Some thoughts on ecology, evolution and economics

Black and White and Grey All Over

This post is written by my daughter , Suzette, thanks to whom I am now a grandfather!

Watching the respect that my midwife has for obstetricians and vice versa has given me new hope for how science-based and ‘alternative’ medicine can work together and complement each other. Midwifery pulls from ancient knowledge of breath, touch, mindfulness and how fear creates pain. Yet it works seamlessly with the life saving skills that obstetricians possess, using vacuums, forceps and C-sections. Science is a relatively new take on how the world works but it is a decidedly black and white way of looking at our grey universe.

When I teach a class of former baristas, sales associates and band members how to become Javascript developers, there is a moment where they have to change their relationship with computers. They become the creator rather than the user. Their feelings that the computer is out to get them or that there must be something wrong with the computer gradually fade. They learn that the computer is always right because it can only do what we (humans/scientists) programmed it to do.  We took our most black and white thinking and made a machine that gives the impression that it can think. It does not think the way you and I do, it follows its instructions exactly. If it is not producing the result you expect, the fault lies in the instructions that you gave it. So black and white. So comforting.

Yuval Harari argues that humans are computer’s closest living relatives just as chimpanzees are human’s closest living relative. He says that if/when AI takes over, it will be a new species of Homo that will eventually do away with Homo sapiens just as we desolated the populations of Homo erectus and Homo neanderthalensis before us.

But can we actually produce a better version of ourselves? Do we possess that skill? When we apply scientific thinking to natural science like biology, ecology, medicine, we try to cut, categorize and systematize the same way we do when we build computers. If only high blood pressure could be treated the way we treat a computer bug. Isolate it and alter its original state. Just tell the body to make slightly less blood.  But our creator does not think like us. That same creator made octopuses and worms and algae, whose existence is vastly different from ours. The rules of the genome will govern how our species will evolve, not our proud selves. We are simply trying to understand the world in the best way we know how. Anything that we happen to create in the process has not evolved from us but is our by-product. We need to remember that, as much as we would like it to be the case, our bodies and our world do not run by the same rules as our computers – on/off and yes/no. We are indebted to a much more complex system that we are only striving to understand with our limited scope.

There is knowledge in the ancient traditions and in ‘alternative’ medicine that brings thousands of years of practice and observation to the excellent progress that we have made in science-based medicine. The two disciplines must find a way to work together.