Getting started with this project

Jack Harich

Administrator
Staff member
#1
The best way to describe this project is to post the series of emails that led to it. Here are the key emails in chronological order:

October 4, 2018
Hi there Mike,

Hope your mind is still opening !!!

I had an idea today about a possible place you could contribute. It might even grow into a serious much-needed line of research, like the one Montserrat has mapped out for the UN's 2030 sustainable development goals. It seems to fit your skill set.

Is this something you might be interested in? If so, I could take the time to describe it. Later we could have another 3 way Skype call to describe it in depth, with the full context.

Hope all is well with you. Any new insights?

Jack


October 4, 2018
Hi Jack,

Great to hear from you. Yes I am certainly interested and would like to learn more when you have a chance. I have another week long business trip starting Sunday morning, but am free the following week (or earlier this weekend). What works for you? Any critical reading in the meantime, please send my way. I'm halfway through the Democracy in Crisis films and a few pages into the book on Common Property rights.

I have been thinking a bit about the root cause of the sustainability (and other) issues, and I can't help but wonder if there is a fundamental biological limitation that is causing a lot of these problems. I have this inkling that a deep subconscious fear of death drives much of the "greedy" behavior of individuals (that perhaps led to the rise of corporations in the first place). I wonder if the physical limitations of our bodies, their transience, drives us to hoard wealth, and act selfishly in order to mentally put death as far away from ourselves as possible. Of course, these efforts are in vain, but they do help us cope with the fear.

But my line of thinking led me to wonder if there was a way to transcend the limitations of having our consciousness tied to a physical body, by studying and duplicating consciousness, either electronically or biologically. If our bodies become but shells for our minds, interchangeable like the homes of a hermit crab, would this reduce our fear of death? I'm not convinced, but this led me to feel that seeking to replicate human consciousness might be one way to hack at the root. From there, it seems we currently do not have accurate enough models of the brain in order to truly understand/replicate a mind, which led me to look into neuroscience and structural neuroimaging as a path forward.

I'm very skeptical of my own line of thinking here, and would appreciate hearing your thoughts.

I also wonder if everyone was able to live the teachings of Buddhism, achieving fearlessness, that would be likely more effective. But reaching the high level of fearlessness (achieved when "enlightened," perhaps) is difficult, and has not become widespread after thousands of years. So is technology the right way for us to be free of our bodies (and move past humanity's meat stage)?

I may be totally off here (only an attempt at intuition, no formal analysis), but it's what I've been stuck on for the past few days.

Warmly,

Mike


October 5, 2018
Hello Mike!

It's nice to hear that you're making progress watching the Democracy in Crisis films and even dedicating some time to read the valuable documentation available on the website.

I think the Skype meeting could work for me any day until the first half of next week, then I'll leave (again!) to a family trip that we've been planing for long, so depending on Jack's schedule I'm sure we'll be able to find a good time.

It's funny that you're having such existential thoughts, but don't worry, I'm not laughing at you, but rather with you. As you will learn, Jack has been an avid student of Eastern philosophies for years, and he has shared with me the power of pursuing a serious yoga practice (and not just the western type of "pop yoga" I had been practicing for years).

I think there is indeed deep wisdom in those philosophies, and it's something worth taking seriously, but also, I'm tending to think more and more, that such practices are deeply personal and cannot be enforced upon others in any way. The desire to seek such a practice has to come from a genuine place within you, otherwise the practice itself won't be sustainable ;).

I think we should definitely touch on that on our next meeting!

Oh! and about the "meat stage" haha, that's both interesting and hilarious at the same time. I may tell you about a friend of mine who is a Johns Hopkins neuroscience graduate, and is 100% serious about a project of his, that is very similar to the Neurolink project of Elon Musk. In some way, that is making humans transcend the "meat stage". But one thing we may not forget: here or in Mars, meat or not meat, the social problems of humanity must be solved systematically regardless, otherwise we will just carry them with us to Mars, in our robot bodies, or whatever else we're made out of in the future! :D

Also, I don't think that getting rid of these types of bodies will make us get rid of fear... Fear is made up in our minds, nothing physically real out there. I've been reading a good book on cognitive therapy (obviously recommended by Jack) that helps you understand that. Fear will be there, as long as we have a working mind.

OK, I'm going to stop now. Seems like an interesting conversation is ahead of us!

Cheers!

Montserrat
 

Jack Harich

Administrator
Staff member
#2
What follows is the key email describing the initial concept of the project:

October 6, 2018
Hi Jack,
Great to hear from you. Yes I am certainly interested and would like to learn more when you have a chance.

The impetus of the idea is that the Thwink analysis of the sustainability problem is growing obsolete. It's 10 years old. All social systems evolve. The global social system is in exponential change, due to the industrial revolution, then the information revolution, and now the AI revolution.

What history is seeing right now is the global rapid rise of hate-based authoritarianism. As the film series says, history is now running backwards.

But why exactly is this rise happening now? Why is it so sudden? Why are even highly educated populations not immune to the obvious falsehoods used by authoritarians like Putin and Trump, and the many far-right groups in Europe? The Thwink analysis doesn't say. It's such a high level analysis that the deepest it gets is the four main root causes and their high leverage points.

So it was an exciting moment when this week I read the Introduction in the new book "How Fascism Works: The Politics of US and THEM", by Jason Stanley, 2018. Fascism is a synonym for hate-based authoritarianism at the state level. I was thrilled to see that the introduction had a large number of the right abstractions. These are so necessary to begin to understand a system's behavior from an analytical point of view, and most importantly, to begin to perform an SIP driven root cause analysis and build a system dynamics simulation model of the analysis.

For example, The introduction says "Fascist politics includes many distinct strategies: the mythic past, propaganda, anti-intellectualism, unreality, hierarchy, victim-hood, law and order, sexual anxiety (this refers to loss of male dominance), appeals to the heartland, and a dismantling of public welfare and unity." What that sentence does is provide a starting list of the main false memes that need to be modeled, so we can understand why they work so well. The introduction and the rest of the book is highly structured, making it easy to use as a reference for modeling. Although the book deals mostly (?) with the US, the concepts are generic.

I believe that if we could analyze and model the fascist/authoritarian problem, we would discover the root causes of why its fallacious appeal works so well, and thus the HLPs for effectively solving this particular subproblem directly. These HLPs would be MUCH more precise than the present HLP of raise truth literacy, so much so that you could call them micro-HLPs. That's pretty exciting.

Related to this, I believe that some political parties and Russia/Putin are using extremely sophisticated tools to monitor, test, and deploy false memes through various social media and live actions, like campaigns and demonstrations. These groups have essentially weaponized a tool for maximizing the spread of hate-based authoritarianism. Their opponents have no similar tool for promoting true democracy and the common good, and are thus helpless. They are also blind to the existence of the tool being used against them.

Michael, you've got a strong background in systems engineering and I believe you've been exposed to system dynamics. So here's where your help could make a big difference. You could analyze the hate-based authoritarian problem and keep the analysis from growing obsolete. I realize this is a big banana, but it has tremendous research breakthrough potential and I and Montserrat could help you get started. We can talk more about this in a Skype call.




I have another week long business trip starting Sunday morning, but am free the following week (or earlier this weekend). What works for you?

A good time for me would be anytime on Saturday. I'm freshest in the morning. If you are on the east coast, how about 10 or 11AM EST? The rest of the day is fine too.



Any critical reading in the meantime, please send my way. I'm halfway through the Democracy in Crisis films and a few pages into the book on Common Property rights.

Great to hear! If you like the idea above, get the book. Actually I need to get a new one, because my used copy is an advance uncorrected proof. I will also get one for Montserrat. The book was due to go on sale September 11, 2018. Tomorrow I will order 2 copies from a local independent book store, Tall Tales.


I have been thinking a bit about the root cause of the sustainability (and other) issues, and I can't help but wonder if there is a fundamental biological limitation that is causing a lot of these problems. I have this inkling that a deep subconscious fear of death drives much of the "greedy" behavior of individuals (that perhaps led to the rise of corporations in the first place). I wonder if the physical limitations of our bodies, their transience, drives us to hoard wealth, and act selfishly in order to mentally put death as far away from ourselves as possible. Of course, these efforts are in vain, but they do help us cope with the fear
But my line of thinking led me to wonder if there was a way to transcend the limitations of having our consciousness tied to a physical body, by studying and duplicating consciousness, either electronically or biologically. If our bodies become but shells for our minds, interchangeable like the homes of a hermit crab, would this reduce our fear of death? I'm not convinced, but this led me to feel that seeking to replicate human consciousness might be one way to hack at the root. From there, it seems we currently do not have accurate enough models of the brain in order to truly understand/replicate a mind, which led me to look into neuroscience and structural neuroimaging as a path forward.
I'm very skeptical of my own line of thinking here, and would appreciate hearing your thoughts.

Great creative thoughts. These can lead to useful analytical insights, but generally only within some type of analytical framework if it's a difficult problem. The framework lets you quickly tell how useful an idea/concept can be. We of course use SIP and system dynamics modeling.

Is fear of death a major driver? It is possibly related to a root cause? I don't really know, but from what I've seen there are many types of fear, and, as Montserrat reminded us, our fears are mental errors that appear physically real.

There is also a much bigger driver: the evolutionary algorithm. Ultimately ALL social behaviors arise from this driver.

I really like this question: "[Is] there was a way to transcend the limitations of having our consciousness tied to a physical body, by studying and duplicating consciousness, either electronically or biologically?"

The present Thwink analysis found that the way to transcend the limitations the average citizen has is to consciously improve your political truth literacy. The 9 sample solution elements for doing that did not study consciousness and its subtle behaviors. I agree with you. That area is a gold mine for research on how to find micro-HLPs for much better solution elements.



I also wonder if everyone was able to live the teachings of Buddhism, achieving fearlessness, that would be likely more effective. But reaching the high level of fearlessness (achieved when "enlightened," perhaps) is difficult, and has not become widespread after thousands of years. So is technology the right way for us to be free of our bodies (and move past humanity's meat stage)?

Wow. The Eastern philosophies have soooooo much to offer. But they have had little traction in the West. They are also being discarded by Eastern countries as they industrialize. Sigh....

"So is technology the right way for us to be free of our bodies (and move past humanity's meat stage)?"

I doubt it. Plus that solution is a long way off. I don't know for sure, but I thwink that social system engineering, using tools like SIP and system dynamics modeling, can solve today's large-scale difficult social problems once these tools are mature. This has already happened in the hard sciences. Now we just need to make it happen in the queen of the soft sciences, social system engineering. This is at the macro level.


I may be totally off here (only an attempt at intuition, no formal analysis), but it's what I've been stuck on for the past few days.

That's a good place to be, because it means you are seriously dedicated to finding a breakthrough solution, no matter how outlandish it may appear, and no matter now long it takes !!!

Analytically yours,

Jack

PS - I've copied in Scott Booher, one of our fellow thwinkers. Scott has a deep dark secret: a degree in Cognitive Psychology ! I've also copied Scott Collison, who knows a thing or two about Philosophy and critical thinking !


Warmly,
Mike
 

Jack Harich

Administrator
Staff member
#3
Michael and Jack had a 2 hour and 24 minute Skype call on October 13. (Future meetings will probably be shorter!) The general topic was how to get started on this project. First we covered the reading material. This is the Democracy in Crisis film series, the Cutting Through Complexity book, and books related to the actual problem. These are How Fascism Works, How Democracies Die, and Losing the News. There's another one I forgot to mention in the call: Fascism: A Warning. Finally, there is the bible of System Dynamics, Business Dynamics. We discussed some of the insights in these books, such as the way drug epidemics are cyclic. So is the popularity of authoritarianism. Digesting the Thwink material is Michael's next step.

Then we reviewed how the System Improvement Process (SIP) works by discussing the SIP entry in the Thwink glossary, the first image in particular. It's a powerful problem solving process that fills a huge gap in how to solve difficult large-scale social problems.

Then came the highlight of the meeting. We got started on analyzing the Hate-Based Authoritarian problem with SIP. Before the meeting Jack thought about the problem, made notes, and created a new document (AuthoritarianProblem.doc, attached) by starting with the Cutting Through Complexity book and deleting everything but the Summary of Analysis table on page 88. We used this to start a new analysis by deleting the text describing the sustainability problem. This gave us a fill-in-the-blanks approach, which makes getting started easier.

First we defined the problem. Then we took a try at decomposing the one big problem into smaller subproblems, using the concept that all difficult large-scale social problems have the same three subproblems and possibly more subproblems. First we described the symptoms for subproblem B, then C, then A. As we went we created a very simple feedback loop diagram (EarlyAuthoritarianFeedbackLoops.vsdx, attached) that, when done, showed a closed loop involving the three subproblems.

All this involved intense thoughtful detailed discussion, so our work session turned out to be very productive. Michael now has a clear intuitive grasp of how SIP works and how to get started on the Hate-Based Authoritarian problem. This may become his central line of research in a phd program, to begin possibly in Fall of 2019. Michael plans to put together a program centered on social system engineering, which seems to be where this line of research fits.

We plan to have a regular meeting once a week to continue the analysis. (Michael, how about Saturday at 8:00PM?)

I recorded the video call with Callnote, but it worked poorly. Most of the call involved screen sharing. On the video aspect, Callnote only captured 1080 x 1920 pixels of my monitor's 2650 x 1600 resolution. Plus the "low quality" instead of "high quality" is unreadable. It was my mistake to not test this ahead of time. The audio recorded just fine, and is available.

All in all, this was a terrific start on actually beginning the analysis. Most of what we did will be revised, but a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single small step. We expect that journey to be considerably easier, because we are using the right tools. We hope!
 

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Jack Harich

Administrator
Staff member
#4
Good news. Instead of working all day at the Tower today (Tuesday), I finished up and came home early. The rest of the day (as well as yesterday evening) I was able to work on the project document. It now has several pages before the Summary of Analysis tables. These pages describe the project and how we can hopefully get started in a productive manner. Even though I'm doing most of the writing at first, this is expected to be a joint document, just as it's a joint project.

Michael, I wanted to get this to you ASAP. If you want to give me a call this evening to discuss your thoughts and such, feel free to call anytime.
 

Attachments

Jack Harich

Administrator
Staff member
#5
The document on Solving the Hate-Based Authoritarian Problem has been updated. A 6 page section on the main source material, the book on How Fascism Works, has been added. A new possible subproblem (infection by fascist false memes) has been identified. Much more is to come, but you can now see where the document is going. This is pretty exciting work!
 

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Jack Harich

Administrator
Staff member
#6
Michael, I've only closely read the next book (Madelene Albright's Fascism: A Warning) and have not yet written it up in the document.

In order to have something meaty to discuss tomorrow, what I've done is scan in the pages of the chapter about Claude Shannon of Bell Labs, who we talked about at the last meeting. Shannon laid the foundation for all of information science. Close study of his single key diagram, the meta patterns, and the information insights of his work may give us some insights for solving our own very difficult "social information transmission problem."

My handwritten notes at the top of some pages did not fit in my home scanner. Most don't matter. But the ones on pages 130 and 131 do. They may have the beginning of useful insights.

Note (1) says "Do solution memes need error correcting code, ie error correct memes? Is the need for fact-checking why stories are used to transmit facts?" That was written in 2012 and doesn't make much sense to me today. So today I reread the chapter and made a new note. Note (2) says:

"Can this principle somehow be adapted to error correcting transmission of the truth? Such as train people to error correct and thus detect deception, as well as determine the truth?" Just a creative thought. Of course we may also need to train machines (software) to do this, and make the results available in a manner integrated with the media.

Here's another question: Is it possible our problem can be described and the solution implied in a single diagram, like the one Shannon drew on page 128?

The pages are jpegs. The file is 20MB. The book is The Idea Factory: Bell Labs and the Great Age of American Innovation, by Jon Gertner, 2012. For me the book was loaded with ideas.
 

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#7
A few thoughts arising from our Saturday night conversation:

One more thought I want to share. Your comments about the importance of resentment leading to the rise of authoritarianism leads me to heavily consider income/wealth inequality as a major sub-problem (or, perhaps, simply the perception of wealth inequality). The more I think about it, the more I can see how income inequality (or economic insecurity) opens up a huge hunger in the mind for information that explains and justifies one's poor economic status (and promises change). This hunger can be easily satisfied by propaganda blaming false enemies, and promising a return to the mythic past (when economic needs were satisfied).

When there is economic inequality, would-be-authoritarians (WBAs) can appeal to the less fortunate groups (who are likely more susceptible to "false" memes), and they (WBAs) have an instant advantage, especially when economic inequality is so pervasive that the quantities of less fortunate groups are large enough to elect the WBA. As a result, the "truth bar" (or, some sort of measure of how truthful [or even, how beneficial to the common good] a politician needs to be to get elected) is much lower, as the WBA can simply target the less-fortunate groups who are more susceptible to deception (and more desperate for individual economic improvement vs. collective economic improvement/sustainability).

Lastly, our talk about the election process brings up another issue, and that is how the primaries allow for a less-populous group to take over a larger group (likely, especially in countries where the overall voter turnout is low). I'm making some (probably false) assumptions here, but the election of Trump is one example. In the republican primary, there were 10+ candidates. Most were much less authoritarian. The single WBA in the group gathered enough followers (many first time voters) to overwhelm the field, and effectively "take over" the party. Extreme partisanship facilitated extreme party loyalty, ensuring the non-WBA supporters would vote for the WBA rather than abandon the party. Wondering if it might be worth finding a way to model the whole election process using some sort of agent based modeling to determine which factors allow for a WBA to get elected using a primary process (to see if we can design a primary process more robust to hostile takeover).

One additional thought, perhaps related to claim checks: I'm reading a bit about MTCs (Micro-targeted campaigns), and want to share this quote from an article I skimmed (but maybe I shouldn't be looking at academic literature... )

"On this view, people should increasingly disregard the source of the message (credible or not) if they invest more cognitive effort in elaborating on the rational structure of the message and its evidence."

So maybe, the more simple the message, the more individuals rely on heuristics of credibility and trustworthiness.
 

Jack Harich

Administrator
Staff member
#8
Regarding:
The more I think about it, the more I can see how income inequality (or economic insecurity) opens up a huge hunger in the mind for information that explains and justifies one's poor economic status (and promises change). This hunger can be easily satisfied by propaganda blaming false enemies, and promising a return to the mythic past (when economic needs were satisfied).
You have beautiful intuition. For example, the book on How Fascism Works makes the point on page 172 that: "Fascist politics is most effective under conditions of start economic inequality."

...as the WBA can simply target the less-fortunate groups who are more susceptible to deception (and more desperate for individual economic improvement vs. collective economic improvement/sustainability).
Exactly.

Wondering if it might be worth finding a way to model the whole election process using some sort of agent based modeling to determine which factors allow for a WBA to get elected using a primary process (to see if we can design a primary process more robust to hostile takeover).
Nice idea. Your problem solving process should help point the way to what areas are worth exploring, and which are not.

I've taken a look at agent based modeling. For large-scale social problems, it doesn't appear to be nearly as productive as feedback loop based modeling. The reason, as expressed by agent based modeling experts, is that you have to set all the behavior rules for the agents. That makes the outcome fairly predictable. It's only the details that are less predictable. This has caused lots of modelers to lose interest in that tool. But this was the state of affairs ten years ago. Perhaps it's changed. Plus in terms of practical impact on real problems, there is not set of agent based models that come anywhere close to, for example, Jack Homer's system dynamics models.


Your logic is spot on. That is how Trump and so many authoritarians take over a party and then a state. They exploit system weaknesses.

Wow, nice paper. I can understand the use of Bayes Rule. It's terrific to see that the Conditional Probablity Table was "extracted [from] empirical conditional parameters from US voters." That's great calibration!

So maybe, the more simple the message, the more individuals rely on heuristics of credibility and trustworthiness.
Definitely. But the general pattern of academic or classic activism approaches to solving the authoritarian problem is to take large educated guesses on what policies should be. For example, just today I stumbled across this article on An expert on ‘dangerous speech' explains how Trump’s rhetoric and the recent spate [of] violence are and aren’t linked. Look at the weak, intuitive solution offered at the end of the article: "I would like to see them collectively demand that Trump apologize." And this is an expert who has a large solution effort going:
The Dangerous Speech Project (DSP) was created to test a simple, original idea: that a particular type of public speech tends to catalyze intergroup violence, and that this knowledge might be used to prevent such violence. Susan Benesch developed this idea, coined the term Dangerous Speech (DS), and began the DSP in 2010.
Eight years and the best she can offer is "collectively demand that Trump apologize." I don't want to belittle anyone's hard work, but this won't work. It's classic activism in one of its many forms. Their main solution strategy appears to be counterspeech. That is clearly a more-of-the-truth strategy, which is the heart of classic activism.

What's interesting is the System Improvement Process uses good work like this to understand why popular solutions aren't working. That leads to identification of subproblems and their intermediate causes on the superficial layer. That sets the stage for the deeper analysis that leads, hopefully, to the root causes, which in turn leads to their high leverage points and potential solution elements that, because we understand the causal structure of the system, have a high probability of working. Easier said than done, of course!

Notice how the Dangerous Speech Project has no concept of root cause analysis. That paradigm is completely different from "let's model the problem and see if we can get any solution insights," which is what models like comparative analysis (inputs and correlated outputs) and agent based models tend to do.