Hidden Dynamics of our unfolding future   1.3 Jan 28

Even a view of the human predicament with ever increasing population and consumption does not give a full view of reality. The common view under appreciates our predicament because it lacks reality's full dynamics. It lacks a description of how rapidly events unfold, or how much momentum they carry, and how inadequate our managing behaviors are in redirecting this momentum.

From visualizing a future crash and its accompanying injuries we could have realized there were behaviors that we could have taken, that could have avoided the crash and its injuries, but we did not take them.

Why? Because either we did not gather, process, and value all the available information with existing cognitive abilities, or the system's information, for example its dynamics, were beyond our existing cognitive abilities.

Three forms of cognitive limitations can cause this blindness. I will focus on the third process because it is the most hidden and most deadly to our way of life. But the other two are worth mentioning.

1) Some events are not random and can be predicted by probability. When this probability is high, but not 100%, we often underweight the events occurrence. which turns out to be true for the case of civilization collapse.

2) Some of these events can be predicted because they are end conditions of previously observed and recorded historical cycles. The cognitive limitation is that we can't match up the present events with the precursors of the historical event. The precursors of the fall of Rome are hard to match up with present conditions.

3) There are events that have never happened before, however, because of the system's physical structure future conditions can be predicted by "causal inference." For example the exhaustion of the one-time available fossil fuel or water supplies.

In the third case, the one on which this section focuses, there are further cognitive limitations that misdirect our choice of behavior. Once a prediction is constructed from causal inference the prediction is processed once more to give it present meaning or influence in behavior selection. That is, the created abstract image (it has not occurred yet) is in competition with all the other images created by all the other processes in the human "behavior-selection-system." The image that ends up first in line out of this competition shapes behavior.

For this third case, the quality of the "causal inference images" and their "value" in this competition depends on a set of cognitive processes that measures the system's descriptors, constructs the system's causal connections, and computes an "unfolding," or scenario of conditions. The variables measured, connected, and computed depend for their quality on second and third order temporal terms. For example, an object not only has a position but a velocity and an acceleration. An object has not only a mass but a momentum. In the general case any variable has 1) a value, 2) a descriptor how fast the value is changing, 3) a descriptor which describes the rate of change of the second descriptor, 4) a descriptor which ... etc.

Including these terms, in the processes of making predictions, especially in the process of giving predictions their full meaning in behavior selection, is central to steering civilization along a safe course.

In this section I discuss the strengths and weaknesses of normal cognitive processes in creating an understanding of the human predicament which includes this family of temporal descriptors for each variable. I show an image of civilization collapse and the powers of "rapid population decline behaviors" to prevent collapse depend on these terms. I show that behaviors chosen with out inclusion of these terms will terminate the human experiment.

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Tim does this help in the organization of Section 1.3 of the outline?

Do I want to reorganize the first parts of 1.3 to be

1.3.1 show strengths and weaknesses of human cognitive processes in understanding the temporal aspects of systems in general.

1.3.2 show how this knowledge of cognitive limitations relates to the human predicament civilization collapse and rapid population decline.


This might get too long and get too detailed for this book. What do you think?