This article drove me into some philosophical considerations that I usually prefer to evade. As this piece is a good read I would like to augment it with my thoughts no matter how shallow they are.
Whenever I read about any absolute principal values I see this page 362 from Principia Mathematica followed by a sarcastic laughter of Tarski and far less audible one of Gödel (as dying of hunger is a resource consuming process). Then I hear Russel mumbling about how elegant it was supposed to be and how cruel the reality is. Finally Turing joins the argument speaking something of a monstrous halting issue to be better poisoned with gas (presumably hydrogen cyanide given his final predilection).
side note: actually trying to figure out Principia’s inference rules shaped my scant style of writing; I constantly try to keep my texts maximally consistent; with little effect, I know. No, never read this from cover to cover :)
We can safely exclude math and logic from a list of candidates for being absolute principal values, as while it seems to offer absolute certainty, exceptions are written in fine print as annotations. And sadly, there is no way to fix it.
Surely then at least our material world must offer stable foundations… I can picture only one — absolute boredom of being a photon. Nothing happens. No time passes. Nothing moves. Gosh.
Despite this special case nothing can be certain (actually even this special case), not to mention absolute. All would be fine if PETA existed early enough to keep this deviant Schrödinger away from felines. Tough luck, this poor cat will bounce between being dead and alive unless observed. As everything. Funny how acceptable it became to people. Probably because they think that this only happens somewhere down there, among particles. And levitating superconductors on science fairs are magic… right.
Let it all be stochastic, people say, but on macro scale we can at least measure everything and tackle all these strange quantum side effects. Provided we can measure anything with absolute precision. And of course we cannot — whole SI measures system suffers from lack of precision (with most prominent example of mass units). Again absolute miss.
OK, but our measures are good enough to send space probes zillions of miles from our planet and they hit the spot, right? Actually only because they have error correction algorithms applied, as a simple problem of calculating trajectories of three or more celestial bodies is impossible to solve with absolute certainty. And it’s not because errors in our measures accumulate (despite they do), but because this problem isn’t easily solvable. Actually there are some special cases solutions, but in mostly error correction to mitigate perturbations is the only effective measure, at least in our universe.
Speaking of the universe, even this entity cannot be considered absolute. There can be other universes. Besides we cannot prove even existence of the one we probably are in. The brain in the vat concept is pretty attractive, as it would mean that I write for myself and my audience will behave exactly as I’ll force it to. Because there is no audience. You are all my imagination.
Or maybe not? Maybe we live in a simulation? Very hyped theory now, actually with roots in Antiquity. Shame that Plato cannot deal with Musk, even if the latter used rather unrefined arguments. So, we all take part in a game. Not sure why I picked this exact hub to play in, maybe because I wanted to face a hard difficulty level where stupidity is predominant. Will have plus twenty to stupidity evasion skill when I finish it. Whoever wrote this mod should be praised for design. Bots and sceneries are convincingly real.
Of course, if it’s simulation there is nothing absolute here, no eternal principles; maybe somewhere in real world…
I could iterate my search for objective absolute principles over many more areas, but I suppose that the only discovery would be a word count limit of Medium.
Humans and absolute principles
The above lengthy introduction serves two purposes. First, it shows how hard is to tell anything really precise about our reality, not to mention objective principles of absolute impact on it. Second, which derives from the first, is the conclusion that any and all absolute values are products of our brains.
We, humans, are products of evolution (disregard simulacra and brain in the vat for a moment). While purposeless, this process exhibits a feature that makes it self sustainable — the self preservation instinct. One of adaptations serving this instinct is our intelligence. We, as well as most animals, developed sophisticated biological computers able to process abstract representations of reality. While simple animals can only match some shapes and patterns, we, together with primates and some other complex animals, are able to process very complex schemes. What differentiates us from our cousins is that we are the only species that can describe these schemes and even transfer into external records or pass them to children.
We call these schemes “ideas”. When one sees a chair, an idea of a chair is compared with perception signals coming from senses. Then the brain decides whether the signal matches or not with what is defined by the idea. For our safety (to satisfy the self preservation instinct) it’s better if we sit on a chair instead of an alligator or a camp fire.
Just because why not we also craft ideas that have no material equivalent. Like god, democracy, good, bad, justice. While most people more or less know what these words mean, they have no strict definitions — they always depend on subjective perception of individuals and some very faint logical scaffoldings (thanks Hume). They serve multiple purposes mostly regarding our social relations. As these relations, due to biological reasons, are important to us, we tend to ascribe these terms an “absolute” property. Of course without any logical reason behind. Because why not. Because this way they sound more serious.
Humans are made to survive, not to be honest. The strategy of tricks and lies, we use so often, is a part of of the above mentioned self preservation instinct that makes our survival chances higher. On the other hand, we don’t like others using excessively this strategy as it disorganizes our fragile social relations. In search of a golden rule we enforced laws and law enforcement. But these are makeshift measures never addressing the real issue.
When blockchain appeared it looked like it has a property expected since millenias — no trust needed thanks to immutability that guarantees that no human can fraudulently alter the ledger. It quickly became evident that even with support of this purported property humans remain susceptible to be scammed and fooled. Nothing really changed. The world of cryptocurrency is not less dirty then the material one. The only difference is that one doesn’t have to meet a scammer in person to be screwed.
What’s more important the immutability property is a myth. A single entity with enough power and money could mutate any blockchain. It’s just not profitable enough. Every peer to peer network can be supervised and manipulated. Encryption helps only a little (but helps). A community of any size can do the same with hard fork if enough support is amassed. In Ethereum case this manipulation seems to be fair as it will be an effect of common consensus. With all side effects that can happen.
One striking thing that appeared during the process of reaching consensus is that in fact a hard fork is far more honest than the a soft one. Contrary to its name and popular perception soft fork is not about forking per se, but about censorship of the network. The chain remains intact, while clients control the flow of information. To exert a soft fork of any kind a majority of miners must follow. Miners must be incentivised somehow for this action which in turn generates uneven and thus degenerate situation of the community being dependent on miners. Situation that in fact hampers popular adoption and application of blockchain technology as a whole.
Contrarily a hard fork is more independent of miners (not totally, but they are placed in a correct perspective in this case; they are the network servants instead of managers). Competence to execute a fork belongs to the community. What’s crucial — any part of it, not fifty one percent. I could issue a client application implementing a hard fork even tomorrow. If I could find enough supporters, my chain would become predominant with time. Frankly, it looks like really community’s rule measure. At least far more straight forward and honest than the soft fork censorship.
The above shows how subjective and unimportant the immutability is. It serves a purpose to keep the ledger consistent and it’s its only use in fact. As absolute values are born in our minds the “absolute”, “inviolable”, “principal” or whatever adjective can be added to it at will, however with neither real meaning nor impact.
No matter how much we’d like to run away from trust issues they’ll chase us and kick our asses. Unless we become friends. The community governance based on trust is exactly what should be discussed now, instead of never ending and fruitless bragging about absolute principles. There are reputation systems in development, there are existing ones that could be investigated. This is what would make this business sane. Instead of yelling again “Vitalik saved us” and waiting for a miracle the community could plan and execute steps with full conscience assured by trusted entities. Trusted thanks repetitive testing and assessment of deeds. Entities with exactly defined responsibilities and profits.
Let’s leave philosophy to philosophers and focus on functionality.