The 21st Century's Most Important Idea... & Older Natural Algorithmic Forces
Evolution exists and exerts itself in a different way than gravity does... because natural selection is an "algorithmic force."
2. He’s almost right. Natural algorithms have ruled every century with life in it. He means unnatural algorithms (which have been called "weaponized math") now matter.
3. Daniel Dennett says, “Darwin discovered the fundamental algorithm of evolution.” Of course Darwin couldn’t have seen natural selection as algorithmic, but technomorphic analogies to our unnatural computers mean we’re beginning to recognize “algorithmic forces.”
5. Algorithms are sequences of step-by-step instructions for complex processes (like recipes, or software). They describe how dumber sub-steps compose complex tasks.
6. Evolution’s survival-of-the-fittest algorithm is very loosely “survive, replicate with variation, repeat.”
7. Out of that dumb process-logic arises all the intelligence and complexity of all living systems. Including what Dennett calls “competence without comprehension.”
8. Consider “termite castles” that look like a monumental Gaudí church. Termites collectively have the competence to build complex castles without comprehending what they’re doing. Smart-seeming higher-level competence and complexity are caused by following dumb lower-level steps.
9. Here, it’s worth noting that evolution exists in a different way than gravity (they differ ontologically). Both cause changes in the world, but forces like gravity operate directly via intrinsic physical properties (having simple algebraic relationships), but evolution is a complex “algorithmic force“ (that emerges and operates indirectly, systemically).
10. Algorithmic forces exist and exert their powers in systemic and relational ways; they’re not driven by isolatable and intrinsic traits. They require sequential steps, and are built from iterative if-then-else logic.
11. Another way to say this is that algo-forces are driven by richer information processes than physical forces. In physics a few isolatable numeric variables (like electric charge) capture the relevant phenomena. But abstract (imagined) attributes like “fitness” in biology can’t be measured (and don’t exist) in isolation from their context.
12. Evolution’s natural algorithm ran for ~4 billion years to generate us. But Harari’s human-generated unnatural algorithms (the kinetic logic built into our culture and technology) are now shaping the biosphere (see the anthropocene era).
13. That puts us in the termite role. We’re building complex higher-level collective structures that we neither intend nor understand. (That’s why we’re facing a global marshmallow test, and why “mindless market” algorithms make musical toilets while people starve.)
14. Evolution and economics are both driven by algo-forces. They’re both in the “productivity selection” business, but the currently dominant profit-maximization algorithm often isn’t prudent (or survivable).
Illustration by Julia Suits, The New Yorker cartoonist & author of The Extraordinary Catalog of Peculiar Inventions
Young people could even end up less anxiety-ridden, thanks to newfound confidence
- The coronavirus pandemic may have a silver lining: It shows how insanely resourceful kids really are.
- Let Grow, a non-profit promoting independence as a critical part of childhood, ran an "Independence Challenge" essay contest for kids. Here are a few of the amazing essays that came in.
- Download Let Grow's free Independence Kit with ideas for kids.
Philosophers like to present their works as if everything before it was wrong. Sometimes, they even say they have ended the need for more philosophy. So, what happens when somebody realizes they were mistaken?
Sometimes philosophers are wrong and admitting that you could be wrong is a big part of being a real philosopher. While most philosophers make minor adjustments to their arguments to correct for mistakes, others make large shifts in their thinking. Here, we have four philosophers who went back on what they said earlier in often radical ways.
We must rethink the "chemical imbalance" theory of mental health.
- A new review found that withdrawal symptoms from antidepressants and antipsychotics can last for over a year.
- Side effects from SSRIs, SNRIs, and antipsychotics last longer than benzodiazepines like Valium or Prozac.
- The global antidepressant market is expected to reach $28.6 billion this year.
Or is doubt a self-fulfilling prophecy?