MISTAKE: Applied Evolutionary Epistemology
The Seven Laws of Unnerving Uncertainty (Spelling “Mistake”)
1. Multiplicity: I never do anything for just one reason and it never has just one effect. Life is like playing piano with oven mitts on.
2. Infinity: Anything that has a cause, has multiple causes extending back in time infinitely. Anything that has an effect, has multiple effects extending forward in time infinitely.
3. Satisficing: My time and brain power are limited. It’s impossible to factor in all the information that pertains to the choices I face.
4. Toss-up: Probabilities rarely approach 100%, so even when the odds are with me, my bets can come out wrong.
5. Appetites: I never want just one thing. I experience every option as a trade-off. Some of what I want is leftover longings relevant only to times past.
6. Knots: Buyers remorse is built into every choice I make. I’m suspended in a web of changing tugs, but must act like I’m on a one-lane, one-way street with lots of forks in the road. To translate from multiple tugs into singular paths, I tell myself rationalizing stories to distract me from the buyer’s remorse and commit me to the choices I’ve made. These stories become choices themselves I make commit me to, still other outcomes.
7. Extrusion: In the face of this, I have to choose. Even not choosing is choosing. And I can’t help but care about the outcomes of my choices.
Bird’s-Eye, Plane’s-Eye, and Superman’s-Eye View
Humans are the only organisms with the ability to think and communicate about abstract concepts. Some organisms can think and communicate about things. We alone can think and communicate about the relationships between things. This ability to observe patterns of relationship is the key innovation that makes self-referential consciousness possible. We observe patterns in our life experiences and tell ourselves and to others stories (which I’ll call convictions) about these patterns.
This ability not only enables us to observe patterns in our lives, but patterns in our observations as well. That is, we can be meta-conscious of our consciousness, and in turn, meta-meta-conscious of our meta-consciousness, ad infinitum limited only by time, appetite and aptitude. Thus, with the power to observe patterns, it becomes possible to take, not only a crow’s nest view on our life experiences, but to shuttle among multi-level crow’s nest perspectives. We climb up the mast and look down on our lives. We climb up further and look down on us looking down on our lives. We climb up further and notice that the mast just keeps on going. It’s crow’s nests all the way up.
We can think of these different levels of self-referential consciousness as comprising four basic levels, or eye’s views: Frog’s eye, Bird’s eye, Plane’s eye and Superman’s eye view.
Non-human life is lived with a frog’s-eye view, at the ground level, simply lived, without self-referential consciousness.
Human’s with our unique capacity for self-referential consciousness, instinctively take a birds-eye view, as if watching our frog selves from above. Our minds supply a running narrative about who we are and what we are doing. We tell stories about ourselves as instinctively as a bird flies. These are liked stories. By liked, I mean that they accumulate simply because they are strong memes. They are subject to strong selective pressure to be useful, hopeful, helpful. They fit the shape of our minds and help us adapt to our cultures. They are not necessarily true or virtuous. They are the source of our convictions–the abstractions we wrap around the bundles of drives and emotions we experience being living creatures.
But once we evolved the capacity to take the bird’s eye view, we also gained the ability to take the bird’s eye view on our bird’s eye views as well. When we do this, we occupy a Plane’s-eye view. Looking down, we observe ourselves below taking the bird’s eye view. Here we discover the limitations of the bird’s eye view. We observe our convictions. Observing conviction is the key to managing conviction, which is the key to the scientific method and to aspects of Eastern Philosophy as well. Science gives birth to technology which makes planes possible. The plane’s-eye perspective is the realm of the likely story. Likely stories are stories pursued not for the likeability but for their accuracy. We pursue the likely with skepticism borne of our dawning awareness of the limitations of conviction. We pursue likely stories by saying “Yeah, sure. A likely story.”
But our power of abstraction also enables us to tell stories about ourselves telling stories about ourselves telling stories about our lives. And now we recognize that, only if we were supermen, could we tell stories about our stories about our stories ad infinitum. There is no end to the potential for up-leveling to be conscious of your consciousness. But we humans are limited. We recognize that we would bring our human limitations with us to each level of up-leveling and that there is no final ultimate consciousness to be had. We notice that it’s crow’s nests all the way up. The superman’s eye view gives us licked stories. Stories about our limited ability to tell accurate stories no matter how hard we try to climb. We carry our human biases with us to each up-leveling. Licked stories are those told by post-modern philosophers, by Zen and other mystical practitioners, and to some extent by brave and introspective cognitive scientists. Zen, encourages us to make the trip to the licked story and in resignation, return to frog-mind. My sense is that the optimal is to be able to fluidly shift between realms, harvesting the benefits of each. Ibelieve this begins with awareness of the different eye-views and how they arise.