Networked Thoughts: Human Computation

Posted on January 5, 2014
* Disclaimer: Random rant, move along


Our modern world operates currently mostly in processes encoded as digital information, digital information scours the man-made network of connected, information generating, and information altering processing nodes. Could this network of information be of any image of its own creator? Or at least can we learn something from the way it disseminates and evolves the body of knowledge that we currently hold.

Symbolic Identity

To examine such analogy let us look at man himself. Becker in Denial of Death introduces man as a duality of two things: flesh which continues to replicate in an evolutionary matter so as to survive, and as an entity capable of contemplating itself through its use of symbols. In short:

Man is literally split in two: he has an awareness of his own splendid uniqueness in that he sticks out of nature with a towering majesty, and yet he goes back into the ground a few feet in order blindly and dumbly to rot and disappear forever. It is a terrifying dilemma to be in and to have to live with. The lower animals are, of course, spared this painful contradiction, as they lack a symbolic identity and the self-consciousness that goes with it.

For the purpose of this post we will assume that a human entity has two interactive faces: one that is flesh, and another that is made of symbols. Currently the part of the flesh is pretty well taken care of, this part can easily continue on propagating and thus is not of interest as any species can handle its transmission to its progeny. For the scope of this post we will be looking at the symbolic transmission of information (as opposed genetic transmission and evolution of knowledge). It is important to note however that the duality is not exclusive; both facets affect each other and therefore separating them is a mere simplification of the process.

Symbolic Communication

A naive approach would just look at the method we use transmit knowledge. The simplest most naive and least effective method is schooling. Schooling is expected to relay the symbolic part of knowledge to the children and thus make them integrate it in their own symbol systems and later on specialize and work on expanding the human corpus of knowledge. One of the reasons as to why this method is ineffective is that it doesn’t account for the dynamic nature of knowledge, it assumes symbols to be static even if it conceals it under the pretext of teaching methods, the way things are passed down are non-individual, but as the term is used "objective" or the most common trap of teaching a "methodology" and not "facts". And even with this naive approach educators such as Maria Montessori see that the child has the capability to learn by spontaneously seeking to explore the surrounding world. Transmission of knowledge from “experienced” to “children” is almost an extremely antiquated system of passing on our knowledge-genes.

And then I realized one small and meaningful detail, I was being selfish, and thinking of a human being as a unit, as a sole organism. To understand more the idea let’s zoom in on an individual human being, if we look closely at human cells we will notice that most of them actually die (I bet this isn’t new for most people), and then get renewed, in fact a red blood cell lives on average up to 120 days (pdf). So if you actually contemplate this thought, our physical part actually get renewed and the only thing keeping us calling our own selves "me" is simply our reflection upon ourselves (i.e the persona). Now that's OK. That's not probably new. But now let’s zoom out, and look at our planet (OK you can also zoom out to the entire cosmos) but at the planet level, humans die and get replaced by other humans, yet earth remains earth. We are simply cells in a bigger organism, but simply a cell that can contemplate itself and its purpose. And now as one organism, things synergize quite well.

Granted our goal is to simply procreate, well we can keep getting replaced up to the point where some error in evolution happens and we breed a new species that has better survival score. Well that's not a bad idea.

Mankind is a creature that no longer evolves, is it not? One theory says that man is a neoteny and is no longer able to evolve. If this is true, then what an absurd creature mankind has evolved into. Not knowing what it is that drives them they keep their bodies merely to satisfy the desires of the flesh. They’re worthless, don’t you think? That’s all mankind is.

- Serial Experiments Lain

But we have symbols too, so let’s have some more fun.

Reality Layers

A human entity has in general unique experiences that defines its own symbol set. Each unique human entity reacts differently to external stimuli based on its own set of symbols. Trivially, one can see it as preference: strawberry over chocolate ice-cream, choice of words, reaction to specific words. More subtly it can be seen in the reaction of people to specific adjectives and/or choices of such words. Since symbols are linked to events and past stimuli in the human psyche, interpretation of such information varies from one specific person to another.

Lets examine what we have currently:

Reality is simply a convention, unifying the structure of symbols.

Conventions are necessary for communication, you can read this because you know English.

Conventions aren’t sufficient for transmission of complex symbols as these are unique. They therefore approximate them.

Corollary: Reality is based on lossy information (symbol) flow between human-human nodes.

The Geschick of being: a child that plays… Why does it play, the great child of the world-play Heraclitus brought into view in the aiôn? It plays, because it plays. The “because” withers away in the play. The play is without “why.” It plays since it plays. It simply remains a play: the most elevated and the most profound. But this “simply” is everything, the one, the only… The question remains whether and how we, hearing the movements of this play, play along and accommodate ourselves to the play.

- Martin Heidegger, The Principle of Reason, 1955-1956

Human Nodes

A human entity can be likened to a network node which (1) takes in information, (2) process information to a certain level, and (3) sends the information on the network.

Example: The deployment of improved links such as the internet increases the bandwidth of such communication, therefore information is now circulating at a higher pace than before.

The analogy that humans are network-like agents contributes to the idea that the network itself, or the body of knowledge and information circulating is a living organism (living on L1).

A human entity can be divided into two things: the core and the extension.

Every core exists within its own formulation and alteration of information. To link it to reality: what we see from other people is their impressions they left on us, and our assumptions of them, whenever they speak of something, we remember them in that something. If a very prized person of you gave you some cheerful words in times of dark, then those cheerful words are memories you own of the person, representing a certain extension of that person.

A selfish person would most likely see itself as the core, or the entity in which it resides, the persona but a selfless person would see itself living in the information that it sends out as well. That information can impact the entire network and leaves a trace unique to the person.

Many people nowadays are remembered for deeds they have done, and inspire others to do as such, whether good or bad, isn’t it as if they were still alive? [L1]

Aren't their thoughts and stereotypes an extension of them? Much like the red blood cells die, but the organism is still moving in a specific direction, much like the earth still orbits the sun even-though human-cells die and get replaced. [L0]

The human knowledge and entire cognition and body of knowledge appears a single organism made up of tiny huge number of networked human cores, that take in act and influence the information flow. The process of death and renewal is quite interesting as humans tend to live for a certain amount of years the processing influence on incoming and outgoing data becomes extremely biased and non-diversified, bias is subject to experience, and the more we live the more experience we take in, and the more we are sure about something, the idea that nodes get replaced ensures that on the whole bias is minimized; new nodes are more likely to produce diversified results.


Currently, L1 operates on extremely basic operation parameters, this is mostly due to our lack of recognition of the importance of new nodes on the network.

The currently deployed process creates model nodes, replicas, nodes capable of simply relaying information instead of processing them and provide redundancy.

The current average human entity node contains a backup copy of tradition, science and historical facts important for redundancy, in the case of another node failing (or dying in L0) the average node is capable of replacing that.

The emergence of nodes that are capable of affecting the information significantly or incur paradigm shifts is very rare.

This is mostly perhaps due to the dislike and dis-empowerment of individuality, as nodes that think differently and process differently have a harder time than redundant nodes. Plastic role-models are a great example of pre-calculating and casting of nodes that are merely just redundant and mostly unable to process information.

A node richness is directly defined as the capability of one node to affect the information core of other nodes in ways that it includes richness in that node as well. Network richness is the sum of richness over all nodes.

The “truths” of natural science or “existential philosophy” are poor surrogates. Natural “laws” are in the main mere abstractions (being statistical averages) instead of reality, and they abolish individual existence as being merely exceptional. But the individual as the only carrier of life and existence is of paramount importance. He cannot be substituted by a group or by a mass. Yet we are rapidly approaching a state in which nobody will accept individual responsibility any more. We prefer to leave it as an odious business to groups and organizations, blissfully unconscious of the fact that the group or mass psyche is that of an animal and wholly inhuman.

- C. G. Jung, Letter to Upton Sinclair, 7 January 1955

If you look at it information quality does not increase with the link bandwidth, but just the rate at which information disseminates. Introducing the internet did not increase the quality of information available, but simply how fast we can acquire it, the internet much like our world is mostly filled with gossip, shopping and how-to’s designed for people who cannot spare more than 5 minutes to learn something, while the important information is still harder to find.

The quality of information somehow would in my intuitive expectation depend on the quality of experience the individual node has and how open it is to that experience. Our world ensures very little of any with the current processes we use.

L1 is currently a mess due to the fact that we still believe that L0 requires attention out of existential dread. Science could most certainly solve the problem of ensuring basic needs for all, and in fact education and a good atmosphere for all. The pressure for survival is for some reason amplified in a way that power structures are completely organized around it (see Becker).

L0 and L1 operate in synchronism; fear of death affects our symbol structure in L1, poor symbol control amplifies it and allows repeater nodes to disseminate useless information.

Deploying proper symbol structure results in becoming more comfortable with L0, much like how theoretical science affects the practical, how computer scientists can abstract real problems into symbolic representation and solve and classify that then apply it back into the world.

We must do away with the absolutely specious notion that everybody has to earn a living. It is a fact today that one in ten thousand of us can make a technological breakthrough capable of supporting all the rest. The youth of today are absolutely right in recognizing this nonsense of earning a living. We keep inventing jobs because of this false idea that everybody has to be employed at some kind of drudgery because, according to Malthusian-Darwinian theory, he must justify his right to exist. So we have inspectors of inspectors and people making instruments for inspectors to inspect inspectors. The true business of people should be to go back to school and think about whatever it was they were thinking about before somebody came along and told them they had to earn a living.

- Richard Buckminster Fuller, "The New York Magazine Environmental Teach-In" by Elizabeth Barlow in New York Magazine (30 March 1970), p. 30

There could be produced a synergetic understanding of humanity’s cosmic functioning, which, until now, had been both undiscovered and unpredictable due to our deliberate and exclusive preoccupation only with the separate statistics of separate events. As a typical consequence of the latter, we observe our society’s persistent increase of educational and employment specialization despite the already mentioned, well-documented scientific disclosure that the extinctions of biological species are always occasioned by overspecialization. Specialization’s preoccupation with parts deliberately forfeits the opportunity to apprehend and comprehend what is provided exclusively by synergy. Today’s news consists of aggregates of fragments. Anyone who has taken part in any event that has subsequently appeared in the news is aware of the gross disparity between the actual and the reported events. The insistence by reporters upon having advance “releases” of what, for instance, convocation speakers are supposedly going to say but in fact have not yet said, automatically discredits the value of the largely prefabricated news. We also learn frequently of prefabricated and prevaricated events of a complex nature purportedly undertaken for purposes either of suppressing or rigging the news, which in turn perverts humanity’s tactical information resources. All history becomes suspect. Probably our most polluted resource is the tactical information to which humanity spontaneously reflexes.

- Richard Buckminster Fuller, Synergetics