Select Page

Dancing on the edge of entropy…

Had a really useful chat with a friend a couple of hours ago. We talked about science and scepticism, which helped me notice something really significant.

When we were talking, I mentioned my old division into “science lovers” and “quack haters”. Basically – some people are in the sceptical field because they love science. They see what it can do for us and they want more of it, they want others to understand it. They bash quackery, but it’s a bit of a side note. More”don’t trip yourself over this crap, kids, you could break something”, then the rampart crusade against all that isn’t properly scientific, as with the “quack hater group”.


I think it’s quite a meaningful division, one which influences the sceptical field to a significant degree. But this exchange was the first time I’ve actually thought of how it might fit with the “seeker/defender” duality proposed by Elizer Yudkowsky.

Basically, in Yudkowsky’s terms, some people consider the world in terms of improving and building, while others assume all that is good has already happened and now we must protect it against degradation. In the first perspective, you can actually add new, valuable things or insights to the world. In the second, entropy is everything, it is devouring everything, and you can only do your best to keep back the encroaching darkness for as long as possible. Nice setting for a dark fantasy story if I do say so myself. Rather crappy way to live a life, mind you, but I suppose it has a kind of dark romanticism to it. Still, I prefer my Dark Souls on my PC, if it’s all the same to you.


An interesting example Y. gives for this duality – and yes, Godwins’ law applies, but whatever – is with Nazis. Now most people assume Nazis were trying to create the superhuman, the ubermensch. (Would it be uberfraulein for women? Any help here? As a side note, I do recommend Uber & Uber Invasion from Avatar, they’re actually quite smart in how they’re writing it.)  In fact, what the Nazis were trying to do was to RECREATE the old Nordic archetype. Now this is quite different than what most of us imagine – but then again, our culture, in general, is creation-centered, not past-centered. So it’s no surprise our works of culture, when they go into the ubermensch concept, have mad Nazi doctors creating unholy and/or alien hybrids of human flesh and supertechnology. Because – even in pulpy popculture like Return to Castle Wolfenstein, we’re actually looking at that absurd ideology from the creation perspective. When we actually look at it from the preservation perspective, it becomes even more absurd for us… (“Wait, so all that… Was to bring back, basically, Vikings. Vikings. You do know we have guns now, don’t you?”)


Now the “science lover/future & creation focus” and “quack hater/past & protection focus” combination is quite obvious, when you bring these up. And it does seem to explain a lot. I hadn’t thought about it before and it’s rather interesting.

But what was really valuable for me, was noticing that while I might have the creation focus in my approach to science (and indeed a large part of life in general)… I do not judge myself according to it. I do not judge my discussions according to it. I do not judge my impact according to it. Even as I think or plan my actions according to the creation focus, I actually judge a lot of them according to the criteria of the protection focus. So while working for, say, improved self-development, I still became frustrated by the number of bloody clueless wankers in the field… I did notice the growth, the improvement, the people who I’d never in a million years think would’ve gone over to the rational side actually looking things up on bloody pubmed of all things! I did see all that. And I was a little bit proud for being a part of that change, for helping it come to fruition. But what I paid attention to, despite it all, were the idiots. What I looked at was every little spark of ignorance, floating on the wind straight from Mt. Stupid, ready to set the forest ablaze. Because if it went ablaze then…


Well, nothing actually. I mean, it’d burn and it’d be sad, and boo-hoo-hoo. And people would be hurt, no discussion here. And this sucks, but the thing is, that’s not preventable and attempting to catch all of the sparks of stupidity is, frankly, way beyond daft.


In the end, it’s about making sure the forest grows. And a lot of what I’ve been doing was just that. But I still cared about catching the sparks, I still judged my effectiveness by the sparks I missed, rather than by how the forest grew. And by how resilient it got.


And I get it, sparks suck. Fires suck. Especially when they’re actually concentrated stupidity. (And yes, I’ve run out of the spark metaphor. In fact, I’ve run out of it quite a long time ago, but hoped no one would notice.) But they will happen. Mistakes and failures are inherent both in the growth and in the protection models. They’d be crappy models if they didn’t include such a basic issue.


But with the protection model, each mistake cannot be undone. Enough of them, and the whole construction breaks apart.

With the growth model, well, it ain’t great. But it’s life. No refunds. And in the end it will become something grander. Or blow up in our faces, but at least it’ll be a grand explosion.


And it’s such an important distinction!


I mean, it stings even more when I actually become aware of it, but at least now I can do something with it. But the whole bloody absurdity of it… It’s like running the marathon only to learn you’re being judged by how many squirrels you caught along the way. And you’re the one who agreed to that judgment by catching mutated rats in the first place! You just got distracted with something else along the way…

(Yes, it really is precisely like that! Only with less cute mutated rats, I suppose.)


 Now the basic thing is to notice how I asses these things – and change the rules. Notice the places where I couldn’t quite decide If I wanted to dance on the side of encroaching entropy or the side of blossoming chaos. And settle these once and for all.

But, least I am done with it too early, I do think there’s probably more I can do with this awareness. In fact, I’m quite sure there are other areas where I might be mixing the two – thinking in protection, but assessing in growth too, since protection thinking is, at times, useful! (Think, for example, reducing cancer chances in your own body… Growth mentality really won’t do for much until we manage to overcome the whole Hayflick limit/ senescence issue.) So looking into where and what they are will be quite interesting.


P.S. As I write these words I do start to wonder about one other thing. Some time ago, one of my colleagues pointed out to a strange trend in research, where, in a lot of the more egalitarian societies (Norway, Sweden, etc.) the rise in gender egalitarianism has actually led to a rise in female preference for so-called “traditional” gender roles. (How anything created a mere 200 years ago ever got to be considered traditional is beyond me, but that’s just one of my many, many pet peeves. I’ll give you a tour of them one day if you like. Bring packed lunch. And dinner. Actually, tell you what, bring a weeks’ worth of supplies, just to be safe. There’s a lot to cover.) Now if I’m not an outlier here… if there is a certain dualism involved… If we’ve been socialized to think in creation terms, but asses in preservation terms. And if our Norse neighbors are anything alike us… Then it might be an interesting explanation of the trend… And a suggestion that we should focus on social education leading to a change of judgment criteria into growth based, not just social awareness, if we want to experience a significant change here. Obviously, it’s just loose conjecture, but since it was banging around my head, I figured I’d let it out, maybe it’ll be of use for someone.

Or at least maybe it’ll catch a bloody squirrel.