Thursday, December 09, 2010

Time Preference and Emergent Psychosocial Complexity

I have written before on the ideas of J.T. Fraser here and of Clare Graves (through Beck and Cowan's Spiral Dynamics) here and here and here, with references to Fraser in the postings on Graves' ideas, but I have been asked an interesting question hereabout Fraser and time preference, and I decided the best way to answer that would be in the main blog.

I have in fact touched on this question, combining Fraser's ideas with Graves' ideas, in my book Diaphysics Let me begin with the excerpts from Diaphysics relevant to this issue.

J. T. Fraser proposes a model of emergent reality that ties into this idea of emergent complexity, while explaining the evolution of time over time in the universe. From his model, we learn that the experience of time changes over time, and that evolution evolves. In brief, if we start from the Big Bang, the moment of pure energy, pure randomness, we begin with no time experience – as we learn from Einstein’s theory of relativity, anything traveling at the speed of light will not experience time passing. As the universe expanded and cooled, quantum physics with its many forms of particle-waves emerged – and with them, a probabilistic time experience. In the wave-form, there is no time experience, but in the particle-form, there is deterministic time experience. As atoms, and then chemistry, emerged, deterministic time emerged – this is the experience of time Newton described. With the emergence of cells from complex systems chemistry, an experience of time as happening in a particular direction emerged. And with the emergence of human intelligence, there was the emergence of the experience of past, present, and future in a very strong way – since we can think about things that happened before we were born, and things that will happen after we die. The more spacetime folded in on itself, the more time was gained by each level – first, the present was gained and then, with animals, a limited past and future, and then, with humans, even more past and future. One would expect the next level of complexity, having even more folds of spacetime, to have even more time experience.

But even this is only a simplified description of the world. The deterministic level is not purely deterministic, but also contains elements of the probabilistic and the truly random, from the two levels below it. Only the strictest of solid-state physics acts in an almost purely deterministic fashion. But complex systems chemistry makes strong use of probabilistic elements from the quantum physical state. In the same way, with living organisms, there is not only the emergence of freedom in life, but deterministic, probabilistic, and random elements as well. Darwin focused on the random elements in his theory of natural selection, but more recent work have shown that there are probabilistic, deterministic, and even primitive choices in evolution as well. And all of these elements are also present in the emergence of human intelligence, in which emerged even greater freedom in the ability to model many more multiple futures from which to choose. The universe does not get rid of lower levels of complexity, but rather builds on top of them, enfolding and incorporating the lower levels into the new emergent levels. Further, the spacetime field, with each folding into more complexity, becomes increasingly individuated. What we see in the emergence of each new level of complexity is the emergence of even more individuation and even greater freedom – and that is what we would expect in the emergence of the next level of complexity as well.

Objects with fractal geometry have self-similarity regardless of scale. If the universe itself is fractal in its geometry, we would expect self-similarity to be expressed in the emergence of new levels of complexity as well. In other words, there should be two sublevels of complexity at the quantum physical level, since it is the second level of complexity, and three sublevels of complexity at the chemical/macrophysical level, since it is the third level of complexity.

The first level, the pure energy of the spacetime field, has but one level – that of pure energy. It gives rise to the second level of reality, that of quantum physics, and with it two sublevels of reality – that of free particle-waves, such as photons and electrons, and from them, the emergence of much more complex atoms, which are particle-wave systems. From here we get the emergence of chemistry in the reconciliation of the paradoxical need to have both full electron shells and charge neutrality. At this level, we get the emergence of three different sublevels of chemical/physical reality – fluid dynamics, solid-state physics/chemistry, and complex systems chemistry (which emerges on the borderlands between fluid dynamics and solid-state physics/chemistry). From complex systems chemistry, we get the emergence of biology. And since it is the fourth level, there are four sublevels – single-celled life forms (eubacteria, archaebacteria, and eukaryotes), multicellular life forms (such as plants, animals, fungi), and, in the animals, we have the line that led to vertebrates, invertebrates in the line that led to those with exoskeletons, and the predecessors of both, and in the vertebrates, we have schooling/herding, territorial independent, and territorial social animals. I will note only in passing that each of these four subdivisions themselves have three subdivisions.

The next level of complexity is that of human intelligence – what Fraser calls nootemporality. In this level have emerged five levels of human mental complexity, as outlined by Clare Graves, Don Beck and Christopher Cowan. Actually, they have come up with six levels, but the first level of mental complexity is actually that of social mammals, particularly that of the social apes, as ethological research continues to show. Thus, there are in fact only five levels of emergent mental complexity in humans, into which I will go into more detail later. I will only point out that the last sublevel of mental complexity is what prepared the groundwork for emergence into the next level of complexity, what Graves, Beck and Cowan have called Second Tier thinking, and what I am calling a new level of complexity on the same level as the emergence in complexity from the animals to humans.

Clare Graves, Don Beck and Christopher Cowan recognize six levels of emergence in human thinking. Again, I recognize five, since the first one is actually the same level of thinking as chimpanzees and bonobos (possibly even social mammals in general), though it also belongs to humans. Beyond that first level, which belongs in the biotemporal level, there are five distinctly human levels of emergently complex thinking. The first is tribal/familial thinking. The second is the heroic/egocentric level, the time when writing is invented in a culture, when we hear tales of people typical of this level, such as Achilles, Odysseus, and Gilgamesh. The third is the level of truth from authority, typified by such thinking as that of the medieval Christian church and social conservatives. The fourth is the level of capitalist and deterministic scientific thinking, typified by materialism and liberal/libertarian thinking. The fifth is the level that promotes human bonds, and typically is anti-hierarchical, egalitarian, relativistic, perspectivist, and typically respectful of differences among people (at its best; at its worst it is dehumanizing, politically correct, fascistic, and Marxist). This fifth one is a smooth fitness landscape, of flattened hierarchies, and thus is the groundwork for emergence into the next level of complexity.

Just like with the biological level of humans – where we are social mammals, vertebrates, multicellular, and cellular simultaneously, as well as chemical and quantum physical and ultimately made up of energy – emergence into each of the new levels does not mean elimination of the lower levels. Rather, we have a nested hierarchy. If we take someone who is at the top level of human thinking – the egalitarian level – we see that they can contain all of the lower levels as well. In addition to promoting human bonds and having a multidisciplinary view of the world, they typically believe in science as a way of knowing the world and are disciplinary, they still need ethics and believe in categories, they still have mythic needs, and they also have the need to belong to a family and have rituals. The difference is, each of these levels tends to be more inclusive of other people. The first level is that of the family and tribe – and thus quite exclusive. The second level expands into wider cultural contexts, such as being Greek, being Egyptian, etc. The third level expands into a wider group of fellow believers, regardless of culture or language, such as being Christian, being Buddhist, etc. The fourth level expands into including anyone who will trade with us, or who will engage in the pursuit of scientific knowledge with us. The fifth level includes all people in the world – but especially those who are of the same level (there is a bit of a tendency at this level to suggest that all animals are equal, but that some animals are more equal than others – though, officially, everyone is in fact the same). But in each, the family (lowest level of thinking) remains – even if our ideas about the family change in each new level. In the same way that biology affects the chemistry that gives rise to it in a bidirectional feedback loop, each new level of thinking affects lower levels of thinking that gave rise to it. The family for a fifth level person is different than is the family for a second level person.

Each of the physical levels of existence are also environments. Humans create a cultural environment humans have to live in, though if this environment were to disappear, it would harm nothing on earth except humans (which is actually to get it backwards since, so long as there are humans, there will be human culture, so it takes the destruction of humans to get rid of human culture). Plants, fungi, prokaryotes and animals, including humans, all create and affect the biosphere and all the various regional bio-environments. Humans are imbedded in this environment as well, and cannot survive without it, being biological organisms. Life and the biosphere are in intricate, intimate interconnection. But this bio-environment is also embedded in a larger chemical environment. There are geological processes going on (many of which are affected by the biosphere in a nonlinear feedback loop), atmospheric chemistry and weather, water and hydrophilic chemistry, etc., which create the baseline on which life emerges and engages in its own kind of chemistry. Without this environment, there would be no biological nor cultural environment. Next, the chemical environment is imbedded in a quantum physical environment of particle-waves, which creates the background and baseline on which chemistry and macrophysical processes occur. And quantum physics emerges out of an environment of pure energy. None of the new, emergent environments could exist without the environments below them – thus, a sort of environmental pyramid emerges. If any of the levels are removed or damaged, everything above that level collapses with it. Thus, humans have to learn to live better in each of these environments, and to see themselves as living in these environments. Further, each of the levels of human thinking create their own cultural environments – which we have to learn to live in even as we emerge into new levels of thinking. However, it is the top levels that are obliged to live in the environments of the lower levels, not vice versa, as the lower levels can and will continue to survive even if more complex ways of thinking emerge. Attempts to eliminate lower levels will result in tragedy.

All five emergent levels of human thinking also reflect the time experiences of all the levels, below and including the human. Time is experienced by pure energy as atemporal, meaning the time experience is circular. Incidentally, the tribal way of thinking experiences time as circular in an eternal return of the same things. The second physical level of probabilistic time, going between circular and linear time, is also shared by the second level of human thinking as an eternal return of similar things (circular time linearized into a spiral or helix). The third physical level of chemistry/macrophysics’ experience of time as deterministic is shared by the third level of human thinking, where human lives and history are understood to be on a certain path, often one already prepared by God. The fourth physical level of biology, which experiences a slight forward direction of time, is also shared by the fourth level of human thinking, since for the first time life and history are understood to change and be changeable. Finally, the fifth physical level – the human level – is doubly experienced at the fifth level of human thinking, where past, present, and future are beginning to be brought together into a single model (which sometimes has the ironic outcome of giving rise to ideas of an “unchanging state of nature” that does not exist and never has and never will). And, just like in the physical world, the human experience of each of these levels bleed through into higher levels, creating even more complexity than these apparently simple divisions indicate. But do not forget: models, like math, are only precise approximations of reality. Models are digital representations of a digital-analog world.

With this model we see some of the parallels between the human levels of thinking and their emergent complexity, and the emergent levels of physical reality. Further, we have seen that each new emergent level has become more internalized, and individualized, ending with the emergence of one particular species into complex intelligence. One would expect, if new levels of emergent complexity emerge as past levels have, with each emergence becoming even more individualized, that individual humans would be the ones emerging into the next level of complexity – Graves, Beck and Cowan’s Second Tier thinking. And this leads us into my proposal that this Second Tier thinking is in fact the emergence of a new level of complexity.

J.T. Fraser says the next level of emergence is the sociotemporal level, which he says emerges from the interaction of humans in society. But this makes as much sense as saying the level emergent from the biotemporal is the world ecology level of time experience. The social actually evolved prior to humans, in the social mammals, and the way that Fraser uses “sociotemporal,” it is clear that he means something like the world culture. But as we have already seen, the culture is merely the environment in which the nootemporal lives. The nootemporal level, the actual next level of complexity out of the biotemporal, evolved from a particular kind of animal, and the next level of complexity will evolve, not from all humans, as the idea of sociotemporality suggests, but from particular humans – those who, after reaching the highest level of human thinking, have seen and resolved the paradoxes of human thinking, and have thus emerged into the next level of complexity. In fact, I would argue that it already has evolved in Graves, Beck, and Cowan’s Second Tier thinkers. The first two sublevels within this new level of complexity are integrationism and holism. Others will follow and, if the same pattern that has been found in the universe throughout its entire history holds, it will have six of these sublevels before the paradoxes inherent within this level create the conditions for emergence into the next level. And, just like humans have all the other levels below them, including the biotemporal level, making humans in that sense indistinguishable from animals, the Second Tier thinkers are indistinguishable from other humans, except in certain aspects of their thinking. I would propose calling this new level not sociotemporal, but intertemporal, since it is the first level self-aware in understanding both the depth of its own thinking, through all the sublevels of the nootemporal, as well as the nested hierarchical temporality of the universe as a whole. In this sense, the intertemporal level is also neotenous, in that it takes on the fully “adult” way of human thinking, but also every other level under it, as well as embracing every other level of reality, and not just the “adult” one of nootemporality.

Beck and Cowan say that Second Tier thinkers have several qualities. While human thinking has its fears and each level knows that it has the answer, in metahuman thinkers, fear drops away, and what is known is precisely how much is not known – such thinkers know so much, they realize how much is inherently unknown, and even unknowable. This emergent level is where emergence becomes understood and known. This is where it is most self-reflexive; it is the first level of emergence that comes to be fully conscious of emergence as such. And it becomes aware of its own self-emergence from human thinking, whether it has found the words to articulate the idea yet or not. Here too there is the first real awareness of time – no effort is made to eliminate time from consideration, as human thinking tries to do in notions of eternity, timelessness, and “unchanging nature.” Further, Beck and Cowan point out that the Second Tier person “sees too much, from too many new angles to accept simplicity that is not there” (273). There is an inherent interdisciplinarity in metahuman thinking. Interdisciplinarity is different from postmodern (egalitarian human) multidisciplinary thinking in that postmodern multidisciplinary thinking is pluralist, postrustructuralist, and anti-hierarchical, making it tend to make false connections and incorrect associations since everything is considered to be on the same level and is therefore fundamentally the same. Postmodern thinking tends to be deeply reductionist (like deconstruction) and ahistorical (since, if nothing has changed, why bother with history?). For it, everything has the same level of complexity – meaning, if we understand quantum physics, we will understand the complexities of biology, human thought, and culture. As opposed to multidisciplinary thinking, interdisciplinary thinking is based on fluid and nested hierarchies which place everything in proper relation to everything else. Thus, quantum physics is at a level of complexity below chemistry. Humans are not divided up according to race, but according to complexities of thinking, which occur based not on race, but on life conditions. Interdisciplinary thinking is emergentist and complex, as well as historical and evolutionary. It is information- and knowledge-driven. It understands the world is nonlinear, meaning top levels affect lower levels once the top levels emerge, but the lower levels are what give rise to the top levels. Thus, there is both bottom-up determinism (which is foundational), and top-down determinism (which emerges), both working in a nonlinear, and thus chaotic or biotic, fashion.

There is an exponential (sigmoidal, actually) difference between linear, human thinking, and nonlinear, metahuman thinking. “With the shift toward Second Tier thinking the conceptual space of human beings is greater than the sum of all the previous levels combined with a ‘logarithmic’ (Graves’ term) increase in degrees of behavioral freedom” (Beck and Cowan, 276). Although Beck and Cowan then go on to deny that this is a “new breed of human” (and in a real sense, they are correct that it is not a “new breed” of human per se – as this new level of complexity cannot be bred for), this is precisely the description of emergence into a new level of complexity. Each new level is logarithmically more complex than the previous level. In Time, Conflict, and Human Values, J.T. Fraser proposes that there have been 101000 organisms through the history of life on earth (he also suggests we would get a complexity of 10 at the quantum level, and 1010 for the level of chemistry/macrophysics), while for humans, we would get a level of complexity of about 1010,000, for the number of possible brain states. This then suggests that the next level of thinking would be at a level of complexity equal to 10100,000. If the brain is emergent in complexity from life itself, then the brain should give rise to the next level of emergence in its own complexity. Thus internalized, this new level of complexity would be very difficult to detect – and could not be detected by just looking at different people – but only by seeing how certain people think and behave.

What is metahuman thinking like? Unlike at human levels, there is an understanding for such people of the legitimacy of all levels of thinking and existence, as well as an understanding of these levels’ importance and proper position in the world’s natural hierarchies. They have a sort of extreme self-awareness that is accompanied by self-acceptance. And they are adept at integrating complexity, explaining parallels, and creating and seeing connections among things. Such thinking is thus at least highly interdisciplinary, and even holistic in nature. Ideas are multidimensional, paradox and uncertainty are not just seen, but understood, and even enjoyed. Chaos and order are understood in their proper relation to each other – not as in annihilatory opposition, but in creative conflict. Multiple perspectives are considered simultaneously, given proper weight, and used to inform each other before a decision is made. Thus, difference is of utmost importance, though the mistake of thinking that difference necessarily means either good or bad is not made, as it is understood that difference just means difference. The world is understood to constitute particles and entities as well as groups, fields, and waves, and it is understood that there is a “‘holistic’ wisdom within systems” (Beck and Cowan, 284), and that this wisdom is not in conflict with knowledge – that the two together in fact constitute beauty. The world consists of fractals, the laws of nature that apply throughout the universe supplant doctrinaire laws, and it is understood that everything connects to everything else. Fortunately, with the higher level complexity thinking involved, all of this can be done extremely rapidly.

What is perhaps most interesting is the issue of communication of information. With each new level of complexity, there is the emergence of new forms of communication. Quantum physical bodies communicate with each other using particle-waves – electrons communicate using photons, for example. Chemistry communicates with other chemicals using both quantum physical elements, but also topology. Biology uses both of these, plus chemicals and, for some, sound to communicate. Humans use all of these, plus grammatical language – which is to say, combining sound communication with the narrative structure required to make active decisions and choices. And what of metahuman communication? First, it appears that metahuman thinkers ar able to think while communicating. But there is more. In reading the next part, one must keep in mind that, to other metahuman thinkers, this will make sense, while to human thinkers, it will make as much sense as human language makes to other animals. This is not an insult – it is the nature of emergence into new levels of complexity. And the fact that I have to communicate this in language only makes it more difficult, as it is not the proper form in which to communicate this kind of information. But please bear with me on this, as what will appear as borderline insanity to many will make complete sense to some. But this is no more or less insane than building a space station is insane to a cat – a space station makes sense to the human way of thinking, but to a cat, if you can’t eat it, drink it, or have sex with it, then to do something like build a space station is at best nonsensical; at worst, madness. Beck and Cowan in fact argue that 2nd Tier thinkers are practically invisible to 1st Tier thinkers, just as more complex 1st Tier thinkers are practically invisible to the least complex 1st Tier thinkers. The less complex thinkers just can’t see what the more complex thinkers are thinking.

Frederick Turner, in The Culture of Hope, talks about some things that, at first glance, from a human way of thinking, appear borderline mad. He talks about how the poet is able to communicate with trees, stones, mountains, etc. What many would take to be a poetic metaphor, Turner means in a literal sense. What I once took as poetic I now understand much more clearly and concretely: the metahuman thinker is actually able to communicate with trees, stones, mountains, etc., which do not communicate using human language, but in their own languages. The metahuman thinker is the first to be open to such communication, and is the first to be able to understand across the levels of complexity. This can be understood if we really understand what is meant by spacetime being more folded with each new level of complexity – this is to say, spacetime is in contact with itself more and more. Thus, a more complex level than humans should be able to communicate even more, and more clearly, with and through more levels of spacetime. This leads us to what appears to be an even stranger form of communication at the metahuman level. With human language, there is a limited reflexivity – the present refers to a close past in order to push into the future. This gives humans a great deal of freedom, and an ability to greatly order the world. Each new, emergent form of communication has increased in reflexivity, and given more freedom, and more order, to the world. Thus, we should expect the new, emergent form of metahuman communication to fit that criteria as well. And it does. Beck and Cowan talk about how Second Tier thinkers are more intuitive – such thinkers know what they should be doing at any given time, especially when dealing with big decisions. Frederick Turner suggests that these intuitions are people in the future communicating backwards in time to the present to guide us. This makes sense if we realize that communication for the metahuman has become even more reflexive, so that all potential I’s in the future are able to reference my past I (which is actually my present I) to guide me into the best path(s) to create a better future. Perhaps even more complex future levels are more capable of communicating through time this way, having even more spacetime folds in them – and this new level of complexity is the first to most clearly receive this form of communication, having now been deeply folded enough into spacetime to do so. The way to understand this is to see the future as branching, and all our future selves as well as others’ future selves on all the branches. Some of the branches are better futures than others. For the metahuman, the future I’s (perhaps not just theirs, but others’) are able to communicate back to let the present I know what would be the best path. If there is a bad future, that particular I would either be silent, or discourage such a path as would lead to that future, while for good futures, those I’s would encourage decisions that led to them. Spacetime folds back onto itself in greater complexity than we now understand, and thus, because we are able to communicate with ourselves backwards through time, sending these “feelings” or “intuitions” back to let us know which paths are best to take, we have both greater freedom and more order in the universe. Now, all of this would be confusing to those who first encountered such communication – the same way, I would imagine, those who first emerged into grammatical language found it confusing and disconcerting though, as they grew used to it, and played with it, and learned how it worked, it turned into a great and powerful tool that molded not only their thinking, but future human generations’ thinking. As the metahuman level comes to understand this new form of communication, and how to use it better and more efficiently, they will grow more comfortable with it, and more able to communicate with it.

Let us then get (finally!) to the issue of time preference. We see lower time preference with increasing complexity of thought. And we should be able to see why that is. Those with a tribalist perception of time as circular do not see things as changing. It is hard to get such a person to think about the future, since to them the future is just more of the same exact thing over and over and over. The heroic individual, however, has a slightly lower time preference precisely because time does not repeat, though he certainly would argue (with Mark Twain) that it rhymes. One would have a similar problem here, though, as with the tribalist thinker, since there is not a lot of difference between things being identical and things being practically identical. There is no real notion of improvement, which we at least see in the authoritative level. With the linear, teleological idea of time, there is at least a notion of change occurring. Such a person might be convinced to invest and save -- but only if you can convince this person that it is "God's will" or the equivalent thereof. The problem is that for this level there is also a certain degree of fatalism -- that things are as God intended them. With the fourth level, we get ideas of progress, meaning that we now have an even lower time preference, which allows people to really think about the future in a positive way. It makes sense to save and invest, because there is a better future ahead if you do. The fifth, or egalitarian, level of psychological complexity is consumerist and thinks in aggregates. There is a much lower time preference -- but sometimes it is to the point of thinking generations ahead, at the expense of the present. At the same time, there is a "we have to do something" mentality that can result in rash deicisions about the present. The second tier thinkers, however, are the only ones fully conscious of time and its consequences. Theirs is a very low time preference, which is all-encompassing and complex. Needless to say, those who consciously have time in mind have the lowest time preference of anyone.

This may be more than was really asked for, but I think it is good to think about these things, as they have real consequences for ideas in economics. For example, what happens when you have a significant number of each level in high concentrations, as we see in cities? What are the social and economic consequences? If we group people according to their psychological complexity, what socioeconomic patterns do we see? what educational patterns? what employment patterns? what ideological patterns? How does this kind of heterogeneity fit into our economic theories? What theories might it fit best into?

How might one develop these ideas further?

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