Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Delta World

In the language of mathematics, the Greek letter delta (∆) is often used to denote a change in a variable. For example, “X = 5” means “the change in X is 5.” In comparing the world we have with the world we want, the difference can be thought of as “delta world” (∆W).

The world I want starts with a definition of “good” as anything that maximizes the amount (“A”), variety (“V”), and longevity (“L”) of life in the universe; that is, the product of all three (W = A*V*L). There is almost certainly some physical limit to this (Wmax = Amax*Vmax*Lmax), but since we are only responsible for what we know and can change, the best we can do is to approach that limit and try to develop more capabilities through learning and creating tools. Put another way, we should try to minimize W = Wmax – W.

This approach to definition helps clarify differences between people's values. For example, there are some people who primarily value only people like them, or themselves and a very specific set of species that are useful to them (V and A are very small); until very recently I was one of them. The amount of disagreement two people might have on the aggregate of all issues might even be proportional to the difference between their ideal values of W, which would explain why education (affecting their ability to estimate Wmax) can only go so far in getting them to agree.

Even if we all agree on a definition of good, our individual knowledge, skills, and experience will create differences in our perception of the best course to take in achieving it. Because we are individually limited, it is critical that we communicate and collaborate so we can approximate a solution that has the best chance of success. This is the logic behind my insistence on cooperation over competition, where competition is limited to testing solutions rather than dominating the entire process. It is important to keep in mind that because agreement on values is a prerequisite for success, competition has the additional role of determining what those shared values are, and should be completed as soon as possible.

Much of the aggravation I personally feel about the course of our global society comes from the ongoing dispute about values which has increased the probability to near-certainty that we will reach the simplest configuration of the world, with a minimal amount, variety, and longevity of life. This is why I have focused so much time and effort on ideas rather than practical solutions; most of the knowledge is already available, but it will be irrelevant to most people, and the other species we share this planet with, if we're not all working toward a goal closer to the one I subscribe to.

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