing are elves or anyone to suffer and we could all die, we could kill ourselves painlessly in our sleep tonight right. So there's no suffering necessarily but you're for clothes. Inn on potentially bill means of years of happiness and creativity, of a sort that we can't yet imagine, and that would be nothing to do it. Occured to me, though, that when you said that it would be great, to have a technique, maji or a device. I mean Essentia Lee something as simple as an abacus that allowed us to
internalize a commitment to future generations in a way that we haven't, because it means very difficult. Even when you talk about solving a human problem that has a time horizon longer than your own near term or your children's future. Something like global climate change we're really bad at that I mean we discount the pain of the future, so steeply that we cannot prioritize a centuries long problem at all. No matter how grave it is and if we could create some way of making a commitment to the future. More reflexive and more vivid, more united, more emotionally and ethically salient to us and internalize that it reliably get people to think in those ways I think that's one thing we need, I don't know what that would look like, but they can jump
of your abacus talk and your saying it would be. They would be ethically problematic not to push forward into into space in future generations. That spark that idea for me yeah. Well, I think it's a bit. We Intriguing, an important point. I would claim that one of the reasons so many of us are evolutionary thinking is Lionel and Darwin and Wallace is that they do give us a sense of time can do. You know I mean to me it's extraordinary that are the course of billions of years we've gone from the planet. That was looked like the surface of Mars. Perhaps, and was like Listen now, harbors things that to bring us full circle, Boltzmann and Shannon violate the age theorem right, the universe is not molecular. Chaos in this neighborhood and it's the rolling stones and
you, the Sebastian Bach, Emily Dickinson and so, and I think, as you say, that delicate rare things should be preserved. And developing awareness, Intangible ethics, for that is, is vital. What's your view of changing the species in ways more radical than the mere happenstance of evolution so the genetically engineering changes that that we presumably understand into germ line or or just allowing people to creatively change their their genomes so it's well. First of all, as you know, I couldn't believe it's already happened. It happened with writing and it happened. Mathematics, so I've already asserted that culture is a kind of collective inception event into the brain. So I so that's the first we've been modifying ourselves forever. I mean it by either
nutrition or with exercise or in society, and so the question is whether or not this represents a radical discontinuity in the styles of intervention and- and I guess it comes down to a question of the time it takes to change the system a lot, and so let me just be clear: we are going to modify the cells and if, for example, a pandemic emerged with a virus that had a morbidity rate of eighty percent, and someone had invented a modified Chris persist to render you immune the the quiet. The change in the genomes of each cell in your body, it would be adopted only would be adopted in probably made obligatory so and that's not really that far fetched and so and so it just is a matter within the amount of time. Such things will happen. Some of these will
extraordinary. I mean we will probably be but you eliminate certain forms of cancer are not all. And we will modify ourselves willingly and- and I think appropriately where, where the, where I guess um the debate will persist, is exactly the way it debates persists in the case of enhancement in sports right. You know where to draw the line, and in that comes down to a question of fairness, right, the ethics of fair Yes and uhm. You know so you know I do view the march of Technology's kind of in evitable uhm, but I would like to accompany it with reason and I think one form of reasoning- that's useful in these debates is to find precedence
So when people talk about crisper, which is currently most powerful genetic engineering technology, it's worth, bearing in mind all the things that we've done already to change, genetics either naturally or unnaturally and what we've done to a micro, Bio. You know diet and biochemically, which is a part of our gene by the way and with that we are actually dependent upon, so it always helps. I think, to create continuation reasoning to find prior instances that we can use to think about the future. So I the- and I guess you know some point if we were to colonize other planets and those other planets had different yeah, mass effect two it was way too low, or they had slightly different compositions of
you know gaseous molecules in their atmosphere. We would quite willingly re engineer ourselves, So. I actually think that in a sense is inevitable. No alright, so include David? I'm going to ask you a question that you seem uniquely well poised to find annoying or even unanswerable, given what you said about q, but I've asked this of a few smart people on my podcast and I think I'm going to demand an answer so much monumental moment. Who is your vote for the smartest person in human history. If you could, if you you could put one human brain into the room? The talk to the aliens who would you would you nominate? Oh. Probably. John VON Neumann yeah yeah, that's actually quite an uncontroversial pick, given what I know about him, but he wants a little bit about. Why well 'cause. I can, I tell you 'cause, you know you might say. Well, you shouldn't know punk array
The thing about VON neumann- that's so incredible is he created mathematical fields, physical fields, computational fields and social scientifically, And that dress of decks is almost unique to him. And so I it you had to pick one, and I wish I could pick several minutes to pick one. I pick him yeah yeah and just the stories about him stories about the effect he has. On the people are found him, which included, arguably certainly more famous Winchell scientists and mathematicians, and he was surrounded As you know, by the most productive scientists of his generation, but there's so many stories about the au in which they held his ability to grasp.
And creatively interact with what they were doing in real time in a way that was mesmerizing to them yeah. He did it was so incredible right. Is that not only is there game theory which he co, invented and areas of Quantum mechanics and then just nuclear chain reaction, stuff and meteorology, I'm so, but, as you point out in addition to that kind of more traditional scholarly dat, he was frequently called upon as you as you. Intimate to solve problems that other people just couldn't even begin to think about and he's such an interesting case, because he was jewish immigrants. United States left hungry worked on the Manhattan project, deep moral conscience, so he was a real three hundred and sixty and I guess,
there are so many of them. I don't know if you heard this story about him, but on his deathbed, apparently he attended by the Secretary of Defense and of all the branches of the military. On the chance that he would say something useful about nuclear deterrence that's quite a testament to a mathematician, exactly yeah, that's right! Marvelous! You actually just say I used to live. Is that bias? Because when I was in street so don't study, I live John John VON Neumann Drive to make you very proud listen Dave! It's been real. I really a pleasure to talk to you and now we can go on for hours and hours and if anything of interest it happens in the world in the next few, here's! I will definitely invite you back to comment on it because you are. Sitting at the confluence of so many interesting lines of inquiry that it's just great to hear your
it's on more or less everything. Thank you so much I even enjoyed it. I'd be more than happy to come back correct great. Before we go David, I just want people to know where they can find out more about you and about the Santa Fe Institute on line? Where would you direct them to websites and social media absolutely so the website is www dot, Santafe, dot, Edu, and I know that we have Facebook pages and various tweets, and I should just reassure all of your listeners that we are completely reinventing our web page and by September. They'll be something so beautiful to look at. In the mean time, you have to suffer through very dense materials that that's where you can learn about us and how you can engage with that's more and Utah. Are you publicly funded? Is it a matter of private donate, actions to the institute. How does that work? Yeah? We are a not for profit wherever 1c3 and we're fiercely independent, we're funded, really three way. Yeah funded by grant
it's a federale foundations, unrestricted gifts. We funded through something called the applied complexity, network This is largely for profit organisations, Google, Ebay, Intel, fidelity, etc, and they become affiliated with us, 'cause they're interesting. Sixty signs in their own work and then through philanthropy. So it's better third, third, third, Well, I encourage you all that check out the Santa Fe Institute and Do you have a personal social media presence at all you on twitter or anything else but I'm not I'm, I'm I'm so embarrassed. That's why you're so productive! why you're actually getting something done so we'll listen. Once again, it's been a great pleasure to to hear your voice and it to be continued, Thank you. If you find this podcast valuable, there are many ways you can support it. You can review it, Itunes or Stitcher or wherever you happen to listen to it. You can share.
Social media with your friends. You can block about or discuss it on your own podcast or you can support it directly and you can do this by subscribing to my website at SAM Harris, DOT, org and there you'll find subscriber only content which includes my ask me anything up. So it's he also get access to advance tickets to my live events as well as streaming. Video of some of these events,
Transcript generated on 2019-10-31.