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Ecolate Objectivism: Life as a Learning System

  • Helium3

  • February 5, 2020

This is an ambitious post. I’m going to attempt to take the lid off your mind and make you stare at reality naked. But unlike Post-Modernism, which attempts a similar feat, I intend to leave you fully oriented, and with a renewed sense of purpose. In short, this is an attempt at conversion. Also a bit like a good magician, I’m going to tell you exactly what I’m going to do and how. Despite this foreknowledge, and also a bit like a good magician’s trick, you might be a bit surprised by the end. You’ve been warned.

In order to take you on this journey I must lay some groundwork. This involves a journey into machine learning. Our purpose here is to achieve meta-awareness concerning learning itself. When we can see learning as a process — an optimizable and natural process — then we can apply this understanding more broadly to human life and the universe.

The second piece of ground work is going to involve a detour into ecology. The purpose here is to develop an “ecolate” perspective. I use the term employed, but only loosely defined, by Garrett Hardin, to mean a worldview which perceives philosophy, society, culture, humanity, the environment, and the cosmos as a great complex interconnected ecological system operating by commonly understood laws of homeostasis and equilibrium. Hardin explains:

The basic insight of the ecolate citizen is that the world is a complex of systems so intricately interconnected that we can seldom be very confident that a proposed intervention in this system of systems will produce the consequences we want.

The synthesis of a meta-awareness of learning and the ecolate worldview, is what I term “Ecolate Objectivism.” Ecolate Objectivism is a worldview with very few if any norms and a great deal of persistent explanatory power. It also feels very natural, as if you’ve always believed it at a level somewhere deeper than your consciousness. It deals with models of empirical reality. It will step around any objections about morality because it essentially has nothing to do with morality, anymore than gravity does. Despite its lack of norms you might find the perspective that flows from Ecolate Objectivism is extremely informative to human life. Much like how knowing about gravity might inform you not to step off a cliff.

In my opinion there is no “Great Should” not reliant on a humble and tentative “if.” Without that “if”, no amount of linguistic convulsion will convert fact into mandate. “If” will not enter into our journey except at the very end. When it does enter it will be humble and direct “if” with no tricks. You may accept or deny it, but the journey to that point will remain entirely in the realm of the objective world. Strictly speaking I don’t believe in absolute normative claims at all. This makes me a heretic to almost all of the thinking world, minus the nihilists. Nevertheless I am not a nihilist, nor am I unprincipled. Keep reading and you too may become this very sort of curious heretic.

Now that you know how the trick will work, let’s get right to it.

Learning as a Definable Process

Up unto the Data Age, all of human philosophy and metaphysics was bound by the human skull. No matter the form, reasoning, or ingenuity of the underlying philosophy all epistemological frameworks could only apply to sentient beings capable of implementing and understanding them. The only sentient being known to man was man himself. Directly as a cause of this all theories of the mind relied upon vague and almost entirely untested claims about how cognition worked and behaviors were formed. Every attempt at experimentation was confounded by the fact that no one had any real idea how the brain worked. This was further confounded by the fact that any human attempting to test a theory of mind had already been infected by it. Theorizing changed the observer and the test subject. 

20th century behaviorialist psychology marked a significant improvement, insofar as it described testable relationship between stimulus and action, but this was still limited by the skull, albeit the animal skull rather than merely the human skull. Furthermore the behaviorialists were completely overwhelmed by their own theory of mind. Soon, armed with the theory of neural-plasticity, everything became a social construct.  Behavioralists had been defeated by the same dilemma that defeated the theologians. Perspective was inseparable from faith. Yet whatever insights into the nature of cognition were achieved by psychologists, and whatever their failings; learning, was still firmly embedded in a biological system of systems far too complex for formulaic reduction.

All this began to change with the Age of Silicon. The prevalence and power of computing enabled humans to begin teaching machines to learn. And unlike their biological forebears, these machines had to be formulaic. Also unlike their forebears, these machines did not tempt, and, in fact, repulsed any human instinct to moralize the investigation. Humans did not want to extend their religious impulse to the silicon transistor. This was an enormous advantage for real empirical investigation. The first attempts at machine learning were trivial in their composition, but as processing power grew, and training data exploded exponentially, slowly but surely models began to emerge which rivaled and eventually beat the greatest human experts within limited applications. 

We now live in the Data Age, where sociological data is so prevalent and cheap, cloud computing so powerful and available, and the machine learning models so robust and adaptable that we are within sight of true AI. It may still be a century before a general artificial intelligence is developed which can rival a human in versatility, but the profound shift in human self-understanding now underway cannot be overstated. We are no longer speculating about theories of cognition. We are experimenting with them. We are no longer a species merely involved in the work of describing phenomenon, we are a species involved in the work of describing the process of describing phenomenon. We have begun the transition to the next level of meta, that is the level of replicating our own minds, consciously and in full. This age has brought precision to our idea of what it means to think, which can be applied to the broader world. 

It turns out that Learning is a Definable Process. It’s no longer just a magical thing children do. It’s no longer something you must condition via biological rewards and punishments. It’s no longer something used to justify your own existence. It’s no longer something reserved for description by mystical poetic odes or flowery academic year induction speeches. Learning is quite simply, the process of making a predictive system more predictive. An even simpler but more obtuse way of saying this is: Learning is Compression with Improvement. 

Consider the task of learning to play a video game. At its most trivial system level, a video game is a set of inputs received via the screen and speakers which must be mapped to actions taken by the fingers. Actions by the fingers in turn map to the state of the game. Since there are far fewer finger actions than input stimuli, this mapping is a form of compression. The goal is to predict the actions of the fingers that will produce success or at least prevent failure. In other words, the quality of the compression is judged by its ability to decompress back into the game state. There are far more possible game states than finger inputs. This simple system, of input, compression, decompression is the most basic form of prediction. When you add iterative improvement to this system, you have learning.

To improve our system we need change it. In order to change it we need to know how to change it. Not all decompressions are equally valid. Also not all are equally desired. When creating a predictive system we generally do not care about reproducing the entire complexity of the input (although in some image processing problems we do). Even if our output must be a decompression of equal complexity as the input, we have to develop a measure of success aside from mere recapitulation. If we’re just trying to repeat what we were told, there’s no point to compression. Without compression there’s no learning, just memorization. There’s no thinking. In other words, we are looking for decompression with a bias. I don’t mean bias in the statistical sense, that is consistent deviation from the target output. I mean bias in the sense that the model, the compression, is ignoring some data over others. Decompression with bias is called translation. If learning improves thinking then thinking is translation. Bias is inseparable from the act of thinking because without it we have merely repetition. We want our decompression to map onto a different state than the inputs, and to do this we will weight some inputs over others.

The thing that tells us our success or failure in the process of learning is called “The Objective Function.” This term will be important later. The Objective Function is what makes the act of decompression into an act of translation. The Objective Function doesn’t judge the output of the decompression by its similarity to the inputs, but its similarity or relevance to a new form of data.  The Objective Function provides feedback about the accuracy of the compressed inputs (finger actions) in producing the outcome (winning the game). For normal prediction tasks the Objective Function judges the model trained on the past against the state of the future. The Objective Function scores our ability to achieve optimal decompression onto the desired outputs.

Data, plus a Model (compression, decompression), plus an Objective Function, plus a Training Function, are the essentials of Machine Learning. They are also the essentials of Learning in general. The only differences between human and machine learning are the forms of data, model, objective and training function. In a linear regression model the objective function is mean squared error and the training function is a closed form minimization of mean squared error by adjusting the coefficients. For a multi-layer perceptron, the Objective Function is log loss and the training function is gradient descent. For a human … well we will get to that later. For now it’s sufficient to note that compression, plus objective feedback plus an improvement strategy is learning. 

The model state, or internal parameters can be seen as a form of memory. Memory is compression of the mapping of input to output. This is exactly how human learning works. But this process is being achieved by machines. True, the machines were designed by humans, but humans did not design themselves. Humans were designed by nature. If non biological systems can learn, and if the greatest learning systems known to man (man himself) was created by non human forces, then we must be begin to wonder: what else is learning? Or better yet: what isn’t learning?

It’s with this question we take pause with our inquiries into learning and step only a few paces over to the realm of nature.

The Universe as Ecology

Ecology was perhaps one of the first human sciences dedicated to understanding the meta of phenomenon. Ecology didn’t concern itself merely with facts and actions, but with the behaviors of complex systems of phenomenon, in their natural state. Ecology thus, becomes a wonderful starting point when trying to get our heads around what the Universe is up to and how we fit into it. It’s my opinion that ecology has and continues to inform humanity with more wisdom than the totality of human philosophy. Philosophy always tangles itself in what should be. Ecology is content with what is. In 1971 Barry Commoner wrote a book “The Closing Circle” which became a touch stone for ecological thinking. In it he lays out four ecological laws. These will serve as our introduction into the ecolate perspective.

The Four Laws

The first law of ecology is that “Everything Is Connected to Everything Else.” For our purposes we will refer to this as The Law of Connectivity. That’s not to say that everything is equally connected to everything else, nor is it to say that everything is directly connected to everything else, but it is to say that everything affects everything else in one way or another. Given the incredible number of variables at play in reality, and given the Law of Connectivity, it becomes apparent that the Universe is an incredibly, if not impossibly complex system. Not only that, but essentially every sub system or emergent system within reality is equally subject to the Law of Connectivity. What this means is reality is so complex you cannot begin to get your head around how it works in totality. Often you cannot even get your head around how it works in specificity. The best you can manage, is summary. This might ring a tiny bell within your mind because this can be rephrased as: The best we can manage is compression.

The second law is “Everything Must go Somewhere” which is another way of saying “everything has an effect.” We can combine this with the Law of Connectivity to conclude a rather simple but profound truism “predictions are hard.” Mind boggling numbers of variables combined with mind boggling connectivity yields The Law of Surprise. The Law of Surprise tells us that within ecological systems, all predictions are imperfect, and error and randomness is persistent. The legendary boxer Mike Tyson once quipped “Everyone has a plan until they get punched.” This is true. It is also true that ecological systems are always punching you. Consequently, risk is continual and adaptation is always required. 

Commoner’s third law is “Nature Knows Best.” This is another way of saying, “nature already did the math.” Or rather, the system has already achieved the most stable solution. We refactor this to The Law of Equilibrium. In the absence of contrary evidence we must assume the stable solution is the pre-existing one. Ecologies involve countervailing systems. These systems form homeostatic forces. Any attempt to move away from the equilibrium point is met with increasing resistance as the homeostatic forces gather potential. It is possible to move to a new equilibrium point, by changing or eliminating member systems. But this is difficult and imminently subject to The Law of Surprise. Equilibrium exists where you find it. The least surprising point is the one you’re at. Moving from the present tempts unexpected results. What this means is so obvious that it is almost tautological, yet tautology is often neglected in human model building. What this means is we know the most about the present reality directly observed and already manifest. All other forms of reality are prone to face punching.

The fourth law is “There Is No Such Thing as a Free Lunch.” If you want to change something you must sacrifice something. From an ecological standpoint this is most often meant to mean any attempt to exploit nature bears a negative cost. Implicitly this means there’s a cost function at work. That little bell should be ringing because here comes the tie in: nature has an inbuilt Objective Function. We can refactor “no free lunch” into The Law of Objectivity. The Law of Objectivity instructs us that within an ecological system absolutely everything is subject to existential selection pressure, even and especially your attempts to optimize it. Therefore everything is penalized. Attempting to avoid the Objective Function only invokes The Law of Surprise. All actions have consequences. The farther from equilibrium you move, the more unexpected and often countervailing the actual outcome. Only by respecting this Objective Function can you hope to maintain equilibrium and avoid unpleasant surprises.

From an extremely brief detour into Ecology we have already extracted four powerful and robust laws: The Law of Connectivity, The Law of Surprise, The Law of Equilibrium, and the Law of Objectivity. Using these principles let’s see how far they can take us in describing our universe.

Ecology Everywhere

Is the cosmos a system of system? If you answer no then I’m not sure what else to say to you so let’s pretend that you are sensible and answer “yes.” Do our four laws apply? Connectivity certainly seems true. Surprise is basically a history of scientific discoveries. Equilibrium is the fact humans managed to survive despite knowing almost nothing by staying close to their habitat and instincts. Objectivity means that all those sci-fi worlds you love to think about don’t exist because they’re actually impossible. The world we find ourselves in is one that can be thought as selected from infinity of possibilities via the laws of physics. The cosmos is enormously complex, constantly surprising, apparently equilibrium seeking, and subject to an Objective Function. The Cosmos is an ecology.

That the natural environment is an ecology is tautology. Ecology was developed to describe the system of system that is the natural living world. It only bears mentioning that earth’s natural environment is the immediate superordinate system for mankind. It’s within this world we were conceived, grew up, and now live. Our four laws apply especially strongly to this realm. And it’s from this realm we draw our most pertinent insights into the nature of mankind and the purpose of our instincts.

Our bodies themselves, and indeed all biological lifeforms are internally an ecology. A vast and incomprehensibly complex system of systems, the human body represents it’s own ecosystem. The Law of Connectivity certainly informs our study of health. Diet and nutrition alter our gut biome. Our gut biome regulates our mental health and mood. Our lymph system supports our immune system which is tied to our muscular activity and our autonomic nervous system. Our autonomic nervous system is connected to our hind brain which is in constant communication with our forebrain. We can regulate our heart and breath with our mind but only within limits set by our brain stem and spinal cord. This analysis is endless because the connectivity is so pervasive. The Law of Surprise is no less applicable. Every treatment carries a risk of severe side effect. Diseases are a constant threat and new ones are always emerging. To every medical diagnosis there is an exception. To every “evolutionary left over” we discover a hidden and important functions. To every treatment there is a flaw. The Law of Equilibrium is also informing. We seem to do best eating natural foods, in nature, and with physical activity suitable for an animal of our stature. The further we move from this habitat the more disease, and mental illness we encounter. Human history is littered with the victims of experimentation, and deviation from the norm. Occasional great breakthroughs were made and paradigms changed but the most reliable law of the human body is “natural is best.” The most natural condition is the most stable. The Law of Objectivity is also absolute. The human body has a severe and final Objective Function: reproduction. Failure means extinction. Success means propagation. 

It’s at this point we can begin to see a pattern emerging. The Objective Function of the human body is nested within the Objective Function of the environment, which is in turn nested within the Objective Function of the cosmos. If the cosmos is decided by the laws of physics, then the environment is decided by those laws in application within the earth. And the plight of humanity is dictated by survival within that environment according to those same laws. In a sense there is only one Objective Function: existence. To propagate forward in time is to exist. To exist is to satisfy the Objective Function. Humanity propagates by reproduction. The Environment propagates via propagation of its member system, and the growth and adaptation of the system of systems. We are simply describing Natural Selection but abstracted to an absolute principle. Everything propagates and everything is selected. This means everything changes. The rule by which things changed is called The Objective Function. Although there is only one Objective Function, it’s application varies widely by the frame you consider. We can organize these into a series of subordinate Objective Functions. When we speak of the Objective Function, we usually refer to the selection function of the immediately superordinate system. For humanity the Objective Function is survival of their descendants which is contingent on the existence of a human habitable environment within which their descendants will live.

The human psyche is an ecology. It’s certainly a system of system. Connectivity is almost the definition of its structure. Its behavior defies functional description, and never fails to surprise. Yet it seems to respect The Law of Equilibrium. The state we find the mind in most commonly appears to almost always be the most stable. You drink more caffeine and within days your brain and counter acted it. You abuse drugs and soon your brain has counter acted it. You buy a house and are euphoric… for a few days. But soon you return to business as usual. Every attempt to circumvent our instinctual desires appears to result in subversive backlash. We may have invented birth control. But we simultaneously invented loneliness. The most stable mode for the mind appears to be the state we find it in mostly commonly, that is anxious, roving, habitual, and always curious. The mind itself seems selected by the human Objective Function to accel at living within ecologies. It is rapidly adaptive and yet alarmingly stubborn in its deep routines. 

Memes are the currency of the mind. They are symbols and behaviors which are transferrable. As such they’re also the currency of the society. Memetic exchange forms it’s own system of systems. Memes transfer together in memeplexes. They self reinforce one another in symbiotic clustering. They compete for dominance. They display predatory, symbiotic, and commensurable configurations. Constantly evolving, they follow the Law of Surprise — never ceasing to delight in their new forms. They also respect the Law of Equilibrium. The memes we observe seem to be the best suited for their habitat. When we attempt to change them we almost always feel immediate homeostatic forces come to bear.  The Objective Function of memes is transference within the human medium.

Society is a system of systems. Society is an ecology. The Objective function of society is continuance and growth. The economy is a system of system. The Economy is ecology. The Objective Function of the economy is velocity of exchange. Politics are a system of systems. Politics are an ecology. The Objective Function of politics is power. We can go on and on. It’s only important to note that a very very large part of the Human habitat are the systems which emerge from human communities. Humans are adapted to society, to economics, to politics. We are suited for it, and it suits us. Wherever you place humans, you can be sure to see the emergence of these systems in very recognizable formats. The Law of Equilibrium is at work. It’s also important to note that the Objective Function of human institutions is tied directly to human survival. Institutions may destroy the individual but the destruction of all individuals spells the death of the institution. Parasitic social constructs exist, but they cannot exist forever. Eventually they must reach commensurability with their human substrate. In other words, the most stable form of society, economics, and politics are the ones we observe most readily.

I’ve brought you on a rather superficial tour of incredibly complex systems which all share the trait of being dense and continual mysteries. It’s this fact that is my primary point. The environment within which we find ourselves is hopelessness complicated and itself constantly changing according to its own selection pressure. If we may grant ourselves a moment of meta-awareness, remember that we ourselves are one of these very system of systems. We ourselves are Objective. We have been selected for existence by nature of our suitability to our habitat. And quite likely we are no extreme experiment. We are representative of hundreds of millions of years of iteration. We must respect the Law of Equilibrium in acknowledging that where we find ourselves is the most stable and reliable point. So instead of asking “why are we here?” we ask instead “what are we doing right?”

You are a human mind. You are an instance of the very thing which brought us the concept of learning. Learning is what permits you to navigate this sea of eternal complexity, and survive. Not only that, but your ability to do this was produced by the human Objective function. To continue surviving your mind must continue learning. For humanity to survive it must continue learning. What you are doing right is learning.

Drawing on our lessons from Machine Learning we remember that Learning involves compression. And now it should be very apparent why nature produced compression as a feature of adaptation. With such an infinite sea of complex interactions, you cannot hope to encapsulate or recapitulate this complexity within a single organism. The best you can do is dramatic use of compression. The enormous complexity of the system has to be reduced to a reliable, actionable set of encodings. In our case this means neurons and their connections, or linguistic symbols and their sequences. But in any case this is exactly the world we find ourselves in, a world of compressed symbolic representations. We do not see all the photons coming off the sun. We observe a tiny, tiny miniscule statistic sample of them, and by that we see the world. 

Life itself, is a judicious application of the Learning process. Life translates the incredible complexity of the universe, via the filter of the body’s sensors, compressed and then decompressed by the neural system, into a bias toward a limited set of actions. Life is compression, plus objective feedback plus an improvement strategy. Life is learning within the frame of the greater Objective Function of the environment and the cosmos. It was life that permitted you to learn the laws of physics. Literally life as a system learned the laws of physics. You are not some thing detached from that process. You are not something sprung from the forehead of a god fully formed. You are that process. You are the universe understanding itself. 

Perhaps you are already feeling that familiar surge that comes before synthesis. Perhaps you already got there. Perhaps you’ve been here all along. In any case this is the moment it must happen. Everything that comes after this will seem a jumble of words unless you are prepared to get it at this point. I promised we would not deal with “should.” So far we have not. We have only dealt with what is. What is, is the fact that you’re a human mind highly adapted to survive in a hopelessly complex world and you do that by learning. What you’re learning is the Objective Function. 

Learning, as we know, is a trait not limited to humans. Learning is simply a process. If learning was produced in you by the ecology, then it becomes equally plausible that the ecology was produced in the universe by learning. It’s this dramatic inversion of insight which we will chase to its final conclusion.

Ecolate Objectivism

As promised, Ecolate Objectivism is the synthesis of an understanding of learning as a process with the view of the universe as ecology. Within this view: everything is Ecology and what everything is doing is Learning. If we want to understand that-which-exists, we have to look no further than to what selected it. When we understand the superordinate Objective then we understand what exists. By definition everything that exists was selected. In other words: reality is Objective. But of course we mean this in a slightly different way than pure tautology.

What we mean by everything is objective, is twofold. The first is simply that it exists by some definite criteria. The second is that there is a process of selection which operates on everything. Because of the Law of Connectivity, and the Law of Surprise, every subordinate system is nested within a sea of irreducible complexity. The only way to achieve propagation, and continual existence is to compress that complexity, then transform it with bias. The bias is toward propagation aka toward Objectivity and persistence. Every system which didn’t do this stopped existing or is well on its way to ceasing to exist. Consequently essentially every pattern which is persistent is the product of a learning process. It’s a transform with a bias toward continuance. 

This is at the material level inseparable from the Laws of Thermal Dynamics. Things seek stability. But unlike many memes around the Second Law what this looks like in practice is far from dreary. Things fall into gravity wells. They’re sorted. They’re compressed. They’re transformed. Life emerges. Self awareness is produced. In the great scope of the universe, all past actions become encoded on a 2D event horizon of the final black hole. What we are observing is compression, decompression with bias at every level. Everything is doing Learning.

Aside: Unfortunately for my chosen Nomen, “Objectivism” is already a thing. I’m not sure I’d call it a philosophy though. I think it’s more of a fan fiction. And I’m fairly certain it has almost nothing to do with objectivity except the Objectivity of single older women to lust after wealthy dark triad personalities. Now that I say it that way, it might really be onto something. In any case it has nothing to do with Ecolate Objectivism. What the Objectivist means by “objectivism” is certainly not what the Ecolate Objectivist means.

For the Ecolate Objectivist, “Objectivity” has a particular meaning. Objectivity is an attribute of a thing, system, animal, or behavior when it satisfies the Objective Function of a superordinate learning system. Objective things are real because they are persistent. Material reality is Objective because it’s been selected by the universe’s Objective Function: i.e. the laws of physics. Humans have Objectivity because they’ve been selected by nature’s Objective Function: i.e. survival. Human behavior is Objective insofar as it’s dictated by the human Objective function: health, status acquisition, survival, and ultimately genomic propagation. Because Ecolate Objectivism considers the Objective Function to be generative and existential, Objectivity is closely related to the concept of reality. The things which exist have been selected. They are not merely co-equals in an infinite see of possibilities. They are produced by the decompression bias of the superordinate learning system. As such they are inherently Objective. Another way to say this is: Objectivity is survival capacity. Objectivity is not just a repetition of the term “real.” Objectivity contains the “why.”

Normal concept of objectivity is all or nothing. Something exists or it doesn’t. In contrast, Ecolate Objectivism considers Objectivity to be a matter of degree. This applies even to the most ordinary tangible objects. The Objectivity of material reality is a spectrum because the underlying generative process is complex and not completely known. Another way to say this is it’s subject to probability. Another way to say this is that any human model of reality is subject to error. This is because of The Law of Surprise. You can describe a chair as Objective but not entirely. When considering quantum physics there’s nothing actually preventing the chair from dissolving into a field of dissolute particles, except the Universe’s consistent bias toward coherence. Chairs are a pattern highly adapted to continued selection. They are highly Objective but not absolutely. I don’t encourage you to constantly question the existence of chairs. Chairs as a mental construct are highly highly Objective. They are probably less Objective than the Earth which is in turn less Objective than the Sun. However, chairs are probably more Objective than you. They were around long before you and they will be around long after you. They are probably far less than Objective humanity. But it serves as an important point, Objectivity is a matter of degree based on how well it serves the Objective Function.

With the dissolution of popular religion and the rise of Post-modernism, humanity has been in a semantic drought accompanied by self doubt and nihilistic angst. Post-modernism brings to bear the undeniable observation that the universe is irreducibly complex, and potential perspectives are infinite. It adds to this the rather curious claim that choosing a perspective from the sea of infinite is morally arbitrary. Whatever the truth of these claims, post-modernism is not Objective because it fails to promote survival. Instead it seems to promote hedonism, self imposed sterility and suicide. Perhaps the problem was that it both annihilated the concept of morality but then maintained it as a whip to flagellate any chosen perspective for not containing it. In any case, this seems crazy to even the most casual external viewer. The Ecolate Objectivist does not concern themselves with morality. Accusations that their perspective is morally arbitrary are to them simply sounds devoid of meaning. The Ecolate Objectivist concerns themselves with describing things in terms of their Objectivity. To them the symbols, habits, rituals, and instincts of the human are Objective by merit of the Law of Equilibrium. That which exists naturally, is selected. Humans got to be where they are by doing what they are doing. When the Ecolate Objectivist observes something in reality his first instinct is not to attack it as arbitrary. His first instinct is to wonder what it is doing right.

The Ecolate Objectivist considers the human mind to be highly Objective. If it wasn’t it wouldn’t have selected. If the mind couldn’t navigate the world as naturally as breathing, then it would have been eaten long ago and served as nutrition to a creature with more brawn and less brain. Of these there are many, and many are extinct at the hand of humans. The lesson here is clear. The mind is good at what it does. This means the Ecolate Objectivist trusts himself unless he has a reason not to. What seems right, probably is, especially when his instincts are applied to their natural subjects. If the Ecolate Objectivist questions the mind, he questions it most where it has deviated from its natural habitat. The Law of Equilibrium dictates the Law of Surprise is most powerful the further you get from the natural. As such the Ecolate Objectivist has a bias toward traditionalism, both metaphysically, and psychologically. If a tradition of the mind exists and has persisted for a long time, then it is Objective. It contains compressed information. The natural psychology of the Ecolate Objectivist is Jungian. They understand the mind as a symbolic compression of reality, and human society and rituals are a simple extension of that mapping.

The Ecolate Objectivist considers ambiguity to be Objective. Not only does the concept of ambiguity encapsulate the law of Surprise but also the Law of Connectivity. Ambiguous concepts are efficient encoding of the connective nature of reality. It is also an efficient encoding because all signals are noisy, randomness is persistent and surprise is a constant. When possible, the Ecolate Objectivist maintains ambivalent expectations. This keeps the mind alert and in eager anticipation of pattern emergence. When novel patterns emerge they are judged against those that are consistent and stable. That is they are judged by their relationship to the Law of Equilibrium. The Ecolate Objectivist is not a skeptic in the sense they are not determined to disbelieve everything new. They are simply not certain unless Objectivity has been proven. The final proof of Objectivity is persistence. Dogmas are inherently distrusted but less so if they have survived for a long time. 

The Ecolate Objectivist acknowledges the Objectivity of altruism and reciprocity. Most humans have a deep an ingrained drive toward caring for one another. The Ecolate Objectivist recognizes this and asks what about it is right. Without this drive humanity would be reduced to a solitary predatory creature. Instead humanity has thrived in close knit cooperatives. Furthermore the Human Objective function is not individualism. The Human Objective Function is the survival of our genetic lineage. The individual genetic lineage includes all related humans. This means the human Objective Function extends to some degree to the survival all of humanity. The degree to which it does is determined by genetic similarity and how useful they are to the general survival rate. With this in mind it’s obvious that altruism, within reasonable limits, is incredibly Objective. While Ecolate Objectivism may reject absolute morality, it does acknowledge that many forms of morality are Objective. Particularly whatever is the most persistent. To use a concrete example: modernists may aggressively promote free love and polyamory but until they have 10,000 years of stable propagation, we might well judge monogamy as the clearly more Objective system. No arguments are needed aside from monogamy’s utility to produce surviving and thriving offspring nested within surviving and thriving communities. And it is also clear why Altruistic norms are such a persistent theme in humans. Humanity as a system is not optimizing for individual fame or glory. Individual human survival is a known factor, it always ends in death. Altruism is Objective because it propagates the genome that contains it.

The Ecolate Objectivist acknowledges the Objectivity of severity. Predators exist. Parasites exist. Scarce resources exist. Competition exists and selection is not guaranteed going forward. The Law of Surprise is always at work and competing systems will constantly attempt to upend the equilibrium point to gain an advantage. As surely as the human Objective Function produces cooperative altruism, it also produces severe penalties and predatory or defensive behaviors. Humanity has grown physically weaker, with reduced canines over time. It has also highly specialized in creatively reinventing its environment, producing new opportunity rather than merely fighting over limited resources. Therefore we might deduce humanity’s Objective Function has a bias toward cooperation. But we cannot deny that there remains large and persistent opportunities to advance by violence. In the end, this probably reduces to evolutionary strategy and specialization. Some humans will double down on cooperative altruism. Others will double down on predation and parasitism. Nature will try both and the Objective Function will ultimately judge. The fact that such strategies exist, and are viable, is Objective. What’s more certain is the fact that because such strategies are persistent, the need to acknowledge them and defend against them are equally persistent. Humanity has only achieved pacifism nested within a broader context of reciprocal violence. Systems which exist defend themselves against predation or parasitism. We can summarize this by saying: Reciprocity is Objective.

Because of the Law of Surprise and the Law of Objectivity, we cannot be certain of the optimal solution. Because of this the Ecolate Objectivst acknowledges the Objectivity of hedging. In other words all systems are subject to experimentation. The more diversified these experiments, the more controlled in their scope, the more likely they are to bypass the Law of Equilibrium and discover a new stable mode of existence without risking the  the survival of the system as a whole. Hedging means that in order to learn, a system divides itself into subsystems, each containing their own permutations, and then selects among these for the best. Hedging is simultaneously diversity and selection. 

The Objectivity of diversity might be a summary of the state of the universe. But because we understand the universe is learning, and because we understand that learning is essential for continued survival, we can deduce that diversity is part of the learning process. This should be recognizable as experimentation. In order to not risk the superordinate system, we create subordinate systems and experiment on them. If some fail, then we learn something. If some succeed, then we learn something. The successors supplant the failures and soon comprise the entire system. This is the process of evolution, but also the process of learning. 

When we talk about the Objectivity of diversity we are really not talking about the modern cult of diversity. The modern cult of diversity appears to be trying to implement a global moral order and a homogeneous ethnic scheme. This appears to be non-Objective, although we may tolerate the ambiguity of suspending our judgement and surrendering the ultimate decision to the Objective Function. Nevertheless, homogenizing your experiment and globalizing your moral system is not really diversity and at any rate it’s a lousy experiment. If it fails, it fails catastrophically. If it succeeds then it succeeds little better than if you can gone more gradually and incrementally. Respecting the Law of Equilibrium means the more you deviate from the norm, the more risk of unintended consequences you incur. Therefore the more unusual, the more limited your experiment. If we were to attempt to imagine the worst kind of experiment, it would be the experiment of eliminating experiments. This might be a good summary of the modern diversity cult. 

The Objectivity of diversity goes hand in hand with the Objectivity of speciation. Successful experiments are divergent from the norm. They grow in persistence until they themselves produce new deviations. They supplant failures to the degree they are more successful. Among these the best is selected and the process continues. As the process goes on, the sub-systems specialize into their unique habitats. This produces new species. The emergence of new species is a form of learning and because we believe learning is persistent trait of the universe, we should expect this process to continue ad-infintum. At a social and political level, Ecolate Objectivism has a bias toward Ethno Pluralism. It sees continued the speciation of humanity as an Objective process. The Ecolate Objectivist does not look toward static unity but continual divergence.  The roof of the Ecolate Objectivist Cosmos is not upheld by a pillar of stone but uplifted by a tree. What is possible is being discovered.

The Ecolate Objectivist acknowledges the Objectivity of selection. What this means is “not everything makes it.” Not everything is selected. Some experiments are failures. The survival of anything is not guaranteed and the Law of Surprise is always at work. The Ecolate Objectivist judges the most adaptive and agile systems the most Objective. The most stable systems are the ones that have persisted. Yet there are no guarantees. Ultimately everything falls back on learning. Because the Ecolate Objectivist has no moral obligations, he sees no need to sustain the existence of that which fails. Of course some modes of failure may have potential Objectivity. Some completely unusual events do not inform us as to the ultimate utility of a system. We might attempt to salvage some things from freak storms. Yet, the general mode is humility in the face of failure. If something fails, we do not lead with pity but inquiry. Almost always, if something was selected against once, it will be selected against again.

By now you are probably tired of reading the word “Objective.” I am tired of writing it. Yet, I am not tired of thinking about it. In fact, I’m not sure if I’m capable of ceasing to think about it. Combining the insights of ecology with the process of learning is a fascinating idea.  Once the synthesis enters your mind, it achieves a noteworthy persistence. Perhaps then we might presume that Ecolate Objectivism itself is Objective. It’s a bit early to tell but I for one will watch it with eagerness. It is a rather effective compression of reality to a simple set of concepts. When contemplating this perspective, it is hard to shake the feeling that learning is taking place.

The Humble “If”

I have promised no “should” without an “if.” I believe I have respected this promise. Until now we have contented ourselves to simply describe things as they appear. In truth, there is no force on heaven or earth or hell below that can make an “is” into an “should.” Only the “if” can achieve this feat and it doesn’t really create a “should” ex nihilo. The “if” merely transforms one existing “should” into another. To care about a “should” you must first care about something else. In other words you must begin by caring. We might then build a bridge of cause and effect from one care to another. But first we must identify that primordial care. I don’t believe everyone has a primordial care. Nature is rather diverse, and if there is anything I expect, it’s exception. But it’s safe to say that humans usually have a primordial care. Also if you’ve read this far, it’s not such a stretch to presume you now want culmination. If I have succeeded in making your world dissolve into a sea of mind boggling systems engaged In the incomprehensible operation of evolution at all levels, then you probably want the rest of the trick — the part where it congeals back into something recognizable and practical — something that gets you out of bed in the morning. You may know where this is going, but let’s not ruin it with prematurity.

The humble “if” is humble because it enters at our lowest point. I’m talking about Depression. Perhaps I might be so bold as to assume that if you had no experience with depression, you wouldn’t be reading pseudo philosophy online. I’m joking here because you know I’m not. The process of learning, of deeply questioning, is intimately tied to the experience of depression. Perhaps the depression was in your past. Perhaps it’s in your present. Perhaps it’s a shadow in your future, but never has profound human change occurred without a brush with this phantom. Starting with this insight, let us examine what depression is doing right.

I’m going to make an offensive claim. Especially to you, the reader, who is likely intimately familiar with depression. Here it is: depression is doing something right. Depression is letting go of all those dopamine circuits, all those frames, all those goals. It is by definition unmotivated. It’s not motivated because something deeper inside of you decided whatever you had been motivated about was all wrong. Depression is the process of un-learning.

After being lectured on the universality of learning it may be curious to now be told that un-learning is, in fact, doing something right. But you should easily observe that you’ve got a skull of limited dimensions. You can only compress the universe so much, and that means you only have so much space for storing that system. If you need to radically transform your perspective, you need to clear out some space. The way this works is pruning. You can learn about this in machine learning techniques but on the human level we might use intuitive analogies. The human brain starts off as a little nugget of essential functions. It doesn’t generate new section fully formed. It grows them. It grows them much like a tree. Each system is a branch of the previous. The complexity of your mind is represents a hierarchical network. This might sound familiar. That’s because it is. The learning process is happening inside and out according to similar patterns. 

When your deep brain determines it’s doing something wrong it begins the process of shutting off the circuits which guide your behavior. It then begins trimming your neural connections. You are losing brain matter. You are losing connections. Your network is being literally pruned. You feel dead inside because quite literally parts of your mind are dying. This a necessary pre-requisite to reforming the network around a new fundamental frame. As such depression is not a problem. Depression is the solution. It’s a period of profound self healing driven by hard coded mandates. Of course you might have almost lost yourself to depression, and you might have lost loved ones. Saying that this is right boarders on insulting. I can only reply to this accusation by saying that it is right in the Ecolate Objectivist sense: depression is right in that it’s attempting to help your genomic survival. If it has to sacrifice you to do this, it will.

The fact that your brain is literally capable of killing you to find an Objective solution to life is scary. It is also informative. What this means is that you have a hard coded capacity to care which is subordinate to your Objective Function. This is where the humility is especially needed. The humility is needed to dispose of the “if.” Caring isn’t a choice. Caring is a fact. 

Of course if you reject this then the show ends here. I’m happy for you to go on not caring about your deeply hardcoded mandates. Or at least I’m happy for you to continue in that illusion. I find that the people most insistent that they have transcended the humanity seem to be the most embedded in rich gated communities, with families, or at least the social status which assures their hind brain that they’re doing all they can to secure the existence of their genome. In other words, I’m happy to let you deny that you care because it is irrelevant and any case it’s very possible humans are better off not directly observing their Objective Function. I, to you, may be anathema but you, to me, are merely a hedge.

But presuming you can acknowledge there is no “if” about caring, that caring is indeed a fact, a fact so elemental your brain denies you the right to ignore it at the cost of your own life, then the trick may conclude as intended. The Humble “If” is this: 

If you are a human, then you care about your Objective Function. 

Of course it’s possible you’re not a human. Rather the public “you” with agency and with a primary seat in the verbal filter ingesting this text could simply be a memeplex firmly embedded in a human skull. In this case you probably care about the objective function of your memeplex: transference. In either case the basic concept remains the same. If you are a human, first and foremost, then the human Objective Function is no mystery. It’s the continued survival of your genotype, weighted by similarity to yourself. First in priority are your children, then relatives, then your ethnic kin, and finally humanity as a whole. You should recognize here that this hierarchy of motives is Objective. It’s actually how humans behave in reality, regardless of what they profess.

This may seem a bit disappointing, but it is certainly familiar. We have condense the universe to a simple maxim that in all likelihood you’re already instinctively implementing. By Ecolate Objectivism’s own perspective, this a feat of extremely efficient compression. There is a natural delight in this. I am offering you the view that what comes most naturally to you in you deepest most essential desire, is real just as surely as the universe itself is real. Ecolate Objectivism doesn’t offer novel mandates, alien doctrines, and exciting new rituals. It offers few mysteries and mostly is an act of de-mystification. It does not offer transcendence. It offers self-awareness. Ecolate Objectivism offers to you the same it offers all Objective things: a description of what you’re doing right.  

Embracing reality as it is, is basically the heart of Ecolate Objectivism. This starts with the universe, and our ecology, and extends with finality to ourselves. We no longer are creatures bestowed with unlimited free will. We are creatures selected for survival and deeply embedded in the process of survival. Our success is contingent on our capacity to comprehend our environment and the selection pressures at work. Free will is not out of the picture. On the contrary free will is essential. Free will is random permutation. By definition whatever comprises free will is not deterministic. Whatever cannot be functionally determined is random. Free will represents our capacity for random experimentation which is mitigated and moderated by our hard coded determinist instincts. It might not be fun to consider our personal agency as random experimentation. Yet, then again, maybe this is the most fun possible. What I know for certain, is surprise is delightful when it works out. That’s basically the same attitude the universe takes and why it grants us our capacity to change ourselves. The universe is looking for what’s right, and it’s up to you to learn something new.

It may appear to you that I must have arrived at this perspective through a soulless and mechanical reductionism or if not then by a post-modern cynical fatalism. Neither is true. I did not really set out to arrive at this position, but I did and I did through a very unexpected means. I had a profound spiritual experience. What lay therein still escapes any verbal description but the effect was a lasting internal sense of peace with the world and increasingly with myself. It was within this tranquility that I began to observe reality as not something I desperately needed to be different, but merely as something I was curious about. Patterns began to emerge. And with that same tranquil curiosity I began to examine myself; not as a being needing reform; but as a being that merely was. The same patterns held both within and without. To my surprise, ambivalent observation did not strangle my motivation to continue with the business of daily life. Instead everything became easier and more intuitive. I was acting despite my stillness. In other words, when permitted by convergent perspective, my behavior became as Objective as the universe around me. 

The fact that this perspective proceeded from a brush with That-Which-Is-Beyond might garner accusations of wishful thinking. I too prefer my metaphysics to grow up from the soil rather than descend from the heavens. Things built on the ground tend to last. Precarious floating castles tend to crash, hard. Nevertheless I would maintain Ecolate Objectivism did grow from the ground. Only that ground was first struck by lightning. Perhaps it was this bolt from heaven that enabled the underbrush to be cleared out and the Bodi tree to grow. But in any case I say all this because I imagine there will be some adoptees of Ecolate Objectivism who are die hard materialists. I have no problem with this. Materialism is a form of reality compression which is an excellent hedge against some rather virulent memes. Ecolate Objectivism certainly has an obvious appeal to this nuts and bolts empirical viewpoint. But I want to stress that this perspective makes no inherent assumptions as to the scope of the universe or what may lie within it. In fact, the reality and acceptance of indescribable complexity is cooked in. Like a child, the Ecolate Objectivist expects to be surprised.

The final test of a worldview is if it can stand by its own judgement. I’ve just spent a lot of words convincing you to do what comes naturally. So the final test of this system is, where’s the joy? For any of this to make ultimate sense it has to generate a sense of satisfaction, it has to fulfill the human mind’s Objective. To this I say: learning is fun. For many this might seem absurdly untrue. Those 16+ years of education were hellish at best. Learning is a chore, and a boring one at that. To these I simply ask, “how much of all that education do you actually remember?” If you hated chemistry, how much of stoichiometry can you recall? If you hated history, then please recite the gist of the Monroe Doctrine. It’s extremely likely that whatever you hated the most, you remember the least about. I argue that whatever time you spent miserably “learning” you actually spent learning nothing at all except to avoid it at all costs. That entire segment of your life was compressed to a single “ewww.” As an Ecolate Objectivist this is expected. The Human is a learning system and plenty of the information force fed to during youth is absolutely irrelevant to the human Objective Function. Whereas, technological skills developed playing video games, the social media saavy that lets you navigate your human network, or the particular niche of knowledge that reinforces your natural skill: all of that was fun. All of that you remember with instant fluidity. That was where real learning happened. 

If Learning is fun, then Ecolate Objectivism is the Religion of Fun. Not repetitive, addictive, rat-in-a-cage-hitting-opium-button fun. Not closed dopamine circuit fun. Ecolate Objectivism is the religion of awe, discovery, and joy. Real fun. Real learning. And what’s best of all is it places the individual within a society of humans, which itself is learning, placed within an ecology which is learning, within a universe that is learning. Some say it’s turtles all the way down. The Ecolate Objectivist sees it as fun all the way up.

Now, consider trying to create a definition of what it means to feel that something is alive. Imagine you just met a stranger, or discovered a new species of animal. What intuitive pattern permits you to immediately recognize it as living? At first we might say “motion.” After more consideration we might say “adaptive motion.” Now, already a trained Ecolate Objectivist, you will jump instinctively to the more exact answer: We feel that things are alive because they learn. You live in a learning universe. Every instinct within you that feels aliveness, that every instinct applies accurately to all of life, and to the cosmos itself. It’s all alive. It’s all learning. This might be exhilarating. This might be terrifying. But it’s certainly anything but boring. Far, far after your life, your species will be thriving, adapting, evolving, learning to navigate the Great Unknown. Far, far after human life, the cosmos will be learning, adapting, inventing, and creating. You get to be a humble but essential part of that whole.

All things considered, that’s pretty cool.

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  • maelstrom

    a very positive vision of process philosophy as compared to the paradigm of statistics, randomness – game theory etc. black nihilism Rick&Morty style. No heat death but an ever increasing hierarchy of order and energy

  • Helium3

    Entropy is compressed information along the axis of quantum selection. This dramatically inverts the subjective sense with which we view the universe. Ecolate Objectivism dovetails very neatly into Quantum Darwinism. See: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Quantum_Darwinism. Heat death may or may not be in the picture but rest assured whatever learning process produced the universe will produce another.

  • Bill

    I like this. I think that’s always been my perspective but now it’s well written, chapeau!

  • LovingKindness

    What I think of: When aiming myself towards certain towards certain “noble” pursuits, I begin to feel anxious, empty, and most of all bored. I see many people (mostly on social media) claiming themselves part of a group, and I worry. Under a label, I lose all sense of my own history. I’m already at the end, there is nothing else to move towards. Maybe it’s just that capitalism is too lofty a goal to rally around destroying, and that I naturally ignore it because of my comfortable living conditions. And people would want to destroy me because of that. But I am functioning within my own world, and I can’t stop. I stay aware though.
    Thanks for the read.

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