All you need to know about Zen, reprised (Art De Vany)

Totally random post but over the years I’ve come back to this blog from Art De Vany about Zen, decisions, and affect to the response from said decisions as a sort of rudder to my emotions around how highly I think of my ability to control the future, which is to say less so by the day and as I add children to my brood.

I hope you find it as usual as I have! Enter Art:


I was once a philosophy major, but I got bored with it. Only a few philosophers seem to know or care a lot about science and many love paradoxes and infinite set problems that are mostly just a confusion. I do admire the work of Dennet, the Churchlands, Popper and my friend and former colleaque Bryan Skyrms who uses game theory to study the dynamics of deliberation I did read a fair amount about Zen and the Tao. Wonderful imagery and poetry, but the core of the knowledge is easily put in terms of complex systems theory and Bayesian inference.

Here is all you need to know about Zen and the Tao.

The Tao is algorithmically incompressible. To reproduce the information contained in a life sequence requires no less information than is contained in the sequence itself. There is no algorithm that is capable of reducing the information in a life sequence to a shorter statement. Each sequence is unique unto itself.

This means you cannot predict which among many possible stochastic paths originating from this point in time and space your life will move onto. You can know something of the ensemble of paths and how your actions may condition the likelihoods of these paths.

Your only moment of power is NOW, the moment when you can take actions that influence the distribution of future outcomes. You learn of the possibilities from your experience with no regrets and you make your choices in the Now with the knowledge that they do not determine the outcomes only the possible paths on which your life may evolve.

Thus you do not fear the outcomes or attempt to control things you cannot. Nor can you rationally have regret.

Adopt a rational Bayesian decision framework and use evidence from your past to form expectations of the possibilities of the future and make choices that influence the distribution of possible outcomes in your favor. Never expect a distinct outcome to result from your actions. Your genes already do this (see Dr. Sejnowski’s talk just a few posts ago) and your fast decision brain modules are better at decisions than all the calculations you can ever do.
Don’t look for causes. Complex systems don’t have causes. There are just patterns and at any point one’s state of health can move randomly onto a new path. It is not the particular path that one should think about. You move over an ensemble of possible paths, conditional on how you live and the choices you make. All you can do is to try to influence the distribution of possibilities. You can never set the particular path or outcome that will be yours from this time forward. If you think you can look back and see some cause of events, you are probably suffering hindsight bias or what I call complexity blindness.

Think of the freedom this view gives you. There is no possibility of failure because you only control your actions and they only influence the probable evolution of your life over stochastic future paths. There is no failure, only feed back.


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