The Right Distance

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-                                        0                                       +
Wrong                               Right                               Wrong
Deficient                           Balanced                          Excessive
Low resolution                 Correct resolution             High resolution


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The universe is always one thing tumbling into the next, one form becoming another. It is a constant interchange, an unending rhythm.

Our perspective gives us the impression - a momentary snapshot - that it is this thing or that thing; a 'person',  a 'tree', a 'chair'.

A lifetime is a snapshot of this sort. Something is captured and held still long enough to identify it, to label it. Yet, while we may think that the thing is still - that is has boundaries and definition - really it is moving: growing and shrinking, flourishing and decaying. At either end of its life it tears at its definitions, and is not quite what it is - the half-formed nature of the fetus and the hollowed out shell of the nearly-dead.

But change your perspective and it may cease to be at all.

Zoomed in, we are atoms. Zoomed out we are specks.
Sped up we are sparks. Slowed down we are statues.

The right distance makes you what you are.
The right time keeps you what you are.

Thus, your perspective is the way in which you interpret the infinite tumbling mass of the universe, and it is the right way (for you at least).


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By definition, a category (and we would say, a presumptive object) contains things of a kind, considered in relationship to a goal. Things of a kind may be treated as if they were identical.

The inner workings of an answering machine may all be treated as homogeneous and identical “parts,” for example – as elemental atoms, metaphorically speaking – as long as the machine is performing as planned, expected or desired. This makes the answering machine something that may be treated as a unit, as a “single thing,” occupying limited cognitive, categorical, emotional and perceptual resources.

This means that the object category “answering machine,” and object categories in general, might be regarded as functional, low-resolution images of the reality they are attempting to encapsulate. 

It is frequently the case, however, that one or more of our current categories or presumptive objects contains things that may not successfully be treated as a kind, for the purposes of our immediate goal-directed operations. This happens, for example, when a “thing” does not perform its implicit, desired, and predicted duty, because of its inherent and often invisible complexity.

Such failure indicates the inadequacy of our current low-resolution take on the world.

[Jordan B. Peterson]
‘Complexity Management Theory: Motivation for Ideological Rigidity and Social Conflict’, in Cortex, December 2002, p. 440-1



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[There is a phenomena] which seems to be almost universal when man commits the error of purposive thinking and disregards the systemic nature of the world with which he must deal.

This phenomena is called by the psychologists "projection."

The man, after all, has acted according to what he thought was common sense and now he finds himself in a mess. He does not quite know what caused the mess and he feels that what has happened is somehow unfair.

He still does not see himself as part of a system in which the mess exists, and he either blames the rest of the system or he blames himself.

If you look at the real situations in our world where the systemic nature of the world has been ignored in favour of purpose or common sense, you will find a rather similar reaction. 

President Johnson is, no doubt, fully aware that he has a mess on his hands, not only in Vietnam but in other parts of the national and international ecosystems; and I am sure that from where he sits it appears that he followed his purposes with common sense and that the mess must be due either to the wickedness of others or to his own sin or to come combination of these, according to his temperament.

Similarly, in the field of psychiatry, the family is a cybernetic system of the sort which I am discussing and usually when systemic pathology occurs, the members blame each other, or sometimes themselves.

But the truth of the matter is that both these alternatives are fundamentally arrogant. Either alternative assumes that the individual human being has total power over the system of which he or she is a part.

Even within the individual human being, control is limited. We can in some degree set ourselves to learn even such abstract characteristics as arrogance or humility, but we are not by any means the captain of our souls.

[Gregory Bateson]
Steps to an Ecology of Mind ('Conscious Purpose versus Nature'), p.442-4

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The researchers showed that in simple models of neural networks, the amount of effective information increases as you coarse-grain over the neurons in the network—that is, treat groups of them as single units.

At a certain macroscopic scale, effective information peaks: This is the scale at which states of the system have the most causal power, predicting future states in the most reliable, effective manner. Coarse-grain further, and you start to lose important details about the system’s causal structure.

Tononi and colleagues hypothesize that the scale of peak causation should correspond, in the brain, to the scale of conscious decisions; based on brain imaging studies, Albantakis guesses that this might happen at the scale of neuronal microcolumns, which consist of around 100 neurons.

For any given system, effective information peaks at the scale with the largest and most reliable causal structure. In addition to conscious agents, Hoel says this might pick out the natural scales of rocks, tsunamis, planets and all other objects that we normally notice in the world. “And the reason why we’re tuned into them evolutionarily [might be] because they are reliable and effective, but that also means they are causally emergent,” Hoel said.

“But if we do find that causal emergence is happening, the reductionist assumption would have to be re-evaluated, and that would have to be applied broadly.”

One rejoinder is that perfect knowledge of the universe isn’t possible, even in principle. But even if the universe could be thought of as a single unit evolving autonomously, this picture wouldn’t be informative. “What is left out there is to identify entities—things that exist,” Albantakis said. Causation “is really the measure or quantity that is necessary to identify where in this whole state of the universe do I have groups of elements that make up entities? … Causation is what you need to give structure to the universe.”

Treating causes as real is a necessary tool for making sense of the world.

[Natalie Wolchover]
New Math Untangles the Mysterious Nature of Causality


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Marking out the right distance.

‘The largest and most reliable structure’ - akin to Peterson’s lowest resolution image that we can get away with. Do not include any more complexity than is necessary, because, in Hoel’s terms, complexity is noise: too much of it stops us from making sense of things; from seeing the outlines of things.

The reductionist assumption is that more detail is better; that the further we dig, the closer we get to the truth (i.e. to the first cause, to God). But perhaps God is at every level, every scale. And no amount of digging will bring us closer, or further away.


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Related posts:-
All is Change
The Middle Path
This, Not That
Short Cuts
Restrictive Systems
Still Waters
The Game goes on: Lesson from The Wire
Digging Deeper
Small Mind/Large Mind 
Projecting a Shadow
[Anonymous]
Everything is Connected
Masters of the Universe
Get Real
Its in my DNA
Mind Your Language 

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