"When Charona was trying to explain it to me, she asked me what the most important thing there was. [...]"
"Very good. Anyone who can give a nonrelative answer to that question is simplex."
- Empire Star, Samuel R. Delany
Here's a small riddle: What do the following three images have in common?
The last picture, which ought be recognizable by readers of the sequences, serves as a clue; so does the quote at the top of the page. But these may be insufficient, so I'll just put into plain words what ideas these images represent, which by itself reveals part of the answer:
"Human values are so natural that one could very well achieve friendliness in artificial intelligence pretty much by accident, or at least by letting the machines educate themselves, reaching a human (or superior-to-human) respect for life by themselves."
"The electrons of an atom can be visualized as little tiny billiard balls that go around the nucleus in orbits much like planets go around the sun."
"Characteristics like attractiveness and beauty are inherent to the object possessing them, so that even alien minds would have the good sense of recognizing the beauty of a woman according to criteria possessed by 20th century Hollywood advertisers."
All three images, therefore, represent different types of fatally flawed thinking that have been directly addressed in past sequences. But this isn't quite precise, so let me reveal the remainder of the answer as well: These three fallacies can all be said to consist of a very similar pattern of narrow thinking, false fundamental assumptions, and privileged hypotheses.
And this pattern seems so pervasive (in a large multitude of other fallacies as well) that it probably deserves a name of its own.
In Samuel R. Delany's novella Empire Star, three terms (simplex, complex, and multiplex) are used throughout the novel to label different minds and different ways of thought. Although never explicitly defined, the reader understands their gist to be roughly as follows:
- simplex: Able to look at things only from a single, limited perspective.
- complex: Able to perceive and comprehend multiple ways of examining things and situations.
- multiplex: Able to integrate these multiple perspectives into a new and fuller understanding of the whole.
I will now appropriate the first of these terms to name the above mentioned pattern of biases. It might not be exactly how the author intended it (or then again it might be), but it's close enough for our purposes:
Simplexity: The erroneous mapping of a territory that occurs due to the treatment of a complex element or a highly specific position or area in configuration space as simpler, more fundamental, or more widely applicable than it actually is.
But because it's itself rather simplex to think that a single definition would best clarify the meaning for all readers, I'd like to offer a second definition as well.
Simplexity: The assumption of too high a probability of correlation between the characteristics of familiar and unfamiliar elements of the same set.
And here's a third one:
Simplexity: Treating intuitive notions of simplicity as if referring to the same thing measured by Kolmogorov complexity or used in Solomonoff induction.
These all effectively amount to the same bias, the same flawed way of thinking. Getting back to the images:
In the "Wall-e" picture (which could also have been a "Johnny 5" picture), we see a simplex view of morality and human values; where such complex systems are treated as simple enough to be stumbled upon even by artificial intelligences that were never deliberately designed to have them...
In the "electron orbits" picture, we see a simplex view of the subatomic world, based on the characteristics of macroscopic objects (like position and velocity) being treated as applicable to the whole of physical reality even at quantum scales.
And lastly, in the "monster and lady" picture, we see a simplex view of attractiveness, based on the personal aesthetic criteria of the artists being treated as applicable to all advanced lifeforms, even ones that have different evolutionary histories.
For those who dislike portmanteus, perhaps a term such as "fake-simplicity" (or even "naivety") sounds better than "simplexity". But I think the latter is preferable in a number of ways -- for one thing, it helps remind that what starts out seemingly as simplicity (on the human level) may end up as extreme complexity if described mathematically.
Among the differences between simplicity and simplexity is that simplicity can be either in the map or in the territory. Indeed, since as reductionists we believe the territory to be simple at the most fundamental level, a simple map would (all other things being equal) be a better one - simplicity is a virtue.
But simplexity is always in the map: It's the mind patterning the unfamiliar based on the familiar. Highly useful in an evolutionary sense: humans evolved to be better capable of predicting the actions of other humans than of multiplying three-digit numbers... but ultimately wrong nonetheless whenever it occurs. And the further away from the ancestral environment one gets, the wronger it is likely to be.
But, lest we seem simplex about simplexity, applying a familiar pattern indiscriminately, this must now be followed by an examination of its different variations...
Next Post: Levels of mindspace simplexity