Rude Q&A


"I don't think there are any rude questions."

― Helen Thomas, American reporter and author, in the New York Times

"One handy technique I learned years ago at Microsoft was the Rude Q&A (RQA). Whenever we had a major launch, we’d start preparing by writing a document that listed all of the difficult, unfair and perhaps rude, questions we’d rather not be asked, but might come up."

― Scott Berkun, American author, in his article "How and Why To Write a Rude Q&A"


You probably have a lot of questions about everything I have presented in this book.

The ultimate objective of the book is probably one of the oldest known to mankind, but the approach I have taken is somewhat unusual. So, it is perfectly reasonable if you are confused or even incredulous. Maybe even annoyed.

I have tried to anticipate some of your questions and objections, including some that might sound rude, and attempted to address them in advance. If you have a question that is not addressed here, please ask and I will add it to the list.

A) Who are you? And why should anyone listen to you?

As far as this book is concerned, it shouldn't really matter who I am. And I am not asking you to listen to me or take my word for anything that is presented here.

The beauty of proposing a framework based on evidence and reason is that it does not require that I claim to be an authority in the ideas presented. We don't follow arguments and conclusions based on evidence and reason because some authority gave them to us. We follow the arguments and conclusions because they directly make sense to us, without requiring a middleman.

Anyone can verify the ideas and reasoning presented in this book for themselves and agree or disagree based on whether their own exploration of the ideas convinces them.

I am not claiming to be a philosopher or even an accomplished writer. I am just a curious person at heart and an engineer by training. I started learning English in 5th grade, and somehow still developed a liking for writing in English. I have no particular authority in any of the fields I have talked about in this book, but I am a lifelong student who likes to dabble in a variety subjects and I am fortunate to have had the time to spend on doing so.

Of course, it is quite likely that I have made mistakes in my construction of the MSE Framework, and in that case, I hope to hear about it, learn from it, and improve the framework accordingly. Doing so would be in line with the MBR methodology that the framework is based on. This is one of the reasons why I have published the book directly on the web.

This brings us to the next question.

B) What should someone do if they disagree with arguments presented in the book?

I love honest disagreements. That is how I discover new information and advance my base of knowledge. So go ahead and air your disagreements with me. I am happy to engage in any meaningful debate.

Unlike many other debaters, my aim in every meaningful debate I engage in is not so much to win the debate but to discover new truths. (This is another benefit of being evidence- and reason- driven rather than authority-driven.)

In fact, I believe that when someone wins a debate, that means they have just wasted their time, because they did not learn anything new! One should prefer to lose an honest and rigorous argument, because that would mean that they learned something new and thus deepened their own understanding of the issue. In my opinion, this is a far more interesting outcome.

Now let us talk about some similarities and differences between the approach presented here and the other well-known approaches to answering the hard questions of life.

C) Are you against faith or religion or spirituality in general?

Not at all. If someone believes in religion (or spirituality in general), I have no problem with that. I am not trying to convince them to give that up.

Religion and spirituality have withstood the test of time, and for very good reasons. They have provided a source of meaning, purpose and hope to billions of people. I am trying to bring those benefits to those who have already lost faith in religion or even spirituality.

If someone has already moved on from their faith or never got too deep into it in the first place, and ended up having a meaning crisis as a result, then I hope my book will help them, just like it helped me.

Also, as I have noted earlier, there are some clear overlaps between what I have presented here and many religions and philosophies. Some of the final outcomes are very similar, except the methods used to get there are different, and, as discussed earlier, there are many significant and serious benefits to the methods used here.

Using an approach based on evidence, reason and first principles allows us to understand why we are saying the things we are saying. We don't have to take leaps of faith or take someone's word for it. This approach allows us to challenge all the assumptions and the reasoning, and, whenever we learn something new about our reality, we can improve our assumptions, reasoning and even results and recommendations.

This brings us to the next logical question.

D) Is what you are proposing a new philosophy or ideology?

No.

What I am trying to define is just a scientific and engineering framework. I am not a philosopher or theologist by training, so I wouldn’t presume to make any serious proclamations in that area.

In my wildest dreams, I imagine that efforts like this will develop into a new field of science and engineering that deals with "Meaning Seeking". Maybe we can call it Meaning Science or Meaning Engineering.

I believe that we need something like this pretty badly at present and would love it if books such as this one motivate people in this direction.

Someday, maybe we will have high school or college level courses in this area. Such a course could probably parallel or follow immediately after students have gone through a good amount of STEM coursework. It could even provide additional motivation for students to take up these subjects because they will understand how the subject matter relates to reality and life.

I am not alone in undertaking this type of effort either. There are many others (as I have mentioned earlier) who have been working in this space. I am just another voice in that conversation.

But this gives me hope that such efforts could turn into a movement in the near future.

E) Are you an advocate for scientism?

Scientism is the belief that scientific methods are the only way to obtain any truths about reality. And since scientific methods are based on evidence and reason, and the MSE Framework is also based on evidence and reason, it is reasonable for someone to think that I may be advocating for scientism.

I want to make it clear that I am not advocating for scientism in any way.

Here are the ways that what I have presented in this book differs from scientism:

  • I am only claiming that meaning, purpose and hope can be obtained even if you choose to stay within the bounds of evidence and reason. For a long time, we have been made to believe that evidence and reason are insufficient for obtaining things like meaning, purpose and hope. I am simply trying to debunk that specific claim, while making no grand statement about that being the only way.

  • I am perfectly willing to acknowledge that there may be other ways of obtaining meaning, purpose and hope in life. I just want to add one more way to the list.

  • I have repeatedly acknowledged that rationality has limits and that reality contains a lot of unknowns and nebulosity that science has not been able to capture (and may never be able to capture fully). As a result, I have proposed Mindful Bounded Rationality as the methodology for this book and suggested that engineering is a better way to approach things like meaning, purpose and hope than pure science.

  • I have also advocated for a humble approach that accepts that we don't know everything, but we can still find a way forward, and keep looking for new ways to improve or even correct our understanding of reality. This is a big difference between any kind of "ism" and the approach taken in this book - I am not proposing any final or ultimate solutions.

  • Finally, I have talked only about meaning, purpose and hope, which is a small subset of all of truth. I am not making any claims about all of truth.

I hope that should clear up any confusion about my views on scientism. Now let me address an objection that may come from the opposite direction.

F) Are you just putting old wine in a new bottle?

Some people might say that the conclusions we have reached based on the MSE Framework look a lot like the teachings of many religions or philosophies that have existed for a long time.

What is new here? Is this just old wine in a new bottle?

Let me use that analogy itself to explain what is new here. Suppose you want to get a great bottle of wine for some special occasion. You have 2 options:

  1. You can go to the local wine store and ask the wine expert there for their recommendation and simply buy whatever they suggest. Or,

  2. You browse through the aisles and read the descriptions of the wines there. You might wonder, “What do all the terms and ratings and so on actually mean in reality? Are they trustworthy? Why? What makes one wine better than another? How is wine even made? How are grapes grown?” And so on.

If you want to know the answers to all these questions, you will need to learn quite a lot about wine making, viticulture, soil chemistry, geology, human taste and flavor perception, marketing tactics, and so on.

Essentially, you will need to understand wine making yourself from “First Principles”.

Of course, this is a lot harder and time consuming. But if you do that, you won’t have to take the wine expert’s word at the store.

What if the wine expert isn’t as knowledgeable as they look? What if the expert is trying to push some wine at you because the winemaker gives them a kickback? What if the industrial wine manufacturing process is so bad for the wine that the entire inventory at the store is mediocre? What if there is a totally new way of winemaking that is far more robust and authentic? How would you know?

Only after having studied wine making from first principles would you understand enough to answer these questions honestly.

Now, I can totally understand someone who might say, “Why bother with all that? I’ll just drink the recommended wine and be happy!”

I have no problem with that. But I also understand that there are people like me who don’t want to take the word of the expert and want to get a lot deeper.

As I explained in the “Motivation” chapter, people like me don’t just want the answers, they want to know why those are the right answers. We want to understand the story behind the story, the principles beneath it, and why those specific principles, to the extent possible.

If we do that, then we not only discover concepts and principles that are far more reliable, but also there may be ways to communicate them better, to improve them, to resolve conflicts and so on.

G) What is special about engineering when it comes to this topic? Why not call it just "science"?

There is no doubt that science and engineering are joined at the hip, with a lot of overlap. But I would like to point out a few things that are different about engineering and how they make a big difference to the MSE Framework.

The simplest reason for talking about engineering is that I am focused on finding a practical solution to the meaning crisis, which, as I have explained earlier, is a real and pressing problem for the world as well as for myself.

Finding practical solutions to real world problems is the domain of engineering. Science only helps us understand the rules of the game, that too only to the level possible via abstractions. Engineering is where the rubber actually meets the road.

Engineering is far better at dealing with the complexity, nebulosity and unknowns that permeate reality than science.

This isn't so much a weakness of science, but a difference in their objectives and methods. One can think of science as providing the bone structure, while engineering provides the muscles, blood vessels, nerves and skin.

As we saw in the chapter on our methodology, if we are going to build something that deals effectively with the messiness of reality, we need something like Mindful Bounded Rationality to do that. And engineering is far more aligned with this methodology than science.

Moreover, while the objective of science is to create abstractions that are fully buttoned down before making any serious claims, engineers can (and do) produce products and solutions that are in “beta” form. That means they are useful in their current form, but still being worked on and will keep improving.

This is exactly what I am doing here.

Finally, I don't believe any scientist has ever come up with a term like “6CED” to describe what they are doing! [ Such self-serving immaturity is the domain of engineers, and I am proud of that! ]

H) Aren't things meaning and purpose really the domain of religion or even poetry? Isn't it well known that science, let alone engineering, is simply incapable of getting there?

I'm so glad you asked this question because it lets me vent about a deep injustice in the history of human thought.

Imagine that there is a big table at which all the upper class people get to sit and eat. Lower class people aren't allowed at this table. They have to eat in the kitchen or in the backyard.

Why? Because the upper class people have decreed that the lower class people are simply incapable of eating at the big table. Sitting at the big table requires one to follow certain protocols, certain language, certain mannerisms. Things that the lower class people simply don't know how to do.

Leave alone the fact that it is the lower class people who do all the cooking and cleaning. They provide all the plumbing and air conditioning and even the entertainment. They even make the table and all the crockery, the silverware, and the glassware on it. Including the expensive champagne in it.

This is basically the situation we have with religion and poetry on the one hand (the upper classes) and science and engineering on the other (the lower classes).

At the big "meaning and purpose table", only religion and poetry are allowed. Science and engineering can only do all the cooking, cleaning, plumbing, air conditioning, entertaining, furniture, crockery, silverware, glassware and even the champagne-making.

This is literally true!

Science and engineering run our entire world. They provide everything we need in our lives. We count on them every minute of the day.

But, somehow, we have allowed ourselves to be sold the idea that things like meaning and purpose are beyond their reach.

And if you dig a little deeper into the reasoning behind this thinking, you will see that this is simply a result of how the words meaning and purpose have been defined.

The words probably started out simple enough, but somewhere along the way, their meanings got changed. They took on theological or poetic connotations. And then those became their core meanings.

A part of the reason for this was that science and engineering were in their infancy at that time. They didn't have many answers. So one had no choice but to look to religion or poetry.

But, as a result, most people have come to believe that meaning and purpose can only come from a supernatural power or some ineffable source. And they can only be described in religious or poetic terms. And then they go ahead and declare that science and engineering are incapable of getting there because science and engineering don't have the language or the protocols or the mannerisms for talking like that.

In science and engineering, we have a technical term for this: "Well, duh!"

Note that I am not against religious or poetic usages of the words meaning and purpose. Feel free to use them that way.

All I want to do is to ensure that science and engineering are also allowed to eat at the same table. (Not to mention that they are already doing everything else related to the dinner!)

Sure, you may be the type that doesn't get swayed by such political or emotional arguments. You may have some more serious and well-known objections to allowing science and engineering to eat at the big table.

So let us address them next.

I) Doesn't Gödel's Incompleteness Theorem prove that your science and engineering-based approach is doomed to failure?

No.

I have already covered this objection in a Deep Dive into Gödel's Incompleteness Theorem in the chapter on Methodology.

J) Doesn't the Is-Ought Problem in philosophy prove that trying to define Purpose from first principles is doomed to failure?

No.

I have already covered this objection in a Deep Dive into the Is-Ought Problem in the chapter on Purpose.

Hopefully that covers the major objections. Now let us look at some other efforts that may have some overlap with what I have proposed.

K) How is the MSE Framework different from Effective Accelerationism (e/acc)?

Effective Accelerationism is a fairly recent movement that happens to have some overlap with what I have proposed here, but there are some critical differences that make it totally different in reality.

Effective Accelerationism, in the words of their own activists, “seeks to align with the 'thermodynamic will of the universe' by embracing and accelerating the natural tendency of the universe towards growth, complexity, and higher intelligence. It encourages exploration, experimentation, and the advancement of civilization in the pursuit of greater utility and adaptability.”

As you can see, there is clearly some similarity with some of the MSE Framework and the "6CED" Universal Tendencies I have talked about.

But that's pretty much where the similarity ends.

A major point of departure between my approach and the e/acc approach is that I am explicitly accounting for limitations to rationality in my framework, which have led me to adopt Mindful Bounded Rationality as my methodology, rather than pure rationality. My hope in doing so is to avoid the hubris, excesses and absurdities that arise from taking rationality too far.

In my understanding, Effective Accelerationists are not humble about their ideology and are willing to extrapolate their ideas very far.

Even a good idea, when taken very far, can turn into a bad idea. For example, every living being needs energy to survive, but too much will burn you. Consuming some amount of water is essential for survival, but too much will cause a kidney failure.

This is not because these ideas themselves are bad, but because you are extrapolating them too far, where they blow past some limitation, or beyond your ability to predict their outcomes, or you are failing to acknowledge the delicate balance of multiple good ideas that is necessary to keep the entire system functioning.

In my opinion, taking rational thinking too far is actually irrational given all the limits to rationality we have talked about.

The Effective Accelerationists don’t talk much about mindfulness or the need to be grounded in reality or the need to fit abstractions to reality rather than the other way around.

Also, their ultimate aim seems to be to provide the ideological basis for accelerating the development of technology, which is radically different from my aim of helping Meaning-Seeking Entities find meaning, purpose and hope in their lives. I am positioning the MSE Framework as a scientific and engineering framework, open to debate and further enhancements, not an ideology to be used to rally the troops.

Note that this should not be taken to mean that I am somehow against developing technology. The e/acc people use the derogatory term "decel" (referring to the idea that we need to pause or decelerate the development of technology) for such people and I am not claiming to be one of them.

I am an engineer, which means I have developed technology in the past and continue to do so. But what I am against is the almost religious zeal associated with accelerationism in any form. It makes even rational people go to extremes and in fact, act irrationally as a result. I don't want to fall into that trap.

Also, in my opinion, technology does not need any explicit help to accelerate itself. There are many factors in its favor already and at least in some cases, it is already accelerating at an incredibly fast pace.

In fact, it is humanity that is falling behind and needs to evolve in order to keep up, which is exactly what I am attempting to do here. My purpose is to help people live better lives in the emerging accelerated world.

Here is a quote by Yuval Noah Harari that echoes the same sentiment:

"The danger is that if we invest too much in developing Al and too little in developing human consciousness, the very sophisticated artificial intelligence of computers might only serve to empower the natural stupidity of humans."

― Yuval Noah Harari, Israeli Historian and author, in a tweet

L) How is the MSE Framework different from the Omega Point concept?

The Omega Point is a theorized distant future event in which the entirety of the universe converges toward a final point of unification or maximum organized complexity. The term is usually associated with the French Jesuit Catholic priest Pierre Teilhard de Chardin.

The idea of this future convergence is postulated on concepts that have a lot of overlap with the 6CED Tendencies that we have talked about.

Various people have characterized the Omega Point as a counterpoint to the idea of the heat death of the universe, which is what the law of entropy, taken to the extreme, entails.

Various other people have also expanded upon or modified the Omega Point idea to propose various related frameworks for finding meaning and purpose in life.

In contrast, what I am saying is that we do not need to justify any behavior in the present based on some extremely distant point in the future that we cannot really predict to any level of certainty. (In fact, there is still a debate in the scientific community about the idea of the heat death of the universe. Various scientists have proposed completely different theories about the end of the universe.)

The MSE Framework only relies upon what can be observed to be occurring right here, right now, not some distant event way beyond our ability to make predictions. The present moment is a far more reliable guide because, here and now is where we have the maximum possible knowledge of our reality and, as it turns out, there is no need to extrapolate things very far in order to find meaning, purpose and hope. In addition, the present moment is where our ability to act is also at its maximum effectiveness, thus allowing us to find actionable items readily and confidently.

Once again, I think it is far more rational to acknowledge the limits of rationality and mitigate them, than trying to extrapolates things into the distant future. In fact, based on what we know about complexity, combinatorial explosions and nebulosity, extrapolating things very far into the future looks almost like taking a leap of faith.

And luckily for us, as I have shown in this book, we really have no need to extrapolate things into the distant future if our objective is to create solid definitions of meaning, purpose and hope.

M) How does the MSE Framework relate to Spinoza’s idea of God?

There are some definite similarities between the MSE Framework and Spinoza's idea of God.

Baruch Spinoza was a 17th century European philosopher. He was one of the seminal thinkers of the Enlightenment and a strong proponent of Rationalism.

He proposed the idea that there is only one substance in the universe, and he called that substance God. According to him, everything that exists is a part of this one substance, including you and me, rocks, trees, and everything else in the universe.

He argued that understanding our place in the interconnected web of the universe and aligning ourselves with it can lead to a kind of intellectual and emotional liberation, which leads to peace.

As you can see, what I have presented in this book is quite close to Spinoza’s argument, except I don’t call the universe or nature as God. (Though one could do that if that helps them.)

Also, Spinoza was a strong proponent of rationalism, whereas we have tried to moderate our reliance on rationality by incorporating elements of mindfulness and bounded rationality.

Moreover, we know a lot more about our reality today, based on an abundance of scientific and engineering knowledge, than we knew in Spinoza’s time and we have taken full advantage of that in building our framework.

N) How does the MSE Framework relate to the Hindu / Vedic philosophy of Brahman?

The Hindu / Vedic concept of Brahman also has some similarities with what I have presented.

According to Vedic philosophy, Brahman is the ultimate, unchanging reality or cosmic principle that underlies the entire universe. It is often described as formless, infinite, eternal, and beyond all dualities and distinctions. Brahman is considered the source and essence of everything that exists.

Under this philosophy, the purpose of life is to recognize our unity with Brahman and live accordingly.

As you can see, there are clearly a lot of overlaps between the MSE Framework and the conceptualization of Brahman.

One can also argue that our effort of trying to recognize our and the universe’s inherent 6CED Tendencies and live in alignment with them is similar to the aforementioned idea of aligning with the Brahman.

Where we differ is more in the details. There is no discussion of the 6CED Tendencies or anything like that in Vedic philosophy. This may just be a result of the fact that very little of the scientific knowledge that we know today was known at the time the Vedic ideas were developed, or it could be that their approach is based more on introspection and meditation rather than experimentation in the physical world.

In fact, Vedic philosophy treats physical reality as an illusion and probably for that reason, they haven't tried to go too deep in explaining the various patterns that can be observed in it, which has been the focus of science and engineering.

Also, the Vedic philosophy considers our consciousness to be the same as Brahman. We haven't tried to make that claim and haven't needed to. In fact, I have proposed that consciousness may be a new life form that emerges in complex lifeforms, as a result of Active Inference.

O) How does the MSE Framework relate to Buddhism?

It is well-known that Mindfulness is a central concept and practice within Buddhism. It involves the cultivation of present-moment awareness and non-judgment.

As we have seen, these ideas are integral to the methodology we have used to build the MSE Framework, namely Mindful Bounded Rationality.

We have also invoked mindfulness when talking about how to find meaning, purpose and hope in our lives. Mindfulness comes into play there due to the need of dealing with complexity, nebulosity and unknowns in reality.

Also, according to Buddhism, suffering arises from not aligning oneself with reality. In our case, we are saying that aligning oneself with the 6CED Tendencies of the universe (including ourselves) is the way to attain a sense of meaning in one’s life. So clearly there is a lot of similarity there, too.

But once again, Buddhism hasn't focused a lot on explaining physical reality or coming up with crisp ideas of its tendencies. This is for the same reasons as mentioned above for the Vedic philosophy.

It is possible that science and engineering are just newly available paths that allow us to reach some of the same realizations that Vedas and Buddhism have talked about.

One major point of difference between the MSE Framework and Buddhism is that Buddhism rejects the idea of a self, or consciousness. In the MSE Framework, on the other hand, I have postulated that consciousness may be a new "virtual" life form that we give birth to, and nurture during our lives.

Contrary to rejecting its existence, we embrace it and talk about expanding and enriching it.

P) What is LifeVisor?

[ Aha! Finally, a non-rude, even self-serving, question! ]

As you may have noticed, the URL for the book is "book.LifeVisor.ai". So what is this LifeVisor?

LifeVisor is the larger project that this book is a part of. I am still trying to define what it is going to be, but the motto for the project, "Helping smart people live wiser lives", might give you some hints.

The idea is still evolving in my mind, and as it starts to materialize, you will be able to see its progress at the main project site: https://LifeVisor.ai.

You can also sign up for the mailing list on that page so you can be notified when things start to happen.

Q) I still have questions. How do I send them to you? How do I contact you in general?

You can contact me either by email or on twitter.

  • Email: info [at] RedmondLabs [dot] com

  • Twitter: @deepestturtle

Ok, those are all the questions I have thought of so far. If you have additional questions, please ask and I will try to answer them here for everyone's benefit. And, once again, note that there are no rude questions as long as they are honest.

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