We are developing the social individualist meta-context for the future. From the very serious to the extremely frivolous... lets see what is on the mind of the Samizdata people.

Samizdata, derived from Samizdat /n. - a system of clandestine publication of banned literature in the USSR [Russ.,= self-publishing house]

Three worlds

This morning I was left deep in thought after a seemingly innocuous article in Scientific American about Ebola vaccines. It sent me off into a bit of internal philosophizing. I have long intended to explicate a particular set of thoughts here but have never quite found the time. I do not have it right now either, but will nonetheless dedicate an hour to it. The day it deserves will never come.

There are three worlds. Not worlds in the sense of planets or matter but of realities. The first one is the world as it is. You may subdivide it any way you wish, but no matter what you do, there is still a here and now and all of the events unfolding as we speak. Whether we can understand or agree upon the details of the objective reality of this instant makes no particular difference to my thesis.

Second is the world of dreams. The one across the dream bridge. The one of our imaginations. The place where all Utopias exist and prosper. The place where perfection is possible and things just work themselves out according to great visions.

Third and last is the world of becoming. It is the first world of tomorrow or the day after that or the century after that. It is one which will one day be an objective reality on which philosophers will debate.
I find all too many persons live entirely within one world. There are those who are so grounded in reality of the first world they cannot envision change and are continuously surprised, shocked and caught mentally flat footed by it.

There are those who live totally in the second world. They are the ideologues, the ultra religious, the dreamers without a tie down. They firmly believe the first world can be made over to exactly fit their dream and everyone can be made to see the ‘rightness’ of their way.

There are some small numbers who live much in the third world, or at least attempt to do so. They believe the world as it is moves deterministically into the world of the future following a linear or at least predictable track.

I have problems with all three ways of living. The first worlders may be solidly grounded, but they just react to events. Change will overwhelm them because they are unprepared for it. If you were an Eqyptian of 2000 BC, you could afford the stability assumption. As a citizen of the 21st Century AD the luxury of stasis is unavailable to you.

Third worlders are a little bit better. They at least can deal with linear change. While subconsciously stasis-minded, at least they do understand tomorrow will be somewhat different and that difference will grow from the current instant of objective reality.

The second worlders have glorious visions about worlds which are fundamentally different from what the first or third worlders see. They envisage a new world and believe it can be brought into existence if they can just convince enough people to join them. But the purity of dreams slips away as more people join in; the edges fuzz out, the concepts drift as the rhetoric inevitably mutates in the face of inconvenient facts.

One must take all three worlds into consideration. There is a real today and we must be ready to deal with it. There will be a real tomorrow that grows out of the unique decisions, creativity, actions and beliefs of 3 billion or more human beings – not to mention the odd curveball tossed by nature. Hurricanes, great earthquakes and giant tsunami’s happen regularly. Really big events happen rarely and randomly but do happen: Yellowstone Park caldera could go up tomorrow and wipe out half of the USA; an unseen asteroid could send us back to day one; the Sun could burp a small flare and sterilize half the globe…

That is where the need for the World of Dreams comes in. We do not have to accept tomorrow will flow entirely out of the way things are. If one has a goal and enough people behind it one can change the course of history. If you could compute it you might have changed the way a butterfly waggled its wings in 1850 and decided the outcome of the 2004 US election. If you have a few thousands or tens of thousands of dreamers today, you can strongly influence the objective world of 2010.

Note I say ‘influence’. This is where the pure dreamer falls flat. Because they have only a weak tie with reality they will begin with belief in an exact 2010. As a few years pass and reality diverges from the dream path, they will become increasingly desperate in their attempts to force the first world back onto the path to their second world. No matter how desperate, no matter how violent or how draconian their approach, when 2010 arrives it will not match their ‘solipsist’ dream.

The wise man knows you can never make the world over exactly as you want. You can only foresee directions and do your best to make the outcomes better. At each moment you have to recognize where you really are and start anew. You have to accept what is all the while you are trying to change what is becoming.

Most important of all, you have to stand back and take pleasure in each real moment of time. Those moments are the only ones you truly have.

20 comments to Three worlds

  • toolkien

    I guess I don’t see that people fall so concretely into any of the three worlds, and in fact I see only two, at least seemingly.

    There is the present time and place the individual is in, and making choices and behaviors in, and the abstract, epistemological world they have internally. Whether they are mooning over the past, or pondering the future, a year from now or three centuries from now. it is purely a mental process. The value in this abstract is the ability to ‘invest’ or forgo a benefit today for a theoretical gain tomorrow. It is a change in behavior in the moment hoping for a bigger return at some other point.

    But these abstracts really are nothing more than self-talk or illusions. Each individual is entitled to their set of illusions and the behaviors it generates (i.e. a value system), as long as they honor the same right for others. Unfortunately the vast majority of people become so enamored of their particular value system that they feel entitled for force it on others.

    So there is really one material world with 6 billion specific internal worlds. It is when a subset desires to impose its values over others by force that problems arise.

    I gather an overall flavor of the post that the writer is a believer in the ‘progression’ of mankind as a whole. I do not. I see the world populated by humans as merely a string of moments in time with a set of humans with disparate values systems all trying to synergize as best they can. The collective human condition, as a separate valuation, is nonsensical to me. Progressivism is itself an illusion. Mankind doesn’t improve, individuals can and do. To imagine mankind on some sort of progression from something ‘lower’ to something ‘higher’ collectively is IMO quasi-religious if not full blown theological.

  • Dale Amon

    I think you missed it totally. Unfortuneately I just got a call in that requires a proposal by tonight, so…

  • Nancy

    Dale, it must be very lonely having an IQ of two million. At least with the advent of the internet, guys like you no longer have to wonder where everyone else with a brain is.

    I’ve said it before: I learn something new every time I check in.

  • Andrew Robb

    tolkien writes

    “I see the world populated by humans as merely a string of moments in time with a set of humans with disparate values systems all trying to synergize as best they can.”

    Synergize is a term made up by Stephen Covey, author of “Seven Habits of Highly Effective People”, to descibe his set of guidelines and advice for working in teams. It is a made up word that Covey uses to make him self and his common sense advice sound like something new and groud-breaking. It has been passed around by Covey’s spawn of corparate drones and finnaly has landed in the lexicon of all people who strive to make them selves sound smarter.

    In short, Dale, I loved your post. Toolkien, I, as well, believe you missed the point.

    Here’s a link to the wiki on Covey.


  • Andrew Robb

    Sorry clickable link here.

  • Missed you Dale

    Wherever you went you seem to have picked up an extra dose of wisdom.

    Why am I not surprised?

  • toolkien

    I don’t think I’ve missed the point at all. The article tries to stratify various human conjecturing into three finite pools when I don’t think it is that easy to do. Every single person has their own construct of ‘the way things are/were’. The only difference is that some try to impose that construct on others through offensive force. Maybe my view is too simple, yet I don’t happen to think so. It simply accepts that there is one material reality in which exists 6 billion highly limited assessments of what that reality is or should be. Saying there are three buckets in which we fall is similar to saying there is a distinct left or right, which, if any group understands it differently, it is libertarians (itself perhaps too simple a label as I think we all can see significant differences between those who hold to be (right) libertarian).

    There is one point I do agree on, is that the larger the group, the ‘mission’ erodes. That’s simply because the group is made up of individuals who inter-weave their illusions with others toward a perceived common goal. Eventually the association fails due to dis-illusion.

    If exception is taken to my inference of ‘religiosity’ I can only say that I was left with the notion that we are to expect a brighter future for all following the right ‘dream line’. I am too much of a cynic (and at heart an anarchist) and I see the world in existential terms. Everything is subject to growth and decay. Everything is cyclical. I do not see mankind marching to some bright future, I see mankind, and the individuals who make it up, continuing to struggle to survive and deal with their fears as best they can. The dreams are simply illusions that help us through.

    Maybe it helps to recognize that I am a strange animal in that I hold root philosophies that, for most, lead them perplexingly (in my view) toward the left. I am much more of a relativist than I detect most who write/comment here, and yet I consider myself a rather radical right libertarian. Taking this into consideration, maybe my critique transcends through ‘the point’ and attacks at an epistemological root that one could attack any assertion with, and simply came off as fatuous.

  • Dale Amon

    No, you don’t get it. Let me toss out a simple minded and totally simplistic but at least concrete example (there are perhaps billions of them, all competing simultanteously):

    Second Worlder: In 50 years we’ll all live in huge space settlements at L5, the world will be powered by clean solar energy and everyone will be wealthy and we’ll be building the first starship using antimatter made from the plants inside Mercury’s orbit adn then we’ll…

    First Worlder: Space won’t happen. We’ve got along fine without it, it is too expensive, it won’t work, people won’t pay for it, they don’t want to go, we should spend our money here instead of throwing it away, be practical,….

    Third Worlder: Well, if we scale up the LOX-LH2 engines and have better computers, we should be able to go back to the moon, but it’s rather expensive so we’ll have to get the government to pay for it initially.

    Synthesis: We can build those things, but we will have to try something different, do it in small bites that make money. We can do it and we’ll wing it along the way. If we can convince a few people with the resources they will get it kick started… Hmmm, how about a prize? We could call… the XPRIZE! We might not get the L5 Settlements, but I’m sure we’ll end up with something interesting. If not, we’ll try something different.

    I could just as easily have given an example of various brands of ideologies, various types of libertarians, successful and unsuccessful corporate strategies, just about anything.

    And speaking of that, I have to get back to work. I have to First World issues of food and paying bills right now. I’m sure our commentariat can take it from here. So have at it folk!

  • Dale Amon

    I might add… the engineers in our midst should recognize the ideas as closely matching up with various classes of feedback control systems in a non-linear system. The outputs will be chaotic at times and predictable at others, depending…

    That is also a simplistic analogy, but a useful one if that is where your training came from.

  • Dale Amon

    Hmmm, I didn’t mean nonlinear input, that is meaningly. I meant a nonlinear transfer function between inputs and outputs, where we have feedback control over one input and are trying to cause an outcome on one or more outputs… but all the other inputs and control loops can also affect our desired outcome, whether it be to go to the moon or be a billionaire by age 40.

  • toolkien

    Synthesis: We can build those things, but we will have to try something different, do it in small bites that make money. We can do it and we’ll wing it along the way. If we can convince a few people with the resources they will get it kick started… Hmmm, how about a prize? We could call… the XPRIZE! We might not get the L5 Settlements, but I’m sure we’ll end up with something interesting. If not, we’ll try something different.

    Who’s we?

    What bucket do I fall into when I hold the belief that traveling faster than the speed of light is impossible and that it will take nearly 100 years to travel to the next star that it is thought to have a planet around assuming we can travel something close to the speed of light? Am I just being too practical minded? The very idea that people look that far in the future to control their behaviors is nonsense. So bucketize me, if you need to. I simply choose illusions that are much more practical, and involve a realistic, human level.

    It took massive amounts of resources stolen from other people to send a couple of tin cans to the moon and collect some rocks and teach the Ruskies what’s what. There was little or no practical value to the exercise other than to stroke the dreamers’ imagination. Of course all they had to do was use offensive force on other people to gain the resources to follow through on their dreams.

    Practical uses for space travel would be to go to a few of the smaller, relatively close planets to mine from. If someone/association can find a way to do that via market forces, great. If people want to make a prize out of barely getting out of atmosphere with the hopes of someday charging people for a ride, using their own resources, wonderful.

    But it seems that those who hold the biggest dreams are the ones most apt to resort to force to get make it happen.

    Anyone want to make a bet whether mankind will be traipsing around the universe in 500 years?

  • Dale Amon

    From the evidence I’d put you almost 100% in bucket 1.
    Perhaps someone has time to explain where your literal mindedness is getting you further and further away from the point. Nothing wrong with that, but it makes it rather difficult to discuss metacontexts.

  • There is nothing immoral or particularly illegal with trying to break Mr. Einstein’s law.

    I’m not sure it can be done, but there are serious people working on superluminal travel. Check out the whole idea of the ‘Casimir Effect’ and some of the other stuff that NASA worked on during the Breakthrough Propulsion Physics Program.

  • Duncan

    This whole things was just an excuse to talk about space ships again…

  • Dale Amon

    As no one I need to talk business with seems to be available at the moment, I’ll give this one last shot. Since concrete and semi-humorous examples did not work, I’ll go all the way over to pure abstract mathematics:

    Select an arbitrary moment in time, say right now, and call it t0. At t0 we can define a state vector U0 representing the world at that time. At some time particular time in the future, tfinal, we have U(tfinal) which represents the state vector of the universe at the end of our experiment.

    Now assume a partial vector, the ‘dream’, created at time t=0, and label it D(0)

    Strategy one is to watch U0 evolve to U1.
    Strategy two is to assign D0 as desired value of endstate U(tf) and continuously attempt to modify U(t) to make it evolve towards D(0), where D(0) is a constant.
    Strategy three is to assume there is a simple linear functional relationship U(tf) = f(U(t0)).

    The combined strategy is to assume D(0) also evolves towards D(tf), and at each instant D(t) = f(U(t)).

    The variables can represent absolutely any human endeavour or desire, from whether you get laid tonight to whether Islam will rule the world. Makes no difference to the variables.

  • Dale Amon

    Please excuse the several labeling errors. The exercise is meant to be qualitative in any case, so it should be good enough. And now I really, really must get back to making business calls.

  • Andrew Robb

    Toolkin writes –
    “Anyone want to make a bet whether mankind will be traipsing around the universe in 500 years?”

    Sure I’ll take that bet, now prove to me we won’t be.

  • limberwulf

    your “practicality” is irrelevant to me, as historicly other “practical” people have been proven wrong. I firmly beleive that market forces would have taken man to the moon if the government had not disappeared. I also think that there are people who value certain commodities that are not physical, i.e. knowledge, art, etc. This is not a bad thing. If, for instance, pursuit of knowledge or philosophy for its own sake was impractical, and not worth anyone’s time, then why would this site even exist?

    I dont think Dale was trying to box people up, nor was he driving for any sort of collectivist concept. He was just trying to convey how people think in reference to the future (Dale correct me if I am wrong). As you said, those who try to force their beliefs on others are out of line, which is what Dale was refering to with aome type2 thinkers. Dream world idealists that try to make everyone fit their plan for the future. The same mistake applies with some type1 thinkers. People who want things to always be the same and they will fight to make sure that happens. Type three thinkers jsut sort of sit back and watch, but they never do anything. They are prepared for change, but they do not contribute to it. Also, there was no concreeting of people into one of the three buckets, only a warning to not put all of your thoughts into one bucket. Balance your thinking. If you become to enamoured with any one of the “buckets” you will find yourself in one of the categories he mentioned.

    Keep in mind that much of this discussion is in reference to technology. People may or may not change in attitude, etc. That is debatable, if it were not there would be no philosophers, only sociologists. Technology, however, is not cyclical. To think such a thing is to blind oneself to all history. It would also be an insult to history to think that all of historical progression (again speaking specifically of technology) has been accomplished by individuals in the strict sense. Everything is accomplished by individuals, but some choose to work together, some choose to work with the knowledge another has gained, etc. I am tinkering with an idea for an automobile engine, but I would not be doing so had I not learned the existing mechanics and theories from past inventors. The creator of Linux did not make his intellectual property restricted. He has been satisfied with the compensation he has gotten as a result of his success. A new competitor has now entered the market, even tho it was not done in the normal manner. Others use his knowlegde and do well, but they do so with his help, even tho it is indirect. You make posts on a computer, but you as an individual did not invent or make that computer, nor did it come about through predictable historical cyclical process. It will not likely go away in 2 or three generations.

    As for your bet on space travel, it is nonsensical, because you will not be around to collect on it or pay it. I may be, however, as technology could always change to permit it.

    Great post Dale.

  • Dale Amon

    Yes, pretty much on the money. There is of course no inherent assumption of improvement. For example, Unibomber had a Dream. He attempted to bring it into reality by killing a few people. His dream was to save humanity by killing billions and getting us back to being a hunter gatherers I believe. You can model him just as well as anyone else. His desire for U(0) => U(tf)=D(0) was for de-progress from the 20th Century to the Stone Age. Thankfully he was one of those caught in the second world and incapable of doing *real* damage.

  • limberwulf

    I must have been tired yesterday. The line reading: ” I firmly beleive that market forces would have taken man to the moon if the government had not disappeared.” Should of course have read: ” I firmly beleive that market forces would have taken man to the moon if the government had not interfered.” I apologize, typos are one thing, typing the wrong word is just silly.