Sharable distinctions?

[types of life] [ideas with varying focus] [multi-scale values] [footnotes]


Types of life

Observers in a variety of fields have suggested that it's useful to distinguish different kinds of life. For example:

Awareness of these distinctions may help clarifying our logic today, and in years ahead for tracking the planet's inventory of correlations. For example, conditions suitable for the development and survival of microbial lifeforms appear to much be less stringent than those for the metazoans that we've encountered so far (cf. Rare Earth by Ward and Brownlee). As a result, the likelyhood of encountering non-terrestrial metazoans from our solar system seems quite small at this point in time. Reconciling our colorful natural history of invention with the many size scales and time scales involved, as well as the geological observation that the earth's age of plants and animals may be about halfway over, will likely be helped by distinctions like this to help track of the standing crop of complex correlations on multiple levels.

Ideas with varying focus

The study of correlation-based complexity suggests that it may be helpful to distinguish ideas which focus inward and outward with respect to ourselves, our family, and our culture [1]. For example, extra-cultural observations include assertions like:

On the other hand, intra-cultural beliefs might be expressed by statements like:

We can also work our way down to statements about the way families and members of families interact in a social heirarchy, a collection of statements that we might also refer to as outward-looking gene-pool we-memes. Examples of these might include:

Of course, you can probably also think of many ideas focussed on the way things work within a family (e.g. it's your turn to take out the trash), between individuals (e.g. a good friend will be there when the chips are down), and internal to individuals (e.g. too much fried food is bad for your health). Recognizing the independent importance of idea sets on all six of these levels, as well as their capacity for inheritance, might be worthwhile.

Multi-scale values

Speaking of levels, the importance of multiple time scales and perspectives in facing the challenges to life may explain why an adaptable (as distinct from static) form of core values has been crucial to human societies in the past, and is likely to be even more crucial in the future. The 3000 year history of the small south pacific island of Tikopia comes to mind as a successful example in this context. Advocates of non-adaptable values often cite the folly of situation-ethics, which in common parlance refers to un-informed behaviors rationalized by selective removal of constraints. An alternative to both fixed values, and situation-ethics in the pejorative sense, is something much more realistic: a set of (likely over-constrained) ethics informed not only to cultural codes, but to challenges looking inward and outward from self, family and culture [1].

One can think about the responsible adaptation of core-values in mathematical terms as a refinement of key observables by constrained shifts of representation [2]. Each of us projects our existing idea base about responsible behavior, with regard to self, friends, family, hierarchy, culture and profession, onto our own multilevel niche space in the world around. In this sense, our values are defined by the choice of operators that we apply to our own situation on each level, just as for a simple quantum mechanical particle we are pressed to choose: Should we keep track of position, momentum, or something in between? Aside: The initial formation of our niche space on each of the six levels is a different and fragile emergent process in its own right, deserving of consideration in any integrated approach to correlation-based complexity (but not on this page).

It may be difficult for organisms to act in a way that responsibly optimizes their behavior as seen looking inward and outward in relation to these three boundaries. Oft-times, one of the six levels must suffer at the expense of another. That's what we mean by an over-constrained problem, and perhaps what some mean by the assertion that humans are inherently flawed. The problem of making our value system (i.e. our choice of perceptual operators on each level) adaptive simply charges each of us further with seeing to it that the idea base, that we apply to the world on each of these levels, shifts responsibly with time. Some organizations (e.g. certain judiciaries and religions) delegate partial responsibility for this value-adaptation process to groups of individuals as well.

If each of us is charged with optimization of both behavior and values on six quite different levels, far from letting us off the hook this says that even behavior matched to an ideal on one level alone falls short. As a corollary to this approach, one finds that precise determination of commitment with respect to one niche can compromise one's role on other levels, e.g. as a result of excessive scrutiny, concomitant time loss, or even martyrdom. This is especially true if the observable is ill-chosen. After all, something as simple as precise measurement of an electron's energy unavoidably delocalizes its wave packet in time. Carelessly-selected parameters used to conceptualize organisms can similarly, of themselves, have unintended effects. Thus in addition to recognizing everyone as a potentially responsible actor on each of these levels, respect for the privacy of individuals buffering multi-scale correlations may also be justified scientifically.

By way of contemporary example, we might want to recommend of one another that we each (along with our usual present-day aspirations) carefully consider likely effects of behavior on our descendants a century from now. Thus we become independently responsible to observe, and inform our actions to, nature's behavior i.e. to make the most of our own inner-scientist [3].

Had the level insights discussed above been available to Greenland's Norse community, to help them put isolationist preachings of their imported European bishops into context while an Inuit community with complementary technology looked on, the Norse community's extinction in the 15th Century might have been avoided. In fact the success and failure of many past societies (cf. Collapse by Jared Diamond) has been determined by the extent to which community actions have been informed to such multi-level constraints. Thus multi-scale values can help each of us reconcile our own inner-scientist and inner-priest, while at the same time justifying significant effort directed toward the well-being of offspring generations downstream.


Footnotes:


This page (http://www.umsl.edu/~fraundor/distinctions.html) is Copyight (1999-2006) P. Fraundorf, and hosted by UM-StL Physics and Astronomy. Average whole-site page approaching a million/year. Requests for a stat-counter linked subset of pages since 4/7/2005: .