Solving the Problem of Environmental Degradation requires us to Solve Ourselves

Context: More than a thousand dead dolphins have washed up on French beaches this year

It seems to be clear that what is failing us all is that the predominant architectures of our organisational and explanatory systems are inadequate to the tasks of authentically holistic, global-systems analysis and integrated problem-solving with which we are faced. The median (collective) intellect – and all associated ideologies – that percolates up through (and is embodied as) human organisational systems is that which is narcissistic, self-interested and well-suited to a game of simplistic, adversarial popularity contests but which is hardly suitable to decoding the emergent complexities of the distributed Global problems we currently face.

Is it possible to genuinely acknowledge or effectively disentangle the diverse patterns and consequences of environmental disruption without also simultaneously addressing the core epistemological shortcomings of human cognition, of human nature ?

We are our own greatest unresolved enigma;
solving this may solve almost everything else.

Selfies as Memes, Memes as Cultural Selfies

Other than the many ways in which we must all use the cultural or technological replication and transmission of information to seek purpose and sustainable personal or professional continuity, a study of the underlying processes, methods and mechanisms of this rich self-propagating information system is both fascinating and useful. Fascinating, in that knowledge and curiosity are deeply entangled and they are in essence their own rewards. Useful, in that understanding how the world changes and evolves may never or unambiguously and fully provide the means to understand why it does so, but it can provide an aperture into effecting change into possible (or probable) future cultural, ideological and technological information spaces.

In some ways, memes don’t really change all that much. It is just the methods of self-replication that undergo accelerating technological and communications systems evolution and metamorphosis. Culture itself might form, or compose, its own memetic entity or unity and the atomic components of its transmission (i.e. the memes) are merely partial or fragmentary and indistinct reflections of that vaster self-replicating whole.

In many ways a selfie is, in that aspiration to personal significance through visual social media, the method by which a logic of self-replication propagates itself. On one level, there are all these things going on in people’s lives and minds which lead them to seek participation in this visually symbolic medium; insecurities, tribal identifications, peer expectations, and so on. At another level, the selfie is merely the method and technology of cultural self-replication which propagates through the medium of human behaviour, a historically-contingent technological method and its representation in visual artefacts.

What in lived experience may be “a bit of fun” and is probably also a yearning for social and psychological (not to mention – technological) self-validation through posed, poised and pouting mobile self-portraits is simultaneously the replication of a cultural entity and whole through the function of its parts. The culture is the primary self-replicating information and communications system; it forms the central tapestry from which all these woven threads of self-expression are composed.


A Sumerian proverb, in contemporary replication.

Disassembling the systems of our own self-propagation and sustainable continuity, as I am doing here, is also and always already merely the further self-propagation of this same logic and endlessly incomplete metamophosis of macroscopic cultural gestalt and microscopic, memetic entity or atom. Selfies are memes and memes are cultural selfies through which a logic and self-replication of the question of individual or cultural self-identity reproduces itself. By observing the activity and social media self-expression of all of these individual satellite selves, we can (as though by interferometry) derive or deduce an indirect image of the whole culture and civilisation within which we find ourselves; by analysis of the particular we are able to determine properties of the general and in so doing successfully bootstrap this inductive loop back upon itself in something resembling an epistemological closure.

The Limits of Automation

If automation is only limited by the boundaries of what we can describe, are we actually capable of describing those entities, processes, objects and systems of non-trivially sophisticated complexity with which we all must eventually and inevitably engage ? What are the logical, mathematical and epistemological boundaries of our collective efforts to compress, optimise and accelerate technological, administrative and organisational systems ? Are we unable to automate much broader organisational or technical systems because beyond a certain threshold of descriptive complexity, uncertainty and entropy becomes fundamentally unmanageable ? Is it an irreducible problem-space because the logic required to describe globally-considered, emergent webs of complex systems interconnection and interdependence (far beyond relatively simple tasks and processes) is not amenable to concise or linear algorithmic representation ?

If we can not agree on a (shared, or ideologically agnostic) big-picture description of purpose and technological or organisational teleology, how can we ever hope to optimise and automate information processing systems beyond the most trivial or isolated of programmable processes, entities and objects ?


…into the rabbit hole of meta-psychological explanations. Of course, I don’t know that anything is actually what it appears to be – there must always be a certain amount of epistemological abbreviation and an associated leap-of-faith. The senses and information vectors through which we are furnished the impressions with which we construct our world and with which we attribute meaning to things – we can not necessarily trust these as true or valid and consistent. The introduction of authentic epistemological doubt removes any yes/no binary certainty and calls into question everything, including this statement and all semantic trickery like it. Finding ourselves not so much imprisoned as set free by a shadowy and indistinct world of probability, complexity and uncertainty is in some way strangely comforting.


Is Mathematics Real ?

On a purely pragmatic level: beyond philosophical complexities and existential insecurities, it does not actually matter whether mathematics is real and independent of us or if it is purely a procedurally self-consistent intellectual ecology of mysteriously effective principles, rules and axioms. Maths works for us. That is the crux. Personally, I think it has some kind of reality but this reality is never something which can be known beyond actually being known by someone (for it to remain at all intelligible, to be definable as being anything at all).  It will look the same way to us whether we invent it or discover it; these are epistemologically identical to us.

Is mathematics actually real ?  It doesn’t matter.