The Wisdom Seeker Initiative

Web site last updated: 6/22/04

This website will be the basis for my contributions to MIT's Free / Open Source Research Community


From Washington State University's "Readings About the World, Volume I":

Plato, the most creative and influential of Socrates' disciples, wrote dialogues, in which he frequently used the figure of Socrates to espouse his own (Plato's) full-fledged philosophy. In "The Republic," Plato sums up his views in an image of ignorant humanity, trapped in the depths and not even aware of its own limited perspective.

And now, I said, let me show in a figure how far our nature is enlightened or unenlightened: -- Behold! human beings living in a underground den, which has a mouth open towards the light and reaching all along the den; here they have been from their childhood, and have their legs and necks chained so that they cannot move, and can only see before them, being prevented by the chains from turning round their heads. Above and behind them a fire is blazing at a distance, and between the fire and the prisoners there is a raised way; and you will see, if you look, a low wall built along the way, like the screen which marionette players have in front of them, over which they show the puppets.

Plato, The Republic, "The Allegory of the Cave"

MODERN EXAMPLES: Maybe we are part of a higher intelligence's computer simulation. Would their perspective be the true reality, and our experience illusion? To us, however, this world sure seems real... For another example, see the Nancy Kress science fiction story, "Steamship Soldier on the Information Front".

This story is about a week or so in the life of Allen Haller, CEO of Haller Ventures, a company which markets leading edge information technology products, some time in the next century. We follow him as he rushes around the world, investigating new companies, and interfacing with his high-achieving family via a variety of technological tricks, but rarely in person. At first the object seems a satirical look at the future family, but Kress is more sympathetic to her characters than that. Allen and his wife become concerned about their son, who is very intelligent but seems to have opted out of the achievement race, as it were. At the same time, one of Allen's prize projects is a company which is developing very advanced quasi- intelligent robots: then the robots also seem to "opt out". Kress's point, explicitly iterated in the closing, is that the world is now in the "Information Age", where the more and more efficient gathering of information is the driving goal: but a time will come when the world goes on to another "Age", and Information Tech will be as useful then as steamships are today. Perhaps Allen's son and the robots are in the vanguard of this new age. Review by Richard Horten, Tangent Online.

Statement of Purpose

According to Keith G. Calkins of Andrews University:

The Republic is a good example of one of Plato's dramatic dialogues. The Republic is a detailed discussion on Plato's political theories and the nature of justice. Plato believed that political philosophy was based on the human soul. He thought that the soul is divided into three parts: 1) the rational part (intellect), 2) the spirited part (will), and 3) appetite (desire). His reasons for believing his theory to be true are because these parts occasionally conflict with each other. And like the soul, Plato felt that society has three parts or classes: 1) the philosopher king (who governs the society), 2) the guardian (who keeps order and defends society), and 3) the ordinary citizen, such as farmers, merchants, and craft workers, who provide the society's material needs. The philosopher king represents intellect, the guardian represents the will, and the ordinary citizen represents the appetite. In Plato's perfect society, the king control the citizen, with the help of the guardian, forming a well functioning soul.

I may add that I do not agree with Plato's distinction regarding three class of people. I think we all have the capacity to be philosopher kings as well as guardians and citizens. This view is probably more in line with conventional notions of democracy.

In general, the author of this web site believes that our world is in need of wisdom more so than ever, considering the state of international relations, hunger, disease, and other social problems. We think we have come to unique point in human history where with the integration of innovative software systems, solutions to previously intractable problems may not be necessarily out of reach. We think we need to think big in the same way that we thought big about putting a man on the moon, this time taking a "journey into cyberspace" to discover how optimal organizations of entities posessing agency emerge from chaos. We hope this "abstract project" proposal will provide hope for people who are seeking a better world in the year 2004. The way I see it is if nations can spend billions of dollars on space exploration, people of good will should have the tools to be able to search for new answers to the great questions at the cost of their time, effort, and patience. The savings in the long term may be too great to ignore...

Realizing the dream

This research project is result of my interest in many subjects, including computer science and philosophy. My background in computer science is much more extensive, but I have been interested in philosophy since late high school due to having read a book entitled The Third Wave [1] by Alvin Toffler. Mr. Toffler possessed a degree in philosophy, and his book described the evolution of human society through agricultural, industrial, and now, information ages (waves). This book has provoked me in years since to ponder questions of meaning and value, and has led me to read a modest number of books on philosophical subjects. Why haven't I read more? Lack of guidance.

From what I have read, I believe that wisdom is needed by this world as much as it has been throughout the ages, and the word philosophy literally means "love of wisdom". There are those who say that philosophy is not concrete, meaning there is so much that needs to be done to address current problems that it does not make sense to enhance our philosophical competencies. My argument is - can we make a single choice WITHOUT employing philosophy? Maybe blind choices are why we are in position that we are (forever in the frying pan, jumping from hotspot to hotspot...). Science has certainly helped the human condition, but there are topics that only philosophy can address, according to the following quote from the book Models of Metaphilosophy [2]:

What is the difference between philosophy and other fields of inquiry? It can be answered by saying that the difference consists in the alleged all-comprehensiveness of its scope. Philosophy is said to be an inclusive mode of thought. The other enterprise, science, generally speaking, is interested in or testable by the minute details of the things that it studies. The philosophical modes of understanding and explaining the problems of the world are not very precise or definite. For philosophy, unlike science, has no well-defined vocabulary of its own. From this time, it would be rash, or even incorrect, to conclude because of its relativity imprecise and indefinite character philosophy is unrelated or of no consequence to science. While the scope of philosophy is comprehensive, that of science is well defined (but not fixed for good). But this is not an interesting way of drawing the distinction between science and philosophy. The distinction between these two disciplines may be clearly indicated not in terms of their scope but in terms of their respective methods. There are some sorts of human experience that are not amenable to the scientific method but that do not minimize their significance in human life. The experiences of mystery, wonder, reverence, and beauty are, although not amenable to the methodological scrutiny of science; occupy a place of importance in our culture.

However, I believe that science can provide tools to aid philosophy, just as philosophy has aided science through inquiry into its methods. Just as telescopes increased man's ability to see great distances, and microscopes increased the ability to see the infitessimal, computers are increasing our ability to model, visualize, and simulate organizational and mental functioning. According to Gert.-Jan C. Lokhorst's review of the book The Digital Phoenix: How Computers Are Changing Philosophy [2]:

The theme of The Digital Phoenix is not completely new. More than twenty years ago, Aaron Sloman wrote The Computer Revolution in Philosophy (Harvester Press, 1978), in which he stated: "I am prepared to go so far as to state that within a few years, if there remain any philosophers who are not familiar with some of the main developments in artificial intelligence, it will be fair to accuse them of professional incompetence, and that to teach courses in philosophy of mind, epistemology, aesthetics, philosophy of science, philosophy of language, ethics, metaphysics, and other main areas of philosophy, without discussing the relevant aspects of artificial intelligence will be as irresponsible as giving a degree course in physics which includes no quantum theory" (p. 5).

On the basis of faith in the above books, among others, I have taken in a lot of material in the past year searching for a framework to unify the disciplines of science and philosophy. A listing of the majority of the technical material is given in "The Academy" section of this web site. They are my axioms, and its has been a joy to use my mind to try to discover, through reason, what should be postulated.

My hypothesis is this: the first step in a process to realize a wise software system would be a "massively reflective execution environment". What this means is transparent logging the state of programs so that they are amenable to data mining and visualization. An easy to use an environment to do this (involving "plug and play" IDEs, data miners, visualizers, and resource managers) should be developed, and the project should be made feasible from the standpoint of computational power by using such techniques as grid computing. Any program, written in any language, should be able to be analyzed in the execution environment.

Secondly, a special set of programs I believe would be of particular interest in designing "wisdom seeking" software are artificial intelligence, evolutionary computing, simulation environments, and soft computing applications. I have devised an operational definition for a wise systems - "systems are wise if they know how to optimize their own optimization, ad infinitum". There exists "high level architectures" for coupling simulations together so they are synchronized and can pass messages between themselves. Any of the above applications could be placed within simulations. By creating a "chain" of simulations, one simulation could perform the optimization function for the other. While my definition of wise system informs infinite regress, an approximation of a wise system could still be modelled.

Thirdly, data mining and visualization could be used to further understand the behavior of the simulations. This data should be stored in a global repository to available for other simulation developers to use. With the use of a global respository, comparsion and correlation of results from different simulations by researchers could be accomplished. In the same way that taxonomies of plants and animals are generated by naturalists, taxonomies of simulations could be generated.

Fourth, certain simulations involving multi-agent systems have shown that they possess characteristics simular to humans and human organizations, such as beliefs, trust, emotions, personalities, delegation, collaboration, economic relationships, social relations, communication, and other. This begs the question in my mind that with further refinement of data mining and visualization techniques, that these phenomena could be pinpointed in simulations and stored in the global respository. These phenomena could be a representaion of state at a "higher level" of abstraction.

Fifth, techniques in narrative intelligence are currently being researched. By using narrative intelligence, stories are generated by agents as they interact with other agents and their environment. These stories read like human narrative, and they could be used by researchers as qualititative data to be integrated with the quantitative "state transition" data. Texting mining could be used to complement data mining to find stories that are particularly interesting or novel. At this point, philosophers could begin to try to understand "what is going on" in the set of simulations being run on the massively reflective execution environment. The goal would be for them to provide a mapping of philosophical ideas to the raw data, creating a method for "back tracing" to particular states of agents, agent organizations, or other intelligent entities to philosophical constructs.

Sixth and finally, when the underlying states of philosophical constructs are beginning to be understood, these simulations could be employed as tools to search for and sythesize wisdom from bases of human knowledge. The field of ontological semantics proposes that computers can only truly begin to do natural language processing when the behavior of software agents is influenced commensurately by the textual material that they are "taking in". At this point, we may have developed "artificial oracles" that could aid us in acheiving a greater understanding of the great questions - life mission, duty to others, generativity, and stewardship of the earth's resources, among others.

  • [1] Toffler, Alvin. The Third Wave. Morrow: 1980.
  • [2] Banerjee, Archana. Models of Metaphilosophy. Minerva: 1989.
  • [3] Bynum, Terrell and Moor, James eds., The Digital Phoenix: How Computers Are Changing Philosophy. Blackwell Publishers: 1998.
  • The Academy

    According to the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy, the Academy is defined as follows:

    Philosophical institution founded by Plato, which advocated skepticism in succeeding generations. The Academy (Academia was originally a public garden or grove in the suburbs of Athens, about six stadia from the city, named from Academus or Hecademus, who left it to the citizens for gymnastics (Paus. i. 29). It was surrounded with a wall by Hipparchus, adorned with statues, temples, and sepulchres of illustrious men; planted with olive and plane trees, and watered by the Cephisus. The olive-trees, according to Athenian fables, were reared from layers taken from the sacred olive in the Erechtheum, and afforded the oil given as a prize to victors at the Panathenean festival. The Academy suffered severely during the siege of Athens by Sylla, many trees being cut down to supply timber for machines of war. Few retreats could be more favorable to philosophy and the Muses. Within this enclosure Plato possessed, as part of his patrimony, a small garden, in which he opened a school for the reception of those inclined to attend his instructions. Hence arose the Academic sect, and hence the term Academy has descended to our times. The name Academia is frequently used in philosophical writings, especially in Cicero, as indicative of the Academic sect.

    Below, a modern day academy:

    Directions: The Massively Reflective Execution Environment

    The Massively Reflective Execution Environment (MSEE) is my name for the first stage of the Wisdom Seeker Initiative. In order to write a research paper about the Wisdom Seeker Initiative, there must be some system in place that people use to be written about. I have a few ideas for a prototype (pMSEE).

    First, the pMSEE should be written in Java, because that language is so popular and amenable to reflection.

    Second, there is an open source software package called Javaassist that that allows bytecode manipulation at the source level. Javassist is a powerful new library in the field of bytecode engineering. It allows developers to add a new method to a compiled class, modify a method body, and so forth. Unlike other similar libraries, Javassist enables this without knowledge of Java bytecode or the structure of a class file.

    Third, an open source software package called the Object Relational Bridge can be used to enable object persistence. Object persistence is a process where objects are mapped to relational tables automatically. Javaassist can be used to weave object persistence code into the Java application under test.

    Fourth, to make the process more selective, a plug in can be created for the Eclipse IDE. This plugin would include a wizard that would enable users to select when objects should be persisted to a database by changes of variable in a particular scope. The persistence of objects should be time dependent, meaning that an object is not overwritten the next time that it is persisted to the database but instead stored as a new record in a table with an audit field.

    Fifth and finally, a general purpose open source data mining environment called Yet Another Learning Environment (YALE) can be used to data mine for patterns in the persisted objects. The persisted objects represent a "snap shot" of the state transitions of the program under test. YALE can read from a relational database, so it can be integrated with the Object Relational Bridge. Additionally, is should become part of the pMSEE Eclipse plugin.

    Closing Thoughts From The Republic...

    Again, from Washington State University's "Readings About the World, Volume I":

    The rare individual escapes the limitations of that cave and, through a long, tortuous intellectual journey, discovers a higher realm, a true reality, with a final, almost mystical awareness of Goodness as the origin of everything that exists.

    And suppose once more, that he is reluctantly dragged up a steep and rugged ascent, and held fast until he's forced into the presence of the sun himself, is he not likely to be pained and irritated? When he approaches the light his eyes will be dazzled, and he will not be able to see anything at all of what are now called realities. He will require to grow accustomed to the sight of the upper world. And first he will see the shadows best, next the reflections of men and other objects in the water, and then the objects themselves; then he will gaze upon the light of the moon and the stars and the spangled heaven; and he will see the sky and the stars by night. Last of he will be able to see the sun, and not mere reflections of him in the water, but he will see him in his own proper place, and not in another; and he will contemplate him as he is.

    The following essay was found on the website

    Plato's theory of knowledge is found in the Republic, particularly in his discussion of the image about the myth of the cave. Plato distinguishes between two levels of awareness: opinion and knowledge. There is a sense in which the Form of the Good (the sun) represents Plato's movement in the direction of an ultimate principle of explanation. Ultimately, the theory of Forms is intended to explain how one comes to know and also how things have come to be as they are. In philosophical language, Plato's theory of Forms is a theory of knowledge and a theory of being. The cave is the world. The fetters are the imagination. The shadows of ourselves are the passive states which we know by thinking. The learned in the cave are those who possess empirical forms of knowledge (who know how to make predictions, the doctors who know how to cure people by using empirical methods, those who know what is going on, etc.). Their knowledge is nothing but a shadow. Education, he says, is, according to the generally accepted view of it, nothing but the forcing of thoughts into the minds of children. For, says Plato, each person has within himself the ability to think. If one does not understand, this is because one is held by the chains.

    Whenever the soul is bound by the chains of suffering, pleasure, etc. it is unable to contemplate through its own intelligence the unchanging patterns of things. If anyone is not able to understand the unchanging patterns of things, that is not due to a lack of intelligence; it is due to a lack of moral stamina. In order to direct one's attention to the perfect patterns of things, one has to stop valuing things which are always changing and not eternal. One can look at the same world, which is before our eyes, either from the point of view of its relation to time, or from that of its relationship to eternity. Education means turning the soul in the direction in which it should look, of delivering the soul from the passions. Plato's morality is: Do not make the worst possible mistake of deceiving yourself. We know that we are acting correctly when the power of thinking is not hindered by what we are doing. To do only those things which one can think clearly, and not to do those things which force the mind to have unclear thoughts about what one is doing. That is the whole of Plato's morality.

    What do we think about the above? I, personally, spent a lot of time and energy pursuing an education in the empirical knowledge that Plato talks about, i.e. college. Without that college education, I would not be able to read about open source software and understand at a deep level the differences between C++ and Java, Windows and Linux, and good old fashioned AI and evolutionary computation. To a certain extent, however, we are only able to do this research by taking a moral stance, in the Platonic sense, about events in the world and decide to invest ourselves with a personal education in topics that matter to us. We live in a scientific, empirical world, and for that reason we need to think empirically to pay the bills. This research will be developed by empirical means and its technical performance judged by empirical standards. Its application, philosophy, is where Plato's morality may come into play. I have had many ideas about how to frame such an abstract project. However, if we were to claim up front that I have always known how to go about this, I would be lying. The primary difficulty is that I have not had the time to study all the topics listed in the section of this website titled "The Academy" in detail. For this reason, I have been forced to take a common sense, but high level approach to the problem of how to leverage the state of the art in computer science to advance the cause of wisdom. But let me say this, one of Plato's most famous quotes is,

    "I am the wisest man in Athens because I know I don't know. I am only singularly ignorant. The rest of the citizens are twice ignorant. They think they know, but they still don't know.

    I have never claimed to know all the answers - but I have a very strong conviction about the picture I have painted in this web site and I have faith and confidence in it. As the research progresses, the hypotheses I have made may meet scientific criteria as well.