Desirable Potentials and The Human Condition
Written: 12-01-15 by Nathaniel Jack Greene
Proclaiming one’s lifelong, steadfast and utmost mission as: “improve the human condition” creates a flavor of heresy, skepticism, ridicule, and a variety of other reactions. Sure, there are occasional moments of synchrony and acceptance when an optimists mindset understands the clarity and empathy of such a statement. Many years have passed from when I first uttered the phrase “my mission is: to improve the human condition”. What “condition”? What “human”? What IS the “human condition” they would ask? It’s too vague. It’s too lofty. It’s too, broad, were all reactionary statements by others as a result. The generality of the statement was half the point. The statement is made intentionally as a trope (DiSalvo, 2012), which serves as a broad scaffold to span across cultures, specialties, arts, markets and human involvement on a dynamic scale. The other half of the statement is with respect to the projection of desired fulfilment of human “potential”. The optimistic and suggestive tone of prioritizing the human condition, while accepting its faults, and beauty equally, prioritizes all causality into a precise guidance system based on a duality of positive vs. negative consequence. Most importantly however, is that the statement not only sets an intentional directive to my actions but projects forward a suggestive altruism by which others are now able to associate with or consider for a topic of importance in their own life’s mission(which may or may not have been considered to boot).
Some may argue that this well wishing is futile and the words do not embody any meaning, however that would be to suggest that as a human, conceptually or metaphorically, you refute the power of language or otherwise, would not wish to improve the human condition, which includes your own condition. Or, you may very well be content with “THE human condition”, or perhaps “YOUR human condition” which although understandable for a self oriented, individualistic, self preservation culture, this perspective may not rub well with the eventuality of localized effects of global and “wicked” problems currently existing in the world. This lack of interest in “improving the human condition” is exactly what the statement is set out to effectively disrupt. Another critical perspective may include the apathetic reaction of “My thoughts and actions don’t matter, I cannot, alone change anything”. This perspective, although a powerful sentiment in early American 21st century culture is analogous to not rowing a lifeboat for not seeing the shore and furthermore does not acknowledge the interdependence humans share with one another. In this way, the statement “to improve the human condition” holds power to influence others to identify with an optimistic perspective and desire for positive change for both themselves as well as their fellow humans.
To insert an idea is to be born and bred of it. Ideation, imagination and manifestation are all concepts of seemingly ineffable and unmentionable status in the earliest process of creation. When an intention is called into existence by the mind, it is, in effect, the act of creation(in the non-material sense). Creation may be something as ethereal as a notion, intuition, concept or theory and may be as concrete as, well...concrete. The physical act of creation withstanding, we are to discuss the morphology of un-conscious idea through subconscious idea, to conscious idea and finally to a state of manifested potential. In other words, we are identifying a systematic framework for pre-visualizing, hypothesizing and modeling human potential so as to optimize this procedure for manifestation and implementation of theory and/or material.
Considering this a speculative design project seems tempting. However, the thought of ridiculing human potential into a waste basket of discardable ideas seems irresponsible and shortsighted. Therefore, we intend to define an acceptable model of human potential for use in a unified theory of mind and action.
Accepting the evolving nature of this model is important at this phase. Just as potential itself must emerge from an intention, we must be clear about the intention behind establishing a unified model of human potential. First, let’s be clear about the definition upon which we assign to “potential”.
Potential (adjective) in english, is defined plainly by Merriam Webster as “capable of development into actuality”.
In philosophy, “potentiality” and “actuality” are principles of an Aristotle dichotomy used to analyze causality, ethics, motion and physiology in his Physics, Metaphysics, Nicomachean Ethics and De Anima. The concept of potentiality, in this context, generally refers to any "possibility" that a thing can be said to have(more on this in FUTURES). To simplify the definition further, the removal of “-ity” as a suffix of the term, potentiality so as to draw a more reduced use of “potential”. The “-ity” simply serves to form nouns denoting “quality or condition“ to any term it is attached to. Being as we are not interested so much in defining the condition of “potential” (although it is tempting to associate with the human condition), we shall progress in adverb form and in this reduced language manner so as to discuss the conceptual model in some level of detail.
Furthermore it should be clarified that Aristotle drew a distinction between accidental or natural causation. and intentional causation. According to his understanding of nature there was both a weak sense of potential, meaning simply that something "might chance to happen or not to happen", and a stronger sense, to indicate how something could be done well. We are specifically referring to the latter and as applicable to the human condition and the variables therein.
Actuality, in contrast to potentiality, is the motion, change or activity that represents an exercise or fulfillment of a potential. Inasmuch as we are interested in modeling potential, actuality should be considered in greater depth at a future conjuncture. It is suffice to say for now, that with a properly developed model for optimizing potential, we are preparing for actualization in idealized form.
Without chasing the proverbial rabbit, we might suggest that “intention” or the “intentionality” state of a process is a preliminary property of potential. An intention is said to be “the quality of mental states (e.g., thoughts, beliefs, desires, hopes) that consists in their being directed toward some object or state of affairs” as defined philosophically.
The defensive essay of John Searle suggests that intentionality of the human mind as the basis of argument for why Strong AI is not possible. This conjecture is a powerful one and will persist to claim space in my consideration queue regarding artificial intelligence and whether computers can truly achieve consciousness rivaling or bettering that of a human.
Intentionality, although an interesting topic and one of direct effect to a model of potential, we should like to continue research into. As applicable to the model proposed, “intentionality” would serve as a reasonable purpose unto which one would adjust their “potential” target to a more or less desirable trajectory. Intentionality as a value system in and of itself is of interest as well and may have great implications upon which to research affective labor as a differentiator in the computational culture and resulting economic disruptions.
It is my intention to define the usefulness of “potentials” as a conceptual model for instantiating uses for technology into outcomes of highest desirability. Desirability is a tricky term to contend with as it results in such emotive and subjective experience territory. However, if one were to alternate another complementary term into the duality of “desirable” & “undesirable” such as “positive” & “negative” or other prefered terms to describe the state prior to and in direct relationship with actuality, this would seem acceptable given a polar opposite dichotomy of options. The purpose could theoretically vary between conclusiveness & inconclusiveness, like and dislike, or other polarities related to potential.
“Potential” expresses both harm or good and suggests a binary determinism in order to be defined. A mere, - or +, 0 or 1 dualistic approach to potentials seems a remarkably limited foundation upon which to construct a model for a humans. However, considering humans as either alive or dead, we might appropriate the metaphor as serving generations of humans in a wrong vs. right, good vs. bad, positive vs. negative, left vs. right propagation of choice. This dualistic perspective has served humans satisfactorily given the inherent desire to survive in the noisy and often dangerous conditions in our environments. The immediacy of a choice made, followed by an instinctually curated behaviour, evokes a survival strategy supporting of evolutionary species propagation(more in EVOLUTION).
Potential need not be limited to only two outcomes however. The more specific the 2 states of opposing energies, the greater the options available between them as well. Naturally, a bias for one of the two states will be instantiated according to the intended outcome minus any unforeseen acts of nature etc. This bias will serve as a proving ground for viability of said model to behave in statistical outcomes that exceed standard deviation as weighted by intentionality.
The harm or undesirable outcome of a potential should be stated very clearly as a higher probability as relative to the negative value of intention. For example, if a desirable intention is defined to provide internet connectivity to every person on the planet, the intentional value must be greater than that of the opposite and must be computable to all involved in the scope of said intention. In other words, the value proposition as related to intentionality for those receiving the internet connectivity must be greater than that of them not being provided the internet connectivity. As applies to capitalist economic modeling, this value system requires reformulation or at the very least revaluation of assets and resources available to perform useful work as it applies to potential(see SOCIO ECONOMICS).
Dual use and unforeseen consequences of a potential are inherent. The greatest intention and optimized potential may yet result in a dual use scenario in which a technology or development results in a disastrous or harmful application of the same (or sometimes slightly modified) actuality.
Since first painting caves with soil, humans have exploited their natural environment in order to express their knowledge of experience, in effort to propagate the embodiment beyond their own physical eventualism. Given that humans are unable to obtain, let alone retain the information available to them within their lifespan, a sophisticated repository is of high demand. Accessibility and ease of use of this repository is a key differentiator in the human knowledge generation potential. Without record of continuity, knowledge of civilizations have been known to be
misinterpreted or lost to future generations.
These recording systems have grown in sophistication and complexity in attempt to better represent the human evolutionary experience. Embodying this knowledge for current or future generations is a heady task. Leveraging knowledge into manifest requires intense discipline and specific intent, less an entropic default that is entertaining but far less useful to survival and propagation as a species.
This evolutionary process goes on through millennia as an often unconscious behavior and forgotten both in the information retention sense and conscious awareness of evolution. So far detached we have become from the information and knowledge of the human evolutionary condition(The Great Forgetting). Complacency, passive entertainment and novelty occupy the interest of the majority of human computational experience, satisficing for the deliverable consumables of information. Uninformed idolatry of computationalism becomes a default response to the information source in effort to detach from the conscious engagement required for evolutionary potentiation.
Computational algorithms enable accessibility, simplicity, parsing and modeling of potentials through information processing. As a result, humans are able to leverage ancestral and experientially tested information into models for improving the human condition (amoungst other purposes). It is this awareness or “conscious living” that I wish to communicate.
Accepting our evolutionary status is critical in guiding technology to benefit the human condition. Identifying with “potential” accepts that we are still evolving as our tools and technology evolve to advance our species. All the while optimizing to reduce entropy(gradual decline into disorder) and evolve towards our most desirable state as a species, in the most efficient way possible.
Strategic Foresight Lecturer, Joseph Voros in his book Foresight(2003), distinguishes between five classes of alternative futures to help organize and clarify the range of possible outcomes for risk assessment. Illustrated in his “futures cone” below are potential, possible, plausible, probable, and preferable futures.
This “Futures Cone” is of particular interest as it not only suggests a progressively linear approach to modeling from the “potential” but it does so through a targeted ideal overlap between preferable and probable. Thus suggesting a progressive refinement and opportunity for attunement to a more desirable outcome.
With the future as being “inherently indeterminate” according to the physical processes of the universe, such as the Heisenbery Uncertainty Principle of physics, we do not have a method of predicting the future. However, given we have an infinite number of potential “alternative futures” as depicted by Voros, and are directly actuated through “choice”, we have the opportunity to shape the future through knowledge based, insightful decision making and refinement of potential.
Probability is the measure of the likeliness that an event will occur and is closest to fulfilment of potential. With all due respect to this framework, I do wish to add the duality of “desirable” and “undesirable” as the dualistic variable target or manifestation of future potentials into the current moment.
Note how intention is situated to directly drive potential states in a positive or negative gradient. Conceptually, intention would have numerous personal, behavioral and cultural driving forces. Value systems are the primary causal modality between these intention based states.
It would be well fitting to point out that critical futures studies attempts to "probe beneath the surface" of the social causes of the problems being addressed is where Voros proposed more work was needed. “This level of depth deals with how we create the problems in the first place through our worldviews and depth, unquestioned assumptions. It is concerned with how we create meaning in a social context, and with what we consider important; there is re-questioning of what constitutes social life, often questioning taken-for-granted notions such as "growth is good", and the treating of nature merely as a resource to be exploited. There is as yet relatively little work done at this level of depth, although this is now changing”.The “what we consider important” is a phrasing suggestive of a value system oriented to optimizing human potential.
As designers of the future, we(all humans) are responsible for shaping our future results and outcomes based on choices made in the current moment. Climate change, disease, starvation, inequality and other less desirable states of the human condition are arguably results of decisions we make as a species given information that was available at the time. Just as the benefits reaped, we inhabit the resulting environment that our evolutionary prowess and naivete’ has afforded us given prior choices. We have “buttered our own bed, now we sleep in it” to paraphrase Jimmy Cricket, a favorite characterization of the metaphor for the power of conscience in sound decision making. When considering the future benefits and consequences of our current actions, we must process incoming information in a real-time feedback loop of prior knowledge + new information to estimate a resulting likelihood of a cognitive decision and/or course of action.
Developments in cognitive psychology and neuroscience strongly suggest the importance of factoring “priors” or knowledge, into our cognitive algorithms. These priors are generative as they are results from the previous experience and contain an inherent and predictive value. One such class of algorithms is the Naive Bayesian. In probability theory and statistics, Bayes' theorem (alternatively Bayes' law or Bayes' rule) describes the probability of outcome, based on conditions that are known as related to the event. This predictive coding framework serves as a progressive and incursive learning algorithm for application in many fields including text classification, medical diagnostics, financial risk assessments, machine learning and artificial intelligence. Additionally, it is theorized that this hierarchical system functions bi-directionally through sensory inputs, (which are considered prediction error generators) and a resulting action or output. This process is repeated again, continuously as it learns through time to improve upon itself given new knowledge input. It is herein that I suggest a trajectory is determined by the setting of intention towards the most desirable or undesirable potential given knowledge available at the time.
“As strange as it sounds, when your own behaviour is involved, your predictions not only precede sensation, they determine sensation. Thinking of going to the next pattern in a sequence causes a cascading prediction of what you should experience next. As the cascading prediction unfolds, it generates the motor commands necessary to fulfil the prediction. Thinking, predicting, and doing are all part of the same unfolding of sequences moving down the cortical hierarchy. (Hawkins & Blakeslee 2004, p. 158)”.
These algorithms are also utilized in machine learning and artificial intelligence so as to assimilate the cognitive function of human beings and their ability to process new, incoming information into probability functions and determine the best course of action or decision given the intended fulfillment of a potential.
Applying speculative design theories would suggest that we are "not predicting but using design to open up all sorts of possibilities that can be discussed, debated and used to collectively define a preferable future for a given group of people.” (Dunne, Raby, 2013) I believe this to be an example of designers aligning with the desire to direct altruistic intentions with a preferable outcome for their work and acceptance of the importance of clear intentions in shaping this likelihood.
Curiously, my research and searches for Nick Ostrum and his insight into computer simulated realities, I accidentally read into the socio-economic works of Elanor Ostrum, a political theorist and economic policy analyst of Nobel Prize winning work. Without initial realization of this erroneous name swapping, I proceeded to intake an education on distributed resource management as alternative to empirical regulation of shared interests, titled:
Polycentric Governance of Complex Economic Systems. Curiously, the research applied into the fold of considering futures for technologically distributed resource management in my mind as her primary examples were extracted from the failures of empirical systems to effectively manage the limited water resources available to Californians and the test cases developed to prove the efficacy of self regulating micro-groups of shared interest.
The application of empirical studies to the policy world leads one to stress the importance of fitting institutional rules to a specific social-ecological setting. "One size fits all" policies are not effective. Ostrum’s research pursues a sort of humanistic socio-evolutionary study while balancing the modeled/chaos disparity. Utilizing game theory models and leveraging qualitative, experientially oriented insight, Ostrum appears to have many lessons to be considered with respect to the evolving landscape of technology as it relates to human evolution and it’s socio-political implications, now and in the near future.
An appreciation for judgement independent, yet observational reporting underlies the work of E. Ostrum. Utilizing theoretically modeled systems by which to hypothesize and test upon, is not only algorithmic in design but also serves as a test bed or mudbox for knowledge acquisition efficiencies while maintaining a human interest.
“Leibbrandt, Uri Gneezy, and John List (2010) show that individuals who regularly work in teams are more likely to adopt norms and trust each other more than individuals working alone.” This is an important finding and a considerable theme from the targeted eye of human potential interest, peering into Ostrum’s work. The self regulating mechanisms inherent in localized, municipal and even capitalist oriented resource management suggests a model by which to consider for an evolved value system. To suggest that all resources can be managed in a self organized fashion is, I believe a fallacy, given historic, observational experience. It would seem that a certain economy of scale is appropriate in this context. However, most importantly as related to “potential outcomes”,
As Paolo Virno puts it, to really understand biopolitics we should begin from the potentiality of our living bodies and from labour power itself: biopolitical structures come later as an apparatus of capture of this potentiality.
Simplification of complex systems are what algorithms do remarkably well. Through deductive logic, algorithms descend through a hierarchy of input to output modulation in order to make probabilistic determinisms. It is this detached nature we have with information related to our experience that serves as a catalyst for identifying computationalism as mystifying, worship worthy or beyond our ability to fully comprehend. The intrinsic nature of human involvement and potential grounds the notion of technology being beyond our capacities and realigns our expectations to formulated intentions of thought and action. Techne is then enabled to aide the human condition as a tool targeted towards a desirable potential.
Algorithmic processes are tools for imagination, not imagination itself. By simplifying, quantizing and structuring data/information into useful or maleable potentials for the imagination to “play” with, we express our evolutionary status, driving a stake into time and affording us a reflection point in which to evolve from.
Assigning humanistic values to techne’ such as imagination, is to suggest that information has character in and of iteself, independent of homosapiens. It is this independent relationship suggestion that is of great concern. Assigning humanistic characterizations to technology should be identified with our desire to better understand and represent ourselves while enabling us to reach new levels of potential and evolve preferably as a species. Whether we embody our technology, it embodies us, or a combination thereof, we continue to define, refine and express our experiences of reaching our greatest human potential.
Within Xenophon Memorabilia , Socrates was said to have sent “cautions that no one can know all things; so a person is wise to the extent that he knows” (IV.vi.7). Knowledge, then, can be accumulated. Since knowledge is divided into various skills, such as managing an estate and generalship, and their subdivisions, the wise man would appear to be someone who acquires as much of this kind of knowledge as possible.
If information were indeed power, the most powerful opportunity may reside within the ubiquitous information system: The Internet. Information alone is of limited value to humanity, however. The desired potential within the density of this information is where treasures await. Computational data mining and the exploration of knowledge are therefore tools of human evolution and fulfillment of human potential.
With enormous importance placed on storage and retrieval of information, it is important to acknowledge that Information alone is not yet knowledge until the human experience is applied and the creative cognitive process associates a conscious behaviour. Inference, association, contextual correlates, curiosity and application identification are a few examples of the remaining high demand creative tasks for humans in the techne’, episteme’ relationship. In effect, we become the architects of our most desirable potential outcome, regardless of the tools or mechanisms by which we employ, embody or develop to deliver us to this safest harbor.
The theory and practice of combining human biologic systems and electron based computational systems aka transhumanism, are examples of culturally demonstrable acceptances and desire to achieve a new human potential.
Arguably, countless careers, lives and physical as well as intellectual resources have already been dedicated to knowledge, exploration, discovery and design of a fully functional, cognitive and mechanistic simulation of the human experience. This efforted and concentrated, if not persistent desire appears accelerated today, however this may simply be an artifact of recently vested integration into academia. Regardless, the academic climate is pouring with knowledge related to the topic from the humanities and arts to engineering, robotics, philosophy and psychology. This trend is a curious pattern to the cautious observer and critical creative scientist. As a cautious optimist, a preferred stance within this space is to accept and support the will of the humans. This seemingly constitutional position of acceptance is guided by a principle of accepting the evolutionary nature of the human experience and the will to overcome suffering. A compassion based alliance if you will. More importantly, however is the resistance to insist upon transhumanism, rather accept that which may come. Participation in a seemingly evolutionary process grounded in improving the human condition seems to be a fulfilment of my own personal model of potential.
Computational neuroscience intends to create a working computer simulated experience of consciousness and sense based input/output systems so as to simulate a conscious experience. The question of whether humans will have a completely accurate simulation of human consciousness is argued as “not if, but when” according to Daniel Dennett, Philosopher and Professor of Cognitive Science at Tufts University
Yuval Noah Harari, a professor at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem has even gone so far as to proclaim that humans 'will become God-like cyborgs within 200 years’.
Stated quite clearly, the transhumanist view is guided by an evolving vision to take a more proactive approach to technology policy “This affirmation of human potential is offered as an alternative to customary injunctions against playing God, messing with nature, tampering with our human essence, or displaying punishable hubris.” (Bostrom, 2003).
The ambiguity of intentions; the siren. The proposal; to adopt a model to optimize human potential. The intention; to “improve the human condition”.
Bostrom, N. (2003). Are we living in a computer simulation? The Philosophical Quarterly, 53(211), 243-255. doi:10.1111/1467-9213.00309
Clark, A. (2013). Whatever next? Predictive brains, situated agents, and the future of cognitive science. Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 36, 181–253.
DiSalvo, C. (2012). FCJ-142 spectacles and tropes: Speculative design and contemporary food cultures. Fibreculture Journal, (20), 109-122.
Dunne, Anthony;Raby, Fiona. (2013). Speculative Everything. The MIT Press.
Gneezy, U., List, J. A., & Leibbrandt, A. (2013). Rise and fall of competitiveness in individualistic and collectivistic societies. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 110(23), 9305-9308. doi:10.1073/pnas.1300431110
Hawkins, J., & Blakeslee, S. (2004). On intelligence (1st ed.). New York: Times Books.
John Locke - Major works, Theory of knowledge - Mean Example, Ideas, and Mind - JRank Articles http://psychology.jrank.org/pages/386/John-Locke.html#ixzz3stItvq6a
Voros, Joseph. (2003). A generic foresight process framework. Foresight, 5(3), 10-21.
Elinore Ostrum. (2009). Beyond Markets and States: Polycentric Governance of Complex Economic Systems. Nobel Prize Lecture.