Report: Social animals and their coins

A brief survey of the Sol astrosphere has turned up several interesting planetary systems.  However a more in-depth survey focused on the third major rock and it's remarkable cycling of solar energy, nitrogen, and carbon, and other materials in an arena in which abundant water is found in all its phases.  The thing is inhabited with complex life forms; by a creature we call Gaia.

Her purpose, her methods, her past, her future, and her beauty in all it's glory are not the topic of this report.  Rather, we look to a small part of Her, which appears at first to be an afterthought known as Kingdom Animalia.  And of this part, we will look at certain species which are known as "social animals".

Hymenoptera Apocrita

These creatures, like all animals, are dependent on the plant kingdom.  In return, they create CO2, recycle materials to keep the body (soil or Earth) healthy, and perform various functions being like all parts of Gaia, symbionts (social already, you might say).  What sets these animals apart from the others is what one might call their "success".  They make up far more biomass than any other animal, and live in the apparent favor of Gaia in all arable locales.  What is their secret?  It is that they are "social animals".

What does this mean?  Aren't all animals social?  Well, not in the same way.  Apocritae such as Ants and Bees are able to coordinate their behavior in remarkable ways, working together as a unit.  They form industrial work groups, corporations if you will, colonies, and in working together alter their environment and can perform feats that as individuals they would stand no chance performing.  They do so through forms of communication, symbolic representation of reality in sign (dance) and sound, but also - and more crucially to the topic of this essay - through the exchange of tokens.  The tokens that are passed between individuals can determine if the individuals work together, or fight to the death.  These tokens are, for the case of the ant, built mostly of pheromones but occasionally of bits of material from the world around them, such as sugars or other valuables, demonstrating proof of work (finding a source of food), proof of reward (something from the queen), or proof of residence (citizenship if you will) via prior contact with other individuals.  With these tokens, Apocritae communicate what we might call social imperatives.

It is communication, and proper use of tokens, that allows certain individuals to differentiate from others to become queens or to declare other social roles, or alternatively - to be ripped to shreds and thrown on the agricultural compost dump.  Others are prompted to form armies and rush to their death by the millions, solely with pheromone tokens and symbolic communications.

Remarkably, the exchange of a token and the associated assay of said token (often referred to as "smell" or "taste") has become more important to the individual than their direct self-operated senses of the world around them, in terms of building up their idealized model of the world.  The coin makes the tonal!  Presented with certain pheromones, living ants might for example treat another living ant as a corpse, and drag it kicking and screaming to the corpse-pile.

"I'm not dead, think I'll go for a walk!"

"The papers say you're dead, therefore you are dead.  We do things by the book"

Primata Homo

In following aeons of social animal behavior, the casual observer will find remarkable the rise of another player in this game: the human.  The human's social apparatus might appear to some as awkward, fragile, and in some sense doomed to failure due to their penchant for overconsumption and what appears to be eventual destruction of local Gaian support apparatus.  However in other ways these creatures have shown such remarkable potential and ability it boggles the mind.  It is for this latter reason that Gaia keeps the darned things around.

The human has what appears to be vastly more complex individual capabilities, in terms of sensing the world, building a model of it, and manipulating it, than the ants or bees.  Small families and groups thereof are the basic units in which primates have lived for millenia.  However more recently, they began to learn the secrets of the truly social animals: to organize behavior with symbolic communication and with tokenization.  Just like the leafcutter ants, they do agriculture.  Not as well of course, but on larger scales, it can be argued.  It is perhaps worth watching these awkward creatures, in that it could tell us how the Apocritae first arose from the island of the individual.

There is much I could tell you dear reader, about the symbolic communication in sounds and signs.  However it appears there is little need to describe the formalized demarcation of such communication, for you now read my report ~in a written language~.  Pretty cool isn't it?  Instead, this lengthy introduction is driven to describe the pheromone of the human colony: the coin.

One possible way to view the coin is that the coin is the fallback, the last-resort organizer of behaviors.  When all other drivers of behaviors do not deliver an imperative, the coin delivers.  Many coins have been used, with some success achieved by a brilliant idea: rare, recognizable, and stable elements.  Precious metals.  We'll get to this in a moment, but first a brief aside to continue setting the stage.

Tokenized directive

If one could ask a bird why it works to build its nest, it might say: "for the comfort and safety", "for tradition", or something similar.  However when one asks a bee why it builds a wall of the hive, the answer is less clear.  Is it for the comfort and safety of the individuals in the hive?  That makes sense.  Or is it rather - for the tokens and communication which organized the activity, which somehow gives a social status advantage?  I'm not sure, I still haven't mastered bee language.

I've had a bit better luck with the languages of the homos.  Their answer to the above types of query depend largely on the local social conditions, and a vast array of such conditions exist on their territories.  Some, when asked why they sweep the floor of dust, respond that they do it so people can enjoy a clean and healthy abode.  Others, say they sweep the floor "for the money".  This is an odd answer, if you think about it in the context of a consciousness with intent, but less so in the context of social animals.  This answer becomes more common in certain places, especially in the heart of socialist empires.

"Why are you cleaning up that shit there?  Is it because you people don't like to live in your own shit?"

"No.  I clean only for the money"

Dear reader, I leave it up to you to decide if this is a dim-witted or advanced philosophy for these creatures.

Bugs in Tokenization

With the rise of precious metals being used as tokens for directing social animals, came a prominent bug.   The problem is that once a token has been arrived at, and agreed by a critical mass to be used as a directive for behavior, it's production becomes an activity pursued with the same behavioral imperative we wish it to impose in usage.

An example will help illustrate. As the use of gold and silver coins became prevalent as an organizer of behavior such as maintaining city infrastructure, performing important agricultural chores, prostitution, medicine, and other clearly useful work, people were diverted to another task: mining gold and silver.  This was not done for the use of the gold and silver in construction, art, or medicine to support the society, but solely to obtain the tokens and thus leverage the token system in the favor of one individual (the miner) over another.  Well surely there is some use in having tokens, so this might not be considered entirely an inefficient waste, but surely - it is not a feature but a bug.

Bugs in social structure!  Ah, we could go on and on here dear reader.  But I will stick to topic of coins in social animals.  In fact a much more pernicious bug developed, which sadly has always without exception lead to unmitigated disaster for our cute little homos.  That bug arrived with the use of a tokenized coin which can be created ad infinitum, in secret, with no actual work.  The fiat token.

On the one hand, this kind of tokenization has the potential to remove the 1st bug we discussed, that of misdirecting resources to token production.  However, the misdirection of resources in fact becomes far worse in practice, as the natural forces that might constrain behavior (such as e.g., is this work even a good idea, does it help make life more comfortable or enhance survivability) can be completely disregarded.  The humans in such a system often find themselves doing things like driving vehicles in circles, building and tearing down unneeded structures, pretending to be busy, and other such apparent fuckwittery.  Some individuals find themselves in positions in which they could create massive amounts of tokens, and as the possession of the token is the behavioral imperative of the tokenized society, one would be surprised if they didn't do so.  Typically once obtained, this token advantage is used fleetingly by the individual on short time scales with little thought to the advancement or survivability of the society as a whole.  While there is some method to the madness in the creation of such a system, the participation in it doesn't make one think immediately highly of the intellect of these creatures.

Continued Evolution

While the ants and bees have been somewhat stable social animals for millennia, the humans have decidedly not.  The current fiat era is arguably less than a dozen generations old (though yes, with more ancient history to its development), and its instability requires effort to ignore.

This brings us now to the crux of the biscuit: a remarkable new token system with which human behavior can be organized has emerged which is global in nature.  A type of coin which is public, and therefore unable to be counterfeit or produced in secret.  Anything is possible at this point, as it allows for a new system of social organization to emerge.  What does it mean?  Will the humans start castrating those without proper coin as a worker drone class emerges as the bees do?  Will a new balance emerge between the intent and brilliance of individuals and the imperatives of the social collective?  Will they create golden spaceships to reproduce Gaia in all her splendor instead of via bacterial panspermia, emerging from their strife and self destruction to join the galactic intelligentsia?  Or is it too late for them?

I'd like to request a continuation of this research grant.  I'm sure you can see the lulz we can harvest by watching this little rock some more.




Tales from occupied North America - Volume 1

Turtle island, land of plenty.  Millions of buffalo thrive on fertile plains while ancient forests guard the diversity of adaptable survival.  The stewards of the great nations, planning seven generations ahead, save the most valuable and tread lightly in spirit but on occasion brutally, ensuring an educated, respectful of the fragility of life, and adult society.  That was then, now North America is "occupied" by petty tyrants of apparent origin from the East carrying marked mental illnesses, and is systematically undergoing ecocide and barbarous self-oppression.  A Counterfeiting gang appears to run amok, maintaining a brief and unhappy rule of economic slavery over a childlike population, the secretive leaders showing no sign of intellectual curiosity or desire for their own survival past a single generation, nor of the health of Gaia.  Millions are held as political prisoners, tens of millions persecuted by uniformed gang members, newborn children numbered and commoditized.  Tazers, border fences, SWAT raids, stop and frisks, and "papers please for fatherland s3kooority".  This is the first installment of Tales from Occupied North America.

The orange eft stared at me coolly, shifting the eyes in recognition but maintaining total stillness and poise.  Last year his brethren were so prominent in this region that we had to watch our step to avoid crushing them when walking through the Maple forests.  At this time and humidity, they are fewer.  However in this locale, their elders living in the ponds are more numerous.  The green salamanders, as they are more often called by the locals, show only a series of orange spots that indicate their past coloration.  The reflective twinkling spots are reminiscent of the green sequins that mark the deep purple color of the giant clams of the great barrier reef (GBR).  They flash in the sunlight from under the living water.  The eyes and actions show a quiet wisdom.

As we approach, the bright orange newt makes a brief sprint and stops at the waters edge.  This is a great moment in the cycle of life, and it pauses to appreciate what its senses tell it.  Water boatmen skim the surface of the pond, seemingly oblivious to the drama of the amphibians, and also surprisingly ignored by the amphibians in favor of flying insects for sustenance.  Also picking off the smaller flying creatures while circling lazily are a few large dragonflies.  A blue and black striped and nearly cylindrical fuselage goes straight back from a much larger sparkling green command module in the front.  One cannot help but be reminded of the single rotor + horizontal stabilizer construction of the non-self-replicating helicopter.

One of these agile fighters stops with complete three axis stabilized precision a meter away, to show off his own shimmering and so clearly demarcated colors.  The colors are amazing indeed, in their pattern especially, however in immediate brilliance they don't match the turquoise damselflies which are more numerous (and occasionally eaten by the frogs).  These miniature dragonflies have an alien coloration capable of catching the eye in a way only matched by certain coral forests of the GBR.  A softer red damselfly is also present now, emerging later in the summer.  Two of these enjoy each others company whilst balancing on a reed which sways gently in the breeze.

The dragonflies are quiet.  They move with the same ease that we speak, and indeed their motion is expression.  As if hearing this thought, the dragonfly springs to life and wills himself to the opposite side of the pond, where it executes a few cyclic brachistochrones as if to say "What kind of creature are you if you cannot fly?".  Well what kind of creature are you if you cannot swim?  Indeed the adolescent dragonfly, though waterbound, appears to swim with all the grace of a waterlogged cormorant mid-takeoff.  They do however have an alien monster look about them in that stage which only the metamorphic insect world can muster, and apparently they also have voracious appetites.

At this time of the summer the mass of tadpoles which once fed so many and populated the water just against the shores is long gone, only a few surviving this most dangerous period in the life of the amphibian.  Instead small peepers, wise toads, and loud mouth frogs all are immediately visible in the environs of the pond spirit.  They pass the harsh winters without charitable gifts of Venezualan heating oil from Hugo Chavez and are said to live as individuals for multiple decades.

Finally the newt sees a window of opportunity and makes a sudden dive into the living water, swimming to the bottom less than a meter from the shore and spinning around to view that world from whence it came.  The sudden full hydration, which perhaps it had not experienced for years, turns its skin immediately into a creamy off-white.  An older salamander swims from nearby to greet it, and places its head immediately atop the head of the new arrival.  There they sit for a minute.  Is it a long lost friend?  A discussion of the rules of the roost?  A contract?  During their talk they keep their eyes on the strange creatures outside the water looking in.  They are cautious and stoic.  They know not only the danger we pose, but also the potential we could bring.

This has been episode one of life in Occupied North America.  FEMA!  Operation Jade Helm!  FUD!  Turn in next week for another exciting episode.



Worst talk ever

Mea Culpa

This post wouldn't be here if the presenter of said talk felt like he had really worked on his talk, because, this would be impolite pointless overkill.  As it is, the presenter was quite clear that he had prepared nothing, nor was he in the right venue for the talk.  So if anybody is to be embarrassed about the situation, it is the organizers and the audience, i.e. yours truly.

The venue

As some of you know, Woodcoin was developed during my stay in Oxford, England.  While there I regularly attended lectures in the Mathematics department.  The venerable Invariant Society of Oxford University meets there and is an interesting venue for Mathematics talks.  One of the things I like about this informal venue is that the presenter is not expecting anyone in the audience to later be reviewers for his or her grant proposals, nor are the audience members on the speaker's PhD committee.  Neither is the presenter earning a salary for a course directly tied to the talk.  This clears the air a bit of various political or other intrigues that might not be entirely encouraging to the growth of intellectual curiosity.  The few talks that I did see with this group were of quite high quality.  Professors, emeritus and otherwise, chose it as a venue to describe in detail some set of problems they had considered over the years, complete with history, equations, props, anecdotes, and a candor that one might struggle to find elsewhere.

The talk

So!  Boy was I in for a surprise when on May 13, Alex Davies began his talk: "Machine Learning and Sentiment Analysis, or How to find Happiness".  The previous talk I had attended was called "The 27 Lines and Other Stories" presented by Oxford Professor Nigel Hitchin, which had been a surprising romp through relatively complex geometric spaces, complete with odd physical props and personal stories relevant to the authors publications.  So, what would be in store for us today?

To be fair, Mr. Davies didn't really intend to give a good talk.  He began by saying "well sorry, I've prepared nothing, but I gave this talk to some blokes in London the other day, maybe you'll be interested".  Jeans and a tee shirt in Oxford are not as commonplace as other venues.  OK, not a great start, but hey ..  it gets worse.

Lets cut right to the chase.  The man's talk was about Twitter.  About how useful the analysis of tweets can be to judge the happiness of a population.  I kid you not.  At one point he asked us "what is the happiest nation?"  Of course, the crowd was dumbfounded already at this point and nothing would get a sound out of us.  "It is Germany" he said.  "They have the highest fraction of smiley faces in their tweets".   Wow, so happy!

Let me go out on a limb here with a perhaps radically more accurate judge of happiness related to twitter: when you are feeling good, you aren't tweeting.  Right?  Doncha think?  Like imagine those moments of satori, being either one with the universe, connecting to people, doing something well that you like to do.. who knows, du vin, du poesie, ou du virtue..  Were you logging into freaking twitter at that moment?  Uh, no.  Sorry Alex.

So get this.  In the midst of this hopelessly incorrect thesis being presented, with no interesting work to back it up, in an established mathematics department of a reputable institution, he then: apologizes for showing us an equation.

This is always a mistake in any venue.  What you are actually apologizing for is showing us something you don't understand, or showing us something that you won't take the time to explain.  Sure, that might happen.  So say it!  Don't apologize for two things being equal to each other.  Especially not to an audience which is absolutely desperate for any kind of factual statement whatsoever to be presented.  In this case, it was a definition of Bayesian statistics, harvested from wikipedia I assume.  Not any clear relevance to the presentation but hey - statistics right?  I'll wait while you go clean up the vomit.

Feeling better yet?  Don't worry, the worst is over.  A few plots showing numbers of smiley faces vs. sad faces in tweets, and of course displaying some lengthy URLs where one could obtain this oh-so-useful data of people's tweets, and then we were free.  For me, it was the last Invariant Society talk I was able to see.  I'm sure they have recovered, they seemed to be a strong lot.


Analytic Continuations of Gresham's Law

Wow, Gresham's Law!  This thing is so insidious, it creeps into your craw and just won't get unstuck.  If you haven't been exposed, take a look at this fabulous historical review of said law.  It turns out Aristophenes said it first: like is so often the case, some Greek speakers already wrote it down a two or three thousand years ago.

Many of you will have your first exposure to this adage, as perhaps "law" is a bit too strong, in coming to grips with the rise of public coin.  Why do people still use fiat coin?  Well Gresham tells us why.  Sort of.  In fact the thing isn't 100% clear by any means but there is a nugget of truth in there, which in fact can be extended analytically, or at least I am going to try to convince you of that.

First, let's restate the darned thing:  "When good or bad commodities can both be used for equal exchange, people choose to use the bad ones."  Of course, this requires us to say what we mean by good and bad in this context, and also what is meant by "can exchange".  But we can paraphrase the whole thing first by saying: "if one can be lazy, often one is lazy".

You see "good commodities" are ones that are "dear" to you, that is - which require more work for you to create and have available.  Limited in supply, for example.  Bitcoin and Gold need to be mined, a tortuous process.  Dollars however, the virtual/paper variety, can be created out of nothing at no cost - ad infinitum.  Sure, some folks are required to take debt burdens when doing so (haha, suckers), but even for those folks - that debt burden is in the future right?  For now, lazy says: get a loan.  Lazy says: counterfeit money.  Use that.  And so as long as people are willing to accept your lazy money, your credit or printed paper or virtual T-bill or whatever nom du jour, we will in fact prefer to use them.  If we can't use them, somebody else (richer, on the right side of the interest rate apartheid wall) will and hey - a merchant, a worker, and a farmer - still might accept them.  Thus we are all "forced" into it like a classroom catering to the lowest common denominator.  Meanwhile, the people with a clue as to the fact that time continues to pass - who can think longer term and have the means - are stashing away the good stuff for later.

This is why Athens' valuable gold coins disappeared so quickly, and crappy counterfeits circulated.  This is why Quantitative Easing will eventually make the folks who have been selected to receive the welfare - poorer.  Wait what?  How does giving somebody a billion dollars scot-free make them poorer?  Well, it doesn't - at first.  And perhaps not individually ever.  But lets look at what happens to all their neighbors and their town.  You hand out wads of benjies, shopkeepers gladly take them in, everybody feels like things are hunky dory.  Benjies it is!  Those who need benjies, like those who weren't primary recipients of the QE, then have to sell something of value.  Like say, gold, oil, or bitcoins, to get some benjies.  So good money flees the area, as those not connected or out of fiat luck are forced to exchange their heirlooms.  When later people realize the benjies ain't worth shit, what now?  Poorer than when started.  All the (other) coin has fled.  Cleanup will be done by volunteers.  Gresham's law coming back to bite and boy is she a bitch.

It sounds counterintuitive.  But lets move to the continuation.

Mr. Mundell (chanelling Aristophenes) actually starts things off for us in his essay by saying "bad politicians drive out good!".   How could that be?  Well sometimes you just need somebody to take the podium, look good, or whatever.  If so, you'll take any body that comes by.  Ronald Reagan?  Sure!  George Bush Jr.? Sure!  It's work after all to find someone better, and in the end it doesn't matter because - they exchange for the same value.

Contrived?  Perhaps.  But lets take a look at a real doozy: organized religion.  So you want to meet some locals, have a social life, get laid eh?  I can understand that.  Would you rather go through intense personal introspection and spiritual training, glimpsing the magnificent unknowable and reading ancient scripture to obtain enlightenment and pass a dangerous adulthood ritual?  Or maybe just say "Jesus saves", throw a benjie in the pan, and step right in to look at the choir girls?  Yeah I thought so.  Organized religion is Gresham's law at work.  Not opiate of the masses, but soapiate of the masses.  Because they exchange for the same value, with that one choir girl.  Maybe not with some other folks sure but hey, more on that later.

Want to be a musician?  Well you could start by learning Bach preludes in all keys on a couple instruments, then move on to polyrhythmic rudiments, finally arranging Black Page compositions and finding a group that practices religiously to rehearse and perform your compositions.  You would get a good following, I'm sure you could get laid.  Or you could buy a shitty amp and turn it up to 10, put on distortion to hide the fact you don't know how to tune the instrument and put on some makeup.  What'll it be?  "Gresham's Groove" anyone?

Gotta buy beer for the boys?  I'm pretty sure they'll be happy with PBR.  White bread should be fine for the kiddies.  You know, you'll get by with a Mac or a Windows machine.  It might even be less work, because you won't have to google for "how to install linux".  As long as you can find an idiot with which they "exchange for the same value".

And so we see that Gresham's law is sorta kinda a law about Ponzi schemes.  As long as there is an idiot for which one can exchange good and bad goods "at the same value", we will use the bad goods.

You know what? Fuck Gresham.  Since when did banality and mediocrity become a good image for your children?  And in the end, as Mundell tells us: good money drives out bad.  That's right, every action has an equal and opposite reaction.  Because nobody remembers the girl who made "My neck and my back".  Lazy doesn't really get you anywhere.  We need to stop catering to the lowest common denominator.  That's the only way to bring it up more quickly.