Monday, April 27, 2020

We Need a Zion Economy

Humans won't need humans

As humans are less and less necessary for meeting human needs, we could foreseeably all be out of jobs. With improvements in emotional simulation and response, we could even become unnecessary for "human" emotional contact. I do not think we will choose such an extreme future, but once technology is out, there's really no putting it back, and most of us don't want to. What do we want the future to be like if humans aren't needed to meet most human needs?

Wealth driven capitalism is dystopian

An economy driven by the desire for wealth and power will ruin a future where humans don't need humans. Those with money and power will be able to use it to amass and maintain even greater wealth and power, and they won't even be dependent on human workers to keep their position. Capitalism that considers wealth, but considers more broadly human flourishing is a possible alternative. How do our economic choices impact human health and happiness, sustainable living on our planet, and the well being of all stakeholders, not just shareholders? A world of Benefit Corporations might be a way forward.

The Star Trek Federation shows part of the Zion ideal--people work, but not for money. No one goes hungry, uneducated, or sick without treatment. Or as Hugh Nibley put it, the lunch is free, but we must work.

Without a shift toward a utopian economy like this, all the dystopian futures seen in shows like Blade Runner or Altered Carbon, where the wealthy have everything and the rest have misery, are plausible futures. Or we will just wipe ourselves out. Building Zion is not simply a utopian dream--it is an existential necessity for much, perhaps all, of humanity.

Building Zion

For me, building Zion is a practical task of daily life. I ask, how will my life get us there? I'm certainly hoping on help from sources I don't know or understand, but I have little hope in finding a Zion ready made for me, or finding Zion without a lot of other people trying to build it with me. Here are some thoughts that roll around in my mind from time to time.

How will we get people to work without fear of poverty or the allure of wealth or power?

Can psychology, social engineering, or pharmacology help with this? I think so, but I'm not sure how, and not sure all of the possible tools are ethical. Certainly just making sure everyone has food, shelter, education, healthcare, and other necessities for a healthy, happy life will get us a long way toward our goal. Can you set up a society where the incentives make most people want to work for a shared good, while also fostering variety, diversity of thought, and individual liberty? I think so, but it will definitely take more trial and error. Money and power over others are not the only, or even the major, motivators for much of what people do.

How can adaptable diversity live peacefully?

Diversity of thought and experience breeds creativity and innovation--things we need to adapt to an ever changing world. Diversity also brings tension between both desires and needs of different people. This means we live in a dynamic system. Dynamic systems are only stable if they are regulated to stay in a small, stable region. The more dynamic the system, the more regulation it needs, so it seems natural to me that a more diverse society needs more regulation. With insufficient regulation, people can't get along and work together, and the society will break into nations, tribes, etc. With too much regulation, or poorly designed regulation, the society can be pushed toward other instabilities, like the kinds of inequality we have in our nation and world, today. We can also defile our own living space to the point that many people fear for their livelihood and safety.

But a lot is known about how to help diverse organizations flourish, how to live sustainably with nature, and how to foster peace, and how to empower individual decision making that will benefit us all. Every day and every year we have a chance to test the teachings of the prophets who are telling us how to build a world without rich and poor, without sickness, without war and fear, with freedom, with diversity, and with a oneness of heart. No single person has all these answers, but there are a lot of people who understand little bits very deeply, and some with broad visions of how we might make the answers work together.

Zion is a revolution

I'm certain that the arrival of Zion will be a revelation to everyone--some for good and some for sorrow. We may head toward Zion with small, incremental changes, but the only way there for most of us is going to be with some large leaps of faith. Perhaps the biggest will be giving over power and control to people who are different from us to help them govern their own lives and solve their own problems. The rich and powerful can't build Zion without giving up their wealth and power. The proud can't build it by making everyone be righteous like them. If we truly want Zion, we might have to do like Jesus and trust the poor, the sinners, and the unorthodox to build the kingdom we need.

God Didn't Make the World--He Won't Make the Next

If you've been Mormon long, you know this story. God didn't make the world. He told Jehovah to make it, and He got a bunch of other people together to do the real work. We made the world.

We had instructions, sure, but it seems they weren't exactly like a blueprint. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the instructions were more organic. There was an element of agency involved that we don't typically think about in construction or in art. Our materials do what we make them do, but according to Joseph's revelations, the gods watched their creation to see that it obeyed. And then they reported back and told God that they had done it! We had created a world where we could live and progress into the next phase of existence. We could grow beyond the the confines of the spirit world that the Gods first welcomed us into.

Now think about the implications of this for a minute. We've already created at least one world. Now we've progressed even further than before we came here. And we expect God is going to make the next world for us? I can make up reasons He might--the veil over our memories being first among them--but it smacks of rationalization, to me. Brigham Young especially taught that we are responsible for preparing the earth for the millennium. It's our job to make that millennial world. It doesn't seem like a stretch to me to expect that God's going to make us build our next home, too.

Yes, I can see Mom and Dad taking us back in for a while if we are having a hard time figuring out what exactly we should be doing now that we've graduated from college, but they won't make us be kids forever. So let's make the world we want. Let's hang onto our ideals of Zion and believe it can be done--no rich, no poor, of one heart, beating swords into plowshares, and living the promises of at-one-ment. And beyond this social creation of the next world, I won't be surprised to find that we are responsible for its physical creation, as well. I know I might be relearning things that I already knew, and somebody already knows what I'm learning now, but I'll keep studying creation. Maybe I'll be ready to do my part in making the next world. In the meantime I'll enjoy the beauties of this one more deeply.

For some fun videos, graphics, and explanations of how cells might have first formed, check out It only presents one set of hypotheses, but there's a lot of delightful science behind it.

Thursday, August 30, 2018

Conservative NY Times Editorials

I probably shouldn't write this, but I will anyway. I regularly read/skim the NY Times opinion page. With the editor on vacation, he invited people with views not typically represented in the NY Times to write the main editorial piece for a week each. Two socialists shared a week. A legal expert wrote for another. A conservative columnist (and strong supporter of the current Republican government) took the last week. He linked to a couple of articles he said were important reads, both written by conservative academics, highly regarded by the conservative columnist, at least, and I have reason to believe by many informed conservatives.

My Informants

If my Conservative or Libertarian friends want an introduction to what one educated Progressive thinks is important, here are a couple of links. I recommend you go to these and don't bother with the analysis of the Conservative writings that follows. I'm sure we can find some common ground to build on. But do as you wish. It's still a free country. At least until Progressives turn it into a centrally planned Communist oligarchy.

On the harms of economic inequality and benefits of greater equality:

You can pick your topic from that page, or watch this video for a summary:
Short version? Inequality hurts people and countries. Look at the data. Look at more data. Look at more data. It happens over and over again, and hurts people in all sorts of ways.

On government spending making things better--even for private business:

There are some great, short videos at this site. Your smart phone? Built from government funded research. I'm looking forward to reading the book.

On the need for greater equality for women and the benefits of having it:

(by a Mormon social scientist, Valerie Hudson, author of Sex and World Peace)
When laws make women physically safe on their own, when they make women equal partners in families and support women in their family choices, and when women make up a big portion of governing bodies (both private and public), then countries are less likely to be involved in wars. No other predictor is as good.

On the need to remedy bad actions by our representative governments:

Black people are much poorer today than they would have been had the US and state and local governments not enacted and enforced laws and policies that segregated America--denying Black veterans the same benefits as White veterans, forcing unions to segregate even when they wanted to make integrated unions, allowing laws that forbade sale of homes in certain areas to Blacks, and the list goes on. Even with the laws gone, people are suffering today, because the laws did what they were written to do.

If you look closely at these references, you may find that I didn't refer you to a single political Progressive thought leader. No one from a left wing think tank. It just so happens that Progressive voices in America today are preaching goals more in line with this evidence than what we see from the political right. It also turns out that the mid-20th century Libertarian idealism that conservative think tanks seem to favor in their scholarship is a bit too far from last decades of advances in social, political, and academic thought to generate government or personal policies adapted to the current needs of most American--or most humans.
These are a few of the voices that inform my Progressivism. Not partisan or ideological pundits. Not one or two news outlets. Not a political party news letter (although I get news from Our Revolution, the Working Families Party, and Rural Progressives, among other advocacy groups).

Some Important Conservative Thought

As judged by the conservative guest editor for the New York Times Opinion page, August 2018.

Breaking Norms is Good

The first editorial referenced said an interesting thing. Much of what Trump is doing is breaking norms, not breaking the Constitution or Democracy. History has shown that breaking norms is often what is needed to reinvigorate democracy. That part was an interesting read. He brought up some great examples from US history of presidents who broke a lot of norms.
Of course, he failed to mention the likely consequences of conflicts of interest relating to the president not divesting his finances while in office (and the legal gray area of the emoluments clause in the Constitution), or various other ethical (not just procedural, cultural, or partisan) norms the president has broken. But his big picture was interesting. Breaking norms is not inherently bad. It's a bit curious, that argument coming from an ideological conservative, since that is what many Progressives like typically want, but not really problematic. 
The author's application of the idea to the current Republican administration, implying that this specific set of broken norms is good for our nation, is more difficult. The author avoided this difficulty by cherry-picking the norm breaking that gets a lot of publicity, but isn't really what I see as the administration's worst offenses. Further, I don't doubt that good consequences may come from a period of bad policies and broken ethical norms, but when they do it is because good people are motivated to fix things with better policies and stronger ethical norms. Bad policies and bad ethics may inspire good, but choosing crooks and liars for your advisers, separating parents and children, and wielding presidential power to (attempt to) punish political critics meet no definition of good--for our nation or for individuals. And I limit myself only to three points that are easily publicly documented.

Bernie Sanders is Stalin, Mao, Hitler, and Castro, and his supporters are Nazis

The second article had a great, click bait title: "Socialism as a Hate Crime." I will summarize:
  1. Conservatives are having their voices silenced with the accusations that they are speaking hate.
  2. Socialism has sounded good and friendly everyplace it has been preached throughout history.
  3. Everyplace Socialism has come into power, millions of people have been killed and oppressed:
    • long list detailing the attrocities of:
      • Stalin
      • Mao
      • Hitler
      • Castro
  4. There is no difference between the Progressive movement in America, today, and these atrocious regimes.
  5. If Bernie Sanders, or others sharing his ideas, comes to power, we will be on the Road to Serfdom (the title of a book by Hayek).
  6. Sanders and others who believe like him should be silenced for speaking hate (or it's at least not fair that they are silencing us conservatives in a few places that we care about. They are so intolerant).
 Now for my comments
  1. I'd love to pick apart that claim that Conservatives are being prejudicially silenced and see what substance it doesn't have. It's true that some loud, conservative voices have been silenced (in specific venues), and some tweets and social media posts propounding views some identify as conservative have been censored. That those voices are not proponents of hate, and that their views are conservative are completely different claims. That students should not have the right to protest speeches on their university campuses is a completely different claim. That students are unwise to protest speeches by conservatives on college campuses is a completely different claim. But examining the happenings at that level of detail might derail the superficial narrative, so I won't do it here. Plus, it wouldn't convince anyone.
  2. That's an interesting historical fact, that socialism sounded cozy before they slaughtered millions. Debatable, but I can see what he's getting at. You have to cherry pick, a bit, which historical socialists you read about, and which things Stalin, Mao, Hitler, and Castro said before coming to power, but they certainly said many nice things that sounded good to a lot of people.
  3. No one (almost) will disagree that Stalin, Mao, Hitler, Castro, and their supporters did horrible things. The bulk of the article was a summary of their worst offenses against humanity. It is quite an effective litany to prime a person's emotions. If it were logically relevant, this would be an important reminder to not repeat the horrors of history, and to listen to Libertarian voices. It is a great list for anyone wanting to respond to the claim that religion is responsible for the worst atrocities in human history. Only Nazism might claim some tie to religion as its motivating force, and that is dubious.
  4. This is the main argument, asserted in one early paragraph and insinuated throughout--American style Progressivism is a certain precursor to Stalinist Communism unless it is repudiated by Democracy-loving Conservatives.
  5. This destruction of democracy was predicted by the economic prophet, G.F. Hayek, in his book entitled The Road to Serfdom. I have come to discover that this is a Bible
    of many Libertarian Conservatives. Unfortunately for their prophet's relevance, today, economics has built upon his work, most recently with advances in behavioral economics. The 1940s communist scare doesn't have to be our great political motivator, today. It's ok for us to recognize that there is a spectrum between centrally planned and controlled communism and unregulated free markets. In fact, most of democratic Europe, Canada, and Australia live in that spectrum far closer to communism than we do, and none of them have become become authoritarian dictatorships in the last 60 years, as best I can tell. It's ok for us to recognize that good government plays a role in good society, and that not everyone who collects taxes is an evil crook. It's ok for us to realize that societies are stronger when there is greater, real equality.
  6. Social media and college campuses should be censoring Bernie Sanders and others who believe as he does that Medicare for all, Social Security, and publicly funded schooling through college are good things, because these things will result in killing millions of people, even though they sound cozy right now. Who does this make sense to? I actually know many people that this makes sense to. I even can explain why it makes sense to them, although I no longer try to justify their views as reasonable. Most of them wouldn't be as logically bold as this author to make the argument that Sanders and Hitler are the same, but they will insist that no good can come of publicly run anything--or at least not as much as if it were all private.
This second guy is literally calling Bernie Sanders a pre-power Hitler, and calling American Progressives Nazis and Communists. Go read it. He says there is no difference in what they all preach. That would explain why Sanders and his supporters are so worried about the ethnic, racial, and cultural homogeneity of their voting bloc. Why they are seeking to keep out Latino asylees and cutting by more than 2/3 the number of refugees we accept each year. This is why Progressives are defending the separation of young children from their parents (they are criminals, after all), and are in favor of the use of force by police and citizens when they feel threatened by other U.S. Citizens who they think might be criminals. This is why Progressives want to keep putting disproportionate numbers of Blacks in jail, because the idea of majorly reforming our criminal justice system is the same thing as failing to support our police officers and other public servants. This is why Progressives feel annoyed or disrespected or threatened or angry or disgusted when they are forced to watch NFL players kneel during the National Anthem to protest police shootings of Black men, because saying that we White Americans are racist is real racism (that's a near quote, but not from an educated Conservative). Standing respectfully for symbols of America, seeking unlimited spending for our active military, arming every good citizen (as defined by the NRA) who wants a gun, deregulating markets, backing police in killing, arresting, and imprisoning Black men, and protecting unborn babies against the moral turpitude of their mothers, are the most important ways to be a Patriot.
Oops, I think I mixed up my parties. 

I tried. 

I read the thoughtful, respectful (mostly), conservative columnist (who called Millennials know-nothings). I read the professors and think tank fellows that he cited as intelligent and influential. I don't doubt they are both, and have contributed many good things in their spheres of influence. You might even say that these authors never said they support bad things like separating toddlers from their parents. 
But how do you make that distinction in our current climate? If you say Trump's norm breaking is good for the country, you are aiding this Republican administration's policies. You are saying, "I support actions keeping foreigners out." You are saying, "If you are poor or middle class, you shouldn't expect benefits from the government--even Medicare and Social Security, and you should look to private markets for education, too. But rich people and corporations, you should expect special treatment because you make our nation great." If you equate American Progressives with Hitler and Stalin, you are calling them racist, nationalist, and imperialist--Nazis and Communists were all those things. You are saying Progressives are warming up to ethnically or culturally cleanse America. Those are the logical implications of these arguments. The implications aren't even buried. It's the point the second author is trying to make clear.
If these shallowly reasoned apologetics are what passes for strong scholarship and thought in conservative circles, they really have no justification for asking why people don't want to hear what they have to say. It's not like I turned to Brietbart or Fox News to get my explanations of conservative thought. I went to the New York Times and conservative professors and think tanks. I didn't look for their worst work. I read what was recommended by an educated conservative. I would love serious discussions about current politics with my conservative friends and acquaintances, but that's hard when they rely on authors like these and mid-20th century Libertarianism to justify their beliefs. Let's talk current events with current understanding, based on careful and broad views of history and data from real policies, not idealized ideological models.
I have heard conservatives from common people to intellectuals to politicians support the Republican government, despite decrying the actions of its current leader. From each one I have heard some form of, "As long as he does X, we can/should ignore/forgive his antics. We are getting our way, and we are happy about it. We are stopping Socialists/Democrats/Progressives/atheists/immigrants/Muslims/snowflakes/RINOs/the elite/intellectuals from destroying our country/killing unborn children/committing acts of terror/taking away our guns. We are supporting business/job creators/economic growth/lower taxes/fiscal responsibility/our military. We are getting pork for our constituents' problems because we can get this guy to play favorites by acting loyal." I actually heard a Georgia Congressman say that, although he used more politically palatable language.

I love ideals. I love futures that could be. But let's bound our ideals by the laws of nature, and build them on real humanity.

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Why I don't hate "government"

Government: Restricter or Promoter of Liberty?

Most often I hear arguments against government focusing on how government hobbles individual choices, like choices about how to do business or what to do with one's justly earned property. This is a focus on negative liberties--things we are forbidden to do by laws and institutions. Too seldom do I hear about the positive liberties enabled by good government. I invite you to consider this, with me. Should our ideal goal be less government, or should it be better government? Should we be fighting hardest to prevent the taking of liberty, or should we be fighting to lift as many people up as we can? Which focus will do the most to make a better world, to build Zion?

Here are a couple of links explaining what negative and positive liberty are:
This first one is the easier read, and shorter, even if I don't agree with it all that much.
This second one is much harder, and possibly confusing. What it refers to as "political liberalism" includes many beliefs held both on the right and the left in American politics, and particularly held by Right-Libertarians. It is a focus on individual freedom and individual rights. Now on to some of my thoughts on the value of negative and positive liberties.


I agree that property is real. People really do have and use things according to their desires. Ownership, however, is a social construct sustained by law and only maintained by force, trust, or isolation. Without government, ownership beyond family or tribal bonds of trust is impossible, unless you use force to prevent theft by other groups, or you live where no one can take it because you never come in contact with strangers. It is our social constructs embodied in government that set and enforce the rules of ownership, giving individuals the power to manage their property according to their own wills. Government enables any right to property in a large society of interconnected strangers. Before the democratic rule of law, most people did not have rights to property, and often didn't even have rights to their own lives. In fact, this state continued for many even after our constitution was accepted. If force is not to determine property rights, just law must be the judge. The goal should be good and just regulation and enforcement of property rights, not the absence of government and its accompanying laws. No one should be a slave, and history shows us that government is needed to ensure rights of owning even ourselves against the greed of powerful men.

Free Markets Are Innovative? Not even close without government.

I read a very enjoyable book called The Rational Optimist. It is an engaging exploration of data supported reasons to be optimistic about the future of humanity. The author is a great proponent of free markets, entrepreneurs, and inventors, and not a big fan of government mandates. But the author seemed to have a disconnect. He frequently pointed out how government benefits us, allowing for trust beyond the family or tribe, for example, then downplayed the role of government in favor of his narrative of the value of entrepreneurs, private enterprise, and free markets. A striking example of his bias was claiming that most important scientific and technological advances came from private individuals and companies, not government supported endeavors or research.

One of the examples he gave of an independent, plucky entrepreneur who made a great advance was the man who made the sea clock. The author didn't do his research very well. Sea Clocks: The Story of Longitude is a history of the making of the sea clock. It turns out the plucky entrepreneur who made the sea clock spent most of the time developing his clock while supported almost exclusively by government grants.

The rational optimist must have also ignored that Louis Pasteur did most of his important work establishing the germ theory of disease, developing methods for creating vaccines, figuring out how to pasteurize drinks so they could be produced en masse without making people sick, and saving the French silk industry, while employed by universities and on government funded projects.

He also overlooked that most of the background research behind essentially all economically important technological advances in the US (and I would guess the world) since World War II (and arguably back farther) was and is publicly funded--and that doesn't count all the inventors and entrepreneurs who have benefited from publicly funded education.

He overlooked that the CDC has done much more for the health of humanity and its work force per dollar spent than the private healthcare industry in the US.

This focus on entrepreneurs as representative of the success of free markets (downplaying the role of business in creating government regulations that interfere with free markets) and privately funded inventors as the backbone of technological advance (downplaying all of the publicly funded and enabled work that supported the advances) is a shortcoming of most Libertarian thought I have read.

I've heard responses like, "But private enterprise could do it better." The problem is, private enterprise didn't do these things. Government funded research has provided the majority of new drugs in recent years. Pharmaceutical companies have done important work with clinical trials and development for widespread use, but they identified only a minority of the molecules. We don't get to rewrite history simply to support our ideological positions. Basic scientific research, most of which is and has been government funded, makes the world a better place to live.

Global Interdependence

Moving from science and technology back to ownership. What inherent right does anyone have to own anything? The typical argument is that we deserve what we work for and earn, and have a right to that. But how does anyone earn anything? Most fundamentally aren't our very lives gifts from parents, the earth, or God? And if you worked hard for what you have, how did you first acquire the skills and materials used to do your work? Were you given no help from family? From publicly funded teachers? From public infrastructure? From employers that paid you a fair, or even generous, wage? Do you not benefit from all of the government funded research alluded to before? And the list of interconnections can go on and on. What is your just responsibility to these people?

If you are willing to look into yet one more book, I would point you to Justice: What's the Right Thing to Do?. This is a short, approachable introduction to the philosophy of justice and how it has evolved in U.S. history. When it reaches the 20th century, it works its way through Libertarian thought, and one can see how Libertarian ethics have entered into both left-leaning arguments about individual rights to our bodies and personal identity and into right-leaning arguments about individual economic rights. Libertarian ethics are, frankly, very appealing and come to many powerful conclusions. Then he continues on to a picture that incorporates respect for individuals with a broader, moral respect for community and the individual duty to be engaged in creating just communities, not just seeking personal justice. His conclusions are logical, but they also feel true to my internal moral code. But I didn't know where he was headed until the end. I thought he made Libertarian ethics sound quite good, yet feared he would stop there, because something didn't quite feel settled.

Better, Adaptive Government

I would love to see bureaucratic waste and bad regulations go the way of the dodo. I would hate to lose the rights enabled by government--the ability to trust strangers, the right to justice for all, the protection of our shared air and water, and many other things that keep us healthy and happy, however imperfectly--simply to be freed from government rules. I want more just government. That may mean less government--it would take a lot less government to run a universal basic income program than to run our array of current social services--or it may mean more--we will need new agreements and agencies to work out how humans will manage things as we colonize Mars, or the oceans. So no, I don't want less government interference in my life. I want better government interference in my life. 

I want government that adapts to a changing world rather than propping up failing ways of doing things. I want government that will stop supporting destructive ways of doing things and start supporting sustainable ways of doing things so that my great-great grandchildren can live free of the fear that there will be an energy collapse. I would love more distributed governmental power. Just as moving from kings to legislatures increased justice, I expect further dispersal of power would promote even greater justice, but only if there are laws that assure we are lifting up the weak--not leaving them to fend for themselves in a negative liberty world that denies them no rights but provides them no resources with which to lift one another. I hope you will think about what you really want from government, what will truly lift people up, and not only what you fear will push you down. I hope you will get involved to make it better.

Thursday, September 1, 2016

SURT notes 1.2.4 p.89

(The idea that time isn't real is an obstacle to understanding God. We try to associate the Aristotelean unmoved mover with the Newtonian observer outside space and time, and we end up with an absurd, omni-God.)

Time is meaningless in a block universe, and is meaningless to an observer outside of time.

Devaluing time is tied to privileging mathematics as reality. The ideas that math is reality and that understanding universal laws will allow us to know all that is, was, and will be is not science. It is philosophy or metaphysical assumptions, and probably not sound, at that.
We do better to put the Newtonian paradigm in its place, to drop the block-universe picture of the universe, to recognize the reality of time all the way down, to dispense with the notion of a framework of natural laws outside time, to admit that the laws of nature may change, and to deflate the claims of mathematics to represent a uniquely privileged channel of insight into reality.
(Dropping the omni-God requires a lot less intellectual stretching and rationalization than maintaining it. We do have to let go of the false comfort of a God in control of everything. A God living in nature with us, however, matches our lived experience better. Saying we are of a substance with God is not the same as saying we know, or can comprehend, everything about God.)

The Big Bang broke the laws as they currently are. Our evidence is that many natural laws aren't constant in time.

We have accepted conceptual maneuvers that disguise contradictions in the cosmological narrative.:
  1. Newtonian prediction from initial conditions and laws has been generalized too far, from systems where it applies to the whole universe.
  2. Sometimes we assume current conditions in the universe apply throughout time (cosmological presentism). (This can be subtle, I think)
  3. We have to have immutable natural laws to be able to do science.
  4. Reductionism in cosmology--we can understand all of time and space by studying small parts and extrapolating.
"All of them are tainted . . . by circularity."

. . . consider what the cosmological discoveries of the last hundred years might . . . mean once we relinquish the impulse to reconcile them with the tenets of the time-denying and mathematics-worshipping tradition that we dispute.
The hypotheses of the book:
. . . time is real . . . everything changes . . .mathematics is useful . . . because it abstracts . . . , not because it affords us privileged insight into timeless truth.
According to the predominant view of theories attempting to unify gravity with the other three forces,
The structural explanation is much more likely to help explain the history of the universe than the history of the universe is to explain the present structure.
Accepting the opposite would turn physics into a more narrative science, like history and evolution and social sciences, than the purely theoretical science we have often imagined it to be.
There is better reason to believe today in a succession of causally connected universes than there is to believe in a plurality of causally unconnected universes.
Accepting the multiverse (causally unconnected) prevents the need to deal with the reality of time.

String theory deepens the problems of the unreality of time and the ascendancy of mathematics rather than resolving them.

SURT notes 1.2.3 p.75

What is Natural Philosophy?
Here are some of its enduring characteristics . . .
Its first hallmark is to take nature as its topic: not science but the world itself. . . . Science and natural philosophy have the same subject matter, but not the same powers and methods.
A second characteristic . . . is to question the present agenda or the established methods in particular sciences.
Natural philosophy tries to distinguish what scientists have discovered about nature from their interpretation of these discoveries. [interpretations are more often biased] . . . The cost for relying on [preconceptions] is an unacknowledged blindness: the progress of science requires that they be occasionally identified, resisted, overturned, and replaced.
Natural philosophy can be useful in the early stages of change, but later you need new data.
We deal with problems that are both basic and general. We do so, however, without depending on metaphysical ideas outside or above science.
When we reenvision science (or religion) there are problems with introducing ideas beyond the realm of the testable. No untrammeled speculation (nothing supernatural). The goal is to discuss foundational matters without relying on foundational doctrines (or dogma in the religious context). Natural philosophy isn't science, but it can change science. (It isn't revelation, but it can shape revelation.) Expectations shape the path.

Natural philosophy is different from the detailed daily science of a field. Daily science can gradually force change of fundamental assumptions and frameworks.

Philosophical or theological discourse can point to new possibilities, even though they can't establish validity.
Such a change may be motivated by the hope that it will throuw surprising and revealing light on well-established facts and suggest a shift of direction: a new way of looking at the familiar, offering a path into the unfamiliar.
That experiment changes theory implies that speculating on theory is worthwhile so long as it could effect experiment. (Theological speculation is useful when it influences how we practice religion.)

Meta-discourse is more often interdisciplinary and able to question field specific orthodoxies. (Science and religion can help each other ask better questions, even when they can't give each other answers.)

Reform is the typical mode of change. Revolution is the limiting case of extreme change. (I can contribute to revolution through persistent reform.)

Institutions and ideologies that foster criticism and revision allow more constant social change:
An institutional and ideological ordering of social life can have, in superior degree, the attribute of laying itself open to criticism and revision.
Some conditions for freedom and for adaptable societies:
Practical progress requires freedom to experiment and to recombine not just things but also people, practices, and ideas. Moral emancipation demands that we be able to relate to another as the context and role-transcending individuals that we now all hope to be, rather than as placeholders in some grinding scheme of hierarchical order and pre-established division in society. Neither of these two sets of requirements is likely to be satisfied unless we succeed in building societies and cultures that facilitate their own reconstruction, weakening the power of the past to define the future and diminishing the extent to which crisis must serve as midwife to change.
(Are you creating the need for crisis?)

Having an ideology or institution that can be fixed is more important than having one that is right. "Corrigibility supersedes finality." We can be fully committed to an organization that values correction even if it is sometimes wrong. (When an organization ceases to allow for substantial change, how should we relate to it?)
We can engage in such an order, even single-mindedly and whole-heartedly, without surrendering to it. In the midst of our ordinary business, we can keep the last word to ourselves rather than giving it to the regime. In this way, the social world that we inhabit becomes less of a place of exile and torment; it no longer separates us from ourselves by exacting surrender as the price of engagement and isolation as the price of transcendence.
(If Mormonism is correctable, I can belong and be independent. The false dichotomy of blind faith vs. rebellion is broken.)
An institutional and ideological framework of social life that is endowed with this power to facilitate its own remaking enjoys an evolutionary advantage over the rivals.
(God is not dead, but fundamentalism will always die. Dogma will eventually change to something more substantial, or it will also die.) Our available choices evolve as our institutions and ideologies evolve.

Natural philosophy should revisit fundamentals, connect fields, discuss big picture ideas, not just details.

Popular science is where natural philosophy is currently done.
 The popularizing books have become a secret form of the vanished genre, a crypto natural philosophy.
In this respect, the arbiter of science is practical success: success at guiding intervention and at correcting perception.
(The arbiter of Mormonism should be the same. "By their fruits . . .")
Its assumptions about the workings of nature can be both parsimonious and accommodating because they are likely to be compatible with a range of different conceptions of how part of nature is organized.
(With orthopraxy as judge, orthodoxy can be accommodating.)

There is always more than one consistent view of reality.

Science can't avoid assumptions, so assumptions need to be explicit and evaluated explicitly. The bigger your claims, the more significant your assumptions are likely to be. Most scientists will not recognize their assumptions. (Most receivers of revelation will not recognize the assumptions that color their interpretation of the revelation.)
. . . a major scientific system represents . . . a frozen natural philosophy, just as an established institutional and ideological regime amounts to a frozen politics. . . . it becomes . . . entrenched against challenge.
(Correlation is at the same time a useful aid for diffusing knowledge and a frozen theology, entrenched against change.)

We need antidotes to our biases: "Natural philosophy . . . can provide an antidote to metaphysical bias, when such bias is disguised as empirical truth."

Natural philosophy can confront disparate fields and methodologies. Major changes in thought will also change practice. (Applying scientific methods to religion and vice versa can check our biases. Religious and scientific methods will not replace each other, they will remove unreal roadblocks that resulted from institutionalization.)
The point will rarely be to replace the procedures of one science with those of another; it will more often be to remove the impediments that a methodological prejudice imposes on a substantive reorientation.
Analogy can start you on new ways of thinking.

We desire speculative ideas with real consequences, not just detached analysis of science. (Mormon Transhumanism is not simply speculative theology. We practice theology to help us act, and right theology is vindicated by its fruits.)
Its proposals grow in interest if . . . they express physical intuitions and anticipate pathways of empirical inquiry.
But speculations, even vindicated, are foreshadowing, not the final word.
[Speculation] can help draw around the canon of established science a larger penumbra of untapped intellectual opportunity.
Math is a tool, not the judge of right and wrong.
If mathematics were everything that those who believe in its premonitory powers make it out to be, natural philosophy would be both less useful and less dangerous than it is.

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

SURT notes I.2.2 p.67

Once we free ourselves from the superstitions that prompt us to see the study of society and history as weak biology and biology as weak physics, we are free to recognize these analogies and to learn from them.
Prejudice against other disciplines doesn't make us better scientists. History and social science have a richer tool set than physical sciences.
In this pursuit, the mind can stock itself with intellectual resources, richer than those that the traditions of physical science make available, with which to confront the tasks of natural philosophy. They are resources with which to reimagine the relation of laws, or other regularities, to states of affairs, of history to structure, and of the repetitions to the new.
Math is useless:
It is futile to look, as natural scientists are accustomed to do, to mathematics for inspiration in the solution of these problems. What we find in mathematics is a peerless body of conceptions of the most general relations among features of the world, robbed, however, of all phenomenal particularity and temporal depth: a lifeless and faceless terracotta army.
Math will be useful after we know what it needs to describe. Math doesn't tell you what reality is.

Laws of economic systems are falsely universal:
What the economists took to be the universal laws of economic life were, by the terms of this criticism, only the laws of one particular "mode of production": capitalism. The were, in the conventional language of today's philosophy of science, effective rather than fundamental laws. The false universality claimed on their behalf rendered them misleading even for the historically specific domain to which they properly applied.
Stable institutions are interruptions of the struggle over terms of social life.
The harder they are to challenge and to change, the more they assume the false appearance of natural phenomena.
If that is how it has "always been", it takes on the appearance of eternal law. If we take a different view of institutions, we will be able to make small changes in them more continuously and easily without crisis.
The idea that structures of society represent artifacts of our own creation . . . failed to develop. . . . It was stopped from such an evolution by its juxtaposition . . . with ideas that limited its reach and compromised its force. These compromises were the illusions of false necessity. Three such illusions have exercised paramount influence.
The first illusion has been the idea of a closed list of alternative institutional and ideological systems. . . .
The second illusion has been the idea that each such type is an indivisible system, all the parts of which stand or fall together. . . .
The third illusion has been the idea that higher-order laws of historical change drive forward the succession of indivisible institutional systems in history. . . .
Institutions favor these illusions, I think. They preclude the need for substantive change and at the same time set the current institution apart as inevitable and better than everything that is past.
In fact, the fundamental laws of history do not exist. History has no script. There is nevertheless a path-dependent trajectory of constraints and causal connections that are no less real because we are unable to infer them from laws of historical change. We can build the next steps in historical experience only with the materials--physical, institutional, and conceptual--made available by what came before. However, the force and character of this legacy of constraint is itself up for grabs in history. By creating institutional and ideological stsructures that facilitate their own revision and diminish the dependence of change on crisis, we can lighten the burden of the past.
(Joseph Smith put lots of things in place to allow for continual change. Why do we saddle ourselves to ideologies that resist that change?)
In the subsequent history of social theory, these three necessitarian illusions have ceased, increasingly, to be believable. Yet students of society continue to use a vocabulary that relies on them and to display habits of mind formed through their use.
The illusions of the closed list of alternative institutional systems and of their indivisibility have sometimes survived, in a climate of half-belief.
Such effective [not eternal] laws, however, emerge and evolve together with the formations themselves. No fundamental laws stand behind them guiding their co-evolution. It is a view reminiscent of ways of thinking long established, although also unexplained, in the life sciences, but, to this day, foreign to physics.
(We've seen firsthand the evolution of religious law adapted to the day, but still want to identify anything we don't want to change as eternal and timeless. Maybe none of it is timeless.)

Declaring private property and free contract as the winners of evolution gives a veneer of inevitability inconsistent with real history of social structures.

The past matters, but it doesn't rule:
We must acknowledge the reality of constraint and the power of sequence that help explain the prevailing arrangements and assumptions. We must acknowledge it, however, without conferring on such influences a mendacious semblance of necessity and authority.
(As Gods we must recognize that the adjacent possible is constrained by the past, but not set up artificial constraints for it.)
We must reestablish the indispensable link . . . between insight into the actual and exploration of the adjacent possible. On this basis, we must exercise the prerogative of the programmatic imagination: the vision of alternatives, connected by intermediate steps to the here and now, especially alternative institutional forms of democracy, markets, and free civil societies.
We can change society and history consciously, but nature can't consciously change itself--unless we learn to do it:
The institutional and ideological regimes melt down periodically in those incandescent moments, of practical and visionary strife, and become, at such times, more available to reshaping. So, too, nature passes through times in which its arrangements break down and its regularities undergo accelerated change. A difference is that we can hope to change forever the character of the structures and their relation to our structure-defying freedom. Nature, so far as we know, enjoys no such escape.
(I have the impression that many conservatives recognize the need for businesses to adapt and be agile to succeed over time, but don't want their governments or religions to do the same. Those should not be contextually true, but absolutely correct for all people and for all time. Is this insistence the reason that significant change requires revolution? How much are radicals who say they won't accept measured change really responsible for problems they create through radical action? How much of their revolutionary excess would be blunted by institutions with mechanisms for continual change? I think a lot. I think to succeed as Gods we will have to learn to live in continual change.)