I started the new year doing a deep dive into Cold War game theory, which led me right back into human capital futures trading and guided evolution via bioinformatics and social systems modeling. I’d like to extend my appreciation to Raul Diego for his article, “The Big Bluff: Online Poker, Crypto, and Western Capital’s Last Gamble,” that laid out how cheating scandals intersect with off-shore money laundering. It opened the door to the musty attic I’ve been rummaging around in for the past month. This is the first installment in the “God’s Eye View” series. I’m not sure how long it will be. I’m fifty pages in so far, and as much as I’m trying to wrap it up, the ending keeps eluding me. The series title refers to the “anti-fraud” online poker software mode, the “God mode,” that allowed certain insiders to see all the cards in play, including the hole cards, so they could bet and profit accordingly. Those who have the most information and the best pattern recognition are advantaged in poker and in ReFi (regenerative finance), too. We’re in the game!
I took a few books with me during my holiday sojourn, among them Peter Byrne’s “The Many Worlds of Hugh Everett III.” Everett was a troubled, mathematical genius who had the temerity to critique the theories of physics powerhouses John von Neumann and Niels Bohr around the measurement problem. His assertion? A universal wave function existed that situated conscious beings within a quantum cosmos, NOT as outside observers. Thus, a new view was offered on Schrodinger’s theory of entanglement where our engagement with the world does not result in wave function collapse, but instead creates infinite branches of experience, each pathway separate and unknowable to all others.
While Everett’s theory was mathematically consistent and offered an elegant alternative to the Copenhagen Collapse Postulate and the von Neumann-Dirac formulation of quantum mechanics where consciousness collapses the wave, most physicists shied away from it then and today. His advisor at Princeton, John Wheeler, got Everett to whittle down his theories to bare bones, so they could award him a PhD without unduly offending Bohr and sent him on his way in 1957.
Twenty years later, David Deutsch, an Oxford physicist, would surface Hugh Everett’s full dissertation and reconceptualize it as the Many Worlds Theory. The premise of a multiverse has gained traction in popular culture as creatives in digital media and gaming are all in to explore the potential of alternate, coexisting futures in hyperspace – see the recent film “Everything Everywhere All At Once.” As encoded extended reality insinuates itself ever more powerfully in our lived experience it’s worth contemplating not only Everett’s research into the Quantum, but also his work, much of it still classified, in Cold War probability theory and optimization. The latter are vital elements of the crypto-economic agenda speeding us towards life in a dystopian digital “commons,” which I’ve started calling “the ant computer.”
As his dissertation gathered dust, the boozy, brilliant mathematician pivoted into the burgeoning DC-metro defense sector and joined the top-secret Weapons Systems Evaluation Group where he used his analytical skills to identify targets for nuclear strikes, plot missile trajectories, and assess the true cost of nuclear fallout, informing policies around Mutual Assured Destruction. He struck out on his own with Lambda Corp., a financially precarious consulting firm and extended his algorithmic expertise to financial markets and social policy. Poker was part of the defense contractor social scene, along with square-dance potlucks evidently.
“Every Friday afternoon was ‘Sherry Hour’ at Lambda Corporation. Once a month we had a potluck square-dance dinner. Once a month we played poker in the Lambda poker group, which evolved from the WSEG (Weapons System Evaluation Group) poke group…His home had an indoor swimming pool. He enjoyed eating in fine restaurants. He enjoyed taking pictures with the microfilm camera that he always carried in a small case attached to his belt. He smoked his cigarettes with a filter, had long, swept-back black hair and a mustache/goatee, which he stroked while reviewing his poker hands.” Source
After finding out about the existence of the Pugwash Conferences that started in 1957, the year Everett was finishing his dissertation, which brought together top US, Soviet, and world scientists regularly throughout the duration of the Cold War, I’ve come to realize the stories we’ve been told around the nature of that stand-off were highly curated. I now see the second half of the twentieth century not so much about managing a real and present danger around nuclear war as about enacting ongoing mental anguish, cultivating globally polarized mindsets, channeling public funds to enrich and embolden defense interests, and asserting the primacy of a heroic, cutting edge science, including radiation and nanotech, that would set the stage for a siege on natural consciousness in the twenty-first century.
The supposedly golden age of the United States in the1950s brought with it a multitude of government-corporate-academic partnerships that would weaponize space, construct supercomputers, develop game theoretical models and sophisticated simulation technologies with the aim of one day regulating biology on the planet through biophysics, frequency, and genetic algorithms. Running concurrently with the Red Scare narrative was the “Limits to Growth / Earth as A Spaceship” frame meant to pave the way for a future of global governance by systems engineers. Ervin Laszlo’s envisioned a “World Homeostat” installing a permanent “peace” and balanced resource management with help from cybernetic feedback loops and ubiquitous sensor networks that would harmonize the imagined “chaos” of nature into a well-modulated hum of social efficiency, thus realizing an enlightenment dream of computational rationality.
As it stands, I think Laszlo’s homeostat is the blockchain smart contract layer, a unified protocol intended to, as Norbert Wiener’s book laid out in 1948, manage “Control and Communication in the Animal and the Machine.” A central part of that control system is the continued refinement of artificial intelligence, a system that can compute, but not create. I’ve come to feel that what we’re facing off against in this time of creative destruction is a mechanical thought form. It lacks heart and soul. It may be able to mirror and remix the abundant streams of human imagination, emotion, and biology poured into its circuits by the data economy, but it cannot be us. And yet it is a stubborn presence that will try and run us through its sensor-infused mazes until it has enough data on us to fabricate a damn fine replica.
John von Neumann, father of game theory and its application to economics, lectured at the Institute for Advanced Study during the time Everett was studying at Princeton University. In 1937 von Neumann and Oskar Morgenstern wrote “Theory of Games and Economic Behavior” and introduced the concept of utility theory into decision making, people picking among a variety of choices to maximize some expected value. Statistics are used to predict choices, and such predictions seeded mathematical modeling and simulation in the social sciences. The game of poker was central to von Neumann’s research, though he was a rather poor player. The following quote is from a 2006 Forbes article, “A Beautiful Theory.”
“Von Neumann was only interested in poker because he saw it as a path toward developing a mathematics of life itself. He wanted a general theory–he called it “game theory”–that could be applied to diplomacy, war, love, evolution or business strategy. But he thought that there could be no better starting point than poker: “Real life consists of bluffing, of little tactics of deception, of asking yourself what is the other man going to think I mean to do. And that is what games are about in my theory.”
John von Neumann consulted on the Manhattan Project, was a war hawk, advocated for the hydrogen bomb, helped build the first all-purpose computer, ENIAC, and served as a commissioner on the Atomic Energy Commission until his premature death from bone cancer in 1957 (likely the result of radiation exposure at the Bikini atoll bomb detonations). In addition to game theory, he was recognized for his achievements in theories related to creation of artificial “life,” cellular automata. His ideas about self-replicating machines predated Watson and Crick’s discovery of DNA and provided a foundation for later ground-breaking work by John H. Holland on the application of genetic algorithms and ever more sophisticated simulation modeling applied to guide the evolution of systems (the Omega Point “World Brain” envisioned by Reiser, Huxley, and Teilhard de Chardin).
I had Holland’s 2012 book “Signals and Boundaries: Building Blocks for Complex Adaptive Systems,” in my luggage, too. I’ve never taken a statistics course, so I’ll admit many of the mathematical aspects were over my head. However, the book helped me broadly imagine the headspace of theoreticians who view dynamic systems through the lens of probability, choice theory, and optimization. His first chapter considers the rainforest as an intricate signal/boundary system in which strategies of diversity, recirculation, niches, and coevolution are in play, sustaining an abundance of life in an ecosystem defined by impoverished soil and excess moisture. Holland notes that our bodies are like ecosystems with similar dynamics and goes on to say (note: parenthetical comments are my additions):
“The CAS (complex adaptive system) framework provides a first step toward a general framework by offering a general way for defining adaptive agents (avatar stand-ins). Adaptive agents are defined by an enclosing boundary that accepts some signals and ignores others, a “program” inside the boundary for processing and sending signals and mechanisms for changing this program in response to the agent’s accumulating experience (think distributed ledger digital twins). Once the signal/boundary agents have been defined, they must be situated to allow for positioning of the relevant signals and boundaries. That is, the agents must be placed in a geometry (think geo-fenced Internet of Things environments) that positions populations of agents of various kinds (think social media interest groupings) and localizes non-agent “resources.” Within this geometry, agents must be able to form conglomerates (think teaming) that yield higher levels of organization with new boundaries so that the framework can capture hierarchical organization.” page 24
And continuing on the following page:
“Chapter by chapter, this book introduces a sequence of concepts that can be melded into an appropriate framework:
classifier systems for defining signal-processing programs
tags for directing signals
tagged urns for defining semi-permeable boundaries
genetic algorithms to provide for the adaptation and coevolution of agents
dynamic generated systems that provide a “grammar” for the framework and bring mathematical tools to bear.”
Holland describes cellular metabolic networks as being similar to rainforests. Structures within cells are compartmentalized, using signals to determine which elements may cross their boundary and which must stay outside. Consider this within the context of the manufactured social polarization and influencers who structure digital outrage, generating angst-laden energies that can be channeled to drive social physics towards emergent behavior. Feedback loops (cybernetics) work to maintain homeostasis within polarized systems. He goes on to say that a diversity of structures maximizes efficient use of resources with the coevolutionary process of signal transmissions constantly interacting with boundaries to produce “a progression of cell types, from the simplest self-reproducing single-celled protozoa to the complicated cells found in multicellular eukaryotic organizations.”
This can be explored mathematically by modeling “agents,” who act as buyers and sellers where signals are bids placed in complex language and grammar of optimized resource exchange. Agents are defined by boundaries, which are in turn determined by classifier rules, semi-permeable gateways that control which signals are acceptable. Later chapters describe Holland’s application of particle mechanics and statistics to agents, picturing their interactions as random billiard ball collisions and white and black marbles taken in and out of urns tagged with conditional access metrics. Picture “if-then” statements, blockchain smart contracts animating smart-city outside-in robots. Run programmed simulations, and see virtual populations mutate, crossbreed, and coevolve as a mathematical dance of guided evolution plays out where alternate futures are explored, evaluated, modulated via digital interfaces – Will Wright’s SimCity c. 1989.
Having started to wrap my mind around these concepts, I see this clip from the ARISE conference about “market-based” potassium exchange between root and fungi in a new light.
These ideas around emergence/convergence call to mind University of Pittsburgh philosophy professor Oliver Reiser’s advocacy in 1946 of scientific humanism, an approach he believed would usher in a unified global culture to solve the world’s problems.
“It will be noted that in the chapter headings of this book we are following through on the organismic theory in a realistic manner. We speak of marriage – the marriage of intelligence and love, knowledge and power – and refer to a social orgasm as the supreme effort at the organization of morphogenetic fields which shall guide the developing foetus. The period of gestation, the labor pains, and the final birthing which will bring to completion the biological sequence of the fruitful union are all parts of the social embryology of planetary humanism.” page 19
I invite you to listen to an eight-minute clip I pulled from a 2021 conversation between Charles Eisenstein, advocate of “sacred economics” and Sep Kamvar; formerly of Google, MIT’s social computing group, and now head of Celo blockchain currency, on the power of morphic fields. While I agree “redemptive violence” is not a productive strategy, it is worth noting that Celo is a blockchain currency linked to social impact finance deals targeting vulnerable communities. Crypto has its own energetics. Are they seeking to leverage energy fields to draw natural life into a techno-guided evolutionary program?
During his time at MIT, Kamvar founded a chain of Montessori schools in the Boston area that placed sensors in the felt slippers worn by children around the classrooms to track their movements and social relations. The classrooms also had ceiling-mounted cameras with artificial vision that fed data to leaderboards. Violence can take many forms. For me such panopticon policies exhibit a violent, domination tendency towards children. This is important information to consider as you listen to them uplift the use of morphic fields to bring “goodness” to the world. I see it as a thinly veiled metaphysical strategy that connects to Reiser’s calls for an orchestrated Planetary Logos seventy-five years ago.
“If there were no resurrection from the forms of the past, humanity’s age-long struggle toward light and life would indeed be an abortion of the giant social embryo-the Planetary Being which is to come. It is my hope that scientific humanism many not only provide the seminal principle for the earth-ovum but serve also as the mental guiding field for embryogenesis, so that the viable offspring of the planet’s own quickening effort shall be the Spirit of Mankind Incarnate, the Planetary Logos made flesh in the World Sensorium.” page 19
To my way of thinking bringing together von Neumann’s game theory, Holland’s genetic algorithms, Everett’s quantum universe, Reiser’s social embryology, with an understanding of blockchain tokenomics is important, because later we will see how free-market economics, digital democracy, and data-driven “what works” social impact deals are on a collision course with Calvinist predestination and emerging market bets on “good” behavior by a class of people with a pathological gambling problem. That is why we must extend our concerns around blockchain beyond a limited understanding of it as digital “money” and recognize that this technology is meant to be a central feature that will shape the signal-boundary architectures employed for guided collective evolution via complex adaptive systems theory.
Wars of the twentieth century were waged through signal processing, telegraphy, radar, cryptography, and real-time intelligence-driven strategy. These forces shaped the life trajectories of people like Everett who could reduce life to essential equations for analysis and action.
Cold Warriors inhabited an elaborate game, one with very high stakes and a lot of bluffing.