Joy of Chasing the Uncatchable
A Book by Robert Harris, PhD, An Adult at Play
Copyright ©Robert Harris 2018
Updated May 26, 2018
There is nothing more important than a child at play (Piaget)
This book is about the great wave of change building from the development of artificial intelligence (AI) that is going to crash on every doorstep and flood the world in our life time. My interest is not just how can we build AI (I think we can) but how can we understand what AI means for our way of life before AI gets here.
During my 40 years working at all levels in our technology-driven world I have experienced the dramatic cultural shift from a focus on “meaning” to a focus on “building” that is perilous to all as we get closer to unleashing autonomous smart machines on society that are smarter than humans. America is the world’s leading innovator because it leaps ahead first then corrects. This is me. I love leaping ahead of the mainstream into the future of pure possibility.
I have made a good living from it. I have embraced this attitude all my life and it has been good for me and people I have worked for and with. What worries me is that we have gotten so good at innovation as a culture that we may be on the verge of leaping so far so fast that we may not be able to correct and come back in balance. I first personally experienced this scary feeling vividly almost 20 years ago, and never forgot it. It remains a benchmark cautionary tale for me as I write about our leap into AI. A synopsis of this real-life story is shared below as an exemplar of caution against getting too far ahead of your skis.
A Cautionary Tale: Knowing When You Have Leaped Too Far too Fast?
I had been working intensely with Robert Pirsig since 1991 to unfold his radical new philosophy [(Metaphysics of Quality (MOQ)] from his two novels in order to use it in my strategy consultation for my business clients. As result of this work I was invited to give a series of lectures and workshops during 1998 to 2001 on my MOQ research at the philosophy department of the University of Liverpool. Here, I was a physicist and business man lecturing professional philosophers on a new philosophy at a university where the first PhD ever on the MOQ would be awarded in 2005 to a young art student, Anthony McWatt, whom I was proud to assist in his PhD quest.
MOQ was out of the box. I was out of the box. And the University of Liverpool was probably out of its mind inviting me there to give these lectures and workshops, but it said a lot about their courage to walk on the wild side, counter to popular opinion, as I was told.
It was a hot and humid summer evening. The lecture hall for my introductory lecture was packed with several hundred people, many academicians from many of the great British universities, along with curious public citizens young and old.
(I thought to myself, “This is the most intimidating setting I have been in since I had defended my PhD thesis in front of world class Nobel Laureate physicists, during which I nearly lost my voice from stress.”)
Like then, I began to sweat profusely while I was being introduced. Was I going to lose my voice again? Horrors! I could feel that dissertation-defense-panic creeping back. Nervously, I thumbed through my 50-slide deck for confidence as I waited on the stage. I momentarily regressed back to my early business sales experience, seeing each slide as a bullet of insight my brain could fire at any philosophical attacker. And then…
“Welcome Dr. Harris, we are happy to have you here…..polite applause follows.”
As I stood up gazing at the eager faces, note pads poised and pens raised, ready to hear and record any wisdom I would depart, my PhD defense flashed through my mind one last time.
I was experienced at giving presentations to demanding business audiences, the public, and students in many styles: imparting wisdom, sales persuasion, teaching, facilitation, and brainstorming. But this was a wholly new experience for me; I had gotten myself way out on a limb out of my expertise and was not sure I could get back. So, I decided to drop any mask, speak directly from the heart and open with a shockingly truthful Mea Culpa statement:
Thank you all for coming and many thanks to the university for inviting me to talk about a new philosophy, the Metaphysics of Quality by Robert Pirsig. Before getting into my remarks, as full disclosure, I feel compelled to let you know up front that I am pretty sure that my presentation may not be what you were expecting. I need to acknowledge the elephant in the room, the utter strangeness of this situation.
Many of you are serious students and distinguished professors of philosophy and, here I am, a nuclear physicist and business man, about to lecture you on a brand new Philosophy introduced only as fiction in two novels written twenty years apart by a man with a 170 IQ at fifteen who was committed for psychiatric help while trying to write the first novel, and given electric shock therapy to get his mind right; he had verbally spared with his PhD philosophy professor at the University of Chicago claiming he have discovered and corrected a massive 2000 year-old error made by Aristotle. So I will understand if you change your mind about being here.
I paused a long pregnant moment. You could hear a pin drop. Three people in the front row stood up immediately and left. A few in the back put their pens and pads down, and followed quickly walking out. The remaining crowd shuffled uncomfortably a bit in their chairs.
Essence of the Metaphysics of Quality Philosophy
I was more relaxed now. I continued speaking from my heart in a conversational tone using a fraction of my slides only to enlighten the rich Q&A discussion that ensued. The lecture quickly turned into a shared workshop with a life of its own in which we all each learned from each other. It was magical, a totally unexpected feeling far from my initial fear! I felt embolden so I closed with what can only be called my MOQ parlor trick, which I used for the first time in this “lecture.”
Like the golden rule, “do unto others as you would do for yourself,” the MOQ philosophy can be as simple or profoundly complex as you want, depending on your depth of inquiry. The simple essence of MOQ is embodied in the key phrase Pirsig coined as a name for the unknowable eternal stuff and singular force that is Reality, Dynamic Quality (DQ).
According to the MOQ, everything that we know about and experience, that we imagine and create, are temporary static patterns of Quality (or Value) created by the pull of Dynamic Quality toward higher Value in our universe, hence the name MOQ. Our experienced reality, from matter to life to society and knowledge is seen as a hierarchy of interconnected temporary static patterns of Quality. Reality is seen in the MOQ as a partition of static patterns of reality and Dynamic Quality, from which static patterns evolve–not a partition into subjective and objective realities. THIS, was Aristotle’s massive error that Pirsig corrected.
Pirsig chose “effect drives cause” as the motive force that evolves the MOQ hierarchy, arguing that it is superior to “cause drives effect” (without changing any scientific results) because both tangible physics and intangible metaphysics knowledge can be included in the same MOQ framework. In the MOQ, Value (or equivalently, Quality) creates Reality, not the other way around. My conceptual interpretation of MOQ is that the Demand for “betterness” creates the supply of better Realities, eventually. On a personal level, this becomes “what you truly value, i.e. love, creates your reality.”
In the MOQ hierarchical structure the mind/body problem melts away, and science and philosophy can be included in a common rational framework, according to Pirsig. The MOQ answer to what happens when a temporary pattern decays away (like us dying, for example) for whatever reason, is that it folds back into Dynamic Quality.
The crude parlor trick I created to illustrate this fundamental MOQ concept was to show the audience a thick piece of blue slippery rope (my favorite color) tied in a slip knot in the middle. I hold up the rope as a metaphor for Dynamic Quality and the slip knot as a temporary static pattern of Quality or Value. I say, “When any static pattern dies (I then pull the rope ends tight so the slip knot unfolds and goes away) it folds back into Dynamic Quality (the rope). After a pause for this image to sink in, I close with this joke line: “Maybe that’s what my physics’ colleagues mean by “string theory.”
As people were leaving a few hung around with many questions. One was from a distinguished and kindly professor who waited his turn patiently and finally said, “I enjoyed your innovative presentation and the discussion very much,” and commented:
You know, you Yanks are very different than us Brits; You tend to jump into the fray and act first and then think, while we usually stay behind and think first and then act. We sometimes act too late and I suspect you Yanks sometimes act too soon.
I said I agreed and added that dynamic balance was the key, given the particular context at hand. I privately thought how bloody right this Brit was because I was very fortunate NOT to take a great fall after I had gotten so far ahead of my skis in my first MOQ presentation. It’s a lesson that rings true today for AI development.
This first “lecture” was clearly a work in progress, a live real-time experiment in the validity and usefulness of a new idea. By the time I gave my last presentation at Liverpool a few years later, it was a welcomed lecture tightly organized, clearly presented, and much appreciated by professionals and public alike. It was entitled “Escaping Aristotle’s Box,” and I was asked to write it up for submission to their philosophy journal. I said maybe later, but later never came; maybe it will in this book.
A Call for Experimental Philosophy
What I took away from my Liverpool experience was the value of live social experimentation of new ideas, even wacky far out ideas, like simulating the possible catastrophic consequences of technological revolutions.
I have personally lived through parts of three technological revolutions as we enter a fourth. Each one is shorter than the one before, more complex, more powerful, more dangerous as an existential threat, and more difficult to adapt to. We can learn from these waves of change. I think we can also learn by creating a new form of “experimental philosophy” in the spirit of experimental economics in which real human response to change is determined by what people believe based on their actions not what they say they believe in surveys. Vernon Smith received the 2002 Nobel Prize in Economic Science for creating and validating experimental economics as an essential part of the new field of behavioral economics. Perhaps a Nobel Prize is waiting for some philosopher?
(May 26, 2018 Update) I have since discovered that experimental philosophy began earnestly as a movement by academia in about 2000 with mixed results. The core problem, according to the Rise and Fall of Experimental Philosophy, apparently was the difficulty of extracting true beliefs from concepts based on reflective linguistics, going back to flaws in the Socratic dialectic method itself.
So, experimental philosophy is still a problem to be solved, that might be approached in a new way using the pragmatic framework of MOQ, e.g., Values create Realities, which are Beliefs tied to Actions. The extent that we can understand the flow and linkage of these creative relationships could be the extent to which we can understand if and how AI machines can be made to be value driven.
What Does Living Through Four Technological Tell Us?
During four decades of working at all levels in our technology-driven world I have experienced the dramatic shift in emphasis from “meaning” to “building” that is perilous for unleashing autonomous machines smarter than humans on society . I have lived and worked in each of the four main technology revolution eras:
Newton’s Mechanical Technology————————->Industrial Revolution (1642)
Einstein’s Quantum Energy Technology—————>Nuclear Revolution (1905)
Turin’s Digital Computer Information Technology->Digital AI Revolution (1931)
Deutsche’s Quantum Information Technology——–>Quantum AI Revolution (1995)
With each revolution wave the risk to society’s collapse has increased exponentially because consideration for building has outraced consideration for meaning –POWER over PURPOSE.
We always had a off-switch for machines we created during the first industrial revolution, which built the modern infrastructure we have today. If anything we could always flip the “on” switch to “off.”
In the second wave nuclear technology was so powerful off and on became bomb the world out of existence or not; no switch and no inbetween ground. We came up with the idea of mutual existential fear to avoid blowing up the world by a establishing a pact of mutual assured destruction with our nuclear bomb bearing enemies; so far, so good for 70 years, but this proposition is losing its mooring.
The digital revolution of the third wave up the ante for survival another notch by democratized silent cyber infiltration by anyone from anywhere for any purpose as the unintended flip side of benefit that flowed from the massive social and economic worldwide interconnection we quickly grew to love so much. We are just now seeing the holes of vulnerability in the fabric of civilization created by 3rd wave digital systems and trying to plug them.
The forth wave of quantum AI information systems is just emerging and it promises have the power to take the final bite of civilization as smarter-than-us software devours the world by consuming all human-produced data to placate our every desire until we are moved in a daze to the dustbin of history. Shouldn’t we be worried about this?
Chasing the Uncatchable is AI
Forty years ago I started working as a 26 year-old PhD physicist just as the high technology industry was beginning to boom and have been riding these waves through all phases of its growth starting as an employee owner at a startup in a Southern California with stock options, and quickly moving to manager, entrepreneur, business owner, paradigm research expert, strategist, and mentor. In the early 2000s I took a sabbatical to become a full-time university professor teaching entrepreneurship, where I designed and built the first university-wide Community of Practice entrepreneurship website on the Internet with a competitively won Kaufman grant, and, continued to be a growing philosopher.
All of what I chased had an end point. That changes with AI because trying to build intelligence reminds us that knowledge and the intelligence to use it are open-ended, never finished, and seem truly unlimited. This is life’s endless race track, and that’s more than okay with me because being on it is a joy, the Joy of Chasing the Uncatchable.
That is when I began researching, writing in my blog, and teaching workshops for the last five years on how to think about and navigate in this new world we are building. I grew to believe that blending art and science knowledge (metaphysical and physical) is the way to go to prepare for AI, and not just teaching elective courses in academia, because through active learning the life we create is our art; It is ultimately about what we believe the meaning of our life is as we contemplate the meaning of artificial life we are trying to create.
This fusion happened to me naturally and gradually over my lifetime by adapting to stay ahead of the waves of change affecting my clients. I was accidently educated for this journey. I needed to constantly learn to give me the balanced perception needed for each wavelet of change. Most people won’t have a lifetime to adapt because change is coming too fast. But they can learn by keeping meaning in front of the building for this new age of AI. I emphasize ART, in the broad sense, for active learning how we capture and express meaning for what kind of society we want to build with the tools of Science and its progeny, technology, which we use to build our physical society.
And that’s the point: We have built our physical society along with the technology it required but have not built our metaphysical society of shared meaning to keep up. All of our human-designed institutions and systems are 18th century inventions and need a metaphysical overhaul, not just a face lift, to survive the coming AI wave when it crashes in full force.
A First Response to AI and the Endless Track it is On
I sat down on Monday May 21 to draft a quick draft tweet in response to an AI article in Forbes online magazine Posted May 20.
Three disparate thoughts exploded in my mind out of nowhere like suddenly seeing an elephant in a parking lot. These thoughts did not have anything to do with each other on the surface but they somehow resonated strongly with me.
They were: (1) The power of “love energy” at Royal Wedding on Saturday May 19; (2) The Wedding sermon message that “the second discovery of fire” is coming, and; (3) The “specialness of AI” in the Forbes article to “change everything” in last Sunday’s online Forbes magazine.
Maybe it was lack of sleep from getting up at 3 am to watch the Royal Wedding in bed with my significant other, but the confluence of these thoughts blew open a mental door that has been trying to get my attention for five years. The phrase “Chasing the Uncatchable” has been knocking on my mind. You ping-pong-ballers know what I am talking about; always pinging and ponging. Such is the nature of ping pong balls in the brain that want to be fed.
So this is what happened: That simple tweet I quickly drafted about the Forbes AI article blossomed into this first section of a book you have been reading; I had been thinking about it for awhile and it finally spilled out. The topic has found its way into snippets of my blog posts and tweets during the last five years. I decided then and there to begin drafting this book here online on one of my blogs starting with this Book Introduction, permalink tag JCTU-1- Introduction . I will announce each new section with a tweet.
The next section to be posted is a narrative based on the Forbes tweet I wrote with permalink tag JCTU-2 Love-AI-Fire. Each section I write will be announced with a tweet, including visual media, pointing to section narrative (i.e., a TWART) here in my “Meaning” blog.
(Note: Disparate with the “i” and speaking emphasis on “par” means widely scattered and unconnected, or in my mind many options; Whereas Desperate with the “e” and emphasis on the “des” means without hope, or in my mind no options.)
How This Book Came into Being
I first uttered “chasing the uncatchable” five years ago to a close friend of 30+ years, who was also former client, Pat Bannister, now living the good life in Montana. I had just moved to Baltimore in 2013 from the DC area and he asked me casually what I was up to. I quipped: “Just chasing the uncatchable, as usual, after replacing both of my worn-out knees.” Pat knew what that meant from our many late-night conversations: Chasing Reality, with a capital “R”. What is it? How does it work? Why does it work this way?
Surviving requires understanding reality on a basic level; Living a fully authentic life requires climbing the rungs of Reality’s two-sided ladder as high as you dare and are able to climb .
My PhD in physics at age 26 started had me off at a dizzying height on the physical side of Reality’s ladder. I have continued to creep up this side slowly and carefully as I rushed to catch up on the other side of business, culture, art and meaning. By 56 my hands-on and mind-on work as a scientist, manager, entrepreneur, multiple business owner, paradigm research expert, mentor to CXOs, university professor, and two marriages and divorces put me at a dizzying height on the other side of Reality’s ladder, the metaphysical. My physical and metaphysical being were now tightly interwoven allowing me to comfortably chase the uncatchable.
I had nibbled at, but now began taking big bites at big hard questions about how the two sides of the ladder related to each other, and where they were taking me. I found great comfort in sorting out answers to big questions from a number of written works, my many diverse experiences, and from individuals who were very generous in their authentic being, and from whom I learned a lot as well as contributed back to in kind. These stories and references will be brought out as The Joy of Chasing the Uncatchable unfolds here.
Pat was instrumental as a participating partner in some of my most informative experiences during the last 30 years. We had traveled far and wide as I supported him and his growing business responsibilities, and he supported me and my ideas fearlessly over the years on international venues as well new frontiers of strategic and metaphysical terrain where we addressed problems and opportunities caused by paradigm shifts.
In 2013 after my quip he said he wanted to know more about “chasing the uncatchable.” I told him I would let him know when I had something to say; now I do. By that time I had downsized my company, Paradigm Research, to just me to get my knees replaced and rehab, and had moved to Baltimore after fully recovering for the next phase of my life.
I joked to Pat that I was studying AI to replace all of my worn-out parts from the bottom up. I added that I moved from the DC area to be near my jazz-musician-writer-celebrity son, and to research, consult, and write about the great wave of change building from AI that was going to crash on every doorstep and flood the world in our life time.
I set out to do two things: (1) Write every day about AI ideas based on deep research I conducted, and to put them out on social media in blogs and tweets for reaction, and; (2) Connect my ideas personally to people as a mentor to startups and by conducting workshops and/or teaching the fusion of art and science to help people find a way to be part of the massive cultural change that is surely coming.
Lastly, of course, I googled to see if other books had the same or similar titles as the one I was considering. What I found is a 2016 short crime novel (To Chase the Uncatchable), an Asian crime comedy 2004 movie, (To Catch the Uncatchable), and this editorial call from PubMed for candid opinion-discussions of health practices by medical professionals that can contribute to continuous quality improvement (CQI) systems under the label: “Best Practices in Health Promotion: The Joy of Chasing the Uncatchable.”
Thank you PubMed. I decided to add the words “Joy of” to “chasing-the-uncatchable” quip I made to Pat Bannister for the working title of my book because my journey has been, and continues to be, nothing but a joy. In a related conversation with another long-time colleague who is an important part of my story, Jim Russell, I remarked to one day that, “I could not imagine a better way to create a universe than the one we have because there will always be more to experience and learn than is possible in a lifetime, which makes for unending joy.” (Especially for those with ping pong issues.)
Detailed Outline (TBD)
Part of this joy is taking big hard issues down to a playful or everyday human level as a way of exploring their meanings in simple and familiar settings. Below are some examples:
- I had fun with the big hard questions of the universe when I wrote a Holiday Fable: Bubble Gum Universe based on modern physics concepts in an early blog post.
- Another fun post on AI was the outline of a musical I hope someone would produce that I named The Trans-Human Galaxy Ball of 2045: Can Computers Dance? It’s an allegory set in the distant future in which Carbon, Silicon, Gold and Diamonds are key characters in this classic teenage school conflict story told in the style of the Rocky Horror Picture Show.
- The two-sided ladder concept of Reality above came to mind from a book I read a few years ago (The Human Face of Jesus) and liked so much that I wrote and published a review of it entitled Einstein: Genius of Physics; Jesus: Genius of Metaphysics. The author liked it so much he called to thank me and address an omission I called out; We had an interesting discussion of projects we were both working on.
- Donovan’s Brain is a serious little book I researched and wrote during the rehabbing of my knee replacements with help from Art Reinhardt, my long time ex-CIA friend. I was curious where the problem solving skills I and many others had learned to use all of our all life came from. Art suggested I check out General Donovan. I researched him heavily and wrote Donovan’s Brain about how he, former prosecutor, republican confidant of democrat President Roosevelt, as well as, founder of the CIA at 58, had created “people algorithms” and modern management processes to solve big hard existential global problems in the early 1940s before computers were invented or Peter Drucker wrote his first management book. His key people left after WWII to help start RAND and spread Donovan’s fundamental concepts everywhere. (My book was drafted in 2011, to be available in 2018).
- Dramattica is the outline of a serious little fun SyFy book about how an alien, Mona, who carries DNA from her six fathers in a female dominated world leaves, and adapts to a new galactic civilization, Dramattica, by learning to mind shift by getting a PhD at real-time paradigm shifting to mingle successfully among the three different cultures that make up Dramattica. (Drafted in 2012, to be available in 2019.)
- I also wrote a short story of fiction, The Meaning in Life is a Good Tamale, about the discovery of a tamale preserved frozen for 10,000 years in remnants of the last ice age and how a reporter’s life writing its story was changed by a native stranger in a South American bar who gave her the secret to understanding the meaning of life from the beginning of civilization via the tamale. It’s a meditation on the roots of value.