This post by Jordan Greenhall was originally published on Medium.
I was recently challenged by a friend around my model of abundance and put together this set of axioms that drive my thinking. I have no doubt that there are many other paths to thinking about abundance, but this is mine.
- Some portion of the universe is rivalrous. I’ll call this “energy”.
- Some portion of the universe is anti-rivalrous. I’ll call this “information”.
- It appears to be the case that information can have causal effect in only one direct way—by being “instantiated” in some energetic form.
- All other causal relations in the universe are “mediated” by energy.
A very large amount of thinking could be done just with 1–4 above and they are far from certain. For our purposes, we will take them as axioms.
- The rivalrous operates under specific dynamics such as diminishing returns and entropy. The anti-rivalrous operates under very different dynamics such as accelerating returns and the network effect.
- It appears, specifically, that the rivalrous (energy) is subject always to the second law of thermodynamics and heat death. But it does not appear that thermodynamic entropy has any direct impact on information.
- As a consequence of these dynamics, the universe appears to consist of three different fundamental system dynamics.
7a. Those that are dominated by the dynamics of energy—these are linear systems characterized by the principle of least energy (e.g., a falling rock, a lightning bolt, a salt crystal, etc.)
7b. Those that are dominated by the dynamics of information—these are exponential systems.
7c. Those that are a mix of energetic and informational dynamics—these are dissipative structures characterized by S-curves and the principles of maximum fitness (i.e., all the laws of evolution).
- Dissipative structures are the result of energetic systems accessing and “taking advantage” of informational dynamics. All things being equal, the more a dissipative structure participates in / accesses information dynamics, the more bang for the buck it will get (the more fitness for energy input) and, therefore, the more fit it will tend to be.
8a. This is the fundamental driving the emergence of sensory cells, neural anatomy, complex neurology, etc. Each case is an example of an expansion of the capacity of dissipative structures to access and take advantage of information dynamics.
- The emergence of novel capacities to operate in and with the “information domain” is one of the dominant structures of the arc of evolution writ large.
9a. Each such emergence appears to generate what is called a “portal pathway” in the evolutionary fitness landscape—an almost one-way ticket to a “higher order” fitness landscape. For example, the emergence of multi-cellularity was a portal pathway. While multi-cellular organisms continue to co-exist with single cell organisms—they effectively are no longer in competition with them. Similarly, the emergence of technical civilization was a portal pathway. While contemporary humans continue to co-exist with chimpanzees and lions—they effectively are no longer in competition with them.
- Portal pathways are called this because while it is certainly possible for an emergent fitness landscape to “fall apart” and transition to some other set of dynamics, it has never so far occurred that the novel capacities that unlocked the portal pathway have been entirely lost. Accordingly, any future fitness landscape takes into account these new capacities and their relatively dominant effectiveness in comparison to prior regimes.
- An examination of a very large number of metrics including population, energy consumption, CO2 production, information production, etc. indicates that something occurred somewhere around the 15th or 16th Century in the world that represents some kind of portal pathway.
- Per the logic of 7c and part III, the historical effectiveness of this portal pathway is that it was able to more effectively access and take advantage of information dynamics than all previous eras.
- A very large number of human dynamics (interpersonal relationships, violence, individual psychological assumptions and habits, family and social structures, etc.) have changed under the new “rules” of this new fitness landscape.
- The hypothesis of “abundance” or a non-rivalrous economy is based upon the proposition that we are currently in the process of traversing a new portal pathway into a system that is even more able to access and take advantage of information dynamics than has been available under the 15th—20th Century regime.
- Under the abundance hypothesis, we are near or past a tipping point between a legacy system that has been dominated by the “rivalrous attractor” and an emergent system that is dominated by an “anti-rivalrous attractor”.
- The deep insight of this transition consists of two elements.
16a. It is possible in principle for a sufficiently mature abundant economy to provision comprehensive wellbeing for every agent in the system. More on this later.
16b. Because of the nature of information dynamics, the movement toward provisioning comprehensive wellbeing is synergistic. That is, as more people are more fulfilled, the capacity of the system to provide more fulfillment to more people increases.
Note. While the abundance hypothesis establishes a firm direction on the evolution of the system from this point forward, it is difficult to predict the timeframe associated with the amelioration of the legacy consequences of the rivalrous attractor and the rollout of accelerating wellbeing.
It is possible that the synergistic effects of abundance (16b) are ramifying which would result in “accelerating returns” and a relatively rapid acceleration from legacy systems that evolved under a dominant rivalrous regime to new systems that optimize for anti-rivalrous dynamics.
For example, given our understandings of developmental psychology we might imagine that the longer a person has been alive and adapted to the rivalrous attractor, the harder it will be for them to adapt to the anti-rivalrous attractor and the more that they will inhibit the rollout of the abundance economy.
Thus, if we imagine *only* a vector where the ability to operate with anti-rivalrous dynamics is pushing against psychological plasticity and legacy inertia, it seems likely that a comprehensive transition of the entire species could take as long as eight generations.
But, of course, while it is implausible to imagine billions of people making significant moves into an “abundance mindset” under current constraints, it is trivial to imagine new capacities that could deliver on this potential.
For example, lets imagine that in 90 years we are 1000X more capable at directly influencing neuro-cognitive states in a long-term and sustainable way.
Looking back over the last 90 years, and projecting forward accelerating change, this is a perfectly plausible hypothesis. In this circumstance, we could imagine that every human’s subjective experience of wellbeing would be largely decoupled from their actual physical environment. The presence or absence of mates, food, etc., would be as irrelevant as the actual outside temperature to an air conditioned resident of Houston, Texas. This obviously raises its own issues—but the key point is that these are entirely new and different issues. Legacy rivalrousness and legacy human developmental plasticity is no longer a driving consideration.