The function of this website is to provide a platform for open and thoughtful discourse on various concepts and practices related to problem-solving and living less wrong. We aim to challenge preconceptions, encourage curiosity, and promote the honest pursuit of knowledge. This site serves as a dynamic space where ideas can evolve, and understanding can grow through respectful and insightful interactions. Our goal is to foster a community that values continuous learning and mutual growth, moving beyond self-perceptions and engaging in meaningful conversations that can lead to individual and social development.
We are committed to co-creating an this medium of knowledge exchange and deliberative problem-solving for the sake of harm reduction. We seek to do this by identifying biopsychosociotechnical systems that–perhaps counterintuitively–perpetuate the problems that they purport to treat. We aim to uncover this iatrogenic character, so that we can think about the principles, constructs, and relational characteristics that we might be able to change. We suspect that a practice of exploring what we think & what we do, and how we think & how we do things, could mediate collaborations that produce knowledge, tools, and relationships that lessen unnecessary human suffering.
- This site is grouped by concepts and practices that may relate to solving problems and living less wrong.
- This categorical framework will change over time as the content itself changes and gives rise to different emergent topics.
A Comment on How We Strive to Think and Communicate in Order to Enable Function
We like to remind ourselves that the concept of uncertainty or fallibility is inherent to any information framework, epistemic claim, or evaluative judgment. From the heart of the scientific method (which allows for the rejection of the null, but not for an assertion of ‘truth’), to our idea of “self”, uncertainty (or free energy) makes what we think we know “open”. It makes it a probability. As we communicate, we at But What Do We Know? strive to become curious and aware of our hasty preconceptions about “ourselves”, “others”, and “world”, lest we run the risk of a) letting our beliefs close us off to potentially generative interactions with people and ideas and/or b) letting the reflexivity of such strongly held priors about “things”, make them to be so (see cognitive bias or “Rhetological Fallacies” @ Information Is Beautiful). In Desmond Tutu’s words:
Language is very powerful. Language does not just describe reality. Language creates the reality it describes.
About Processes Driven By the Desire to Feel Good About Oneself Versus the Motivation to Do Good Work with and for All
Note: An analysis of the concept of “self” is found in the “Social Identity, “The Self”, and Ego” topic area.
When we define ourselves and others within role-based hierarchies that implicitly value some roles over others (for example, individuals who write policy for a living are assumed to possess more ‘knowledge value’ than those who sell cars for a living), do we pigeon hole each other? Existing socioeconomic power hierarchies could be functioning to mediate net harm because they can incentivize individuals believe in and engage with a zero sum game. They incentivize behaviors that are unconditionally self-serving, and that are therefore socially and intellectually dishonest in at least some instances.
This behavior is powered by desire. Desire that only emerges in relation to the perceived variations in value across people.
Individuals tend to want to ascend the ranks’ in order to be seen as influential. They want to be seen as influential in order to enact power over others; for the sake of power in itself.
It seems ironic that these hierarchical social structures may have initially come about in order to orient society towards problem solving and progress. Maybe it was initially the case that ‘good work’ was rewarded appropriately. Moreover, those agents who were the means of production of the good work probably never cared about receiving credit for it in the first place– the social reward—the gaze of others— was merely a byproduct of an initial goal to do good work for the sake of good work itself and for the sake of solving human problems.
Over time, though, systems change. When the utility of work is no longer coupled to carefully crafted measures that can mostly qualify as proxies for “impact”, how do we measure what “good work” even is and who contributes to it?
Is it possible that social signals trick us into thinking we are measuring this, when in reality all we’re really looking at is pre-existing socioeconomic “credits”, inherited value, personal branding.
Is the state of the system such that we can no longer distinguish between pre-existing ‘socioeconomic credits’ and novel value production (a.k.a. good work)?
For a moment let’s take that this were the case: would we not see a lack of novel value generation? Would we not see individual agents avoiding the production of ‘good work’ entirely because their behavior is heavily reinforced from jump?
More specifically, is it not possible that certain individuals could achieve this by signaling and amplifying their inherited social and economic credit which would create the illusion that they do ‘good work’ even in the absence of anything substantive?
And remember, in a system can no longer distinguish between what is good work and what is being made to look like it is good work, this type of agent accrues more socioeconomic credits without a corresponding output of ‘good work’.
This mutually reinforcing dynamic—the runaway train in a positive feedback loop—undermines the honest pursuit & co-production of knowledge…maybe most strikingly in academic contexts. This is not conducive to our individual and collective progress. Under circumstances where engaging with powerful others, status, money, security, etc. become the primary drivers and primary outcomes of participation, rather than honest work and the reduction of unnecessary pain and suffering respectively, how do we course correct?
How do we decouple our work from attention-seeking behavior and power? And should we?
To visualize the uncoupling of “novel value” and “reward”, start by playing the animation above with the “^” in the “Seek Attention” node. Observe for ~ 30 seconds. What do you notice?
If we take the claim that many contemporary incentive structures are artefacts of self-absorption: you want to ‘feel good about yourself’, you want more money than other people (so that you can feel good about yourself), you want to feel like ‘you help people’ (so that you can feel good about yourself), you want others to approve of you based on their perception that ‘you help people’ (so that you can feel good about yourself), you want a job title that society deems ‘more valuable’ than other job titles(so that you can feel good about yourself), etc) it follows then, that organizations that refrain from reifying individual reward could make space for the individual-individual attraction toward enacting power with one another in equal partnership in the name of harm reduction.
If that logic stands up, maybe this would lead to the honest co-production of progress, inclusion, and a reduction of net suffering?
(See for a biophysical analogue–termed an autopoietic system–that can be applied at the social level outlined here).
Post (after) Meta (about) – Identity
(Moving past thinking about everything in terms of the story we tell ourselves about ourselves)
Here at But What Do We Know?, we don’t care about “who you are” in the sense that we are not interested in the sorts of reductionist attributes that you may be in the habit of using while conceptualizing & representing yourself. We are uninterested in identarian optics, ad hominem arguments, or any other ego-driven behavior.
Perhaps our individual differences appear to distinguish us on the surface, but the pattern that we are all differentiated and continually changing, is, in and of itself, a ‘same-ness’ that unifies us in and across the diversity of our embedded human experiences. It is likely that we will always have our differences in opinions and values at any given time in space, and relatedly, we may always differ in the ethical and epistemological assumptions upon which our reasoning logics operate. Those divergences are good when debated and discussed with mutual acceptance, respect, and the implicit understanding that we all have equal potential to bring something constructive and essential to the table…wherever (or whenever) that table may be.
What we are interested in, is how you think, and how you interact with us in the space of respectful, honest, and thoughtful discourse. We hope to iteratively [re]model the “kind of person that we are” vis-a-vis the ways in which we continually interact–in process–with one another and ourselves..
Let’s start talking.
Karl J. Friston, Marco Lin, Christopher D. Frith, Giovanni Pezzulo, J. Allan Hobson, Sasha Ondobaka; Active Inference, Curiosity and Insight. Neural Comput 2017; 29 (10): 2633–2683. doi: https://doi.org/10.1162/neco_a_00999
Marc A. Edwards and Siddhartha Roy.Environmental Engineering Science.Jan 2017.51-61.http://doi.org/10.1089/ees.2016.0223