quillThinking about Evolution & Economics and Some Notes on the Natural Selection of Ideas

Part 8 - Self Consciousness - the strange tale of a bottomless wine glass and the arrogance of intelligent design

Plausible deliberate rational purposeful intentional planning of human design is an illusion - we learn from outcomes but we can't design them -

'the watchmaker was blind'


Complex Economic Systems - Statute 192384a - Public Health Act 2005 section 2(c) para 167 footnote 2 - Health & Safety at Play -

Avoidance of foul accumulation of toxic crud in Red Wine 1

commencing Tuesday 8th instant on pain of death all licensees are instructed thus -

henceforth all wines and spirits and other noxious liquors will be served in bottomless glasses 2

additional license fees of £1,000 per protected customer will be paid to cover additional essential bureaucratic  inspection & control costs  3

Addendum this action does not affect the tax increase on red wine (and all other foul drugs) introduced last year to discourage the unsociable habit of immoral imbibing. This stays at 21.3% (the percentage will be increased each year over and above inflation in line with unavoidable bureaucracy and cost hikes) after the VAT charge at 19.25% paid in advance. 
Notwithstanding to protect the red wine industry and encourage investment in cutting edge technology & the enterprise culture, it has been decided to delay the introduction of the profits tax outlined in the next budget for a full 8½ months.
Perchance this legislation does not apply to medicinal red wine nor wine consumed by different religious groups who are protected under anti-discrimination legislation. Such groups will be required to provide proof of authenticity by completing forms 3285 and 79a which will be available next year from some Post Offices. In the event of the privatisation of Post Offices alternative forms can be collected by bone fide applicants, calling in person, with proof of authenticity at 12a Westgotcha Street.
Aftermath - Pursuant, your sub committee is fully informed about cunning responses and ulterior consequences of this Statute, and in accordance, hereby and forthwith intend to ban all evasion and avoidance and the imbibing of liquors by swigging directly from the bottle. Further legislation will follow as soon as the necessary sub sub committees have been agreed by your sub committee. This will be funded by a deficit from the contingency fund and suitable bureaucrats will be recruited for the complex drafting process which will then be scrutinised by the necessary Government advisers before submission to the under secretary so as to guarantee valuable Parliamentary time is used to best effect before the 3rd reading of the revised Deficit Finance Bill and the delayed appointment of a new malleable obsequious Central Bank Governor which has become necessary following the Bank's independence.

( 1 the scientific discovery of the therapeutic anti-coagulant blood thinning properties of red wine residues by Nobel laureate Joe Sixpack has been acknowledged elsewhere. However the Bureau of Bureaux set up last year under section 4a of the Public Health Act 1873 has noted that this work was only a theory and further work has revealed the deleterious effects of injecting 3.85 Kg of this material into small mammals (delicate white mice and furry guinea pigs) - NB further work on these risks has been abandoned following the Green Act introduced last year to guarantee the enforcement of the Cruelty to Animals Act of 1215. This was in response to our manifesto commitment to listen to the public pressure for the common good and it follows directly from to the 'Voice of Society' initiative set up by our Scunthorpe Focus Group)

( 2 in an attempt to simplify overcomplicated statutes and avoid burdensome red tape in line with the recommendations of the anti bureaucracy sub committee 13a, these requirements apply to all liquors including white wines and spirits, accepting the toxic crude is present only in red wine of specific origin. To assist, the Technology Foresight Programme, chaired by Mr Horace Bachelor, has agreed in principle, a grant of £4 towards the costs of all research into bottomless receptacles. It is expected this will be paid within ten years following the recovery of the set up costs of the new committee and agreement on members expenses) 

( 3 because of the beneficial effects all new red wine receptacles (but not white wine and obnoxious spirits) will be subsidised by the taxpayer (0.03 p per unit) to alleviate regulatory cost burdens and the competitive threats from French imports) 

The bureaucratic Deluge Continued -

FT October 28th 2011 Gillian Tett reported the Dodd-Frank Bank Regulation legislation involved 2,600 pages, 243 new rules, 65 studies, 100plus committees with 100 page consultation documents with generated 25,000 legal memos & comments which can run to several hundred pages each, which by law have to be read by the regulatory officials ... such complexity cubed makes 'collateralised debt obligations' look simple?

FT July 2013 two years after enactment of Dodd Frank, only a third of the required rules had been finalised. Those completed have added a further 8,843 pages to the rule book ...
FT May 2nd 2014 Lionel Barber reported the Dodd Frank regulations were still producing paper. For implementation, Dodd Frank requires an additional almost 400 pieces of detailed rule making by a variety of US regulatory agencies.

And then we had the paper output from Brussels -

FT Jan 30th 2023 another 1,000 pieces of EU legislation had been added to the pile scheduled for repeal. The number of pieces of legislation covering more than 400 unique policy areas now came to 3,700. It also admitted the list was not exhaustive and would need to be updated quarterly as more laws were discovered, last December of 1,400 additional pieces of EU legislation were discovered in the National Archives.
Ministers have discovered the large bureaucratic task has got even bigger and that the review or repeal may have to trawl through 3,800.

It seems fighting dynamic complex adaptive systems with more complexity will produce more zombies and more moral hazard ... making matters worse. Perhaps morality, like all human behaviour evolves ... ?

Intelligent Design? or bureaucratic kludge? What on earth is going on here? ... and what has it got to do with economics?

Let's take it very slowly …  the bottomless wineglass appears to be a result of intelligent design … 'as if' deliberately rationally purposefully intentionally planned … but what mental processes do these words describe?

Perhaps a more meaningful explanation of how the brain works is by a Darwinian process of adaptation, the natural selection of behaviour - random mutations, differential survival, inheritance with modification ... 

Darwin suggested, 'a strange inversion of reason', maybe some neural networks & circuits act 'as if' making economic decisions which create more survival value for the cost incurred than competing alternatives?

As for economics, Richard Dawkins suggested in his 1976 book 'The Selfish Gene' - 'Genes do cost / benefit analysis'?

'What really happens is that the gene pool becomes filled with genes that influence bodies in such a way that they behave 'as if' they made complex, if unconscious, cost/benefit calculations'.

An evolutionary explanation of brain function over deep time can dramatically simplify the understanding of the process by which an intolerably complex electro chemical mass of proteins came into existence ... but beware, although the process is simple the outcome is all messy, complicated, conflicting, changing & scarce ... the watchmaker was blind ...

Here are some empirically substantiated statements about human behaviour - 

brain1. Evolutionary Design - the one and only design process going on throughout the universe is evolution, a blind copy / vary / select process of inheritance with modification, as replication processes generate vast diversities of variants but only a diminutive few differentially survive -

the laws of physics, notably the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics, determine that change, entropy increase, the process of evolution 'just happens' ...  

evolution is powerful enough to explain everything we see in the universe including human behaviour, economics, Dixieland Jazz, grandchildren and the price of beer ...

the natural selection process is not supernatural - undoubtedly the laws of physics are the ultimate cause of evolution but the meaningful explanation of the process is that long necked giraffes were not deliberately rationally purposefully intentionally planned nor designed but rather they emerged as short necked giraffes died out!

This encapsulates Darwin's 'strange inversion of reason'. It is 'strange' and an 'inversion' because the human brain imagines an illusory process of intelligent design, 'as if' folk 'deliberately rationally purposefully intentionally plan' top down improvements to their circumstances.

But there is no evidence for this anthropomorphic myth ... this illusion of design ... there is no 'homunculus' in the brain ... there is no 'Cartesian theatre' ... there is no 'control' of future outcomes ... just megalomaniacs? ... the watchmaker was blind ...

Darwin suggested that complex evolutionary history was different ... a bottom up emergence of coherence from the complex interactions of numberless contrivers of unforeseen accidents ... perhaps the intentional assumption, the 'as if' a top down design, was itself a remarkable adaptation ... a survival aid ... 'as if' the brain desperately struggled to make sense of human behaviour to survive ... 'as if' intentional ... maybe our survival chances are increased if we imagine conspiracies of control? ... a strange paradox? ...  

The brain is a great 'explanation machine' but the brain does not 'know' ... think of the brain as an evolved survival aid ... what else could it be? ... science is a great methodology for pushing back the frontiers of knowledge ... but always raises still more questions as happenings become ever more complex ... people folk to messiahs who claim access to real magic ... but they will always fail in the end ... usually sooner rather than later ...

First there was help for survival from the divine ... then the kings, bishops, princes. general and bureaucrats claimed access to the secrets ... then came we the people who all claimed different knowledge about survival but they ended up following the majority as 51% dictate to 49% ... the Iron Duke, the Iron Lady and Obama had to confront the freedom of ideas in the brain -

'I told them what to do but they said they wanted to discuss it'.

We always end up with 'perfidious Albion' and checks & balances on arbitrary power which easily become eroded because of the beliefs of the explanation machine in the brain which is eventually wrong.

So maybe we should expect the understanding of evolutionary change to be counterintuitive and mere mortal understanding to be sorely tested because -

self-consciousness and human purpose feels 'as if' it is an imperative top down design process ...

endless increasing complexity, change, conflict & scarcity is associated with all useful behaviours ...

self-conscious human behaviours are themselves an integral, coevolving, part of an evolving whole shebang & caboodle ...

useful behaviours constantly emerge which are completely unexpected & unintentional bifurcations & discontinuities ... 

natural selection involves bottom up evolutionary processes which kill off failures and empathetic folk find it difficult cope with painful failures ...

the pre Darwin interpretation of history was invariably 'as if' top down intelligent design ... prior to 1859 there was no alternative scientific interpretation ...

Richard Dawkins has suggested in his 1987 book 'The Blind Watchmaker' -

'It is almost as if the human brain were specifically designed to misunderstand Darwinism'.

Hamlet The Bard got it right as usual ... moral sentiments, infinite imagination, acting like a god. Hamlet suggested it was 'as if' man was acting like God but in reality ... ‘dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return’ ...

The emotional moral dilemma which emerges is traumatic. There are many more ways of being dead than alive and there are many many more failures than successes. It is real real hard hard to 'rejoice' when a business goes bankrupt or a hospital fails and closes ... but slowly some folk are learning and understanding that as hopeless failures die, resources are released and niches vacated to be occupied by expanding successes ... synergy is not a zero sum game ...

Joseph Schumpeter - 'Capitalism is a perennial gale of Creative Destruction'.

Arthur Peacocke - 'Life is continuously created but progress is a package dependent on death and failure'. 

Charles Darwin - 'It's an awful stretcher to believe that a peacock's tail was thus formed, most people just don't get it, I must be a very bad explainer'.

Gerald Edelman - 'Evolution works by selection, not by instruction. There is no final cause, no teleology, no purpose guiding the overall process'.

I told you it was all messy, complicated, conflicting, changing & scarce! 

neurons2. Universal Darwinism - Evolution is relentless over deep time constructing a hierarchical whole shebang & caboodle of survival tricks, as local interactions lead to novel emergent structures. The same simple process of copy / vary / select results in the emergence of a more and more complex, unbroken, self consistent continuity of interconnecting systems, a nested set of sets, layer upon layer - 

physical energy & matter, elements & molecules, cosmic & solar order (physical tricks) 

chemistry, DNA, genetic inheritance, prokaryotes & eukaryotes (chemical tricks) 

biology, metabolism, morphology, plants & animals (biological tricks) 

subconscious brain activity, control of body functions & emotions (instinctive tricks)

conscious behaviour, generating & testing in the imagination (imaginative tricks) 

self-conscious behaviour, imitating & accumulation of 'know how' over generations (cultural tricks)

At each level the process logic is the same - inherited variants (physical, chemical, biological, instinctive, imaginative, cultural) that do not display survival advantages tend to die out leaving an increasing population frequency of survivors which do display such survival advantages. 

It is in the brain where things get really really difficult as the ongoing discovery & accumulation of survival 'know how' results from adaptation of neural networks & circuits.

It is in this way human behaviour has emerged hierarchically but holistically over aeons, an evolved continuity, a whole shebang & caboodle ... conveniently described as -

subconscious behaviour - learning is hardwired, instinctive, emotional & reflexive - direct inherited imitations, interacting with other bits & pieces in the environment and always copying survival successes - inherited DNA and an instinctive 'imitate Mum' behaviour - what better place to start?!

conscious behaviour - learning is discovery by experience & experiments of sense perceptions & motor responses to a scene - how did you learn to catch a cricket ball?!

self conscious behaviour - learning is from others via the imagination & culture - once symbolic representations of reality are perceived folk can imitate the experiences of others (often long dead!) which are preserved and accumulated in tales, writings, rituals and institutions - how did you learn calculus?!

But although there seems to be a learning hierarchy the same ubiquitous holistic Darwinian process is involved, survival  'know how' must be learned in individual brains -

inheritance with modification and differential survival by trial & error - neural networks & circuits evolve by real or imagined sense & motor response experiments, discovered & accumulated over aeons, the learning process involves the rejection of networks & circuits that don't work, and the reinforcement of a few that help, these are remembered and survive to be used again ...   

NB There is no physical mechanism whereby a teacher can implant neural networks in pupils heads, the pupil must 'work it out' for himself. This is not a physical transfer of knowledge as bits of DNA - surviving networks & circuits accumulate individually, every individual is different, different genes, different experiences, the 'teacher' can only demonstrate and communicate through the senses, it is individual neural networks & circuits that must physically change. There is no supernatural design of our neural networks & circuits ... this is a quaint and erroneous idea that has been with us for a long time!

NB Self-consciousness is a formidable survival aid, the imagination speeds up evolution and eventually leads to the emergence of immensely complex cultural institutions like economies but self-consciousness is - 

just the tip of the iceberg - appearing very late in the evolutionary day, an add-on not a control centre ...

a collection of emergent perceptual discriminations about the environment ...

limited bits of marginal information about the environment that we have access to ... that we can think about and symbolically communicate to others ...

real, subjective, unitary & qualitative - electro chemistry is the ultimate 'cause' of all behaviour and self-consciousness is an emergent feature of the same chemistry - self-consciousness may 'cause' your finger to point but there is no controller involved, it's all your own complex chemistry ... the brain is not a deliberate calculator that 'causes' happenings but a generator of diverse ideas which are available for natural selection ...

Chemistry? Give me a break! ... but I told you it was all messy, complicated, conflicting, changing & scarce! 

Daniel Dennett - 'Darwin's ideas are powerful enough to have done all the design work that is manifest in the world'.

Susan Greenfield - 'There is no qualitative transformation in the anatomy nor physiology of the brain of human and non-human animals, no phylogenetic Rubicon in the animal kingdom. Similarly there is no ontogenetic line that is crossed as the brain grows in the womb. A scientific view of consciousness might be that it is not a different property of the brain but a consequence of a quantitative increase in complexity'.

Richard Dawkins - 'The Evolution of Evolvability'.

'Evolution has no foresight. But with hindsight those evolutionary changes which look as if they were planned with foresight are the ones that dominate successful forms of life. It is cumulative selection that is evolutionarily interesting for only cumulative selection has the power to build up new progress on the shoulders of earlier generations of progress and hence the power to build formidable complexity of life'.

An interpretation of Lehman & Stanley - 'Evolvability is Inevitable'.

An unbroken hereditary chain links the simple early replicators to the complex. Evolvability is the capacity of an organism to generate heritable phenotypic variation and it could result from natural selection or a passive process.

1. Survival Niches = evolvability is heritable and an unbiased drifting process across genotypes can create a distribution of phenotypes biased towards evolvability, simply because they become increasingly diverse evolvable organisms diffuse more quickly through the space of possible phenotypes; an increased velocity of phenotypic change as the space of possible phenotypes acts as a filter.

More different niches are accommodated faster.

2. Niche Construction = phenotypic divergence correlates with founding new niches, niche founders on average will be more evolvable, which through population growth provides a genotypic bias towards evolvability. Leading to new ways of life. Evolvability increases as new niches tend to amplify more evolvable organisms on average because when new species appear in the future, they are most likely descendants of those that were evolvable in the past. The result is that evolvable species accumulate over time even without selective pressure.

More experiments more chances of discovering new success.

Thus evolvability inevitably results from any drift through genotypic space combined with evolution's passive tendency to accumulate niches.

The main insight is that evolvability may be self reinforcing: A drifting process in the genotypic space may warp the phenotypic distribution in proportion to evolvability, and given a sufficiently large population, the maximum evolvability may also increase over time, which further warps the phenotypic space.
The resulting population growth from niche foundation will bias the genetic space also towards increasing evolvability.
Phenotypes in the environment feedback and influence the survival chances of genotypes; it just happens from random genetic diversity.
Evolvability warps the distribution of phenotypes and the tendency for founding new niches to amplify evolvable organisms.

Not competition, death and nature red in tooth & claw ... but cooperation, synergies and evolvable descendents?

gerald edelman3. Science - The process of evolution requires no knowledge of the unknowable future. 'Intelligent design' may exist but 'deliberate rational purposeful intentional planning' is not what some folk think it is ... 

Science is a spectacular method for better understanding the evidence we observe. Not because it uncovers the truth but because it speeds up the discovery & accumulation of survival 'know how'. Successful economic policy & practical brain science is underpinned by 'normal' science - 


mathematical theory

with testable hypotheses

validated by repeatable experiments

and reviewed by peers  

Science with its robust empirical investigations and built in checks & balances contains elements that are absent in alternative a priori reasoning. Diverse experimental evidence is immediately available for validation and analysis whereas individual a priori beliefs are more difficult to discredit and change ... scientific method speeds up discovery & accumulation ... 

The brain, intelligence and consciousness are now legitimate subjects for scientific investigation. The science of economics and neural networks & circuits is difficult but new tools are available - 

molecular chemistry - the DNA mapping of the human genome and stem cell chemistry is sharpening understanding of iterative reactions of chemicals from different parts of the body, brain and immune system
The Human Microbiome Project reported 3.3 million unique protein encoding genes as compared with the entire human genome, which reported around 20 - 30,000 genes. The beneficial functions of the normal gut microbiota on health & survival were essential. The human microbiome has extensive functions such as development of immunity, defence against pathogens, host nutrition including production of short-chain fatty acids important in host energy metabolism, synthesis of vitamins and fat storage as well as an influence on human behaviour, making it an essential organ of the body without which we would not function correctly

brain scanning & imaging - 

PET - positron emission tomography is used but it needs tracers and anaesthetic

MRI - magnetic resonance imaging monitors oxygen release in areas of brain activity

ETI - electrical impEdance tomography senses changes in conductivity between electrodes on skull with sub second resolution

cheap powerful computer simulations enable the study of emergence in complex adaptive systems from iterated non-linear equations.

The research work of Nobel Laureate Gerald Edelman and others is uncovering evidence of -

adaptation of neural networks & circuits

emergence in complex adaptive systems

and nothing supernatural!

NB at least on first reading the squeamish should skip the following very personal, difficult & tentative summary of some developments in neuroscience ... perhaps an explanation of the adaptive immune system would be a better bet ... a little less complicated and the science is progressing faster in the pharmaceutical companies ? ... it's all messy, complicated, conflicting, changing & scarce! 

Genes & neurons - the human genome provides a recipe for the construction of the brain but not a predetermined blue print design. Genetic chemistry constructs general, but not exact, networks & circuits of neural cells. Stem cells in their local environment develop into specialised neuron cells which group together in the brain. Genes are not acting in isolation, they are reacting in the cell environment, with placental influence, then breast milk influence and later umpteen chemical, physical and sense influences from the environment. There is no nature v. nurture, no either or, but rather a continuous complex chemistry of interaction ... genes, other genes and whatever other reacting bits & pieces happen to be in the local environment.

 The evolutionary function of neurons is inter cell communication over distance and time ... cells specialise for this role by -

long physical shape (axons & dendrites)

accumulation in close proximity (encephalation)

fast electro chemical signals instead of slow chemical diffusion (sodium / potassium ion potential difference)

and massive interconnectivity (synapses).

Only 30,000 genes are in the recipe which produces 100 billion neurons but 500 trillion synapses or interconnections!  NB the recipe was not the cake ... in the same way the score was not the music!

Neural networks & circuits - 3lbs of ugly gray matter in the brain is a vast diversity of degenerate neuron cells which grow, interconnect, migrate and die in great numbers. A diminutive few of these vast possibilities of networks & circuits differentially and unpredictably survive. The fine details of the circuitry in each individual brain will be quite different. Such variability would be catastrophic in any mechanical computational system, where exactness and reproducibility are of the essence. But in an evolving system, variation & diversity is not unexplained noise, degeneracy is not a waste of time & energy ... diversity & choice are essential for adaptation. 

Motor activity, body function control & reflexes - input/output neural networks & circuits 'control' by sense perception and motor response. Rules of thumb emerge of the type - 'if' (sense) 'then' (wiggle). The earliest brain networks & circuits to evolve were control systems for body movement and function. Muscles respond to input signals from -

internal body signals developing into a direct control systems for temperature, blood pressure, digestion, breathing, running  ...

and from the external environment developing into reflexes itching, blinking, sneezing, kicking ...

These systems are relatively simple sense / motor response and they are inaccessible to conscious thought ... we are not passive in a static environment.

Memory & Pattern recognition - at birth new forms of selection based on new experiences starts. The real environment is sensed, we see, hear, taste, smell and feel. Self-organisation is a property of complex adaptive systems and neurones that wire together fire together and interconnected interactions self-organise sense inputs into patterns. Perceptual categorisation of the environment occurs as the patterns of neural networks & circuits ‘match’ sensed reality. But the matches are 'associations' not 'representations' of the environment. A unique pattern of connections is created for each sense input and experience continuously acts upon this pattern, modifying it by selectively strengthening or weakening connections between neuronal groups, or creating entirely new connections. Interconnections initially random, survive as non-random patterns. Meaningful networks & circuits are guaranteed, otherwise they wouldn't survive. A self consistent 'world' is constructed. The brain constantly ‘categorizes its own categorizations’, indefinitely, to yield generalisations. The capacity for generalization results from a hierarchy of re-entrant signaling, trials & errors until a pattern survives and thus becomes useful and meaningful. This trial & error perceptual categorization is the first step for learning which occurs when repetition overwhelms old memories, when the continual inflow of experience provides evidence of a better way to model reality. It is the continual re-categorization which strengthens the connections and result in meaningful memory.

In this way the real environment is recognised and useful patterns are remembered. Some associations are useful survival tricks and will tend to be used again, 'if you don't use it, you lose it'.

The beginnings of neural development far precedes consciousness, and far far precedes self-consciousness!

Instincts & emotions - sequences of patterns become important as survival tricks become more complex. Inevitably evolution has produced a hierarchy of emergent networks, the earliest of which act as 'constraints' for subsequent development. Thus the survival of new networks is 'mediated' by older 'value' networks & circuits which themselves survived because they helped survival, it is survival that guarantees self consistency, otherwise they wouldn't survive. The earlier networks are hardwired 'value' networks, proven survival aids, which are basic to the emerging hierarchy.

The brain is not a 'blank slate', deep down in the skull there are inherited 'pre-programmed' instinctive and emotional networks & circuits which mediate behaviour. These systems are human universals which are recognisable but not consciously controlled and involve sense / memory / motor response.  

Some patterns of neural cells survive if they help survival that's why they survive!

Pattern generation - motor responses in muscles result in real changes in real patterns in the body and the environment. As we wiggle and disturb the environment new patterns are created which can be sensed anew and on and on and on and on … by remembering what was useful and worked in the past and trying similar behaviours in the future, more and more and more complex recognisable patterns and motor responses are built up. A hierarchy of rules of thumb emerge with 'credit assignments' from reinforcement but always with 'probabilities' not certainties, as flexibility from constant innovative testing avoids blind alleys from accidents or coincidences. Eventually learning copes with the separation in time of the wiggle and the new 'knock on' pattern. The hierarchy with basic default options enables generalisations when confronted with novelty. Slowly step by step we build a repertoire of useful self consistent survival tricks, new possibilities are continually generated & tested in new environments making every individual different as possibilities compete for reinforcement. Novelty & creativity become a hum drum routine. At these higher levels, flexibility and individuality are important and new powers and new functions emerge that can be constructed creatively ... but the process is trial & error, discovery & accumulation. 

Consciousness & the imagination - this iterative blind generate & test process builds layer upon layer of increasingly sophisticated survival tricks as re-entrant circuits in the dynamic core of the brain exhibit the non-linearity of complex adaptive systems and the associated property of emergence. Some emerging outputs are coherent, useful, survival enhancing, discriminations or 'qualia' associated with the real world and eventually ... using the same neural networks & circuits a 'scene' emerges, a remembered present. 

Read that again! The same neural networks & circuits that control behaviour, fire when we imagine. The imagination is an 'late in the day' emergent property of brain circuitry! Consciousness emerges late in the evolutionary day, after behaviour controlling activity has been established. Oh my ... and I thought I was in control!

Consciousness brings together into a scene, the many categorizations involved in sense perception. From scraps of data, events that may have had value or meaning in the past, a continuous gap free scene emerges with no discontinuities, a remarkable generation of cohesion and relevance from snippets. The ‘scene’ is not an image, not a picture, but is a correlation, an association, between different kinds of categorization. It is not accompanied by any sense of being a person with a past and a future. The meaning established will not be causal, not necessarily related to anything in the outside world, it will be an individual subjective meaning. The linking of memorised primary emotional values with current sense perceptions creates consciousness (perceptual bootstrapping).

Once we are able to 'see' in the 'mind's eye' we can imagine motor responses before risky commitment. Behaviours can be tested in the imagination and generalisations enable thinking in terms of analogy and metaphor and thus pruning and sifting of possible actions, a potentially faster process than experimenting in reality ... a very useful survival trick! These systems involve sense / memory / imagination / motor response.

Self-consciousness & belief systems - the constant interplay between what is actually sensed, what is remembered and what is imagined results in a conscious 'model' of reality in the brain. Constant iteration enables improvements to the model whenever a mismatch is sensed between the model and reality, and eventually we become aware of the personal, a past as well as a remembered present and we can have a go at imagining the future and imaging the imagination of others - we become conscious of being conscious. A self consciousness 'self' emerges and the model of reality becomes more sophisticated. 

Complex adaptive systems evolve and self conscious folk can use symbols and representations of reality, leading to a 'semantic capacity' and an ability to link discriminations usefully, leading to a 'syntactic capacity' - language, culture, law, science and economics emerge - an unprecedented power of detachment, reflection and introspection ... and crucially ... it becomes possible to communicate beliefs to others and across the generations. The linking of memorised symbols with conceptual centres creates self consciousness (semantic & syntactic bootstrapping).

Simple diverse and competing rules of thumb emerge from sensing and wiggling. With feedback from the environment and reinforcement a pattern recognition and generation system can emerge which remembers and learns over generations and becomes a creative belief system which copes with novelty. These systems involve sense / memory / imagination / symbolic learning / motor response.

Needless to say belief systems about reality are very useful survival tricks … and evolving belief systems about evolving reality as better still!!  

Phew! ... I told you to skip that section ... I said it was all messy, complicated, conflicting, changing & scarce! 

Daniel Dennett - 'Brains had to evolve like every other marvel of nature, and our minds are just what our brains non-miraculously do'.

Prof Bruce Hood, Developmental Psychology, Bristol University - 'Our brains have evolved wiring which organises sensory information and motor responses and establishes patterns of causes & effects'.

4. Evolutionary Outcomes - 'as if' intelligently designed?

 Real evolutionary outcomes in the environment are influenced by human behaviour inspired by subconscious, conscious and self-conscious brain activity ... some interesting examples -

Subconscious Reflexive Instinctive Behaviour - biological chemistry works 'as if' deliberately rationally purposefully intentionally planning behavioural 'rules of thumb'.

Chemical reactions initiate simple and complex behaviour -  

plant roots behave 'as if' moving towards water and plant leaves behave 'as if' turning towards sunlight 

e-coli bacteria behave 'as if' swimming towards food, and when there is no food present the bacterium tumbles randomly 'as if' searching 

immune systems behave 'as if' seeking out novel foreign pathogens and killing them and then retaining immunity 'as if' remembering 

eyes sense movement and muscles respond 'as if' a rule of thumb - 'if it moves, run - if not, eat it'

birds build nests 'as if' to protect their eggs and their young 

babies cry 'as if' asking for food, mums respond 'as if' thoughtfully providing food when hearing the cry.

Biological chemistry in plants, bugs, sparrows, babies and mums, triggered these behaviours not intelligent design.

Plants & animals behave that way because those that don't die out.

And the process continues ... we ourselves are part of the environment and we adapt to that same environment which we are part of ...  

Perhaps there is survival value associated with living in social domesticated groups, and life in a group is enhanced by evolved instincts & emotions like empathy & cooperation ... a moral maze of such instincts have been investigated recently at Harvard by controversial scholars like Marc Hauser - 

cooperative synergies - deep down in the skull, chemistry builds survival circuits 'empathising' with the suffering of others producing a painful response and a 'do unto others' behaviour emerges - to enhance survival, do we feel 'compelled' to act co-operatively to save lives?

forgiving accidents - genetic altruism, tribal trust and empathy leads us to avoid deliberately hurting folk - a foreseeable accident maybe forgivable if there is a greater benefit for others? ... but deliberate hurt to innocents for the greater benefit of others is a no no?

punishing cheats - a sense of fairness produces an automatic proportionate retaliation - do folk instinctively put 'fairs shares' before individual gain in the ultimatum game?

risk aversion - losses loom larger than gains - framing and prospect theory suggest we are irrationally risk averse - do we refuse to bet on heads you lose £1,000 or tails you win £1,500?

Moral philosophers like Aquinas, Kant and Hume have endlessly tried to 'rationalise' these instincts & emotions. But actions produce a 'double effects', good & bad, intended & unintended consequences ... so perhaps empathy & cooperation are human universals, they are instincts & emotions, they cannot be rationalised by analysing 'intentions'. If the behavioural decision precedes the consciousness ... the explanation of morality as a post rationalisation or as consciously driven, must be a misunderstanding?

A moral maze, for sure, but most folk at the sharp end working in the trenches for their families see the 'double effect' distinctions as meaningless. Post rationalisations cause no end of mental torture, as we see in the endless debates on euthanasia, abortion, just wars and war crimes … 

Subconscious behaviour has important implications - moral instincts are immune from manipulation by explicit instructions from Bishops, Princes, Generals or bureaucratic majorities. No one can get at these moral circuits so we must understand the nature of these biases when we experiment to try and make a better world. And we do experiment to try and make a better world ... all the time ...

Instincts and emotions cannot be intelligently designed ... I told you it was all messy, complicated, conflicting, changing & scarce! 

Conscious Imaginative Behaviour - brain function is the result of adaptation of neural networks & circuits over deep time by the generation & testing of variants, some of which differentially survive and from which coherence and consciousness emerge in individuals. 

Instincts & emotions are hard wired universals but with an emerging imagination the past can be investigated and the future can be brought into play by testing out decisions in the imagination before real survival actions are taken.

The moral philosophers can't do anything about instincts but they can imagine innovative behaviours which might override hardwired instincts and make a better world in the future. So some individuals do try 'tough love', some do try taking the risky bets and some that do may secure the associated economic survival advantages and may tend to prosper? 

Here we get to the heart of economics. Economics is the science of choice  ... so how do folk decide when they are an integral part of an evolving whole shebang & caboodle and confronted by constraints?

decisions have to be taken here and now - at the fork in the path I can't see round the corner - do I go left or right?

life is not random there are patterns - history never repeats itself but it does rhyme, past successful decisions can be remembered but future decisions will be involve random modifications - is extrapolation of the past a good strategy if we know it will always eventually fail?

outcomes involve unintended consequences, unknown responses of others and unexpected events - so is imagining possible futures and pruning out poor bets a good strategy?

The decision making process in our brains is best described by Herbert Simon's evolutionary economic approach of 'satisficing' - a process of experimenting our way out of trouble by speeding up evolution by cashing in on inherited successes from the past and using our imagination to generate & test some future survival innovations -  

build on proven inherited success, remember what worked in the past and imitate, there is no better place to start, don't reinvent the wheel 

freely choose between motor response options available at the time and the place, unhindered by Bishops, Princes, Generals or bureaucratic majorities! 

experiment by generating & testing a vast diversity of innovative random variants, a diminutive few of which, in the future, proved to be useful and survive, more diversity increases the chances of discovering new tricks!

cooperate with others through synergies deals, discovering better tricks which are not available to individuals!

retaliate against the inevitable parasites and predators to defend and accumulate benefits! 

learn from the successful outcomes of differential survival and start again! 

This is how folk's brains behave, they satisfice, there is no evidence of intelligently design!

NB. Testing in the imagination is risky, we simply don't know the unintended consequences, the unknown responses of others and the unexpected events. Eventually everything must be tested against the rigours of reality. Expect failures!

Herbert Simon - 'We encounter many branches in the maze of life’s path, we follow now the left fork, now the right. The metaphor of the garden of forking paths is irresistible to anyone who has devoted their scientific career to understanding human choice'!

Prof. Hood again, 'This same wiring system, however, leaves us liable to accept less than scientific explanations for the unexplainable, whether it is magic, the notion of a sixth sense or a belief in luck'!

The evidence suggests the future is unknowable, individuals have a 'bounded rationality'. And furthermore, it is clear that we can imagine supernatural forces as the cause of effects … we have 'vivid imaginations' … I told you it was all messy, complicated, conflicting, changing & scarce! 

Self-conscious Cultural Behaviour - the importance of economic interactions exploiting cooperation, and synergies from specialisation and scale is the key to another jump forward as individuals take advantage of interacting and learning from others in social groups.

Biology is slow, pruning in the imagination speeds up the discovery & accumulation of 'know how' but it is risky. Cultural learning from the experience of others ups the speed another notch ... it is by far the best bet ... so far!

There is an emerging hierarchy - instincts - imagination - culture - but remember the same process is at work - 'as if' generating & testing principles for cooperative survival behaviour as ever more complex discriminations are required to survive in an ever more complex environment - an arms race is played out - 

instincts compel, imaginations suggest, but what we actually do is often different because cultural behaviour is evolving fastest  

instincts can't be manipulated but biases can be culturally confronted -

monogamy confronts the male instinct for promiscuity

protection of long term investment gains counters short term loss aversion

the legalising Usury Act 1624 overturned the 1571 Act outlawing usury

legal killing can be acceptable in self defence, in war, in capital punishment, in abortions, in euthanasia 

cooperative cultures can ameliorate selfishness

History reveals that the cultural experiments to discover & accumulate new survival tricks result in widespread cultural variation and environmental variation ... but right or wrong is not known in advance and there are always a variety of different positions being tested ... Michael Wood has written about the historical evidence for the evolution of cultures - 

Deep survival instincts for cooperation drives the evolution of civilisation as man becomes a social animal seeking continuous intensive economic interactions in cities involving risky specialisation and scale where diversity, competition, pluralism and tolerance lead to survival benefits which must be defended. 

How do you persuade your citizens to act as moral human beings, encouraging technological and organisational innovation and protecting the benefits from predators and parasites?

Around 500 BC Axis Age philosophers (Elijah, Socrates, Confucius, Buddha, Mahariva, Zoroaster) wrestled with their consciences and similar ideas emerged which attempted to secure the 2 + 2 = 5 synergies from cooperation -

Mesopotamia - cradle of civilisation - pessimism was widespread as cycles of diminishing returns and competitive violence from internal parasites and external predators eroded tolerance and trust

India - empire of the spirit - faith in the cleansing of the soul by metaphysical introspective meditation revealing the illusion of alleviating poverty by material acquisitions

China - mandate of heaven - faith in the perfect moral order from hierarchical domination by an educated meritocracy and the rejection of pluralism 

Egypt - habit of civilisation - optimism resulted from the easy riches of the predictable Nile as the ritual magic of the divine kings compounded ignorance  

Central America - burden of time - appeasing the Gods with human sacrifice, preoccupation with fear and the mathematics of eternity 

Barbaric West - late development enabled waves of learning from the past - Mesopotamia, Greece, Rome, Renaissance, Reformation, Enlightenment led to more intensive economic interactions in cities. More individual freedom to generate & test, discover & accumulate survival tricks. A continuously evolving reformed Christianity and the empirical reason of common law and science encouraged pluralism and tolerance, diversity and competition eventually leading to sophisticated cultural institutions which alleviated the ancient problems of pessimism, poverty, domination, ignorance and fear - The Constitution of the USA and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Here we have a history of survival tricks, all behaviours - subconscious, conscious and self-conscious - have meaning as evolutionary functions, 'as if' survival tricks. 

Perhaps there is a pattern to this history? Survival maybe secured by discovering & accumulating 'know how' synergies from cooperation through blind 'tit for tat' behaviour. Robert Axelrod claimed a 'tit for tat’ was an evolutionarily stable strategy, 'as if' a moral intent grows the benefits of cooperation over time and protects such benefits from predators & parasites - 

cooperate - be nice, don’t try to win at the expense of others, avoid unnecessary conflict

defend - retaliate if attacked to protect the benefits and discourage parasites & predators

communicate - responses must be clear, simple and emphatic to avoid misunderstandings – cooperation is the rule but there will be a proportionate defensive response to all attacks

recruit - forgive to maximise the opportunity for cooperative benefits next time round

learn from outcomes - cooperate with co-operators

Unintended consequences, unknown responses of others and unexpected events ... the three imponderables of decision making are confronted. This behavioural strategy is not a one off zero sum game. There are no expensive prerequisites, the strategy is applied blindly, everybody can participate, long term cooperation becomes understandable. Tit for tat is an iterative search for synergies, it is a post rationalisation that always works whatever the outcomes or the response of others -  what a strategy ! - think about it!

Thus cultures evolve, tit for tat strategies evolved ... there is no intelligent design ... but I told you it was all messy, complicated, conflicting, changing & scarce!

Robert Axelrod - ‘The key to doing well lies not in overcoming others but in eliciting their cooperation. Individuals don’t have to be rational; the evolutionary process alone allows successful strategy to thrive, even if the players do not know why or how. No central authority is needed, co-operation is self policing’.

Douglass North - 'Economics is a theory of choice - the way we perceive the world and construct our explanations about that world requires that we delve into how the mind and brain work'.

soooooo ... what is going on?

5 The Process of Evolution - copy / vary / select.

If there is only one physical process of change known to science, copy / vary / select of evolution, brain activity must be explained in evolutionary terms ... particularly the thorny issues of -

evolution is an unknowable, uncertain, unpredictable, indeterminate descriptive fantasy and not an orthodox predictive mathematical science (reminiscent of the ancient v. modern debate during the scientific revolution)

rational hard nosed evolutionary theory has little to contribute to normative moral sentiments which should dominate policy choice (reminiscent of the faith v. reason debate which Thomas Aquinas addressed) 

the process of evolution leads to a deterministic future which ignores free will, economic choices & cultural learning and the inheritance of acquired characteristics (this debate involves the linear maths of cause & effect v. non-linear maths feedback & emergence)

human behavioural choice is mediated by deliberate rational purposeful intentional plans and intelligent designs which are not part of the evolutionary process (this is the crux of the old debate of Cartesian dualism v. neural Darwinism or calculation v. trial & error)

Brain activity involves THREE essential components of evolutionary change, copy / vary / select, as free will determines real action -

Copy – Memory - a 'will', determined by memories of the past, mediates & evaluates the options = instincts, 'moral sentiments' & imitations.

Vary – Creativity - a 'free' generation of alternative possibilities for thought & action, random variants, by chance, not ‘caused’ by 'will' = innovative 'unknowable' alternative possibilities.

Select – Imagination - a 'real action', a motor response as one option which seems best for the individual brain, at the time, at the place, is selected = tested in the imagination as 'memories' & 'variants' flip flop for attention before 'deliberate' risky commitment in the real environment.

This three element process presents immense conceptual difficulties for the human brain –

creative RANDOM generation of variant ideas - the anxious acceptance of not being in control of change - it is not logical calculation, not a 'computer like' logical design, but rather a heuristic pattern recognition & generation process as entropy increases ... nobody knows in advance anything about the new changing entropy structures ...

environmental FEEDBACK from individual ideas, and the different ideas of others, which influence survival chances of new variants - the infuriating impossibility of isolating systems from outside influence - it is not predictable linear cause & effect, but rather unpredictable non-linear emergence from interconnectedness where effects are also causes ...

memory ACCUMULATION of survival ideas over deep time - the humbling reality of dependence on survival advantages from the past which are not forgotten - it is not sound judgment and successful planning, but rather discarding failures by remembering what works, we learn ...

outcomes are RESPONSES to the local environment - the heretical possibility of no supernatural homunculus in the Cartesian theatre of the brain - not intelligent design which is an illusion but rather intelligent design is the name we give to neural adaptation, a Darwinian process where bad ideas die out ...

Neural adaptation is the evolutionary process of design, a consequence of self-consciousness, folk behave 'as if' calculating and reasoning things out, 'as if' acting with moral urgency and free will, 'as if' intelligently designing. Folk 'deliberately rationally purposefully intentionally plan' to imitate and 'deliberately rationally purposefully intentionally plan' to learn and 'deliberately rationally purposefully intentionally plan' to satisfice, and 'deliberately rationally purposefully intentionally plan' tit for tat ... this is exactly what folk do all the time ... ask Joe? ... this is exactly what brain chemistry does ... but these behaviours are all consistent with the trial & error processes of generating neural variants and motor testing them in the imagination and in reality over generations. Mediated and pruned by memories of what worked in the past, leads to an ability to discriminate sense perceptions and remember those input patterns and associated motor responses that survive. This is the only known scientific explanation of design, there is no evidence of any supernatural design nor designer.

John Searle - 'Many people mistakenly suppose that the essence of consciousness is that of a control mechanism' - 'I decide to raise my arm and up it goes ... that damn arm'!!

Bottom Line

Individual economic social interactions result in one whole throbbing shebang & caboodle of activity, a 'complex adaptive system' which is physically impossible to command & control by deliberately rationally purposefully intentionally planning.

Future outcomes are unknowable in advance, not because of immense complexity but rather because -

mutations must random for evolution to work and nobody knows which? where? what? who? when? or how?

nobody can foresee the emergent novelty of the future of intended nor unintended consequences and 

nobody knows how the flip flopping emotions of other folk will respond to interactions ... 

The process of adaptation involves technological & organisational innovation, a bottom up process of emergence rather than a top down imposition of dogma.

“it is physically impossible to understand & control the process of evolution by human intention because human intention is an integral part of the whole system”.

 Read that conclusion again ... there are implications for policy ...

Try this? -

Sparrows we see living today construct nests because pre-existing genetic variants from the past differentially survived & accumulated.

Ancient sparrows that didn't build nests died out.

There is no evidence of any supernatural intelligent design alternative.

Or this? -

Species we see living today construct niches because pre-existing behavioural variants from the past differentially survive and accumulate.

Or this? -

Folk we see living today construct Boeing 747s because pre-existing imaginative variants from the past differentially survive & accumulate.

Different species, different behaviour, different niches but the same vary, select, copy process.

Soooo ... why the bottomless wineglass? 

The bottomless wineglass describes an experiment in the imagination, one of the vast number of innovation failures that somehow escaped immediate pruning. Successful science from the past did identify a toxic problem in the wine sediment that does accumulate at the bottom of glasses ... and doing nothing is always risky!

Silly ideas are usually rejected in the imagination long before testing in reality but rain dances are still acceptable in some cultures today ... and some like Copernicus and Galileo and Einstein did test silly ideas which proved successful ... and Mary Hicks the last witch to be executed in England was as recent as 1716 ... maybe silly ideas are a problem and an opportunity ... 

I tell folk to work it out for themselves, don't listen to me but they won't listen ... I told you it was all messy, complicated, conflicting, changing & scarce ... but what do I know I'm only a saxophone player!

** Apologies to Charles Darwin - Gregor Mendel - Watson and Crick - John Maynard Smith - Richard Dawkins - Robert Axelrod - Daniel Dennett - Herbert Simon - Gary Cziko - Marc Hauser - Daniel Kahneman - Gerald M Edelman - John Searle - Benjamin Libet - Susan Greenfield - Arthur Peacocke - Douglass North - Michael Wood - Jorge Luis Borges - for this interpretation of their work.

'Models of My Life' - Herbert Simon.
'Wider than the Sky' - Gerald M Edelman.
'Mind Time: The Temporal Factor in Consciousness ' - Benjamin Libet.
'Freedom and Neurobiology' - John Searle.
'Freedom Evolves' - Daniel Dennett.
'Without Miracles' - Gary Cziko.
'Evolution: the Disguised Friend of Faith?' - Arthur Peacocke.
'Moral Minds: How Nature Designed a Universal Sense of Right and Wrong' - Marc Hauser.
'Understanding the Process of Economic Change' - Douglass North.
'The Evolution of Cooperation' - Robert Axelrod.
'In Search of the First Civilisations' - Michael Wood.
'The Garden of Forking Paths' - Jorge Luis Borges.
'Nonzero: The Logic of Human Destiny' by Robert Wright, 2001.
'The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined' by Steven Pinker, 2011.

john p birchall

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