POST 23 – 3-12-2014


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In philosophy, systems theory, science, and art, emergence is conceived as a process whereby larger entities, patterns, and regularities arise through interactions among smaller or simpler entities that themselves do not exhibit such properties. In philosophy, almost all accounts of emergence include a form of irreducibility (either epistemic or ontological) to the lower levels.[1] Also, emergence is central in theories of integrative levels and of complex systems. For instance, the phenomenon life as studied in biology is commonly perceived as an emergent property of interacting molecules as studied in chemistry, whose phenomena reflect interactions among elementary particles, modeled in particle physics, that at such higher mass—via substantial conglomeration—exhibit motion as modeled in gravitational physics. Neurobiological phenomena are often presumed to suffice as the underlying basis of psychological phenomena, whereby economic phenomena are in turn presumed to principally emerge.

Emergence seems a rather passive concept, suggesting that things emerge only when a special set of conditions arises by some sort of natural process. This may be true of natural occurrences but once humans get involved, there may be intentional human intervention that can provide a more active process – perhaps “breakthrough”. – or is there some better word?

The definition I have quoted above suggests that the emergent entity or phenomenon will be more complex than the predecessor. This may not always be the case, for example the biological evolutionary process may lead to specialisation with a simpler outcome such as in the case of parasites organisms including viruses appear to have evolved from more complex beings.


As I awoke from a recent afternoon nap I was ruminating about my last blog post about CREATIVITY, and began to consider whether I could ask Helen Kennedy, an artist I know, to take some of the ideas from that and paint something from its immateriality.

Helen had an exhibition of some of her work in 2012. The media release associated with the show said:

The prints and paintings of Helen Kennedy enquire into the relationships between colour and the phenomenon of light. Kennedy’s work investigates the many contradictions and dualities of light, both its immateriality and its ability to create three dimensional spaces. Her work explores the empty space between areas of structure or matter, and light between the visible and invisible worlds.

I was attracted to her ability to give a reality to her concepts of light and colour. If she could do that I guessed she might attempt to do so for the phenomenon of emergence.

I wondered, idly, whether I could have a go at it myself, as the ideas are mine, not anyone else’s. My lack of skills in that medium discouraged me.

Then the variant thought came to me. It should have been quite obvious but it was not.

My medium is words, especially on occasions of deep emotion, poetry.

I got up and went to the computer and produced this:


The new thing, the variant, springs into the mind as a surprise in there, and it will blend with the old. It will merge to give me something new that emerges for me to understand, to explain, to depict, to share. It calls upon my skill to convey its meaning so others will share the new idea. This brainchild from my own journey, my experience. My gift to you and to others. How do I depict emergence?


My mind is full

Of all those things

Accumulated over the years

From instinct, emotion, experience

From experiment, from learning

Held together by memory

Fitting together in a fugitive story

Recalled in a mix of the real and the imagined

Held in the prepared soil of the mind’s effort to see reality

And then a surprise, the unexpected, is there

A variant, an error, a mutant

Blend it, merge it, test it

Grasp it, hold it, never let it go

It may be precious.

Something new may have emerged

Mould and manipulate it

To show its message, its meaning

So as to be real to me

So I can make something that will be real to you


Paul Gilchrist





POST 22 – 25-11-2014

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Creativity has three complex components.

  • Preparation of the mind and its contents.
  • The inspiration – something new arises – a change occurs – a surprise – a variant.
  • Crafting – externalising the inspiration for others to know it.

On the invitation of friends, my wife Meyrick, and I recently attended a series of excellent lectures on “Creativity” at the Art Gallery of NSW. The lecturer was Dr Christopher Hartney of the Department of Studies in Religion at the University of Sydney. He provided us with an entertaining, informative, and very clearly enunciated presentation. He pursued examples of creative work through some recent experiences of his own, then back to the cave paintings and forward through the ages to modern art forms and his own summation of the conditions required for creativity to emerge with some added comments about the need to adequately package the creative idea.

In the last lecture he provided a nine part model of the things we should consider when trying to understand the creative process. (The model is copied at the end of this POST).

The model indicates the preconditions (1-5) for facilitating a creative idea or concept to occur. The last three sections (7-9) are the desirable steps in converting the insight into a material form through artifice such as words or artefacts. There seems no doubt that the first five steps, if not actually essential to the emergence of a new idea must surely encourage its arrival. However the centrepiece of creativity, the new concept or idea, remains elusive in his treatment of the topic. Somewhere before items 6 (The Eureka moment) lies the matter I will examine and expand.

I take the Eureka moment to embrace the realisation that there is a surprise here or perhaps more simply there is a recognisably changed pattern . This change is something new. This is new information, new knowledge.

This surprise occurs when something that does not “fit” the established patterns stored in our memory.

The concept of “fit” applies to the molecular interaction when an antigen meets its antibody and the two molecules fit into one another. If they do not fit there is no immune response. Similarly the molecules involved in the transmission of nerve impulses across the synapse have to “fit” one another. There is a sort of recognition of the patterns of the molecules. Something analogous seems to occur with concepts, ideas, imaginings. When an idea is dropped into the memory it meets other ideas and may or may not fit in with it. Then we have the surprise element that may lead to the new idea coming into the unconscious and perhaps into consciousness.


Our lecturer’s model of creativity, with its focus on preparation of the mind for the Eureka moment is analogous to the parable of the sower:

Hearken; Behold, there went out a sower to sow: And it came to pass, as he sowed, some fell by the way side, and the birds of the air came and devoured it up. And some fell on stony ground, where it had not much earth; and immediately it sprang up, because it had no depth of earth: But when the sun was up, it was scorched; and because it had no root, it withered away. And some fell among thorns, the thorns grew up, and choked it, and it yielded no fruit. And other fell on good ground, did yield fruit that sprang up and increased; and brought forth, some thirty, and some sixty, some an hundred. He said unto them, He that has ears to hear, let him hear.

Mark 4:3-9

Christopher Hartney’s model also follows the need for good preparations with the need to nurture and harvest the crop.

All the preparation in the world will not produce a crop without a viable seed being present. Selection of the seed is what I am concerned about. The seed has to be selected for the purpose, stored over the bad season and possibly used  in a trial run. This analogy may give the scholars a guide to studying the process of producing the “brainchild” and preserving it for subsequent use. Perhaps there is another analogy in the need for some midwifery in delivering the “brainchild” from the unconscious to consciousness.


I am most interested in the mechanism associated with how the “new” idea or concept starts up in the mind. I am impatient to find a way to be more active in bringing the new idea into existence. Must I just follow our lecturer’s first group of points and wait for the intuition or inspiration to pop up?

The list gives us a good idea of how to improve the chances of a new idea turning up in the jumble of our memories and the flow of whatever it is that is going on in there – the stream of consciousness or the  wandering day map in the Leunig cartoon at the top of this article. In Leunig’s terms it is the “interesting idea” bit that needs to be captured. We have a limited ability to capture the fleeting concepts but it may be similar to how we are able to improve our muscular performance by exercise, nutrition, medication and mental discipline. Similarly we are able to improve our speaking voice by various means but it may take some difficulty to achieve a desired result. So also we should be able to develop our mental skills but we need to know more about what is going on in there.

In a recent article Andrew Purcell quotes 74 year-old artist Chuck Close as saying “Inspiration is for amateurs, the rest of us just show up and get to work”. He completes the article with another relevant quote: “If you’re stuck my answer has always been ‘alter a variable , or alter a bunch of variables’, and then you can’t be stuck”. Despite this lack of reverence for inspiration there is an earlier reference in the article to Close having taken “inspiration” from another artist when he started to work from photographs.

There are semantic problems but I think that inspiration is the thing that the creative act seeks to access.


Andrew Ford, discussing the  sources of inspiration in a recent article in Inside Story speaks of  the blinding flash of insight, but he goes on to point out that most of the effort is in the production of an outcome.

Initial ideas for pieces of music can come from anywhere. Occasionally, it really does feel like a blinding flash. But once an idea for a piece has presented itself, hard work is the most efficient way of getting it written. Whoever it was who spoke of perspiration being 99 per cent of the creative process was correct. When that isn’t enough, a walk can do the trick. And the walk doesn’t have to take in mountain vistas – often just getting out of the house and going round the block can help you refocus. Sometimes it’s wise to call it quits for the day, because otherwise you’ll spend the following morning tearing up what you’ve done.

One of the artist’s most frequent sources of inspiration, let it never be forgotten, is the wherewithal to buy food.

There is a need to differentiate between the concept and the craft needed to translate that concept or idea into something tangible – an art work or a set of words or an invention. Of course the craft must have its own set of underpinning concepts so the Eureka moment may be needed there also. If it is valid to distinguish between the new concept (the inspiration) and the work involved in materialising it, then we must ask whether it is possible to do more than wait for inspiration to pop up.


I have been thinking about how one can introduce a significant new element into the process. My thoughts follow on from the work of Mark Turner (2014). He suggests that the thing that distinguishes us most from animals is the ability to innovate. He provides the concept of “advanced blending” as an idea-generating ability unique to humans. He discusses the relevance of his idea in relation to the formation of individual ideas, and pursues it through to the formation of cultural phenomena.

We seem to have difficulty bringing the process of new idea formation into the zone of conscious activity, but it is not only the result of an unconscious mixing or blending of concepts? We can actually engage our conscious mind in the process and we should be able to examine it and improve our ability by training ourselves and by using it more effectively.

There is more than an analogy or metaphor involved if we apply the algorithm behind the Darwinian evolutionary process to the evolution of new ideas or concepts.


Not every case of gradual change is the result of an evolutionary process but there are a few important areas that are true cases of evolution –  used in the sense in which it is applied in biological evolution. These are the process of new idea formation in the mind (creativity), the process by which ideas are expressed between people (language), and also the process by which some ideas spread in society or the culture (memes).

In 1859 in Charles Darwin’s book “On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life” he described his concept by saying that,  if there is “descent [replication] with modification [variation]” and “a severe struggle for life” [competition], better-equipped descendants will prosper at the expense of their competitors.


As defined by Daniel Dennett (2010) all evolutionary processes share these three characteristics which he has modified as:


  • Replication (copying or repeating)


  1. Variation (error, mutation or change)
  2. Differential fitness (competition or contest or survival)

            (The italicised words are my additions.)


Dennett also asks whether any other evolutionary substrates have arisen on this planet. He responds to his own question: “The best candidates are the brainchildren, planned or unplanned, of one species: Homo sapiens”.


Richard Dawkins coined the term “meme” in his 1976 book, “The Selfish Gene”, and the term has caught on. Dennett provided the definition of a meme as a “general term for a culturally based replicator”.



A message I got from consideration of Hartney’s lecture was that the creative moment relates to the introduction of the variant into the cycle of events.


The whole process may operate in one or more of the following ways . It may be:


  • Natural – In the absence of human intervention.
  • Accidental – As a result of inadvertent human intervention.
  • Intended – As a result of active human intervention.


The process, analogous to that described above in the parable of the sower, will go on despite what humans may do either unintentionally or intentionally. Without human intervention it will work out as an interaction between the seed and the environment. With inadvertent human intervention there will be various changes to the process which may interact with the natural process to give different outcomes. With intended human intervention there may also be interactions with the environment with varying outcomes. As we learn the details of the process we can control things to some extend to produce desirable, even predictable, outcomes.

Intended human intervention could be directed towards the replication element (by increasing or decreasing the rate of replication), the variant element (by increasing or decreasing the rate of occurrence of variation) or the survival element (by increasing or decreasing the selection pressure).


Perhaps the critical step is to find the variant and hang on to it. Can we find the variant and introduce it into the creative process?


Inspiration is the elusive bit and I seek to find a way into it that is part of our conscious effort not just something that is only accessible through popping up by chance. Maybe this is a fruitless search but I am not yet convinced that it is impossible.


This mental process of manipulation of our mind to create new concepts should be more accessible to us than it currently appears. We  can consciously affect the inputs and the internal process by what I like to call “manipulating” the ideas or concepts in there. This ability may be limited but each of us can picture a lump of plasticine of a grey colour and in our mind’s eye we can reshape it into a frog of a bright yellow colour with a voice like a rock star – and then change it to a bright green tortoise sitting on a partially submerged log.

This process of manipulation of ideas enables us to actively select images and so place a new image or concept in our mind. Words, whether spoken or written, are crafted so as to convey concepts to others. If we have the skills we may be able to make the new ideas real, by some art or craft, so that others can share our new idea and make it their own. We have done this for millennia starting with cave walls, clay tablets, papyrus scrolls, paper, canvas and other media.

Hofstader and Sander (2013) maintain that memory is composed of patterns based on analogy which they say is “the core of cognition” and is “the fuel and fire of thinking”. They claim that “each concept in our mind owes its existence to a long succession of analogies made unconsciously over the years, initially giving birth to the concept and continuing to enrich it over the course of our lifetime”.

James Gleick (2011) deals with the whole information issue in relation to communication and IT. He make the point that data precedes information, which precedes meaning ,which precedes knowledge. Meaning can only be detected by a mind where knowledge may reside. He maintains that knowledge, seen as a pattern of information, must adhere in matter and the brain is a mechanism for perceiving that knowledge and storing it in the memory.

In a similar vein John Campbell (2014) says “information and knowledge are prerequisite for physical existence, not only for the physical existence of those entities described by fundamental physics but also for the emergent entities described by chemistry biology and culture”. He supports the idea that there is a common mechanism or process operating on changes in all these spheres. He goes on later to say that Bayesian probability is the basis for describing “the unique process by which information is processed and through which knowledge may emerge”.

I developed some thoughts on the origin of memes in my recent BLOG POST . Gilchrist (2014). The process follows the nervous impulse (neme) through its complexity (nemeplex or pattern) to the precursor of the meme (preme or inspiration) to the cultural element (meme) and its complexity (memeplex). In this picture the important and elusive factor is the preme or brainchild. The steps in the process are :


Our ability to access information by the random access or direct access mechanisms of the computer and the internet has improved our ability to retain access to memories provided we make the minimal effort. This reminds me of my biochemistry lecturer, who advised us that there are two important ways of  accessing knowledge – first remember it and second remember where to find it.

Genetically modified food is analogous to verbally modified concepts. We can insert a modified gene into an animal or plant but can we insert a modified idea into a concept? Blending of ideas into concepts or blending of disparate concepts into one another occurs all the time but are we deliberate enough in doing this?

There are lots of ideas about improving creativity – consider all the self-help books, cognitive behaviour therapy, meditation, or see Google for “improving creativity skills”.

But what is the mechanism, the process that goes on in there? In the classic researcher’s response I say “More research is required”.


Campbell, John. (2014). Universal Darwinism: the path of knowledge. Amazon.

Darwin, C. (1859) On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life.

Dawkins, R. (1976) The Selfish Gene. Oxford.

Dennett, D. (2010) The New Replicators. Encyclopedia of Evolution. Ed. Mark Pagel. © 2002, 2005 by Oxford University Press, Inc.  Encyclopedia of Evolution: (e-reference edition). Oxford University Press. Tufts University. 10 December 2010

Ford, Anthony (2014) http://insidestory.org.au/the-1-per-cent

Gilchrist, Paul (2014) . 2014https://warraba.wordpress.com/2014/09/

Gleick, James (2011) The Information: A History, a Theory, a Flood. Amazon.

Hartney, Christopher. (2014) http://sydney.edu.au/arts/religion/staff/profiles/christopher.hartney.php

Hofstader, Douglas, and Sander, Emmanuel. (2013) Surfaces and Essences – Analogy as the Fuel and Fire of Thinking. Amazon

Purcell, Andrew (2014). Portraits of the Artist. Spectrum 22-November 2014. http://www.smh.com.au/entertainment/art-and-design/portraits-of-the-artist-20141118-11od8v.html

Turner, Mark (2014) The Origin of Ideas: Blending, Creativity, and the Human Spark. Amazon




Have a look at this advertisement by the BBC with David Attenborough quoting the  Louis Armstrong song “What a Wonderful World” with some fantastic shots from some of his nature documentaries on the screen.


For a bit of balance I suggest you also read the following:

All things bright and beautifulCecil F. Alexander (1848) Hymns for Lit­tle Child­ren.All things bright and beautiful,all creatures great and small,

all things wise and wonderful:

the Lord God made them all.


Each little flower that opens,

each little bird that sings,

God made their glowing colors,

and made their tiny wings.


The purple-headed mountains,

the river running by,

the sunset and the morning

that brightens up the sky.


The cold wind in the winter,

the pleasant summer sun,

the ripe fruits in the garden:

God made them every one.


God gave us eyes to see them,

and lips that we might tell

how great is God Almighty,

who has made all things well.


All Things Dull and Ugly Eric Idle (Monty Python Show)
All things dull and ugly,All creatures short and squat,All things rude and nasty,The Lord God made the lot.

Each little snake that poisons,

Each little wasp that stings,

He made their brutish venom.

He made their horrid wings.

All things sick and cancerous,

All evil great and small,

All things foul and dangerous,

The Lord God made them all.

Each nasty little hornet,

Each beastly little squid–

Who made the spikey urchin?

Who made the sharks? He did!

All things scabbed and ulcerous,

All pox both great and small,

Putrid, foul and gangrenous,

The Lord God made them all. Amen.





Slightly edited version of Hartney’s list.

  1. It helps if the creator comes from a creative background. This has some possible resonances:

a. That through nurture those around the developing creative agent pass on their techniques and delights in risk to their young.

b. That some form of “sub-clinical” mood swings, schizophrenia, or other individual problematic be present.

c. That some form of synaesthesia can help creativity.

d. That there is little link between intelligence and creativity.

2. A socially creative background aids the creator.

a. The creator finds his/her society in crisis.

b. Or identifies and finds excitement in playing with the “Great Tension” in any society between conservation and innovation.

c. That the creator’s education happens to be particularly playful, and at this level, influential.

d. That the creator does much to teach him or herself (autodidactism is a major trope in creative souls).

e. That the creator feels that they have a “disability” regarding their acceptance into society.

f. Or that reality fails to work for the creator so that they are compelled to hone their own connection with the world.

g.  Or they are compelled to leave society altogether.

h. Or the creator feels fractured in and of themselves and seeks the creative process to be whole again as a mending process.

3. Pre-immersion fascination with the world.

a. Can be a Peaker and rides their emotional highs (thus creativity and mood swings are powerfully linked).

b. Creatives tend to be polymaths – fascinated with a range of areas in the world .

4. Immersion into a particular field of knowledge.

a. This includes a deep awareness of the field through play in it and a spatial and temporal memory of it.

5. Incubation – standing apart from the problem – usually by immersion of the self in a completely different problem.

a. Drug use can come into this period and we should note the influence here of Ayahuasca and DMT.

b. Extreme journeys can also allow the thoughts to displace themselves from the problem at hand – while in fact masking the process of problem solving.

c. Sleep – Including going into or out of sleep or dreaming.

6. The Eureka or Aha! Moment.

a. A moment of blissful realisation.

b. It is sudden.

c. It offers a clear insight into the problem.

d. It conveys a sense of exaltation.

e. It seems as though the results of the insight are true.

f. Although it may be the case that when the creator tries to clearly enunciate the results of the Eureka moment as he/she sees it – language and reason fail them.

7. The Comprehension process

8. The Elaboration process

9. The Implementation process




POST 21 – 24-11-2014

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Convoluted tree at Port Macquarie


Ethics, morals and law are all human inventions. One thing that appears to us to be distinctly human is the experience that we have the ability to make choices which arises from our ability to have preferences. The preferences we express are based on the value we give to the things chosen. We see things as having a value somewhere on a spectrum from very, very good, through neutral to very, very bad.

The question arises – Do these things have inherent value or do we merely construct a set of values. Numerous historical sources may influence this human construct including many religions, cultures, some books and some strong personalities. Our biology also exerts pressures on the behaviours we decide to be acceptable. In the end however we, collectively, are responsible for choosing what behaviour is acceptable. It is part of our social contract and develops as part of the civilising process.

The biologist in me looks at physical and biological systems that evolved before us to see if our predecessors had a value system from which ours might have evolved.

Survival is the most basic response to change by any physical or biological system. It really matters to still be there after events have intervened and time moves on.

The word “preference” suggests some active process and thus may have some applicability to living things but can hardly be appropriate for non-living things like the growth of crystals, convection in fluids, heat exchange etc.

I wonder if benefit an appropriate word to describe what happens when a change occurs and some variation is preserved after the change?

Was preference exercised by the earliest beings such as bacteria or is it more correct to say survival results from actions by these living things? To exercise a choice (make a decision) between competing demands would require the bacterium to place a value on the presenting choices. This may not be a value as we see it in human terms but the organism needs to survive so a choice needs to be made either actively or passively. There is room for a comparative study of the selfishness of genes and that of bacteria as both are subject to forces they have no control over but to survive seems imperative.

Bacteria may not make “choices” but have “choices” forced upon them.

From the earliest life form there had to be an ability to react in a variety of ways to various stimuli. Some things are food and others are non-food or may be harmful or, at least, neutral. The living thing had to respond to each in a different way even if the responses were quite passive. Food is digested. Neutral items are indigestible and must be excreted. Toxins have to be avoided or detoxified. Items in the environment have different meanings to the organism. There is a battery of possible responses and the organism has a preferential response to each stimulus it receives. In plain English we say that the organism has a preference and chooses an appropriate response. There may be no choice but there are options and selection among those options has consequences for survival, for development and for reproductive fitness.

Later evolved plants and animals show something that looks more like making choices than that expressed by bacteria but hardly approach that exercised by humans.

When we get to human responses to stimuli we see something that may be called free will. We need to distinguish between what some philosophers mean by free will and what we experience as we decide something such as whether or not we will get married.

The decisions we make result in benefit or harm or may be neutral in their consequences. Are we attracted to things or stimuli that benefit us or at least benefit our close associates, our family or our tribe or our “crowd”?  The situations we create as a result of our decisions may lead to something that survives or fails. There is some resemblance between this survival and that of a gene. The story of the gene’s survival and the similarity of that process to that of the “meme” is well covered by Dawkins (1976). Memes are ideas, behaviors, or styles that spread from person to person within a culture. Our concept of “acceptable behaviour” is a “meme”.

In order to choose between competing stimuli the organism must have had a memory of some sort in order that each stimulus could be compared with others. Kandel (2006) has a great tale to tell of the neurology of memory from the sea snail Aplysia to humanity. Changes in the chemistry of nerve cells serve to store “memories” of events in the organism and recall those stored memories or memorised patterns as needed.

Scale this up to, say a seagull or a pigeon, and the element of choice is clear. These birds are scavengers in parks or at the seaside. They will approach a scrap thrown before them and usually after a quick look, or at least after a quick peck, each of these species can tell whether it has been offered an orange peel or a crust of bread. The first is rejected while the second is eaten. The bird may also choose to reject the crust if it is already full of food. This demonstrates choice. In the human case there is a further choice. You might refuse to eat some foods, though very attractive, because you are determined to prevent obesity, or refuse to have another glass of booze because you are driving.

We have developed an approach to this matter of choosing between competing items into a field called ethics which seems to be about arguing for behaviours that meet norms accepted by our society.

Harris (2010) has proposed that science has a critical role in ethics. I suggest that he is making a fundamental (and common) mistake in making science into some sort of a reality. He is wrong. Science is a human invention and does not have an independent existence any more than “evil” of “good” or “religion” or “culture”. Science is not sacred. The scientific method is what matters.

Sam Harris has proposed that the single acceptable base for ethics is that of “the well being of conscious creatures”. I propose that there is a prior source shared by each of us.

Acceptability or appropriateness of behaviour varies of course but it is a moveable feast despite the efforts of those who would have it set by edict of a group, a religion or a particular authority or even a particular book.


Each family, each suburb, each social class, each culture, each age and each religion has its ethical or moral standards. Conform to, rather than stand out in, your group seems to be the basic idea. We each pick out what is expected of us when living in a group. We may question some of these expectations but usually conform to the general theme of that group.


As we get a bit older some people question those expectations and many rise up against them. Whether this uprising is a token or a serious revolution varies with circumstances such as the spirit of the times or the spirit of the people involved.


There is no benchmark other than that of human experience. History therefore has many lessons but we need not be bound by humanity’s experiences. The present stage of humanity’s progress through history allows us to re-examine the ethical situation and look anew at improving the lot of humanity. We now have the cyber age to help manage information and calculation and we have in some places the available leisure needed to manipulate mental images in creative ways.


Evaluation of the options available to the organism is important. As complexity developed in the nervous system of organisms the complexity of options increased or rather was seen to have increased and thus a complex system for assessing the choices had an evolutionary advantage.


Ability to assess the likelihood of the success of a particular choice in a complex situation also became an evolutionary advantage.

Actions have consequences. Action occurs as a response to change and may result in further changes. c.f. Newton’s law  – To every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. Darwinism is the paradigmatic example of the preservation of change but the underlying process must have had a precursor, perhaps less elaborate, and successors which might be more or less elaborate (or complex).


Dawkins, Richard (1976). The Selfish Gene

Harris, Sam (2010). The Moral Landscape: How Science Can Determine Human Values

Kandel, Eric R. (2007). In Search of Memory: The Emergence of a New Science of Mind




There is a fascinating recent SMH article about the effects of the great economic disparity that operates in our advanced economies. It quotes from a scholarly article whose first sentence is:

Rising income inequality is now universally acknowledged as a critical economic, social, and political issue, not confined to a particular group of countries or region.” I refer you also to a 2009 book called The Spirit Level: Why more equal societies almost always do better. This spells out the effect of inequality between nations and between US states. The bad effects of the disparity is evident there five years ago and now it appears to be accepted as true.


I sent a comment to Amazon about this book and it has been included in their website. The author has recently thanked me for my “generous review” which reads as follows:

This book comes as an answer to my dreams. The first sentence 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 have been exploring Darwinism for the past few years following my exposure to its implications as a poultry veterinarian where two topics, genetic variation in infectious disease agents (and vaccines against them) and the intense genetic selection of high producing poultry breeds, demonstrated in a real way the power of the Darwinian process. I had progressed through other literature, especially that by Daniel Dennett, to see that the process described by Darwin applies to other substrates including the nervous system, the immune system and the propagation of memes through the culture. John Campbell’s book extends this to the whole are of the emergence of complexity in low entropy systems. He also extends it to the role of Bayesian inference in the accumulation of scientific knowledge. The algorithm he describes certainly applies widely. 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.



Stopping the spread in West African countries is the only way to go at present but the eventual solution lies with vaccine so susceptible people can be protected. There has been a promising development.

A multinational team including individuals from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Okairos (a division of GlaxoSmithKline) recently identified a potential vector, ChAd3, based on its low neutralization by human sera and lack of replication in recipients.


Tests in macaques resulted in complete protection when they were challenged with a lethal dose of Ebola virus 10 months after vaccination. This vaccine is now undergoing human trials and may be available soon.


Now there is a bright idea.

For a great foreign aid invention and it is open sourced – see Liter of Light – day and night





POST 20 – 11-11-2014


Geese – take care!





In a recent article by Brian Toohey there is a definition of education that I recommend.

While few Australians want a school system that is exclusively devoted to serving the economy, the review’s concept of a good education is so rarefied as to be meaningless for parents, students and policymakers. It endorses the 20th-century British philosopher Michael Oakeshott’s definition of education as an extension of a  “conversation [that] began in the primal forests”. Oakeshott went on to say,” It is the ability to participate in this conversation, and not the ability to reason cogently, … or to contrive a better world, which distinguishes the human being from the animal and the civilized man from the barbarian.”

This fits well with my concept that we must all take part in the civilising process which will happen whether or not we participate. As I have said in my last blog post in a quote “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.” (Edmund Burke).

The quote from Oakeshott accepts that the process needs to be affected by our active participation. The process of change in the human culture goes on even if we do not participate in it and it does not necessarily have a positive direction. We humans affect the process by our active intervention in two ways. Our interventions may have unintended or intended effects, both of which may be either beneficial or harmful. If we do nothing things will change willy-nilly. Our actions have the potential to change things for the better but there are no guarantees. We need to further hone our collective skills and I hope my Grandchildren will be able to see that their particular talents are needed.


In a book by Stephen Greenblatt, “The Swerve: How the World Became Modern” there is a description of the rediscovery by Poggio Bracciolini, a 15th-century papal emissary and obsessive book hunter, of the last copy of the Roman poet Lucretius’s book On the Nature of Things. Lucretius lived in Rome from about 99 to 55 BC and was a proponent of Epicurean philosophy.


“The Swerve” refers to a key conception in the ancient atomistic theories according to which atoms moving through the void are subject to clinamen (or swerve): while falling straight through the void, they are sometimes subject to a slight, unpredictable swerve.


In an earlier POST I referred to “the theory that there was variation – quantum fluctuation – from the beginning of the universe and that variation is intrinsic to everything that followed. Then variation led to opportunity for change (variation) in things that replicate and those changes could survive or fail in competition with other things.

The nature of sub-atomic particles is such that, in the beginning, at the Big Bang, there were only these particles which were then subjected to enormous heat and were forced into a configuration that resulted in atoms, the first of which were hydrogen atoms. As the universe of sub-atomic particles and hydrogen atoms expanded there was a conflict between the force of gravity and the expanding forces resulting from the Big Bang.

It is conceivable that some balance between the pull of gravity and the expanding force could have led to a perfectly balanced relationship with the universe being a uniform mass of particles or matter spread equally throughout space/time. This is obviously not the case so it seems that there were early variations that allowed some particles to be attracted to others by gravity leading to the formation of galaxies held in place by gravity while separated from one another by the force of expansion.


As Lucretius proposed, there must have been a built-in variation to explain so much that has followed. The Swerve spends a lot of time explaining how, in 1417 the papal secretary Poggio Bracciolini discovered Lucretius book and I found that section hard to focus on, but when he discusses the things Lucretius had written I was fascinated that a pre-Christian writer could have deduced so much that we have now confirmed in modern physics.



There are a number of possible approaches to supplying renewable energy but I have thought for some time that artificial photosynthesis – copying what plants do with sunlight and carbon dioxide – is a promising way to solve the renewable energy problem. There is new research reported that shows a possible way to this end.

Once exposed to sunlight the catalyst steadily absorbs and converts CO2. The product of this process is methanol — an extremely useful liquid fuel that could be used to run cars, heat homes, or generate electricity.

Carbon capture — the capture of CO2 from power station flues — could accelerate the development of artificial photosynthesis technology. At the moment, there is no application for this CO2 and so it must be “sequestered” in geological formations, at significant economic cost.

Since artificial photosynthesis could make direct use of this concentrated CO2, it will make carbon capture technology more economic. This CO2 would be the perfect feed-stock for the high efficiency artificial photosynthesis process.

That article cross-references to another report by the researchers with a comment on the catalyst involved. They are not there yet but it certainly looks promising.

“We have created a photo-catalyst based on copper oxide, the surface of which is decorated with tiny carbon dots of about 2 nano-metres in size. This nano-composite material can directly convert carbon dioxide dissolved in water to methanol using only sunlight as the energy source,” he said. 

“Methanol is directly useful as a fuel and can also be the building-block for many complex carbon compounds such as plastics and pharmaceuticals.”



We should have vision of the landing on Comet Phiilae on this Thursday morning.


The comet lander Philae will be in for a rough ride when it tries to touchdown on Comet 67P later this week

“Touchdown should be confirmed by 0300 AEDT on Thursday morning,” says Holmes.

“It will take another two hours for us to take a series of panoramic 360 degree images of the comet’s surface and transmit those back to Earth, so those first images should arrive by about 0530 or 0600.”




POST 19 – 8-11-2014

Response to a crisis is great stuff but why are we so poor at responding to creeping problems?

POST 19 – 8-11-2014

“All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.” (Edmund Burke)

I have been tardy in adding to my BLOG but occasionally find something to comment on. Gough Whitlam’s memorial service is one such occasion. As reported in the Editorial of the Sydney Morning Herald on 6 November 2014:

Gough Whitlam wanted his state memorial service to highlight his aims in public life: “to promote equality”, “involve the people of Australia in the decision-making of our land” and “liberate the talents and uplift the horizons of the Australian people”.

He saw these as the tasks of government in this democracy we have established on our island continent and I add, which should be an example for the rest of the world to follow.

Government should ensure that each citizen has the unfettered opportunity to be included in our society and not discriminated against either actively or passively. Each of us is expected to operate under the rule of law and to contribute to the decision making process, not only by making our vote count but also by contributing to the process of solving problems and progressing the civilising process.

The reality is that not all of us are able to do these things as a result of handicaps such as the accidents of birth, socio-economic circumstances etc. If, by “to promote equality” Gough included the removal of obstacles, then I guess most of us see this as “fairness” – a fair go. I see that to mean that those who have the basic advantages and skills should be untrammelled in their pursuit of human fruitfulness, however they perceive that to be (within the law), while those who are not capable should be helped to cope and be supported at an agreed basic level.

Of course some will seek to be free riders in the system and there should be disincentives or punishments for them but nobody in a civilised nation should be deprived of some agreed basics – perhaps these are food, clothing and shelter or enough money to allow them to obtain the basics. Of course there will be problems – there are such things as dole bludgers, criminals, greedy capitalists etc., who should be recognised and managed but there are also people who cannot get jobs for various reasons that are not their fault.

I would also add something about the commitment we should have to support people in other countries and assist them to have access to the same civilising benefits we have.

In our current political scene we are oppressed by the political culture and the collaboration of the press and, dare I say, many of our fellow voters, and have not seen any clear political choices before us for a long time.

There appear to be two central elements in this. Firstly the minor differences in policies between the parties and secondly the strange problems in the structure of the parties. I have little concern for the problems of the conservative side but I squirm when I see that the progressive side is so disorganised. The conservatives seems to say that the high unemployment rate is due to the pernicious dole bludgers who should get off their butt and make some effort. They also still seem to believe that the entrepreneurial high performers at the top of the capitalist system will create wealth which will trickle down to those who participate in the workforce. They also seem to be more inclined to foreign aid as a secondary responsibility which can be cut in hard times. They also seem to say the same about scientific research and education .. I could go on about the conservative mind set, but suffice to say now that there are many liberal thinkers on the conservative side who are realistic about the importance of human values but for many years they have been outnumbered in the coalition ranks.

The unbalanced nature of the influence of various segments of the progressive party is horrifying to me. There is so much talk of reorganising the party but no progress happens. Comfortable people do not change quickly.

Humans respond well to urgent and serious threats – bushfire, war, earthquake, terrorism, crime, famine, epidemics – but not to less urgent threats even if they might be urgent. The less critically perceived crises we need to respond to include:

  • Climate change
  • World population growth in the face of depleted resources
  • Poor distribution of resources and of opportunity within and between nations
  • Globalisation of trade, information technology
  • Neglect of our indigenous people

Here we are in Australia where we have been pretty comfortable for many years and with concerned parents making sure that their kids have every opportunity to wallow in life’s good things, to get an education and to assume that someone else will look after the disadvantaged.

Why this is important to me is that I have many grandchildren, some of whom are politically engaged and some of whom are coasting along in the system and coping with whatever it presents to them. Both are sensible ways of facing up to reality but I encourage them all to be aware of the desirability of their taking some responsibility for what Gough has identified as the need to “involve the people of Australia in the decision-making of our land”.

Perhaps we need a good crisis so that people feel threatened enough to take up the cudgels and fight for a better future.

In Gough’s time we had emerged from a series of poor Coalition governments, we had emerged from rapid economic advance in the post-war period and the kids of the baby-boomers were at school or University and ready to emerge from the dull ages into something vibrant and new. Nowadays all that is offered to kids is a new TV show, a new smart phone and even faster internet speed. The biggest threat may be “novinophobia”as depicted in the postcard I copied above.

Short of creating a crisis by bomb throwing or civil war we must rely on an intelligent response to the, perhaps less critical but equally threatening, issues that loom as threats to our progressive civilising process for our nation and our world – where your children will live.

In case anyone misses my point – it is important to join the ALP so as to influence its internal restructure and its future application of your beliefs for producing a better Australia and a better world.

Go to ABC iView to see the whole Whitlam ceremony – worthwhile to spend the time on a quite historical matter – http://iview.abc.net.au/programs/gough-whitlam-state-memorial-service



POST 18 – 1-09-2014

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An article by Frank Bruni in the New York Times discusses an experience that author Sam Harris has mentioned in his new book “Waking Up”. I have known this as a “peak experience” which is a special state of consciousness sometimes seen as akin to what religious people sometimes call a religious experience. Harris distinguishes between the religious and the non-religious interpretation of such experiences.

Bruni asks:

“The question is this: Which comes first, the faith or the feeling of transcendence? Is the former really a rococo attempt to explain and romanticize the latter, rather than a bridge to it? Mightn’t religion be piggybacking on the pre-existing condition of spirituality, a lexicon grafted onto it, a narrative constructed to explain states of consciousness that have nothing to do with any covenant or creed?”

Peak experiences are often described as transcendent moments of pure joy and elation. These are moments that stand out from everyday events. The memory of such events is lasting and people often liken them to a spiritual experience.

Other experts describe peak experiences in the following ways:

  • “Peak experiences involve a heightened sense of wonder, awe, or ecstasy over an experience.” (Privette, “Defining moments of self-actualization: Peak performance and peak experience,” 2001)
  • “…a highly valued experience which is characterized by such intensity of perception, depth of feeling, or sense of profound significance as to cause it to stand out, in the subject’s mind, in more or less permanent contrast to the experiences that surround it in time and space.” (Leach, “Meaning and Correlates of Peak Experience,” 1962)      My study of the mental activities that go into the development of “premes” and “nemes” has led me to consider whether or not we have sufficient control of these processes to allow us to intervene and perhaps consciously collaborate in the mixture of unconscious and conscious activity. If the process can be consciously accessed we need to identify how this is done. There are things like Concentration Exercises for Training the Mind and many more such self-improvement programs.Similarly we should recognise the crude method of mind control called brain-washing. Brainwashing is hardly a perfect science, but is effective in some situations. What is going on in such a case? Our educational systems are quite effective but I suggest there are deficiencies in our knowledge of the mental processes were are attempting to influence.I want to know more about what is going on in there so that various known methods of improvement can be bettered and perhaps new interventions can be discovered and developed.We have developed methods of maximising the possibility of successful thought processes by seeking evidence of reality and we use reason to understand the significance of that reality.How much of our decision making is actually intuitive? Most of our day to day decisions are intuitive. Intuition is the outcome of the biologically evolved process that we have inherited.Logical methods are only reliable if they are applied to correct first premises. If the starting point is rubbish the outcome will be rubbish. Rubbish in, rubbish out, as the computer people say.This leads me to look at clearly intentional intervention in the mental processes. In my blog Post 12 on the topic I said:
  • In suggesting the use of the terms neme and preme I am recognising the relationship between the genetic process, or Darwinian evolution, and the process of nerve impulse formation. Nerve impulses are transmitted through synapses and neurones and lead to the development of memories that are mental models of the outside world.
  • There is nothing wrong with intuition as long as it is applied by the trained and experienced mind, but a decision made intuitively needs to be conveyed to other minds so needs to be developed by association with evidence and logic.
  • How often do we apply that process?
  • The process goes on whether or not we intervene and ideas are formed anyway. Our intervention could be unintended or intentional. Unintended intervention in the process goes on anyway unless we set out to control them. The unintended consequences may be undesirable because they are uncontrolled. When we are actively using our mind, having ideas and making decisions we may be having negative influences on the process and the outcomes. If our mind is occupied by bread and circuses or the modern equivalent of cooking shows, internet trivia and ubiquitous entertainment, then decisions are more likely to be based on unplanned mental processes and unintended consequences are perhaps even more likely.
  • Those ways of intervention may be passive or active and going with the flow may be one of the passive ways. Meditation, adopting a positive or optimistic outlook, exercising discipline and the like will improve our chances of developing new ideas or insights. Without understanding the neme process and the process that leads to formation of a preme – that bright idea or that creative thought – leaves us still victims of the mental confusion that is the babble of our stream of consciousness.
  • There is also the concept of Flow –as in go with the flow. This is a proposal that is attractive but does not answer my problem which seeks to clarify ways of intervention in the creative process.
  • There are a number of approaches suggested by what I consider rather superficial things such as the following list of “success skills” Positive Thinking, Visualization, Affirmations, Motivation, Willpower and Self Discipline, Power of Concentration and Peace of Mind.
  • If the mental process leading to the development of a significant preme were totally unconscious then we should just study hard, identify intellectual problems, speculate on answers to the problems and hope something pops into our mind and that we will recognise it as significant.
  • A preme is significant if it is a new one, a creative idea, that, when released into the culture has some significant effect.
  • A meme, according to a recent edition of the Oxford English Dictionary is “an element of culture that may be considered to be passed on by non-genetic means”. A meme may be an idea or an artefact. I have suggested that a meme originates as a creative idea in someone’s mind and I have called that type of idea a “preme” – a precursor of a meme. And a nervous impulse that is the precursor of a preme I call a “neme”.
  • I work backwards from the product of the creative process, namely the meme.
  • The idea of self-actualisation led me back to my thoughts on conscious intervention in mental processes as an aid to creativity. How do you get to be self-actualised and how do you get to be able to intervene in the largely automatic thinking process?
  • Maslow described self-actualizers as those who feel finally themselves, safe, not anxious, accepted, loved, loving, and alive, certainly living a fulfilling life.
  • “Maslow defined lengthy, willfully induced peak experiences (plateau experiences) as a characteristic of the self-actualized. He described it as a state of witnessing or cognitive blissfulness, the achievement of which requires a lifetime of long and hard effort, and also self-actualization”.
  • This concept has been developed by Abraham H. Maslow who spoke of willfully induced peak experiences.
  • Even if the process or the environment is not modified the process still goes on.
  • Omission and commission are both interventions and have attendant risks.
  • Allowing error to continue is an intervention.
  • Both change aversion and progressive approaches are forms of interventions.
  • Laissez faire is an intervention

In short – the process will go on whatever we do, so we should manipulate these memes to better attend to our human needs and seek to add to human fruitfulness. This is how we contribute to the civilising project. We cannot neglect it. We must act or the process.

We need to know how to do this and so we need to study the mechanics of the process and invent ways of active intervention. Our educational methods could be improved by further knowledge of the mental process and how it works at the level of:




POST 17 – 27-08-2014

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It is too much to suggest that the climate deniers will find this a face-saving way to change their tune but the swing is on the way.
The following two articles shed some light on the changing viability of the fossil fuel industries as the renewable technology becomes more attractive. The fossil fuel investments may soon become stranded assets.
In today’s SMH the University of Sydney has stopped investing in coal, perhaps under pressure from Greenpeace but it is part of a global trend as shown by the following article about the UBS report.
The University of Sydney has become the first institution of its type in Australia to halt further investments in coalmining, a move likely to send ripples through the funds industry.
On Monday, the university said it had halted investments in Whitehaven Coal, the miner developing the controversial Maules Creek open-cut coalmine, which is the largest such project in the country.
As part of a review being undertaken by the Mercer Group, however, Sydney University told Fairfax Media the bar on investments extended beyond Whitehaven”.
This article refers to a report by the global financial services company UBS .
By the end of the decade, the UBS report says, the combination of solar panels, improved batteries, electric vehicles and energy storage.will deliver a pay-back time of between six to 8 years, as this graph below shows. It will fall to around 3 years by 2030. Right now, the payback is probably around 12 years, enough to encourage the interest of early adopters.