Tuesday, July 5, 2011

More Debit

I had another thought about debit. Can't think of it right now.

Mess vs Cleaning
Storing food vs wasting it. 
Pest management.
Saftey vs exposure
Health vs destructive living
Sleep and exercise

All the usual things that get described using the debit investment nomenclature.

So the basic idea is about pivoting around equilibrium.  Although this has to be an abstraction, and a relative one at that.  At any time you can call whatever you like or want the balance point and see activity as either a positive or negative against the relative center.

I think the key point is that some activities are intrinsically negative within a given context. While some are intrinsically positive within the same context. The question is why? Why are these activities so "obviously" easy to classifiy? Why do they map so easily to the ecconomic models that have been developed to explain the games people have developed with money... oh wait... the common element is people.  Perhaps the rules of ecconomics are actually representative of some rule set that people have encoded at a more fundamental level. Could it be?

Perhaps the concepts of gain, loss, investment, debit etc map so easily to so many other systems is that the same fundamental drives have been abstracted and form the basis of the ecconomy. We just happen to have ignored the connection.

At its most fundamental, people are motivated by self interest.  If you look at the fundamentals of a commercial organisation, its composed of many people and the "profit" motive is the same thing writ large. Really just the same self interest magnified and channelled.

An interesting aside that I was debating with myself this morning was the idea of what happens when someone does not put their self interest first.  Is this even possible?  Unless we talk about really brutal absolutes, I think its quite common for people to put other things above their self interest. It's certainly common for people to work for the collective, family or team... but is this really putting the interest of the group ahead of the individual or is this just the individual investing in the group with the expectation of self benefit being a side effect of the groups situation being improved by the contribution of the individual.

So the question is what sort of scenario could be constructed in which an individuals self interest is compeletly at odds with that of the group and for the individual to still be motivated to work for the group.

I guess when some other motivation trumps that of self interest... things like fear... but usually fear is based on self preservation or pain avoidance, the avoidance of pain or loss or something else that the individual values.  Something is threatened.  Fear of the unknown?  How does this work?  People are certainly motivated by fear of the unknown but I guess in different ways, depending on what particular unknown they imagine is out there.  If someone is scared of monsters in the woods... its basically fear of getting eaten by something... again comes back to self interest ( or fear for the individuals children)

This leads into a different thread.  The idea of being motivated by the interests of ones children.  This is a clear case of something trumping pure self interest. The same sort of pattern can be seen where someone identifies a project, product or thing as "their baby". People make some irrational decisions that are not always in their interests but are motivated by protecting something they strongly identify as being their "baby".

Again without getting into "law of the jungle" kind of scenarios, there are lots of people who will make choices that favour their children over themselves.  Otherwise, "taking candy from a baby" would be much more common.
Then again there are clearly enough people who go the other way, but that's not the point.

So, self interest being the root of personal motivation, but what is the essence of "self interest"?  Can we break it down?

We get back to maslows hierarchy of needs.

Physiological needs
Saftey needs
Love and belonging
Slef actualisation 
Self Trancendence(aparently added by some guy called Vikto Frankl acording to wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maslow%27s_hierarchy_of_needs)

So if you cook self interest down into these levels (I don't fundamentally disagree) then the decisions are fundamentally  satisfying one or another drive. Simple enough.

Then we take it back to ecconomic models, which I contest are based on some mess of these drives made large. So to bring a long ramble around to something that looks like a circle; if the principles of the ecconomic model are derived and understood in from the point of view of the motivation of the individual then most of it makes pretty obvious sense. There are no great mysteries, just lots of agents in a dynamic system trying like hell to look after themselves and their offspring.  Big suprise to anyone?

And how does an intuitive understanding of debit relate to this? I think that just about everyone understands debit because it has very concrete instances.  Running your health down, not cleaning up, not fixing the car when it needs it..  Unless you're a natural abstract thinker, these ideas stay at the intuitive level.

Ok, there is no real content in this ramble, its late and my brain is just wandering around.  Not even sure this is cathartic anymore... just rambling without much in the way of a point.

I'm out.

More later....

Ok, so forgive the whole sleepy typing thing... I just felt the need to write.

I think the seed of the idea in the ramble above gets back to the intuitive models that everyone has about the way the world works.  (psychology 101) Equilibrium is the most recently remembered state of rest.  While debit is relative to that, its expenditure that we intuitivly know we will have to pay back later. There are many different ways to draw down on the equilibrium but we all know that its a tradeoff.  For us to perceive such a tradeoff however we need to have a set of concepts that allow us to perceive that the world works like this.  Behind all this is some sense of "karma" or something similar.  Some cultural imperitive that says we not only can return to some higher state but should.

If you think about it, non social species do not seem to carry these abstractions.  A small mammal living in the bush will make decisions based on the options availible to it at any given time. Some have developed simple social structures but are essentially historyless. Each day starts it all again.  There is still individual memmory, so they are not completely historyless.  There is no oral history and very little ability or desire to communicate more complex abstractions than "Fight, feed, flee"  So they have no concept of debit.  They cannot make time based tradeoffs.  They cannot save for the future.  They cannot build up resources except what they can carry or hide.
Is this right? What about animals that do invest?  They invest in relationships ( mating pairs), they invest in constructions ( nests, tunnels, warrens) they store for winter ( fat, nuts, kills) etc.  While its easy to make the assumption that its all some hard wired biological impreitive there is still a sense of understanding of investment and loss when a nest is destroyed or a cache of food raided by someone else.
How does a squirell know that it has enough food stored?  Do they just keep storing until its time to sleep and then just wing it?  Its certainly a strategy and the kind of brutal selection that is common in nature.  So it makes sense.  Simple strategy that works across the population but is pretty much random chance for the individual.  Good old nature.

So the odds are that most animal behaviour that I would call investment is actually just a set of encoded behaviours and strategies that I, in my pattern seeking nature apply the name of investment too.  There is nothing but a successful strategy that has adapted to the environment.  (The question is whether its socially encoded or neurally encoded and what the difference is in reality)

If these strategies where neurally encoded ( possible) it would be fairly easy to test by simply taking a squirell from an area where they have successfully adapted and placing them in a different environment where their strategies were not as strongly successful.  See if they continue to perform the same habits( in which case the conclusion woud be that they are neurally encoded) or if they adapt to the local situation ( possibly by either working it out or watching the neighbours) then the conclusion would be that the stategies are socially encoded.  If the squirell was able to breed, would their offspring (in a single generation) display the same strategies that their parent(s) displayed in their former habitat or would they have adapted to their new habitat.  My thesis is that they would not have adapted because they did not need to.  They would not have any memory of their parents habitat, but they may still model their parents behaviour, even if it didn't make as much sense in the context. The next generation would be even more adapted as they modeled less and less of their grand parents behaviour ( assuming there is a nice gene pool and we are not practicing any inbreeding in this though experiment...)

So, debit.  While I think understanding debit is intuitive, I don't think its in our dna.  I think its part of a socially encoded set of strategies that has been built into the cultural norms of most of the more developed cultures. If you look at the remaining hunter gatherer societies, the concepts of storing and investing are much less developed. They play by similar rules to the animals that invest; in that there is a distinct risk that when you check on your investment it might all be wiped out and there is pretty much nothing you can do about it. Its worth doing but don't rely on it.

I have heard it expressed a couple of times that cultural groups with no history of saving do not immediatly "get it" all their cultural strategies are to just go out, go fishing, eat, be happy, repeat.  When there is an abundance of food and no effective ways to preserve it, how would anyone develp a strategy that included investment and debit models.

Still there has to be investment and debit concepts.  Build a house, has a high cost in energy with a promise of a future payoff.  This becomes even more complex when you need to get other peoples help to do the work. Their immediate payoff is nothing. But they have the expectation that in the future, you will help them in turn. "What goes around comes around".  "You scratch my back and I will scratch yours".

These fundamental ideas all depend on self-interest, a sense of investment and return and strategies that can be socially encoded. Investment and return is based on time-shifting value decisions. This depends on the ability to make a value decions and project the return equation into the future.

These ideas all depend on concepts of time, space, common linear movement of people through time, common appreciation of value as a constant over time as a constant.  There are also lots of social structures that need to be in place. Honesty, communication, mutually held belief in what the future might hold, common abstractions about ownership of the value that being invested, concepts of transferal of value, comparison of value so one party does not over spend.  This leads to ideas about equity and that leads to fairness and justice.

So, my current thesis is that with a pile of needs and the concept of time, and the ability to make a simple value judgement, we have developed all the complexity of an ecconomy. Around which we have built many differnet cultures and belief systems, but at their root are the same common factors.

So the interesting idea is to look for scenarios where these factors have been different.  Concept of time would be the most signficant, I guess. I wonder what would happen if you could model an AI society and then play with the concepts of time.  Either by removing the shared understanding of time or by making different actors perceive time differently.  My first guess is that chaos would ensue.  Could a society adapt to something like that?  I have read a few speculative fiction works that played with the idea in various ways but its hard to pick.

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