Free Will, or Free Willies?

What exactly is Free Will?  Does it exist?  Or is it something we like to talk about to make ourselves sound smart?  One forum describes the mechanistic actions of the neurons like pushing the lever on a toilet.  I do like the flushing allusions, sometimes my neurons feel like that – if I could feel them.  It reminds me of the deterministic universe theories that physicists held in the latter part of the 1800s.  They felt that, under Newtonian mechanics, if you could know the position and direction of every particle in the universe, you could predict every event until the end of time.  Of course this would hold for a brain as well, since it is made of particles.

These deterministic physicists were pretty confident for a while, until Heisenberg came along.  Turns out we CAN’T know the position of a particle if we measure its energy (speed and direction of travel), and visa versa.  Penrose took this a step further by suggestion our brains have quantum sized tubules that ‘explain’ our free will.

The forum I referred to talked about a scorpion that wonders if it has free will.  Does he?  We, as the Great Observers, say that he doesn’t because we understand everything around him.  To make this easier, let’s do a thought experiment suggested by Feynman.  (He’s great physicist by the way, smart guy.)

Take a look at a bacterium. Just one little guy; let’s call him Willy.  If we were inside Willy’s ‘brain’ is it just possible he thinks he has free will?  After all, he can jiggle his way towards food, or away from it.  It is his choice.

In case anyone thinks a bacterium is too simple to study, let me paraphrase what Richard Feynman wrote.

The study of behavior isn’t going to make any progress until it can explain the behavior of life’s simplest organisms.  That day will come when we can watch a single bacterium and predict exactly what it’s going to do.

Yes, it gets born and reproduces and dies – but we can predict the same thing about us!

Maybe, just maybe, Willy is packed with just as much free will as we are.


Rules of Love

Since when does Love have to abide by rules? Most of our romantic stories are about how potential lovers break the rules in order to couple. Sadly enough for anarchists, everything we do has rules, from how we eat to how we operate within society. And the best story is always about life on the edge, where someone takes on the rules and overcomes them. Rules can come from anywhere, but the two big sources are from nature and mankind.

What exactly is a rule? It’s a statement regarding our behavior, telling us what to do and sometimes even how to do it. It’s a statement that’s almost always true, such as not walking naked on city streets. Rules are necessary because it helps us know what others are going to do. It keeps us from getting unpleasant surprises.

In fact, it’s that ability to help us predict other people’s actions that makes rules necessary. We need them to create a social order that helps everyone else know what to expect. Does this mean we can’t be creative or fun? Of course not, in fact the fun comes about from working within those boundaries, and occasionally breaking the rules in non-threatening ways.

There are six rules of Love that rise ‘above’ all others. Since these rules are above the rest, I’m going to call them meta-rules. The first two meta-rules are about the rules themselves. These two meta-rules give us the forest view before we start venturing closer to look at individual trees.

Metarule 1: There are many many rules, but these six stay the same. Rules exist, and there’s a lot of them. Some of them belong to the world, some to our nation, some to our ethnic background, some to our community, some to our age group, our school, our gang, our workplace, and our family. Of all these rules, there are only these six meta-rules that are the same for all couples, everywhere, throughout all time. The second type of rule is what we can call ‘regular’ rules, and they will vary between people, time, location, and many other factors.

Metarule 2: Regular rules can change, frequently; and they vary between people, time, location, and other factors. Finding and learning about these regular rules is our great personal challenge. Regular rules include the do’s and don’ts of your spouse, your kids, your neighborhood, your tribe, and your nation. There is no way to talk about these without taking up many pages, so we won’t worry about them here. They are up to you to find. It’s what makes love fun and challenging. Some mesh, some don’t, and you must sort them out. It’s easier on you if your partner comes from a similar background, so that many rules are the same and there’s less chance for conflict. On the other hand, many times it’s the dynamic nature of learning new rules, creating your own, and being creative within those rules that gives couples joy.

The next two meta-rules are about the ideals and the goals we try to attain along the way. In order to properly differentiate them, an ideal is something that is always there to strive towards, but may never be reached. An ideal represents perfection. Since the only way for us to know if we really had Love is to be in love until death, reaching our ideal can only be confirmed once one of us dies. It’s a tough standard, but that’s why it’s a big deal. A goal on the other hand is something smaller, something that doesn’t require someone to die first. Goals can be big themselves, like starting a family, or being married for twenty years, but once you reach it another one can take its place. And for those who are more ambitious, there can be many goals at the same time.

Metarule 3: There is only one ideal, and it exists a lifetime away. Focus on this one ideal, and head for it. It takes courage to commit to a lifetime achievement. It’s a commitment that’s longer than buying a car or a house. A greater decision can’t be made, yet there are more books and advice on investing in a car or house than making this lifetime choice. It may be a testament to how many couplings fail, and part of the reason may be that we don’t take the decision seriously enough. It also requires the kind of person who is willing to commit their life – a giving sort of person. Are we a more selfish society that no longer wants to give our lifetime away? Perhaps, but it also means that we may sacrifice the knowledge that can only come from a lifetime of Love. Is it the same kind of person who is willing to die for the other, someone who will stand with you when your own back is against the wall? I’m not sure about that either, but it may be worth looking into.

Metarule 4: Many goals can be achieved along the way: happiness, fun, offspring, even wealth. All goals are secondary to the ideal, but can be wonderful benchmarks of Love in themselves. Goals can be great and natural, like having children; and they can be great and created, like sailing across the ocean together. Goals can be modest, such as tending a garden or painting a room. The goals themselves aren’t important. What’s critical is that the couple has goals, and accomplishes them together. A couple without goals can’t survive, because the relationship will have no reason to work, and like muscles that atrophy because they are never moved, the relationship will wither. Similarly, a couple that has goals yet doesn’t actually accomplish them together will also find themselves with an unhealthy relationship. Wealthy couples often become bored with each other because their ‘goals’ are accomplished for them by others. Their wealth may save them pain and time, but that is exactly what a healthy relationship needs to survive and grow.

The next two meta-rules are all about conflicts, situations where the two of you look at the world so differently that friction develops. Keep these in mind and it will help reduce that friction, and help to put you into an ‘agree to disagree’ frame of mind. Nothing will eliminate conflict or friction, but you can learn to deal with both of them in healthy ways.

Metarule 5: Nothing matters except the couple; you give up your ‘right’ to individualism once you agree to pursue Love. Wealth, children, even happiness are second. It is the ultimate foundation to the rest of your life. Lay the foundation correctly, and it’s very likely that all your goals can be achieved. We will discuss this in more detail in a future chapter regarding teamwork. It’s also important to remember that you and your child comprise a couple in Love, touched upon in Chapter 12.

Metarule 6: There is no reward for being right in matters of love. On the other hand, if the survival of the family depends on picking the right camping spot, then it’s a different matter entirely. It’s not love at stake, but survival. But if it’s something that may only impact your income stream, it’s not survival, but altering your perspectives on love.

In conclusion, it’s likely that you may ask why is there no ‘rule’ about fidelity, or many of the other things that we consider incredibly important to long term relationships. Rules like fidelity are regular rules, because it’s possible to still achieve Love even though one partners hurts the other. There is no doubt that such actions hurt the relationship, and that at some point enough pain causes the bonds of Love to break. Are there secret rules that somehow guarantee success? Absolutely not. Once the existence of rules is accepted, then you must commit to learning those rules and working within their boundaries.

Earth as Egg

There was a time, a long time ago, when families were all by themselves. [1] These families were very much like your family, but they were poor. They didn’t have phones, and they didn’t have cars. They didn’t even have water or houses. These families lived in caves, or in the trees, and were always hungry and afraid. They could fall out of the tree, and if they were hurt, they could die. There were no doctors. Wild wild animals always wanted to eat them.

We know a little about these families because we can find their bones, their fireplace, their food. We sometimes even find their poop. If we are very lucky, we can even find their art. These families lived over a thousand centuries ago. That’s a long time.

Way back then, those families might meet another family. They might fight, or maybe they would be friends. If they became friends, perhaps their children would like each other and start their own family. We know many of them started families, or else your family wouldn’t be here!

When these families met for the first time, it was a big event. Each family thought of itself as an island in an ocean of nature. They thought they were all by themselves, almost all the time. They liked it that way.

A hundred centuries ago a lot of families got together in little groups. We call these groups tribes, and tribes live in villages. They could live together like this because they had discovered farming. As a result, lots of villages sprang up all around the world.

Little by little, the villages started talking to each other. Each time a village found another village for the first time, everyone became excited. Would this village be a friend? If they became friends, many good things could happen. They could trade lots of things. Their children could get married. And together, both of their villages could grow.

Still, each village was separated by great distances from the other village. Each village felt like an island surrounded by nature.

Over time the villages grew. Many of them would like each other so much that they became kingdoms, and even nations. Today our world is full of nations, almost two hundred of them. Nations have been so successful that they touch each other on almost all sides. They touch each other so often that no one feels lonely any more. There is hardly a single village in the whole world that still thinks of itself as an island.

Some people say our Earth is too crowded. There are seven thousand thousand thousand people living today, and together we are using up a lot of natural resources. When families were the islands, all the natural resources around them were more than enough for their needs. These resources were things like fish, fruit, wood, and water. Clean fresh water always seemed like it would never go away.

Today, families live next to each other, almost elbow to elbow in some countries. Even fresh water may run out soon.  Don’t worry. People always find a solution to problems like this. Other people might not like the solution, but they will still work. This is not what this story is about, though.

About one century ago people finally figured out that nature is much much bigger than we ever imagined. Nature isn’t only our neighborhood of nations. It’s not even our whole world. Nature is an entire universe. Our universe is big. So big that even trying to describe its bigness would take another story.

In this universe there are other worlds, similar to ours. There may be hundreds, thousands, or even thousands of thousands. No one is sure.

If you pretend to be a god, you can stand far above your house, your nation, and even far above the whole Earth. If you are standing up there, you can see all those other worlds at the same time. Each one is an island, separated by nature. It’s not the same nature as what you see out your window, but it’s nature all the same.

Our Earth is an island. There are many other islands out there, some closer than others. Remember those families from a thousand centuries ago? Remember how they felt when they met another family for the first time? We are just like them. The idea of meeting another world like ours makes us feel excited, and afraid.

Ready for eggs?

Have you ever seen a bird’s nest, full of fresh laid eggs? Not all the eggs will hatch. Something inside the egg doesn’t happen, and the egg always stays an egg.

Inside the good egg, something miraculous happens. Life emerges from non-life. Everything inside the egg is transformed from being yellow and clear into something that eats, poops, talks, flies, and even thinks.

Each egg is an island, just like our Earth. Not all eggs hatch into life, and not all worlds come alive like ours. But, like the egg, now that we are alive, we must not feel bad about transforming our planet. Like our egg, we need its resources to break open the shell and reach out to new worlds.

So, the next time you see a bird’s nest, think about your Earth. Don’t be too sad if we use of lots of trees or eat too many fish.  Why? Because when we go to a new world, we’re going to have to take some of them with us. After all, we are all in this egg together. [2]

The end.  Or is it?


[1] A story for the young at heart. Perhaps at bedtime when they are thinking deep thoughts, or maybe when they are looking at the sky. May all of us always be young at heart!

[2] It’s okay to be a little sad. And it’s very okay to be angry if someone uses up all the resources so that they are all gone.


Are Humans Doomed?

This from a post on a philosophy forum in 2011:

Are we doomed?

June 14th, 2011, 9:29 am

I think humankind is doomed as a consequence of acting in the course of culturally relative  religious, political and economic ideological notions quite at odds with a scientific  understanding of reality. In the past we knew no better; now it’s probably too late.  Cause and effect – garbage in/garbage out. We’re doomed, aren’t we?


And a few hours ago…

It is actually pretty bad that Canada, Australia and Japan are reneging on their earlier climate change promises, and this in full view of the Philippines typhoon disaster!


So many people carry an impending sense of doom about them that it almost appears like common apparel, a mainstay of their wardrobe. In effect, they are saying “Here is my shawl of doom, my jacket of despair, my lipstick of lamentation, an attitude that is always part of me.”

What a waste!  For as soon as we are born, we are doomed to die.

As soon as people emerged, we were doomed to extinction.

And as soon as life crawled from the ooze, it was doomed to disappear.

What happens between the beginning and the end is called life.  And it’s our duty, our privilege, and our pleasure to live life to the fullest.  Why waste precious time thinking about what happens afterwards if we don’t strive to make something meaningful today?

We could focus on the future in a much better way.  Instead of thinking about what the world looks like without us, why not think about the world we leave our children instead?  In this way, instead of being afraid of our own death, we could rejoice in the improved lives of those who have yet to inherit our genes.

So, Live!

That said, should we be saddened because some country still hunts whales, or that another country pollutes our air and water, or another country still sells children into slavery?  No, we can’t be sad, because we don’t agree on what our future should look like.

Do we imagine our great grandchildren a hundred times removed peaceably working the fields of the countryside, living in harmony with each other and nature?  Or do we see a rapidly expanding civilization pushing space, technology, and even itself to the limits in order to conquer the solar system?

Until we decide what kind of future we want for ourselves, we wan not decide what is good or bad.  That is all!  In operation research this is called an objective function.  In business management, it’s called a mission.  In real life, it’s called heaven.  Where do we want to be?

Where do YOU want to be?

Humanity is already doomed in fundamental ways.  But you can make a difference as to how humanity meets its doom.  Will we rise to the occasion and create a culture greater than anything we can imagine today?  Or shall we create a future that is more like our past, seeking peace is what we already know?

What do you think?


Economombo 4: Participation Rate Drops

Back in Economombo 3, I wrote about how the economy with respect to our company had turned out better than expected. It’s true again. [1] Employment in the manufacturing sector is as high as it has ever been, since 2009. During the great drop-off of the Great Recession, manufacturing employment plummeted from over 14 million workers in the US, to its current roughly 12 million.

The “slightly-less-than-great” recovery in manufacturing is a very gently upward trend, amounting to around 10 thousand jobs added in a month. Last month was better than most because about 20 thousand jobs were added. This is good news for my company. And, if you listen to the pundits, good for the country.

The reason this article doesn’t take the experts seriously is because there is other information that screams out exactly the opposite. On the one hand we see that jobs are being added in manufacturing. But on the other hand, well, take a look at this. [2]

This is a graph showing how many people in the USA are participating in the work force. This is a real number. We get it by adding up all the people who are working in the US [3] and dividing it by the total number of people living in the USA [4]. This gives us a percentage.

Of course we can’t have a 100% participation rate, because that would mean everyone is working at an official job. This includes really old people, sick people, babies, and people who flat-out don’t want to work. At the same time, we can’t have 0% either, because someone has to pay taxes to get our government moving.

Best of all, this number shouldn’t move much. During the best of times, when everyone is happy and our society is stable, the number should pretty much stay within a narrow range. During the 1950s and most of the 1960s, the range was firmly in the 57 to 60% area. During the time when many women started exercising their right to enter the workforce, the participation rate grew to a high of 65 to 68% for the 1990s to 2008, almost 20 years. Then came the Great Recession.

Participation dropped, fast. And it’s this number that means something to all of us. It tells us how many people are officially working to support our government and keep our economy rolling along. From a high of 66 in 2008, we now stand at just under 63. In fact, we lost half a percent in the last month alone.

Putting this into perspective means that we have to look at the numbers. If one percent of the USA population is 3 and a half million people, then losing participation of 5 percent means that 5 times 3.5 gives us over 17 million people left the workforce. Seventeen million! In the last month alone, the fact that a half percent left the workforce means that 1 million 700 thousand people are gone.

The government claims that unemployment numbers show this, but they don’t. Look at the fact that unemployment supposedly went up only 0.1% from last month to this. The reason they can claim this is because the unemployment number takes into account people who leave the workforce – they don’t get counted. But that’s my point – we HAVE to count them! They are still people who were working, and now they aren’t!

Now that this rant is almost over, let’s ask a better question. Does it matter that the participation rate is dropping? Perhaps not. It was just over 55% over 50 years ago. So we know that it could drop another 5% without hurting our economy too much. We simply don’t know, because we haven’t been paying attention to the right information all this time.

There is one thing that we can know for sure. The changing participation rate indicates that our society is changing, and that includes the economy. Perhaps all those workers are being replaced by robots or computers. Or perhaps their jobs are being sent overseas. It doesn’t really matter. What matters is that those people had taxable jobs, and now they don’t. Society is changing, and we don’t know enough to know how.

What are your thoughts?


[1] Type in, or try the direct link:

[2] bls participation rate

[3] It’s not good enough to be working, like raising a family or baby-sitting, but you also have to be officially reported to the government through paying taxes and surveys that the company fills out.

[4] This can get complicated, because it may include people who are ‘illegal’ as well as legal. Because the number of illegal people is so small, relative to legal people, we can ignore the number. In fact, to make this easier on ourselves, we can simply assume that the total number of people in the USA has been 350 million for the past 5 years.