09 Oct Resolving a Paradox
In time and space some things are impossible, but the pen is more powerful than reality. I can draw a world in which stairs lead in crazy, mind-bending directions, and I could probably build a structure that implemented upside-down staircases to nowhere. But I could never build the cube shown here, because it violates some immutable laws of spatial physics. A paradox is usually understood to be a reality with real or apparent contradictions. Today I will discuss some things I view as paradoxes and describe models that may be implemented on computers to both resolve a paradox, and acquire the knowledge needed to resolve a paradox.
Can an automated system become smart enough, without human intervention, to resolve a paradox. I don’t know. I do know that I, in the course of my learning, have relied heavily on human intervention to overcome my errors and my garden-variety stupidity. Should we not expect a machine to operate under the same expectations?
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The other day I was speaking to my son-in-law about a new startup venture in which he is involved. Having been through a bunch myself, I have opinions based on experiences, and in the course of the discussion, we turned up a paradox. There are probably an infinite number of possible paradoxes, but there are definitely a bunch that inhabit our society. The context of interactions in society are, necessarily, a recurring theme in this blog. As an entrepreneur in a free-market society a couple important paradoxes rise to the top. First of all, I believe that a totally managed economy, such as a dictatorship or Soviet style Socialism, are extremely efficient forms of economical management that cannot work for long in human society. I believe the main reasons for this are that:
- a managed economy has too few people making decisions, therefore
- creating too narrow a perspective, therefore
- creating low ceilings on the amount of prosperity in the system as a whole, and
- disabling competitiveness with more liberal economies, and
- leaving its the majority of participants unsatisfied to the point of defection or outright rebellion
As you may guess, I’m in favor of free markets. Unfortunately free markets have a fatal flaw also: If not governed by moral constraints that put the needs of the many at least on par with the needs of the individual:
- a free market model will be driven by increasing levels of greed that,
- creates unsustainable disparity in prosperity between the have’s and the have not’s, and
- results in an increasing spiral of unethical behavior, and
- either requiring an increasing spiral of controls that lead to a managed economy, or
- leaving the majority of participants unsatisfied to the point of defection or outright rebellion
This is a difficult paradox, but there could be a satisfactory answer. In my mind, the solution for managed economies is incentives for innovation, and for free markets is “enlightened self-interest”. This is an attitude that has components of greed (self-interest) and ethical or moral constraints (Enlightenment). I’ve resolved this paradox in my mind, at least. Sadly, it introduces a new paradox: If you accept the “free” part of “free market”, you have little control over individual behaviors in the market, so the ones whose actions are enlightened and moral, may be stifled or overcome by those with dubious or insufficient moral values.
Here’s another paradox that has been on my mind: I’ve been involved with a number of startup ventures, and I have concluded that one necessary component for startup success in most, but not all cases, is that one or more of the key stakeholders need to be willing to lose everything. In The Fulfillment Manifesto, Natasha Hussein says that the willingness to fail is a component of achieving true genius. This is a “Type B” willingness that is not born of laziness or inaction, but of adventurousness and bold action. Vision, fortitude, self-sacrifice and risk-tolerance are all necessary components. But without an extreme desire to succeed paired with a solid gut-level acceptance that you might lose everything you invested, the probability of success, in my observation, is remote.
Adaptability through “weighted rules”
So how do we humans resolve such paradoxes and succeed in this world anyway? By not seeing everything as black or white. Our brains have an amazingly complex mass of neurons that have lots of connecting synapses that each transmit various levels of electrical impulses around. This extremely fuzzy cognitive processing system may be compared to a repository of weighted knowledge with weighted rules. I spoke of rules in my posts on “Backward Chaining Logic” and “Unruly Systems“. I have discussed the importance of weighted models in “Fuzzy Logic…“. Today, it’s time to combine the two to effectively create rules that may conflict with each other paradoxically, but lend themselves to reasoning processes that deliver a valid solution.
Most systems will not be able to properly process two (or more) rules that have conflicting conclusions for the same premises. The system that doesn’t break under the pressure of opposing rules needs a way to sort them out and prioritize them. I propose a solution in which the “sorting out” process can determine the context in which the rule occurs, and the prioritization process is based on weights that are applied to the key knowledge and rules in the identified context. Using this approach,
Will a software or hardware system ever get good at resolving a paradox? If such a system can exist, it will be based on weighted rules and fuzzy learning mechanisms that rely on mentors who have the wisdom to know the difference.
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