SYSTEMS THINKING

Standard

POST 14 – 27-05-2014

For online version go to https://warraba.wordpress.com/

To comment go to end of this POST

Rays at dawn 2

This photo was taken at dawn but is facing west – so I cannot see how it has the appearance of sunrays when the sun was behind me!

CONTENTS

  1. SYSTEMS THINKING
  2. NEW SPECIES
  3. WHY DO WE STILL LECTURE?
  4. CULTURE RULES
  5. WHAT IS BEAUTY?

 

  1. SYSTEMS THINKING

Backtracking from the sciences in a sort of cosmic archaeology has led scientists to formulate theories, which when tested have added to our knowledge of how we came to be here. The implications of Darwin’s discovery may not have been addressed adequately by scientists interested in cosmology perhaps because they are not biologically fluent. Bringing together systems thinking, information theory and Darwin’s great discovery seems to me to be a great field for research. I have recently read “Universal Darwinism: the path of knowledge” by John Campbell and am currently struggling through a book called “The Origin of Everything” by DB Kelley. These two authors are making a point that seems important to me, but I find that they both stretch my ability to grasp the implications of their theory as applied to quantum mechanics and to information theory. The second book has an added disadvantage in that it is rather incoherent in its explication of the theory. If their theory is correct it will no doubt be taken up by others with greater literary skill – eventually. If I am correct, they are saying that the algorithm underlying Darwinism is also applicable to any and all system throughout nature. Their story seems to be that the whole of nature is comprised of systems that have two interacting aspects, namely substance and function and that each system (and sub-system) operates cyclically in a process which replicates the information they contain. The Darwinian process is defined by Campbell as:

  1. Replication of information
  2. Inheritance of some characteristics that have variation among the offspring.
  3. Selection or differential survival of the offspring according to which variable characteristics they possess.

The two authors are suggesting that the underlying process occurs in all systems from the quantum through physics, chemistry, biology and culture as well as particular elements such as a solar system, a galactic system, a climatic system and many more. They say that the underlying function of a system is to achieve stability which is achieved by adaptive interaction with the environment in which it operates. To try to sort this out I have started to study “systems thinking” and am still trying to sort out what they are proposing, The several ways to think of and define a system include:

  • A system is composed of parts.
  • All the parts of a system must be related (directly or indirectly), else there are really two or more distinct systems
  • A system is encapsulated, has a boundary.
  • The boundary of a system is a decision made by an observer, or a group of observers.
  • A system can be nested inside another system.
  • A system can overlap with another system.
  • A system is bounded in time.
  • A system is bounded in space, though the parts are not necessarily co-located.
  • A system receives input from, and sends output into, the wider environment.
  • A system consists of processes that transform inputs into outputs.
  • A system is autonomous in fulfilling its purpose. (Car is not a system. Car with a driver is a system.)

Systems science thinkers consider that:

  • a system is a dynamic and complex whole, interacting as a structured functional unit;
  • energy, material and information flow among the different elements that compose the system;
  • a system is a community situated within an environment;
  • energy, material and information flow from and to the surrounding environment via semi-permeable membranes or boundaries;

2. NEW SPECIES New species are being found all the time and their characteristics usually tell us why they have been discovered so recently. To see some really strange species have a look at these Top Ten New Species found this year – 2014. Some wonderful adaptations to their environment can be seen. All inherited characteristics are the result of adaptive interaction between genes and environment.

  1. WHY DO WE STILL LECTURE?

I have always thought that a concentration on teaching seems to place the onus on the teacher while it should be placed on the student. Student-centred approqches are now common and are respected but this article stresses it further.

Lectures do not work! So what’s the alternative?

Rather than the perfect lecturer performance or PowerPoints, active approaches privilege “what the student does”. Courses built around active learning require students to spend class time engaged in meaningful tasks that lead to learning. These tasks might be online or face-to-face; solo or in a group; theoretical or applied. Most of our popular learning and teaching buzzwords at the moment are active approaches: peer instruction, problem-based learning, and flipping the classroom are all focused on students spending precious class time doing, not listening. 3. CULTURE RULES   We accept that our biological heritage influences our behaviour and our freedom to make decisions is limited by our biological instincts and impulses. Some psychological theories put a lot of weight on biology rather than culture and learning. This article stresses the cultural influence. Prinz never suggests that genetic and biological considerations should be absent, but cautions against overreliance on such explanations. Near the end of his least technical book, Beyond Human Nature: How Culture and Experience Shape the Human Mind (W. W. Norton, 2012), he writes, “Every cultural trait is really a biocultural trait—every trait that we acquire through learning involves an interaction between biology and the environment.” But in chapters on human intelligence, language, gender, and more, Prinz makes the case that culture’s influence dwarfs that of biology. Culture, history, and experience form the environment that, for Prinz, shapes what we become. He contends that those external factors determine everything about us—everything, down to such biological fundamentals as fear. “I think everything I do is an entry into the nature-nurture debate,” he says. “More specifically, I’m interested in nurture. I think human behavior is interesting precisely because it’s so plastic.” 4. WHAT IS BEAUTY?   Scientists are often quoted as saying that theories need to be beautiful and that beautiful theories are more likely to be true. We all have different ideas in mind when the word beauty is used. What do those scientists mean when they stress the importance of beauty? We have to ask: what is this beauty they keep talking about? Some scientists are a little coy about that. The Nobel Prize-winning physicist Paul Dirac agreed with Einstein, saying in 1963 that ‘it is more important to have beauty in one’s equations than to have them fit experiment’ (how might Greene explain that away?). Yet faced with the question of what this all-important beauty is, Dirac threw up his hands. Mathematical beauty, he said, ‘cannot be defined any more than beauty in art can be defined’ – though he added that it was something ‘people who study mathematics usually have no difficulty in appreciating’. That sounds rather close to the ‘good taste’ of his contemporaneous art critics; we might fear that it amounts to the same mixture of prejudice and paternalism. Given this history of evasion, it was refreshing last November to hear the theoretical physicist Nima Arkani-Hamed spell out what ‘beauty’ really means for him and his colleagues. He was talking to the novelist Ian McEwan at the Science Museum in London, during the opening of the museum’s exhibition on the Large Hadron Collider. ‘Ideas that we find beautiful,’ Arkani-Hamed explained, ‘are not a capricious aesthetic judgment’: It’s not fashion, it’s not sociology. It’s not something that you might find beautiful today but won’t find beautiful 10 years from now. The things that we find beautiful today we suspect would be beautiful for all eternity. And the reason is, what we mean by beauty is really a shorthand for something else. The laws that we find describe nature somehow have a sense of inevitability about them. There are very few principles and there’s no possible other way they could work once you understand them deeply enough. So that’s what we mean when we say ideas are beautiful.

Some Readings plus Time and Entropy

Standard

POST 13 – 1-05-2014

For online version go to https://warraba.wordpress.com/

Go to the end to comment.

 

photo

The view from my veranda.

 

CONTENTS

  1. TWO ARTICLES THAT ARE OF CURRENT RELEVANCE
  2. TANYA PLIBERSEK AND SOCIAL INCLUSION
  3. UNIVERSAL DARWINISM: THE PATH OF KNOWLEDGE.
  4. SCHIZOPHRENIA
  5. TIME
  6. ENTROPY
  7. INTERACTION BETWEEN ENVIRONMENT AND GENES.

 

……………………………………..

  1. TWO ARTICLES THAT ARE OF CURRENT RELEVANCE

Christos Tsiolkas’ Article. May Day – how the left was lost.

This first article, which does not seem to be available on the web – so go to the newsagent to buy the magazine – The Monthly, May 2014 – spells out the author’s experiences associated with his Greek immigrant parent’s view of left wing politics in Australia. Good about our multiculturism but sad for the difficulties of finding solutions for more global problems like climate change.

One sentence that caught my eye.

“But the faith that my parents placed in Hawke and Keating’s neoliberal reforms was predicated on the promise not that they would democratise poverty but that they would democratise opportunity.”

That reminds me of an article I read some time ago

Rachel Nolan,’s article “Men of a certain age”

This article is on the net at:

http://www.themonthly.com.au/issue/2014/may/1398866400/rachel-nolan/men-certain-age

It indicates the overwhelming influence of a particular group on current right wing politics.

  1. TANYA PLIBERSEK AND SOCIAL INCLUSION

Some time ago I copied a speech of Tanya’s and it included this section:

“It is part of the continuum of social development in Australia, representing all that Australians have aspired to, not only for themselves but for their fellow citizens.

The objective of social inclusion is that everyone in our community should have the opportunity to both reach their potential and participate fully in the social and economic life of the nation.

Social inclusion aims to reduce entrenched forms of disadvantage – kids growing up in jobless families, homelessness, people locked out of paid work because of mental illness or disability – by getting services across government and the non-government sector to work efficiently together.”

To me it says that the objective of politics is to:

  • provide opportunity to those who can use it and
  • provide help to those who need it.

To those who can be so easily distracted by current political problems it pays to have this simple objective in mind.

 

  1. UNIVERSAL DARWINISM: THE PATH OF KNOWLEDGE. John Campbell.

I mentioned this book in an earlier post and have since read it with great delight. I have even submitted a review to Amazon praising it.  I am struggling to follow the case for quantum Darwinism but can follow the other cases mentioned and hope that it is more accessible in the book mentioned by another reviewer who suggested a similar book that I have since ordered – but not yet received – namely: “The Origin of Everything via Universal Selection, or the Preservation of Favored Systems in Contention for Existence. By DB Kelly. The first sentence in Universal Darwinism promised me an abundance of reward. “The major theme of this book is the claim that information and knowledge are prerequisites for physical existence …”. The author’s definitions of “information” and ‘knowledge” must be understood clearly to grasp the significance of the theme he presents.

I would add two elements to his treatise and hope his future work addresses them. Firstly, the process he calls Universal Darwinism also applies to the journey of nervous impulses, which I call “nemes”, and the complexes they form, which I call “nemeplexes” in my own blog. Each meme originates as a nemeplex (or “preme” – the precursor of a meme) inside an individual’s mind before it can be launched into the culture. Secondly, while he considers the importance of environmental feedback to the process, I feel that insufficient attention is given to the role of human intervention at each stage of the three-piece process. Just as human intervention can affect the rate of replication of genetic information, the incidence of errors and the intensity of selection pressure in poultry breeding or vaccine virus selection, so also the neme and meme processes can be so affected. The human interventions in these processes can include both intended and unintended interventions. There is a process that operates whether we intervene or not and so we have a responsibility for monitoring such processes to ensure their integrity. Our value judgements and actions, both of omission and commission, will have effects. I do sincerely hope that John Campbell or other scholars will extend this field of study. One must be impressed by the emergence of a form of consciousness that enables us to bring from our memory a model of what we receive in the form of a coded signal that is a word. Try this exercise. There is a coded word comprised of five letters that you can read here.                                 OCEAN What image(s) does that bring to mind in an instant? It stimulates your sensors in the retina of your eye and sends messages to your brain which then produces for you all that you just experienced when you read that word. Then try it with other words: ANIMAL: VEGETABLE: MINERAL: CLIMATE: ENERGY:  There is no “essence” sitting there in your mind but there is a model made up of your previous exposures to the concept. The concepts all replicate through the nervous system and are susceptible to error, which errors must struggle to survive in the environment in which they find themselves.

  1. SCHIZOPHRENIA

See this article about this feared disease. It is a perspective that it may be part of a spectrum associated with creativity. Quote – “If imagination is put on a continuum from high to low, people afflicted with schizophrenia are on the high end. Their imaginations fire up to the point of hallucination. Creative persons who are less crazy also imagine what is not there, but they create art or social revolution or a dinner party”.

 

My studies suggest that creativity is the product of our ability to access and control the nemes and nemeplexes in our mind.

  1. TIME

I have recently read a book called TIME (by Alexander Waugh) where he states: “When we consider the meaning of time, it can be explained only as a by-product of events. One thing happens, and then another, so only by two events occurring can a formulation of time come into being”. This means that the events associated with “change” from particle to anti-particle produced the by-product we call time. From that first change we had a universe.

  1. ENTROPY

The process from the Big Bang seems to have led to change where there was once no change.  From the start there was change – from the singularity in what we now see as the Big Bang when it seems that potential energy changed to the energy we associate with the forces (or attractions) of electromagnetism, strong and weak nuclear forces and gravitational force. This first change was followed by the conversion of energy to matter (which has mass and motion) at extremely high temperatures according to the formula e=mc2. This change constituted the first event and events have a by-product – time.  Change can be towards complexity or away from it.  Away from complexity = entropy. Towards complexity = negentropy.  See also the relationship of entropy and thermodynamics. Extract: The entropy of an isolated system never decreases, because isolated systems spontaneously evolve* towards thermodynamic equilibrium, the maximum entropy. Systems which are not isolated may decrease in entropy. Since entropy is a state function, the change in the entropy of a system is the same whether a process going from one defined state to another is reversible or irreversible, but irreversible processes increase the entropy of the environment. *Evolve here seems to mean “change incrementally” rather than Darwinian evolution. From the orderliness of the singularity to ultimate disorder of minimum entropy there is a process of change – called time – and a process that utilises sub-systems and mechanisms that harness energy from the general system for use in the process.  The process seems to have been identified (backtracking logically from the data we have been able to collect by cosmic archaeology) as commencing at the phase change when the sub-atomic particles in the singularity replicated (copied themselves) with occasional copying errors leading to the emergence of new variants that competed for survival in the environment that was their habitat. Sub-atomic particles do funny things – and we seem to have to expect new discoveries in this area – including joining with other sub-atomic particles forming at high temperatures, atoms of hydrogen, then helium and at a further stage (and lower temperatures inside stars) the other elements including carbon, iron etc. and so on to the things that happen at lower temperatures here on Earth. I have also read recently a book called “Universal Darwinism: the path of knowledge” by John Campbell which suggests that this first change started a process where every replication of “information”, including that associated with the sub-atomic or quantum field, is subject to a process of natural evolution whereby any error that may occur in the replication process is subject to pressures of competition which affect its chance of survival. This implies that there is a constant process of change that started with the quantum changes and led to the emergence of what we see as physics, then chemistry, then life, then culture and maybe some future emergent phenomenon. See the following for definition of information as meant above. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Physical_information See the following for a definition of emergence: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Emergence John Campbell follows the Darwinian path of emerging complexity through the adaptive systems from sub-atomic particles, through physics, chemistry, biology and culture. He paints a good picture of the results of change through the replication, variation and selection. The interplay between the process and the environment is central to his story. I would add two things to his story. Firstly I would insert a feedback role for “nemes” between the biological and cultural elements. Secondly I would give more importance to the distinction between the natural selection process and the relevance of the human inputs (both inadvertent and intentional) to the process. The model he proposes must be predictive and so we need to look for supporting evidence. We have each been presented with various memes and incorporated them in our belief system. It is our cultural inheritance. This cultural belief system is added to our underlying biologically inherited set of expectations which together contribute to our intuitions. Intuition is the stance that derives from our internal model of what we expect to be “out there” in the real world of our environment. When the expected turns up we are fitted by both evolution and experience to cope with it but when the unexpected (a surprise) occurs we may benefit from subjecting it to the rational process to measure its “reality”. Counter-intuitive things keep turning up throughout history and in our personal experience.

  1. INTERACTION BETWEEN ENVIRONMENT AND GENES

 

Genes and culture coevolve – Dual Inheritance Theory

Cultural traits alter the social and physical environments under which genetic selection operates. For example, the cultural adoptions of agriculture and dairying have, in humans, caused genetic selection for the traits to digest starch and lactose, respectively. As another example, it is likely that once culture became adaptive, genetic selection caused a refinement of the cognitive architecture that stores and transmits cultural information. This refinement may have further influenced the way culture is stored and the biases that govern its transmission.

Dual Inheritance Theory also predicts that, under certain situations, cultural evolution may select for traits that are genetically maladaptive. An example of this is the demographic transition, which describes the fall of birth rates within industrialized societies. Dual inheritance theorists hypothesize that the demographic transition may be a result of a prestige bias, where individuals that forgo reproduction to gain more influence in industrial societies are more likely to be chosen as cultural models.

Because genetic evolution is relatively well understood, most of Dual Inheritance Theory examines cultural evolution and the interactions between cultural evolution and genetic evolution. I suggest that the interaction between the environment and the other selectionist or Darwinian processes runs a similar course.