Tuesday, July 01, 2008

The Fundamental Problem of Everything

In my last posting we explored the nature of self-replicating information and saw how the future of the Earth, and perhaps our entire galaxy, might be determined by the interactions between the three forms of self-replicating information currently present on this planet - genes, memes, and software. In this posting we will expand upon these ideas and extend them to the “real world” of human affairs. In today’s world, many people seem to question the value of science in the “real world”. Yes, science is good for making all the gadgets and gizmos of the modern world, but what is the value of understanding the nature of a galactic cluster 5 billion light years away or the characteristics of a hypothetical particle that might require 100 trillion electron-volts of energy to probe? But remember, all of today’s gadgets and gizmos are based upon the physics of the 19th and 20th centuries which had little economic value at the time. Personally, I use physics and the other sciences every day in my interactions with the “real world” of human affairs in order to try to make sense of it all. In case you have not noticed, the “real world” of human affairs can sometimes be a bit absurd, much like my first impressions of the behavior of software when I left the peaceful world of exploration geophysics to become a part of the turmoil of IT. With time, I learned that much of the apparent turmoil of IT was not really as bewildering as I first thought. If I just applied some simple ideas from physics, biology, and chemistry, the mayhem of IT and software began to become understandable as an outcome of the struggle that all forms of self-replicating information have in dealing with the second law of thermodynamics and nonlinearity. The end result of this effort was softwarephysics.

Over the years, it occurred to me that since softwarephysics is a rather unique combination of IT, physics, biology, and chemistry designed to make sense of the simulated world of software, perhaps it could do the same for the simulated “real world” of human affairs. After all, the “real world” of human affairs is not real at all. The “real world” only exists in our minds. So for the remainder of this posting, I would like to apply softwarephysics to the “real world” by examining the two great questions that have been plaguing philosophers, theologians, and scientists for thousands of years:

1. What’s it all about?
2. What the heck is wrong with us?

Again, applying softwarephysics to the “real world” of human affairs will only provide an effective theory of the “real world” that is only an approximation offering a limited depth of understanding. It is definitely “wrong”, but for me, it is a good working hypothesis that is still in the works. Since I believe the answer to the first question also answers the second, let us start there. If you scan backwards over all the earlier postings on softwarephysics, I think you will find that in addition to providing an effective theory for software behavior, they also provide a good overview of what science currently has to say about “What’s it all about?”. From a “real world” perspective, it is mainly about self-replicating information and all the supporting science that makes self-replicating information possible. Now as for the second question, I think we can all agree that there is something dreadfully wrong with us. If you just look at the carnage in the modern world, or worse yet, the carnage of the 20th century, you have to admit that there is something fundamentally wrong with us. And I do mean that there is something fundamentally wrong with “us” and not fundamentally wrong with “them”. This posting is directed to all of us as a species and not to any particular group or subgroup. As always in science, the first step is to stop and ask “Why?” Why are we like this? Why do we do these horrible things to each other? To narrow it down, let us focus on war, since war is by far the most destructive and depraved of human activities. Why is there war?

The strange thing is that about 99% of the people that you run across seem completely “normal” and would never engage in the mass slaughter of war on their own initiative. However, about 1% of the people that you do meet are true sociopaths. This is most evident on expressways with moderate levels of traffic – 99% of the motorists are traveling along, following the rules for the most part to the mutual advantage of all, trying not to endanger others. Then there are the 1% of sociopaths, who are zipping in an out of traffic, with absolutely no regard for the safety of others, including themselves. Now you cannot fight a war with only 1% of the population supporting the effort. So how do the vast majority of people in a society find themselves in a war with others? Since I am addressing this posting to all of us for all times, many of you might find yourselves currently involved in a war. I am 56 years old and my country has been at war for a little over 1/3 of my lifetime, and you might find yourself in a similar situation. But when analyzing the roots of war, it is best not to focus on the wars currently being waged because emotions run too high on all sides of the issue, so I will focus on World War I, which resulted in 40 million casualties and the deaths of 20 million people for apparently no particular reason at all. Since most of the emotions surrounding World War I have dissipated, and all the descendants of the participants are now on good terms with each other, World War I presents a very safe case study.

Moral Relativism
Any effective theory for the “real world” of human events will necessarily have to touch on the concepts of “good” and “evil”, especially in regards to the subject of war. I personally have my own absolute personal moral code of conduct that I try to adhere to at all times, so I do not believe in moral relativism when it comes to my own personal behavior. Unfortunately, I have not been able to convince the rest of humanity to share my particular moral code. In fact, many people seem to have adopted moral codes that differ from mine by 1800 or some smaller angle. For many years, I have vainly sought some universal concepts that all people would agree to as being “good” or “evil”, but I have never found any. In Cyberspacetime we saw how the special theory of relativity dealt with a similar situation regarding the concepts of absolute space and time. When observers are in relative motion to each other, we saw that the space of observer A was a mixture of the space and time of observer B and vice versa. In special relativity, there is no such thing as absolute space or time, but there is an absolute spacetime, and fortunately all observers agree on the same interval between events in spacetime:

I2  =  ∆t2  -  ∆x2

We also saw that using the Lorenz transformations, it was possible to convert my space and time into your space and time. I think the same goes for morals and ethics. We all seem to have our own definitions of absolute “good” and “evil”, but when viewed from the perspective of others the absolute “good” and “evil” blend into a combination of “good” and “evil”. I think that the closest thing to the concept of an invariant interval, common to all observers, is that, in general, all things seem to be a mixture of both “good” and “evil” to some extent. For any given observer, certain things can appear to be purely “good” or purely “evil”, just as events in spacetime can appear to occur purely in “space” or purely in “time” in some reference frames, but for others these same things appear as a mixture of “good” and “evil”. For me, war is an example of something that is purely “evil”, but for others war is a mixture of “good” and “evil”. For them, the death and destruction of war is “evil”, but the self-sacrifice and heroism of the combatants on both sides of the conflict represents the best in human nature and is an example of “good” at its best. I have a hard time disagreeing with them on that point. Similarly, in Self-Replicating Information we saw that until nature invented the concept of death, Darwin’s concepts of innovation and natural selection could not come into play to allow life to come into existence and evolve on this planet. Death made life possible. Likewise, the second law of thermodynamics causes a great deal of anguish and suffering for us all, but without the second law of thermodynamics we would not even exist. The second law causes mutations in DNA and limits the amount of resources available to living things, and thus, is responsible for the evolutionary forces of genetic variation and natural selection. If there were no second law of thermodynamics, self-replicating information would not come to dominate non-replicating information in the Universe. So for the remainder of this posting, please keep in mind that there is some “good” and “evil” in all things. We need to go beyond our normal judgmental thought patterns if we are to make sense of the “real world”. We have to become moral relativists not by choice, but by necessity, because we cannot convince the rest of humanity to adopt our particular moral code.

Dominance Hierarchies
In order to understand the “real world”, there is one more thing we need to understand about self-replicating information. Self-replicating information naturally forms dominance hierarchies. This is most clearly seen when members of a species live together in herds or tribes. Each individual member of the group is a DNA survival machine with a set of genes bent on self-replicating at all costs. Naturally, there is a tension between the individual members of the group because there are conflicting benefits and costs in being an individual DNA survival machine within a group of similar DNA survival machines. Some of the immediate benefits are the availability of other individuals to mate with and the protection from predators afforded by living in a group of similar prey candidates. But this comes with the disadvantages of living with other individuals that are competing for the same resources in the form of food, shelter, and mates. There is a definite selective advantage to avoiding unnecessary conflict within the close quarters of a group of similar DNA survival machines. Individuals in constant battle with others consume too many resources from sustained fighting and are subject to injury and subsequent predation; they soon vanish from the scene, while cowardly individuals, who never partake in aggressive activities at all, also disappear. The genes in both tend to be eliminated from the gene pool of the species. So what naturally evolves in species that live together in groups is a dominance hierarchy similar to the “pecking order” found in chickens.

In baboon societies this amounts to an alpha male at the top of a dominance hierarchy, with all the other males of the troop ranked in a hierarchical sequence below. Baboons generally live in groups of about 50 individuals but troops can be as large as 250. The females of the troop are most available to the alpha male and those males near the top of the hierarchy. As in corporate America, males from other troops frequently arrive on the scene and battle it out for rank within the male dominance hierarchy of the troop. The females, on the other hand, form dominance hierarchies based upon heredity, like the monarchies of old. The female dominance hierarchies revolve around mother-daughter lines of descent or matrilines. Each troop might contain eight or nine matrilines, each with a rank order within the troop, and the members within each matriline are also ranked, forming dominance hierarchies within dominance hierarchies. And these matrilinial hierarchies can remain stable for many generations within a troop. One of the unpleasant aspects of baboon society is that alpha males only stay on top for about seven to eight months, and a successor can force females to become fertile again by killing their offspring. In defense, the females seek protection from within their matrilineal families from former alpha males, but unfortunately, about 50% of baboon infant mortality is the result of this genetic power play. Remember, these selfish genes spend about half their time in male bodies and half their time in female bodies, as they skip down the generations largely unscathed by time, and they need survival strategies that work in both male and female bodies.

Of course, human beings do the same thing. Just assemble a small group of human beings together for a short period of time and a dominance hierarchy will form all of its own accord – three individuals will generally do. We see dominance hierarchies in nearly all human institutions including governments, universities, corporations, the military, clubs, sports teams, and religious organizations. Fortunately, in many cultures, females are now also entering the male dominance hierarchies, which helps to provide a touch of sanity to it all.

Now there is nothing wrong with this. What we find is that most human institutions have a group at the top comprising the Powers That Be who control the institutions of society. This is really a good thing, in that it reduces conflict and anarchy, and provides for the division of labor required by civilization. Unfortunately, it is also a bad thing, in that the Powers That Be always have a tendency to abuse the privilege. Left unchecked, the Powers That Be will naturally try to grab everything in sight, including all the power that can be mustered. After all, the Powers That Be are DNA survival machines run by selfish genes and memes, so this tendency will occur under all forms of governance – democracy, socialism, communism, or fascism. The best that can be done is to check the supremacy of the Powers That Be with the 18th century liberal ideas of a government subject to checks and balances. These ideas were based upon the 17th century ideas of Baruch Spinoza and John Locke to create democracies with a division of power amongst several branches of government. Unfortunately, as a 20th century conservative, I think that many 21st century conservatives have forgotten the 18th century liberal ideas upon which the United States of America was founded. In 1651, Thomas Hobbes published The Leviathan, in which he argued against the divine right of kings, but maintained the absolute supremacy of the monarchy. In The Leviathan, Hobbes argued that in “a state of nature" without government, life would be totally insecure. Under such conditions, people should willingly surrender their civil liberties to an absolute sovereign, who would protect them from all dangers. Hobbes argued that the sovereign's power was absolute - he made the law, he was the decider, and no other institution could limit the sovereign’s power. This was the position of the Loyalists or Tories during the American Revolutionary War, who comprised about 25% of the population. The Tories were 18th century conservatives who wished to remain loyal to King George during the Revolution and fought on the side of King George to preserve his sovereignty over the colonies. On the other hand, about 25% of the population were 18th century liberals like George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and John Adams who were followers of the 18th century Enlightenment that rejected the ideas of Hobbes and believed that people could live in a state of liberty and self-governance tempered by individual responsibility. Many of the Founding Fathers had a great distrust of the Powers That Be. These anti-Federalist Democratic-Republicans, led by Thomas Jefferson and James Madison, had a great fear that Alexander Hamilton’s Federalist theories would result in the presidency becoming a new sovereignty in a Hobbesian sense, like the King George they had just freed themselves from. In response, they were instrumental in amending the newly minted Constitution of the United States (1787) with the Bill of Rights (1791) to limit the powers of the Powers That Be. Since political movements are meme-complexes and subject to change, it is interesting how the Jeffersonian18th century liberal concepts of a federal government, with very limited powers, evolved into 20th century conservativism, while Hamiltonian 18th century conservativism, which advocated a strong central government, evolved into 20th century liberalism. Now it seems that 21st century liberalism is returning to its 18th century roots and so is 21st century conservativism, in that 21st century liberals seem to be more wary of the federal government abusing civil liberties than do 21st century conservatives, who seek added security at the expense of civil liberties.

Being a member of the Powers That Be is not easy. There is always the possibility of a revolt from below. A social or political dominance hierarchy is really a meme-complex, and if the majority of its subjects do not buy into the meme-complex of the Powers That Be, we can end up with things like the French Revolution (1789) or the Bolshevik Revolution (1917), which brought in even worse meme-complexes of truly dreadful Powers That Be. Now in order for the Powers That Be to maintain power, they generally use a mixture of techniques, including fear and intimidation, patronage, pandering, and the symbiotic use of other meme-complexes. Fear and intimidation might seem like the obvious choice, but fear and intimidation require the expenditure of a great deal of energy and scarce resources to subjugate an entire population, and there is always the possibility that overly harsh methods will result in backlash and revolt. Patronage is a much more effective technique for controlling others, especially those members near the top of a dominance hierarchy. After all, even Henry the VIII found that patronage was far superior to fear and intimidation in getting his way. Doling out the economic fruits of society to a select few will surely ensure their loyalty and allegiance. Pandering is also a very effective technique in getting the subjects of the Powers That Be to buy into the meme-complex of the status quo, and it comes with much less cost than either patronage or fear and intimidation. Simply telling subjects what they want to hear is a sure way to gain their loyalty and allegiance, at least for the short term. Amazingly, even when the Powers That Be consistently fail to deliver on their promises, many times their subjects will still be swayed by continued pandering. Pandering also works in both directions up and down a dominance hierarchy. After all, everybody likes to hear what they like to hear. The last technique the Powers That Be use to keep their subjects in line is to form symbiotic relationships between the power structure meme-complex of the Powers That Be and other meme-complexes. Frequently, the Powers That Be use religious or patriotic meme-complexes to achieve their goals. I don’t think they do so in a Machiavellian sense, they just sense that framing their intentions in religious or patriotic terms resonates with their subjects. Again, I am not trying to be critical of dominance hierarchies. They seem to be a necessary element of all societies, required to establish internal peace, and probably go back millions of years to our early primate ancestors. We just need to be aware of their existence and the roles they play in the “real world” of human affairs.

Meme-Complexes And Software Also Form Dominance Hierarchies
Just as the genes in DNA survival machines that find themselves living together in groups have been selected for building DNA survival machines that can benefit from dominance hierarchies, the same goes for meme-complexes. Meme-complexes exist in the minds of human beings and also have a tendency to come into conflict with each other. For example, your mind might have to deal with a religious meme-complex that forbids the killing of human beings, but also contains a patriotic meme-complex that requires the killing of human beings in a time of war. This presents a definite conflict. The mind cannot exist in a state of constant conflict, just as a group of individuals in a tribe cannot exist in a constant state of conflict and survive for long, so it is to the advantage of all meme-complexes to form a dominance hierarchy within the minds of their hosts.

Software also forms dominance hierarchies, not to resolve internal conscious conflicts between software components, since software is currently far too primitive for that, but to provide for the division of labor. Since software is still in a very dependent symbiotic relationship with programmers and cannot, as of yet, write itself, programmers have naturally tended to adopt software architectures that mimic the dominance hierarchies found in the “real world”. Thus applications are found to be the highest form of organized software and reside on top of lower levels of software organization, like system software (Apache webservers, J2EE Appservers, DB2, Oracle, Mainframe Gateways, etc.), Unix shells, Unix kernels, machine instructions, and finally microcode.

The Three Laws of Mayhem
In The Fundamental Problem of Software, I introduced the three laws of software mayhem, which I proposed were the root cause of the fundamental problem of software. What I would like to do now is to simply generalize these laws, by extending them to all forms of self-replicating information – genes, memes, and software:

1. The second law of thermodynamics tends to introduce small bugs into self-replicating information that are never detected through testing.

2. Because self-replicating information is inherently nonlinear these small bugs cause general havoc when they reach production.

3. But even self-replicating information that is absolutely bug-free can reach a critical tipping point and cross over from linear to nonlinear behavior, with disastrous and unpredictable results, as the stress on self-replicating information is increased.

Living things are always trying to achieve a level of homeostasis, or stability, in the challenging environments within which they exist. For genes, these laws mean that although there are many enzymes constantly testing DNA for parity errors between their data and parity tracks, permitting error rates as low as one in 10 billion base pairs, some errors always do get past the testing. For the “junk” DNA between genes that is just along for the ride, this is not such a grave problem, but these errors usually cause devastating effects when they do occur in the 1% of DNA actually used to encode for genes. But even a DNA survival machine with no apparent major mutations can reach a critical tipping point, when placed under increasing levels of stress, such as too much heat, cold, or too little food or water.

Similarly, meme-complexes also seek a level of homeostasis, by constantly testing the existing memes within the meme-complex and newly introduced memes, for fidelity to the core values of the meme-complex. After all, a meme-complex cannot survive for long if mutant memes are allowed to run free, since they are likely to put the whole meme-complex in jeopardy. Again, there is nothing wrong with this. In order for a meme-complex to survive through time, it needs some degree of fidelity, otherwise it will quickly mutate into an unrecognizable meme-complex. This is why meme-complexes are generally very conservative and do not readily adopt new memes, unless the new memes obviously enhance the survivability of the meme-complex. But no matter how much testing of memes is performed by a meme-complex, mutant memes do sometimes make it to production and cause havoc within the meme-complex. In some cases, the meme-complex will reluctantly adapt to the new meme, in other situations the meme-complex will splinter into two or more meme-complexes. But even for meme-complexes with no apparent internal mutations to cause instability, a tipping point can be reached forcing the meme-complex to cross over to dramatic nonlinear behavior, when extreme levels of stress are placed upon the meme-complex. This is most evident in the break down of social order on the losing side of a war or revolution, as was seen with the collapse of National Socialism (1945), the collapse of the Soviet Union (1991), and the French Revolution (1787).

What’s It All About?
So here we are by a fluke of nature; DNA survival machines with minds infected by meme-complexes and dominated by the three forms of self-replicating information – genes, memes, and software, with all three forming dominance hierarchies. Traditionally, our job in the “real world” of human affairs has been to unquestioningly find our station in life in those dominance hierarchies. Again, memes, genes, and software are just mindless forms of self-replicating information bent on reproducing with little regard for us as individuals, and the same goes for the dominance hierarchies that they form. So the genes, memes, software and their associated dominance hierarchies are not necessarily acting in our best interests. Now there is both good and bad in all this. If any of these things were missing, we would probably not be here. Software is by far the newest and least mature of all these things, but I doubt that the modern world could support a population of 6.6 billion without it.

What The Heck Is Wrong With Us?
The bad part of all this is that the genes, memes, software, and their dominance hierarchies are all striving to maintain an equilibrium in the form of a homeostasis that ensures their survival. If they did not do so, they would be replaced by rivals that did. The problem is that mutant genes, memes, and software are constantly arising due to the second law of thermodynamics. The genes, memes, software, and dominance hierarchies try their best to eliminate these mutants, but are not always successful, especially during times of extreme stress, when they can go nonlinear and bizarre forms of behavior emerge. War and revolution are examples of such bizarre nonlinear behaviors arising from genes, memes, software, and dominance hierarchies going nonlinear under stress and allowing mutant elements to take over.

Since software is currently by far the simplest and least complicated form of self-replicating information, it provides a very good model of this effect for the other forms of self-replicating information that make up the “real world”. The periodic website outages that all major websites are prone to are a good example. A modern high volume corporate website is composed of hundreds or thousands of servers – load balancers, firewalls, proxy servers, webservers, J2EE Application Servers, CICS Gateway servers to mainframes, database servers, and emailservers, which normally are all working together in harmony to process thousands of transactions per second. For example, it is estimated that Google has 450,000 servers spread across 25 datacenters around the world. But every so often, these complex architectures of servers can go very nonlinear, and all sorts of bizarre behaviors emerge. This usually means that the website grinds to a halt. It is very scary to be in the Operations department of IT during one of these outages, when everything seems to begin behaving abnormally. We sit there in dread, looking at consoles of blinking red lights, indicating maxed out thread pools and stalled connection pools, wondering what the heck is going on and how it all began. It is very much like being a guard on the walls of the Bastille, looking down on an enraged mob of peasants, angrily brandishing scythes and pitchforks. Sometimes these outages can be attributed to some minor mutant software bug that was not detected during the very rigorous testing and change management procedures that all modern IT departments conduct, but at least 50% of the time no root cause is readily apparent. These very destructive nonlinear behaviors just seem to emerge out of the blue, due to the very complicated and highly interdependent nature of the underlying software components. Our first inclination, like all Powers That Be, is to round up the usual suspects, like WebSphere and Oracle, and start killing their processes to quell the uprising, and frequently this does work.

The same thing happens in the “real world” of human affairs, when genes, memes, and dominance hierarchies are placed under stress and go extremely nonlinear. Sometimes this is aided by mutant aberrations such as a Robespierre, Stalin, Hitler, or Mao, but many times things like the mass panic of a stock market collapse, a witch hunt, or a war hysteria can emerge all of its own accord, with no identifiable root cause. But unlike the software in a website, we need one more element to fully understand these strange human behaviors. We need the element of ignorance. For most of human history, mankind has been in a state of total ignorance regarding its place in the Universe. It has only been since the start of the Scientific Revolution, which began around 1543 with the publication of On the Revolutions of the Heavenly Spheres by Copernicus, that mankind has finally begun to gain some insight into what is really going on, and most of this progress has really only occurred during the past 100 years. Unfortunately, not much of this recently gained knowledge has penetrated the Zeitgeist of our times, so that much of humanity is still trying to get by with worldviews, or effective theories, that are hundreds or thousands of years old.

Orphans of the Sky
Before proceeding, we need to make another stop in 1941. In the same month that Konrad Zuse unveiled his Z3 computer in May of 1941, Robert Heinlein published the short story Universe in the May 1941 edition of Astounding Science Fiction. Later in October 1941, he published a sequel short story Common Sense also in Astounding Science Fiction. In 1963, Heinlein published both of these short stories together, one following the other, as the science fiction novel Orphans of the Sky. I was 12 years old at the time and frequently picked up the new arrivals at my local library. Orphans of the Sky looked interesting, so I brought it home to read. The plot goes like this. In 2119 the Jordan Foundation launched a huge cylindrical starship, the Vanguard, originally destined for Proxima Centauri and the other nearby star systems. The exact dimensions of the Vanguard are not provided, but it seems to be a cylinder about 10 – 100 miles in length, with several hundred concentric cylindrical decks. The Vanguard was assembled in Earth orbit, one section at a time, like the International Space Station, and was launched after 15 years of trial cruising in orbit. The Vanguard slowly spins, providing an artificial gravity that is felt as “high-weight” in the “lower” decks, far from the central axis of rotation, and “low-weight” in the upper decks, closer to the central axis of rotation. At the very center of the Vanguard, there are several decks of “no-weight”. The Vanguard runs on a large main converter that converts mass into energy and a secondary backup mass converter. The Vanguard has an “electronic brain” that uses solid-state electronics with a GUI interface that is manipulated by breaking laser beams with your hand, rather than using mechanical switches that could wear out. In fact, because of the long journey times between stars, the Vanguard was designed not to use any mechanical devices at all for its most critical systems. Because these systems have no moving parts and only rely on solid-state optical devices and nanotechnology that operates “below the molar level” without friction, they can operate nearly indefinitely. The Vanguard is also protected from cosmic rays for the long journey by a very strong magnetic field, which is generated by the main converter. The strong magnetic field deflects many of the high energy particles of cosmic rays away from the Vanguard, which also has no windows as an added measure of shielding. The Vanguard is a totally self-contained world, using hydroponics to grow food, provide oxygen, and scrub carbon dioxide out of the air. The Vanguard is also equipped with a number of landing spacecraft called “boats”, like the Apollo Lunar Module, to allow the crewmembers to visit any planets found in the nearby star systems. When you read Orphans of the Sky, it is hard to realize that it was written in 1941, before anybody knew of Konrad Zuse’s Z3 “electronic brain”, before Enrico Fermi turned matter into energy at the University of Chicago in 1942, before the V2s rained down on London in 1944, before the transistor was invented at Bell Labs in 1947, before the laser was invented at the same institution in 1958, and we are still trying to get the hydroponics at Biosphere 2 to work sufficiently well to be self-sustaining. The real Vanguard 1, the oldest artificial satellite still orbiting the Earth, just recently celebrated its 50th year in orbit since its launch on March 17, 1958 from Cape Canaveral, Florida. And the surprise ending of Orphans of the Sky is right out of a recent NASA flight plan for Saturn.

All goes well for the crew of the Vanguard until 2172, when they are 53 years out. A mutiny occurs, led by a crewmember named Huff. As a result of the mutiny, all of the Vanguard’s officers, engineers, and scientists perish along with about 90% of the other crewmembers, most succumbing to disease and starvation because the ongoing battles close down the main converter, as well as the main propulsion system, which had been gently accelerating the Vanguard for the past 53 years. The Vanguard is now slowly gliding towards Proxima Centauri in free flight. Orphans of the Sky picks up several thousand years later. By now, the entire Crew has no idea of where they are because the Vanguard has no windows. For the Crew the Ship is the Universe and is making the Trip to Centauri, a mythical heavenly place, in a symbolic sense, since the Ship itself cannot move because the Ship is the Universe. For the Crew, there simply is nothing beyond the lowermost deck of the Ship because it is the lowermost deck of the Ship. When members of the Crew die, they make the Trip in advance of the others, by being fed to the auxiliary Converter, leaving a grieving Crew behind. Most of the Crew are illiterate farmers, but there is a priesthood of Scientists who can still read the Sacred Books, the manuals for the Converter and the other crucial systems of the Ship, that have been carefully passed down through the ages and diligently copied by hand many times over. Naturally, a new dominance hierarchy formed shortly after the Mutiny subsided, so that several thousand years later, we find a Captain at the top, chosen by the god-like Jordan, to rule the Crew of the Ship and protect them from the Muties and the evil spirit Huff. The Muties withdrew to the “upper decks” of the Ship with “low weight” following the mutiny and are fast on their way to becoming a new species. Because the main Converter was shutdown, there no longer is a protective magnetic field to deflect the high energy particles of cosmic rays, so about 5% of births result in deformities. The Crew practices infanticide and eugenics to keep the gene pool intact, while the Muties do not, so the amount of genetic variation amongst the Muties increases dramatically. The Muties make a living by raiding the hydroponic farms of the Crew on the “lower decks” and carrying off grain, hogs, and members of the Crew - the Muties do not have much of a discriminating palate. The remainder of the story I will leave for those interested in reading Orphans of the Sky and is about how Hugh Hoyland discovers the true nature of the Ship and its journey to Proxima Centauri.

For a twelve-year-old boy,Orphans of the Sky was a pretty entertaining yarn. Only many years later, as an adult, did I finally realize that the story was really an allegory. The Ship was the Earth, the Crew were my fellow human beings, the Muties were whatever enemy we currently had, and the huge cosmic misunderstanding that the Crew had about the Ship was the huge cosmic misunderstanding that most of mankind has always had of the Universe. So I find Orphans of the Sky to be the perfect model of the “real world” of human affairs because it contains all the necessary elements - genes, memes, software, and dominance hierarchies. Yes, the software running on the ”electronic brain” of the Ship was a vital component, helping to keep the Crew alive for thousands of years, just as it does here on Earth today. Just like Spaceship Earth, the Vanguard was a huge tin can stuffed with self-replicating information, slowly rotating on its axis as it traveled through interstellar space, powered by an internal sun, in the form of a mass converter transforming matter into the energy required to overcome the second law of thermodynamics that allowed the self-replicating information to flow within.

A fundamental misconception of the nature of the Universe was understandable for both the crew of the Vanguard and the people of Earth throughout most of human history because nobody really had a clue as to where we were in space and time or how we got there, but even today, much of humanity still seems to have a very poor understanding of these matters. Like the crew of the Vanguard, we tend to get so involved with the “real world” of human affairs, which really only exists in our minds, that we end up paying little attention to the actual real world of the physical Universe. I think this is why so many people seem to have a hard time of it because they just don’t understand how it all works. Scientific illiteracy is a dangerous thing in a world faced with global warming, depletion of fossil fuels, and the mass extinction of much of the Earth’s genetic diversity. Sadly, Spaceship Earth seems to be coming in for a crash landing, so it is important for all 6.6 billion crewmembers to gain as much scientific knowledge as possible to become a scientifically literate voting public. A few minutes each day with the Wikipedia does wonders. Just start with the “Big Bang” and follow the links. A little astronomy and geology are most important now, so that it is understood that Spaceship Earth is a pretty rare model and has not always been in this good of condition, especially when it was first assembled. We have it in our power to turn Spaceship Earth into a Venus that melts lead or a radioactive Mars that freezes completely over. Just as you would not try to save money by driving your car 100,000 miles without an oil change, a little thoughtful maintenance now will save us a great deal of money later. Plus, there is no place to tow Spaceship Earth if it breaks down. Spaceship Earth is in real trouble, and we can no longer afford to waste huge amounts of money on war. We need to plow those resources into things like a sustainable source of energy. Scientific illiteracy can also lead to disillusionment and a jaded, cynical, worldview as one matures and begins to realize that much of the “real world” of human affairs is both superficial and meaningless. However, a little scientific knowledge can reveal the profound wonders of the real world of the physical Universe and go a long way in restoring the astounding marvel of it all. Gazing up into a dark sky at night, studded with stars and galaxies, and having an understanding of how it all works is an incredibly freeing experience. Unfortunately, because of the mounting levels of light pollution in the highly populated regions of the world, more and more human beings are ending up like the Crew of the Vanguard with no windows to the outside Universe – they can no longer see the stars. This does not bode well for science, since science has always arisen from astronomical observations, particularly the strange motions of the bright planets in the night sky. Perhaps the dramatic decline in scientific curiosity by the American people can be attributed in part to no longer being able to see the stars, and consequently, becoming disconnected from the physical Universe. For many Americans, the “real world” of human affairs has become the real world.

The War and Anti-war Meme-Complexes
So now we have all the elements to answer the question, “Why is there war?” People do not seem to even raise the question any longer, but we might have to try to explain this to an alien civilization some day, so it might be a good idea to prepare something in advance, and knowing how wars begin might help to prevent a few. So here is my effective theory of war. My premise is that wars and violent revolutions are emergent behaviors best described by complexity and chaos theory. They are the result of intrinsically nonlinear systems, which normally behave in a linear manner, suddenly displaying their true nonlinear nature. Normally, the “real world” of human affairs is in a state of equilibrium and homeostasis and behaves linearly like a well run website. Then suddenly, it seems like all hell breaks loose. With a small change to some initial conditions, hugely destructive wars and revolutions break out. Many times it seems that the Powers That Be of one state have an epiphany to initiate a war for whatever reason. These Powers That Be then use religious and patriotic meme-complexes to sell their subjects on going to war, sometimes intentionally, but most times not. The Powers That Be have subconsciously learned that their subjects usually do not question the very powerful religious and patriotic meme-complexes, so wrapping up a war with those meme-complexes is a very effective technique. While on trial for war crimes in Nuremberg, Reichsmarshall Hermann Goering explained it best:

"Why, of course, the people don't want war," Goering shrugged. "Why would some poor slob on a farm want to risk his life in a war when the best that he can get out of it is to come back to his farm in one piece. Naturally, the common people don't want war; neither in Russia nor in England nor in America, nor for that matter in Germany. That is understood. But, after all, it is the leaders of the country who determine the policy and it is always a simple matter to drag the people along, whether it is a democracy or a fascist dictatorship or a Parliament or a Communist dictatorship."

"There is one difference,"
I pointed out. "In a democracy the people have some say in the matter through their elected representatives, and in the United States only Congress can declare wars."

"Oh, that is all well and good, but, voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same way in any country."


Gilbert, G.M. Nuremberg Diary. New York: Farrar, Straus and Company, 1947 (pp. 278-279).

At other times, war hysteria seems to arise on its own accord out of nothing as it did in World War I. Surely, the deaths of 20 million people could not have resulted from the June 28, 1914 assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, just as a website outage cannot possibly arise from a single person clicking on a link, yet it does seem to happen that way.

Once a war meme-complex gets established, it is very hard to stop, and it can quickly escalate to horrendous proportions. Both sides will find themselves fighting a just war – it seems nobody ever died fighting an unjust war. Now I am not saying that both sides of a war are equally to blame. History has shown that would be absurd. But at the same time, keep in mind that nobody has ever fought an unjust war; the war meme-complexes could not exist with that burden, so through natural selection all war meme-complexes contain memes justifying all actions of war no matter how unjust they might appear to an outside observer. And as the war worsens, the enemy will begin to resort to war crimes out of desperation, while their opponents will reluctantly be forced to take harsh countermeasures. You will find these memes in the personal diaries of combatants from all sides of World War I and probably in the diaries of combatants from all wars in general.

At the same time that a war meme-complex comes into existence, a corresponding, but much weaker, anti-war meme-complex also comes into existence in reaction. The objective of war meme-complexes is to cripple the war meme-complex of the enemy, allowing the anti-war meme-complex of the enemy to prevail, forcing the enemy to surrender or at least to break off hostilities. And this objective must be achieved before its own anti-war meme-complex gains sufficient strength to do the same back home.

As a 20th century conservative, I am not advocating disarmament or a pacifistic isolationism. Unfortunately, with the current state of affairs, it is prudent to adopt a defense posture based upon my favorite zombie movie Night of the Living Dead (1968), in which we find ourselves surrounded by over 6 billion deranged DNA survival machines infected with dangerous meme-complexes bent on our destruction. But as history has shown, trying to rule the world through empire is futile. Beyond the ethical questions of forcefully subduing other nations, it takes too many resources to be sustainable and certainly makes no sense in an information based world economy. But providing for the common defense is a noble and necessary function of government. History has shown that frequently sociopaths do rise to become heads of state – essentially the alpha male of the Powers That Be, so it is always necessary to be prepared. In other words, the best offense is a good defense, meaning that we should strive for defending freedom while not offending freedom at the same time.

We are all in this together and equally to blame for the mess that we are in. Don’t just blame the genes, memes, software, and dominance hierarchies, without them we would not even be here in the first place. Hobbes was right in that without the Powers That Be, life would indeed be even more violent and depraved than it already is. In that regard, the Powers That Be provide the basis for civilization. But Hobbes was also wrong; it is not necessary to surrender all of our civil liberties for the sake of security. Somehow, we managed to defeat National Socialism, Imperial Japan, and the Soviet Union in the 20th century without throwing out the Constitution. It is possible to live in liberty under a government restrained by checks and balances on the Powers That Be. And it is also possible to live with a standard of living suitable to the dignity of mankind. We just have to be smart about it, by thinking in terms of renewable and sustainable technologies. We just need to take control from the self-replicating information that currently rules the “real world”.

Conclusion - Taking Control
Since the “real world” of human affairs only exists in our minds, we can change it by simply changing the way we think. We are sentient beings in a Universe that has become self-aware and perhaps the only form of intelligence in our galaxy. What a privilege! The good news is that conscious intelligence is something new. It is not a mindless form of self-replicating information, bent on replicating at all costs with all the associated downsides of a ruthless nature. Many religions and philosophies call this intelligent consciousness “spirit”, which is as good a term as any, since we still do not know where it comes from or how it works. If you examine the great moral and philosophical teachings of most religions and philosophies, you will see a plea for us all to rise above the selfish self-serving interests of our genes and memes to something more noble, so it is important not to discount the great moral teachings of many of the world’s religions and philosophies. Take the best that the world has to offer and run with it. And try to keep an open mind. If the cosmologists are right and the explanation for the weak Anthropic Principle is that we are a small nit in an infinite multiverse, then indeed we are all crewmembers aboard the Vanguard because we cannot see beyond our cosmological horizon of 14 billion light years. And if the explanation for the weak Anthropic Principle is even more profound, we may all be in for a surprise when we make the Trip.

We can do much better with this marvelous opportunity once we realize what is really going on. It is up to all of us to make something of this unique opportunity that we can all be proud of – that’s our responsibility as sentient beings, and I think that the best way to figure out what is really going on is to employ the scientific method and its practices of scrutiny and skepticism in our daily dealings with the “real world” of human affairs. In How To Think Like A Scientist, I covered the essence of the scientific method:

1. Formulate a set of hypotheses based upon inspiration/revelation with a little empirical inductive evidence mixed in.

2. Expand the hypotheses into a self-consistent model or theory by deducing the implications of the hypotheses.

3. Use more empirical induction to test the model or theory by analyzing many documented field observations or performing controlled experiments to see if the model or theory holds up. It helps to have a healthy level of skepticism at this point. As philosopher Karl Popper has pointed out, you cannot prove a theory to be true, you can only prove it to be false. Galileo pointed out that the truth is not afraid of scrutiny; the more you pound on the truth, the more you confirm its validity.

So the next time somebody invites you to start killing people you know nothing about or blowing things up, ask some questions and apply the scientific method. Don’t let the Powers That Be take you to war based upon a few dumbed-down sound bites relentlessly repeated over and over without challenge.

1. What is the hypothetical objective of this war? Were we attacked or are we initiating this war? Don’t forget, the Allies hung 10 war criminals at Nuremberg in 1946, in part, for launching an unprovoked war.

2. Deduce the implications of the proposed war. How will the war be conducted? What will it cost? How will we pay for it? How does the war come to an end? What is the exit strategy? What do we do if we win? What do we do if we lose?

3. As the war progresses, test the observed effects in the field against the plans deduced in step two. If the war is not progressing as planned, then the plans were wrong and need to be reformulated. FDR, Winston Churchill, and Abraham Lincoln all followed this course of action. Changing your mind in the face of new data is a rational thing to do. For some reason, the body politic is now convinced that changing your mind, or “flip-flopping”, is an egregious mistake. I think this is because people confuse pandering with making a rational change of position in the face of changing conditions on the ground. If the Powers That Be offer a rational explanation for a change in position, then voters should evaluate the change in light of the new conditions. If the change of position makes no sense, then the voting public should be suspicious of pandering. But stubbornly sticking to a failing policy is not a sign of strength; it is a sign of a weak mind.

Finally, be very suspicious of the Powers That Be hijacking your religious and patriotic meme-complexes. For example, we currently find the three major monotheistic religions, Christianity, Judaism, and Islam, all founded upon the laudable meme of “thou shalt not kill”, running around the Middle East shooting at each other with machine guns. How in the world did that happen? It is the result of the Powers That Be corrupting the very essence of their moral codes for political purposes. And it is also possible to be patriotic without killing people or blowing things up. Thomas Jefferson would say that defending the Constitution of the United States of America against the excesses of the Powers That Be is also an act of patriotism.

Next time we will return to the “real world” of IT with a real world application of softwarephysics from the 1980s - the Bionic Systems Development Environment (BSDE) that I developed at Amoco, and which put several million lines of code into production by growing applications from genes and embryos.

Comments are welcome at scj333@sbcglobal.net

To see all posts on softwarephysics in reverse order go to:
http://softwarephysics.blogspot.com/

Regards,
Steve Johnston