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Remote Ready Biology Learning Activities

Remote Ready Biology Learning Activities has 50 remote-ready activities, which work for either your classroom or remote teaching.

Emergent Systems 2005-2006 Forum

Comments are posted in the order in which they are received, with earlier postings appearing first below on this page. To see the latest postings, click on "Go to last comment" below.

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"nothing is indifferent to the arrangement of its
Name: Anne Dalke
Date: 2005-09-07 15:50:02
Link to this Comment: 16022

Whoa! this is exciting--being the first to write on the new year's blank slate...

I want to thank Alan for this morning's useful response to a not-so-useful essay; for me, it provided a helpful

I would like further pulling apart of/application of the reductive method to

It also occurs to me that the instruction I got in last week's session, in the "five classes of indeterminacy," might also be helpful in teasing apart some of these distinctions. According to my notes, the created-on-the-spot catalogue included

summing up (the parts)
Name: Anne Dalke
Date: 2005-09-14 19:06:13
Link to this Comment: 16142

So...what I got out of/picked up from this morning's search for a version of "the whole is no more than the sum of its parts" that is actually worth claiming/that some reductionist would find worth defending/that some emergenauts would find worth denying...

abstracting emergence
Name: Anne Dalke
Date: 2005-09-21 11:37:03
Link to this Comment: 16237

It occurs to me that, rather than lament the fact that I seem to be holding a monologue here, I should just accept the role of archivist, recording what she finds useful of our weekly conversations, for herself and anyone else w/ an interest...

What interested me, in Rob's review this morning of Ernest Nagel's "The Reduction of Theories" (from The Structure of Science: Problems in the Logic of Scientific Explanation, 1961) were three distinctions (all of which--I think?--are isomorphic):

  • between properties and statements ("nature" and "science"--that is, the descriptions of it)
  • between temporal (historical) and logical (structural) emergence
  • between "novelty" and "unpredictability."

    My question now, of course, has to do w/ the relation between each of the terms. I thought that emergence had to do with exploring those situations in which we can only understand the logical and structural relations between properties by playing them out temporally and historically, since what is distinctive about such systems is that the parts do not act independently of one another, that their interactions have consequences for both the whole and other parts that can not be known ahead of time. So I'm puzzled when Nagel says that temporal/historical emergents constitute a "problem of a different order" from those he calls logically unpredictable....Does a 'different order' just mean 'a different level'?

    While I'm archiving/abstracting...not unrelated, I think, is a conversation nearby, regarding the "intervening" or "predictive" quality of what we know (="truth"?)

  • closing the system, retrospectively
    Name: Anne Dalke
    Date: 2005-09-28 16:09:35
    Link to this Comment: 16347

    Meaning is context-bound....context is boundless;
    there is no determining in advance what might count as relevant.

    Of great interest to me this morning (for which many thanks, Tim), were three things:

    I see the practical use value and possible satisfaction of a such a proposal. Can we talk a little more, though, about its philosophical and moral implications? I'm put in mind of y'day's (9/27/05) New York Times piece, "Agreeing Only to Disagree on God's Place in Science." It describes the refusal of the Templeton foundation to do "flat science," to acknowledge that science and religion are "alien categories" of knowledge (in Gould's famous formulation, "noma," or "nonoverlapping magisteria"). That would be building a firewall, one that assures the safety of the whole by not allowing the contamination of a part to s-p-r-e-a-d...

    I really, really have trouble with closed systems. On any level....

    firewalls and armor
    Name: Anne Dalke
    Date: 2005-10-01 10:54:45
    Link to this Comment: 16405

    ...a very striking intersection took place this week (question is: is it an irreconcilable opposition?) between claims being made in this discussion about a useful response to Katrina including the building of a firewall, one that assures the safety of the whole by not allowing the contamination of a part to s-p-r-e-a-d...

    and the (directly counter?) suggestion, in the forum for Stories of Teaching and Learning, that what we really need to do is not put on armor, but take off armor, and to open ourselves to others, which brings with it the possibility of being hurt (and changed)--

    and overwhelmed.

    enlarging the local
    Name: Anne Dalke
    Date: 2005-10-05 15:54:14
    Link to this Comment: 16454

    what i'm interested in understanding better/knowing more about
    (based on what i heard this morning)?

    drawing the line @ tautology
    Name: Anne Dalke
    Date: 2005-10-19 18:46:13
    Link to this Comment: 16550

    Karen, you said this morning that you didn't understand what it meant to say "to call this 'truth' -- even 'relative' truth' -- is to hide the action of choice". Since that was me speaking (and since you didn't get an answer to your question), I'll presume to answer it here. What I meant was that we make choices to value certain stories, based on our core values, and to call a story the "truth," or even "relatively truthful," is to cover up the choice and the valuation. (This accords, of course, w/ the argument Paul was making today, that all stories express an authorial point of view.)

    I found that argument quite convincing, along with its correlary, that science stories are useful because generative, and to be judged on the basis of their generativity. But I also found that argument--in this context--a particularly striking drawing of a line in the sand (more, actually: building of a wall...), a line which (I think) makes the argument tautological: if we value science because it creates the most generative stories, then we value the most generative stories. But on the other side of that line, outside that fort, there are other contexts, other worlds.

    This summer, I heard a talk that juxtaposed three world views and their core values (a core value being "that which needs no further explanation"):

    There are trade-offs in each view (in the modern world, for example, where science reigns, there exist difficulties in dealing with the nonquantifiable: "if it is not sense data, or derivable from that," then it is "non-sense," not real).

    A concrete example:
    Among a group of students returning from a semester abroad,

    • a "premodernist" might say, Now I understand how good we have it here, how right we are
    • a "modernist" might say, Since we have to compete in a world economy, it's useful to understand how others live
    • a "postmodernist" might say, In order for all of us to survive--even to flourish--we need to understand how all the others (in the global network of interdependence in which we are all enmeshed) think and feel.
    So science, as Paul presents it, is expressive of one particular, particularly modern, particularly "useful" set of values--in a context that elevates precisely that "usefulness" above other values. Isn't that tautological, if it (he?) doesn't feel the need to justify that value, with reference to survival, or any other value ?

    representation vs. simulation--NOT
    Name: Anne Dalke
    Date: 2005-10-26 16:22:42
    Link to this Comment: 16635

    Thanks, Ted, for this morning's good talk on "emergent sustainability": I learned a lot, and find it particularly interesting (and heartening) to hear and think together about concrete applications for all our philosophizing. I was particularly intrigued by your presentation of Gonzalo Frasca's work on "ludology," his notion that, in games, going through "several iterations of a story is... a requirement....Games are not isolated experiences: we recognize them as games because we know we can always start over." I like this, and appreciated the particular application you gave, of the way in which such simulations led to a solution in the conflict between Senegalese herders and farmers.

    One point of disagreement and (I hope) correction? You describe Frasca as contrasting this sort of "simulational" activity with the "representational" work of "traditional narrative," which "deals with endings in a binary way....Narrative authors...have only have one shot in their gun -- a fixed sequence of events....traditional narrative media lacks the 'feature' of allowing modifications to the stories."

    Well, no. When I worked through an essay for the Emergence group a few months ago on "Literature and Literary Theory as Forms of Exploration", I argued that the

    use-value of literary criticism, of the literature it interprets, and of language more generally, emerges in the moments where negotiation is necessary....Each time a new story is told, it identifies--in ways that are unpredictable beforehand--other tales not yet articulated. New stories get generated in an emergent process, as interactions in the environment leave traces (in literature) that are continuously picked up (in literary theory) and re-combined in new configurations. Literary analysis makes new stories out of the stories we have preserved; the most useful of those are continuously generative of that which surprises.

    So: a concrete example? Two years ago, when Paul and I offered the first iteration of our course on The Story of Evolution and the Evolution of Stories, very different meanings of the same passage emerged in his section and in mine. At the very end of Moby-Dick, Ishmael describes himself as endlessly the shipwreck: Round and round, then, and ever contracting towards the button-like black bubble at the axis of that slowly wheeling circle, like another Ixion I did revolve. Led by biology? Buddha? Paul?, his group read this final scene as peaceful, accepting, even "zen-like"; led by me--and what I know of Ixion (the first human to shed kindred blood, bound to a flaming wheel as one of the more famous sinners on display on Tartarus) my group arrived at, well

    a very different reading.

    The point(s) here (as per the literary critic Jonathan Culler) is that "Meaning is context-bound, and context is boundless; there is no determining in advance what might count as relevant." It's always negotiable, always revisable. In other words, traditional narrative--as it is taught using reader-response theory--is always open to "repetition," "simulation" and new "interpretations" that arise thereby. We, too, are always playing games.

    lit crit
    Name: Ted
    Date: 2005-10-26 17:46:15
    Link to this Comment: 16637

    Okay, interesting point. And I think part of the problem is that Frasca
    himself is something of a naive reader. I agree with you that Frasca's
    claim about the static nature of traditional narrative is off, but he's
    still useful as long as he casts his ludology as the counterpart to
    narratology. As I understand it, narratology examines the structure and
    workings of that part of the text that is static. It's about what
    structure the author put in place and how that structure conveys meaning.
    Discussions of slipperiness and generativity are relevant, but they're on
    a different level and they don't nullify the importance of understanding
    the narrative structure.

    Frasca wants to see a semiotics (a rhetoric?) of simulation. He wants
    someone to describe what tropes are at work in a simulation, what
    archetypal elements make up all games, what rhetorical tricks a game
    designer can use to create meaning from structure. All that sort of thing
    that the study of static narrative does for lit crit, Frasca (and I) would
    like to see a ludology do for simulation. And then, just as
    hermeneuticists and deconstructionists have relevant things to say about
    how texts are read and interpreted, there should be a call for a study of
    how simulations are experienced and interpreted -- and how they're
    slippery and endlessly generative.

    firewalling emergent disaster
    Name: Anne Dalke
    Date: 2005-10-30 09:31:25
    Link to this Comment: 16697

    Looping back for a moment, past more recent discussions of emergent sustainability to an earlier one about managing emergent disasters... The Chronicle ran a piece recently (10/7/05) looking @ the organizational breakdown during and post-Katrina:

    It was a mistake...for the Federal Emergency Management Agency to be folded into the department of Homeland Security...small not mix well with...the "gun-toting" culture of the intelligence and law-enforcement agencies....they have a propensity to have small groups of loyalists in a room making decisions, closed off from every one else....the department is hamstrung by a "command and "control" mentality that is ill-suited to the realities of disasters...."in a disaster, decisions are made at lower levels than they are made normally....the idea that anyone at the top could command and control all this activity is idiotic."

    What struck me in this article was the claim that the habits of mind cultivated by military and law-enforcement personnel--their "command-and- control model"--are said to arise from experiences in dealing with an intelligent adversary. So they want to keep information secret....But emergency managers and medical personnel want information shared as widely as possible, because they have to rely on persuasion to get people to cooperate. Yet you may remember that what came out of our discussion a month ago was precisely the opposite suggestion: that, in looking for a way to manage such disasters, we build firewalls to minimize the positive feedback that can fuel catastrophe.

    Community as a complex system that displays emerge
    Name: Asher
    Date: 2005-11-06 13:20:10
    Link to this Comment: 16827


    Great discussion that you guys are having here. I am trying to make a link between community living and emergence. I know that there has been a significant amount of investigation into cities as examples of emergence... and political systems as emergent, I expect I have a lot to learn from this kind of research. I was hoping that any of you might be able to cue me into literature on the subject that could be useful.

    Any help/suggestions would be greatly appreciated.

    Name: Anne Dalke
    Date: 2005-11-07 17:22:31
    Link to this Comment: 16861

    Hi, Asher. Nice to have you come by, recall us to some on-the-ground questions.
    You might look both @ Christopher Alexander's now-classic 1965 essay, "A City is not a Tree" (which starts with the observation that planned cities don't work), and @ a local example of thoughtful city planning @ the 40th Street Community Forum. Another relevent essay--about the need for top-down planning in political structures, when the bottom-up stuff isn't working, is Social-Political Structures: Academic and Biological.

    Science as a Category
    Name: Doug Blank
    Date: 2005-11-09 15:22:10
    Link to this Comment: 16892

    I appreciate Paul's attempt this morning to make a distinction between science and non-science by building on something concrete, if personal.

    One test that has been in the backs of our collective mind has been the Dover, PA Intelligent Design trial. Could Paul's distinctions be used there to make a clear separation between these two stories?

    Maybe a more important test was one that occurred a few years ago and had Stephen Jay Gould hopping mad. You may remember that some doctors had replaced the heart of a boy with one from, I believe, an orangutan. Gould suggested that if the doctor's respected the story of evolution (and related stories, such as genetic distance), then they would have been looking at chimps rather than a primate rather removed from the human branch of the tree. (I can't find the story any where on-line, but I remember Gould showing a picture of the child's tombstone and mentioning the doctors by name. This caused quite a stir at the Cognitive Science meeting.) Do we have a chance of making a distinction that would outlaw such actions?

    If we live in a world where science can't be separated from non-science then we may be entering another Dark Age. Dark may be the way to go with rising fuel costs...

    the "truth" of story variety
    Name: Anne Dalke
    Date: 2005-11-10 22:51:27
    Link to this Comment: 16924

    I'm not especially interested in policing the distinction between scientific and non-scientific stories. (Partly because it's the varieties of stories science tells that interest me--ref. today's talk by Prof. Laszlo on "A Tale of Two Sciences: Physics and Chemistry," comparing the "visually literate" to the "mathematically literate," the differing/equally necessary and useful world views of those doing "conceptual analysis" w/ those engaged in hands-on "craft.")

    And I'm not sure that the big log Tim threw on the track yesterday morning really stopped the train: the observation that "we can't use truth as a guide" is the "one true statement in the room (and so inadmissable by its own standards) is nicely sidestepped by the acknowledgement that this claim is just a well-placed "bet," a starting place that acknowledges that it well might not be true.

    I'm also prepared to grant that the usefulness of all stories is "local," and that science aims to "extend the local," to offer "wider" applications of the tales we tell. But I still think there needs some clearer measure of what counts for "generativity" than a personal preference for certain kinds of stories--

    and look forward to some concrete examples, next week, of the same.

    I am, therefore I want
    Name: Anne Dalke
    Date: 2005-11-10 23:03:47
    Link to this Comment: 16925

    While I'm listing areas for further discussion, I want to add an idea I picked up from the NYTimes book review this past weekend (11/6/05), entitled "I Am, Therefore I Want." The review describes a new book On Desire: Why We Want What We Want, which looks at the "desire-generating systems" of our brains, "a dominant verbal system that produces 'rational' (instrumental) desires and--perhaps more important--rationalizes those desires that arise from other, unconscious systems...all hankerings are nimbly enabled by an articulate mechanism that evolved to protect our species from the kind of internal conflict that would trip up a thriving, procreating and surviving fittest."

    This seems to me a very different story than the one currently on the table, that it is our thinking/rationalizing which creates the conflicts, that the unconscious can settle those difficult questions with many variables which consciousness can't seem to sort out, that we don't need those "moments of absolutist discrimination," but might well do better to let the "gut guide us."

    insights and questions
    Name: Anne Dalke
    Date: 2005-11-17 11:15:28
    Link to this Comment: 17047

    Gratitude, as per usual, for yesterday morning's provocations. Two insights for me, one from the very beginning, the other from the very end, of the presentation:

    All quite useful; thanks.
    Though (of course) there are still a couple of questions on (the/my) table:

    I'm as thankful for the second list (of questions) as I am for the first (of answers). Gratitude, "really."

    "Swarm": teaching emergence in an art museum
    Name: Shir Ly Ca
    Date: 2005-12-09 13:52:08
    Link to this Comment: 17360

    The Fabric Workshop and Museum (FWM), a contemporary art museum in Philadelphia (, is currently putting together an exhibition entitled Swarm. The exhibition will feature contemporary artists who have engaged the concepts of collective intelligence, self-organization and emergence in a variety of ways. Some of the artists, including Paul Pfeiffer and Yukinori Yanagi, directly address bee and ant swarms, while others, like Matthew Ritchie and Julie Mehretu, approach the idea more broadly or abstractly, looking at collective intelligence in cities, software and on the Internet.

    This exhibition has been organized br FWM and guest-curators Abbott Miller and Ellen Lutpon. Swarm explores contemporary works of art through the social and scientific lens of emergence. The contemporary artists selected for Swarm explore and engage the phenomena of emergence though a variety of media, and represent a diverse cross-section of cultural and geographical contexts. Works emphasize "swarming" as a social effect generated by masses of objects, images, data, or organisms, reflecting a contemporary view of nature, politics, and social life.

    Education Coordinator
    215-568-1111 x14
    The Fabric Workshop and Museum
    1315 Cherry Street, 5th Floor
    Philadelphia, PA 19107
    p: 215.568.1111/f: 215.568.8211

    the art of emergence
    Name: Anne Dalke
    Date: 2005-12-09 13:53:54
    Link to this Comment: 17361

    Shir Ly--
    thanks again for coming out this morning--I very much enjoyed hearing about the "swarm" exhibit, and thinking together with you about ways such art might be used to engage and "teach" scientific concepts like emergence to varieties of students (both young and old).

    In hopes that we will continue to be in touch-- I'd be delighted to find a way (for instance) to archive images from this exhibit on Serendip, for use in future courses.

    giving the exhibition some (after) life?
    Name: Shi Ly Cam
    Date: 2005-12-09 13:56:59
    Link to this Comment: 17362

    Hi Anne,
    It was great to meet you all! I was reminded of why I love my job – I get to learn so much about everything that informs art and connect with people thinking about those varied ideas. I truly look forward to learning more about emergence, how it fits into so many varied disciplines and how to use the exhibition to connect with others on such varied levels.

    ...We’re applying for a grant from the Pennsylvania Humanities Council (PHC). The grant would fund an interdisciplinary panel discussion at the close of the exhibition... if someone would be interested in helping us persue this.

    I will contact the curators regarding giving the exhibition some life, perhaps on Serendip, past the duration of the show. I thinks it’s a great idea and am sure the curators and artists would be thrilled to know that their work is relevant.

    And, lastly, I want to re-invite you to have one of your meetings here. We could either open early for you or close late if it’s easier for you to come after classes.

    Let’s be in touch.

    Shir Ly

    beyond appiah ...
    Name: Paul Grobstein
    Date: 2005-12-14 10:59:34
    Link to this Comment: 17394

    Thanks all for interesting conversation this morning. Emergent connection that I want to think more about, for whatever use it might be to others: the idea that mimicry may have been an important origin of human culture (as suggested by news report of recent study comparing chimps/human children) and its relation to the contemporary "problems" of human culture, as exemplified by people placing more confidence in social stories than in individual experiences (PG story of students re sexual faithfulness, SS on the issue of "public facts" in political science, Diana Mutz?). Do think there is a problem of humans defaulting to collective wisdom (as per Erich Fromm's Escape From Freedom?). On the plus side re mimicry, see Merlin Donald, Origins of the Modern Mind.

    On other fronts .... is interesting idea that one AT THE MOMENT needs to pendulum swing back toward the individual and within the individual to acknowledge the importance not solely on the "rational" nor the "intuitive" but the combination of both (see Writing Descartes ... . The "at the moment" is an acknowledgement that all ethical/moral thinking is "in progress", ie that at another time and place the need to get it "less wrong" would require re-emphasizing the significance of collective stories.

    leaving a crack for fresh air to get in
    Name: Anne Dalke
    Date: 2005-12-14 12:10:28
    Link to this Comment: 17396

    I'm grateful, too, for the conversation extending from/provoked by my report on/quarrel w/ Appiah this morning. I found quite valuable Sandy's contributions regarding "the problem of public facts" (in particular, the self-fulfilling prophecy of the "taxi driver thought experiment" regarding racial profiling, which so resembles our earlier discussion regarding the need to "dampen" the positive feedback that generates catastrophe).

    And/but: I'm not @ all ready to acknowledge that moral thinking needs (ever) to emphasize individual over collective stories; the loop between these two sorts of story-making--that arising from personal experience, and that arising from story-extending and comparing--needs to be every bit as on-going and insistent as that between the intuitive and the rational.

    Along those lines...I'm hoping that, in the new year, the emergence group might attend more to this sort of social-science-y angle on the world: how we might most usefully construct communities that facilitate the emergence of what is new?

    In the interim: emergenauts might be amused to read a fairy tale, collectively written by the students in my college seminar, in which--when outsiders are admitted--a "crack" for revision appears in stale air of the Bryn Mawr bubble.

    nitpicking of the masses
    Name: Anne Dalke
    Date: 2006-01-20 15:18:45
    Link to this Comment: 17706

    So, I've been rolling over in my mind what I heard from Mark on Wednesday morning, trying to see if I find it "true" or @ least "useful." Here--for my own clarification & for whatever use it may serve to others--is where I've gotten so far.

    Mark's description of Misinformation Networks started (and stayed) with the presumption that true information is clearly distinguishable from misinformation. Since for postmodern me it's "stories all the way down" (with every story motivated and shaped by the investments of the storyteller, however unconscious she may be of them), I got hung up on that initial distinction. That made some of the later claims (that the "technology of slant," for instance, involves "omitting information") not quite compelling for me, since (for instance) I'm quite sure we never have complete information. By Mark's definition (and my lights), every story is "slanted": that is, just a slice of all that is, and necessarily a slice that reflects the "angle" of the slicer.

    I found Paul's contrast between the "google" and the "wikipedia" models a handy one (i.e.: the usefulness-of-knowing-what-more-people-value, vs. getting-@-the-truth-by-increasing-the-number-of-watchdogs). But I also think there's a third (non-binary/non-binding) option. I got a glimpse of this @ a talk I heard last spring, which juxtaposed three world views and their core values (a core value being "that which needs no further explanation"):

    There are trade-offs in each view (in the modern world, for example, where science reigns, there exist difficulties in dealing with the nonquantifiable: "if it is not sense data, or derivable from that," then it is "non-sense," not real).

    A concrete example:
    Among a group of students returning from a semester abroad,

    In these terms, perhaps I'd mentioned, in our discussion on Wednesday morning, another NYTimes article (1/05/06), 'Trial and Error', which quotes a phrase we all know very well to describe how science works:

    science in the long run gets most things right - or, as Paul Grobstein, a biologist, puts it, "progressively less wrong." Falsities pose no great problem. Science will out them and move on.

    What became startingly clear to me, during Mark's presentation, is how very different that description of scientific method is from the phenomenon he was describing: the inclination of human beings to seek--not what will expand their knowledge base, not what is new and different from what they already know--but rather simply confirmation for what they already believe.

    So (punch line)--I guess I just don't buy it:

    So Mark's description of the world (and our preferred ways of operating in it) seems to me not just cynical (as I said when we talked) but progressively...

    more wrong. (In saying that, I'm well aware that I am revealing my own strong investment in/hope for learning new things.)

    Pre-suppositions of the Pre-postmodern
    Name: Mark Kuper
    Date: 2006-01-23 13:53:15
    Link to this Comment: 17749

    Well, I finally figured out what Anne and Paul have in common - neither believes in objective truth. Anne is right that my entire talk was predicated on the belief that there IS such a thing as Misinformation. The existence of misinformation presupposes the existence of true information, and I am willing to draw a line in the sand on that.

    The problem with postmodernism is that it elevates what is a sad fact of life into a principle of epistemology - in fact, into THE principle of epistemology. So, it is true that people have different points of view and that their view of reality is influenced by their different points of view, but we shouldn’t view this as a good thing or an inevitable thing. The whole point of the scientific method and rules of evidence in courts etc. is to narrow the free play of points of view. The goal is to create a method such that people with different points of view/cultures etc. can come to the same, and we hope more true, conclusions. The success of the scientific enterprise shows that this can be done.

    Postmodernism, understood as “everyone has a point of view and everyone’s point of view is equally valid” (which I am not saying is the view that Anne and Paul hold - I am just saying that they are dangerously close to that view) has the following in problems:

    1) It is false. There is an objective reality. This reality is not always independent of the observer in the sense that the observer cannot influence it:
    a) In science, you have the example of
    quantum mechanics, and
    b) In the social world, observers obviously influence reality through their actions,
    c) Reality is independent of the observer in the sense that every observer influences reality in the same way based on their actions - independent of their beliefs about reality.

    2) It collapses under its on weight.
    a) If “everyone has a point of view and everyone’s point of view is equally valid” why should I care what you have to say. You cannot prove to me, with me point of view/culture, that anything you have to say is valid. Like logical positivism, which couldn’t prove that there was a provable distinction between things that can be proved and values, post-modernism cannot prove that “everyone has a point of view and everyone’s point of view is equally valid” because post-modernism, by its basic tenet, cannot prove anything.
    b) Paul’s view that science is the enterprise of getting things "progressively less wrong" is really a pre-postmodern idea (which is a good thing). The key word is “progressively” as in progress, which is an enlightenment idea. We cannot get "progressively less wrong" unless we are working toward something, which is what we pre-postmodernists call truth.
    c) As I endlessly have to explain to my students, there is no concept of bias (or slant) without a concept of truth. Bias MEANS deviation from the true value. Bias is NOT the same thing as “ a point of view” (“point of view” is the same thing as “point of view” - don’t hijack bias as a synonym). Bias is the relationship between the observer’s point of view and what we currently believe to be true.

    3) It gains us nothing.
    a) Knowing, now, that Iraq does not have weapons of mass destruction,
    b) Looking at the content of Fox News and discovering that they continually equivocated about this, and
    c) Surveying watchers of Fox News and discovering that there was a correlation between the percentage of time that someone watched Fox News and the probability that they believe, still or til very recently, that Iraq has WMD’s,
    We conclude that it is highly probable that Fox News misinformed (or at least didn’t try to inform) its viewers. What can the postmodernist say about this? NOTHING - they cannot even say that as of now, it does not appear that Iraq does not to have WMD’s.

    4) Substituting the word “useful” for “truth” does not work in both directions:
    a) Many times, lies are useful, especially in the social world.
    b) Many times, the truth can hurt you psychologically, make you incapable of action, but this does not stop it from being true.
    c) When in science, “useful” and “truth” coincide it is because the scientific understanding of the world is true. There are exceptions to this in the sense that:
    i) A theory may not be completely true (which we will never know anyway) but adequate for the task at hand - like Newtonian physics for the purpose of calculating the path of projectiles.
    ii) A theory may make predictions that coincide with the true model - like Ptolemaic astronomy for the purpose of navigating by the stars.
    But I doubt there is an example of a completely false scientific theory that is useful.

    Name: Anne Dalke
    Date: 2006-01-26 23:15:21
    Link to this Comment: 17820

    (My subject line comes from mock Comedy Central pundit Stephen Colbert, whose "slinging of the world 'truthiness'"--the NYTimes says--"caught on instaneously last year precisely because we live in the age of truthiness," when "what matters most is whether a story can be sold as truth.")

    I know better than to speak for Paul, but will just say (as preface to what I really have to say) that--in the spectrum of the postmodern--I am distinguished by representing 1) the tragic view, 2) one that recognizes no progress, and 3) the one most invested in the communal/ the construction of the collective (it's an interesting question whether 1) and 2) are the effect of 3), but that's for me and my analyst, not for this space...)

    I do think Mark exaggerates the perils of my perspective; one can see all stories as constructed, as not grounded in or accountable to an "objective reality," and still be able--in fact, be compelled--to make valid distinctions among them; for a strong argument in this regard, see On Beyond Post-Modernism: Discriminating Stories. But since it's pretty clear that neither of us is going to argue the other out of his/her particular angle on the nature of the world, I'd suggest that, given those differences,

    it might be more productive to see where keeping both (or 3, or 10--everyone else is welcome to come join!) angles of vision in play--and rubbing up against one another--might take us...

    So, here's my first move in Mark's direction: I've just finished reading an essay by Mike Tratner, a colleague in the English Department, called "Derrida's Debt to Milton Friedman" (New Literary History 34, 3 (Autumn 2003): 791-805. Michael goes so far as to argue that the emergence of deconstruction and postmodern ways of thinking were shaped by the changes in everyday economics and governmental practices of the 1970s:

    Milton Friedman argues that a system for distributing signifiers which have no referent...a 'social convention that owes its very existence to the mutual acceptance of... a fiction'....the fictionality of money became the value--or the 'meaning'--of monetary signs began fluctuating daily....The fictionality of money became an important economic tenet of governments and a commonplace of newspaper headlines declaring the latest inflation figures....

    This all seems to be quite evocative of/directly relevant to further elaboration of the very interesting presentation by Laura Blankenship last Wednesday morning, in which we explored together the playful?/transgressive?/immoral? activity of googlebombing, the work of pranksters who "interpret" sites through their own particular frameworks (wherein Bush becomes a "miserable failure," etc), rather than grabbing directly, w/out translation, words from the sites themselves. But I would say that this sort of interpretation is what all of us are doing all the time: when we decide what data to collect, when we decide how to represent it in a graph or an image or a certain set of words. It is stories all the way down: not just the explanation of the facts, but the facts themselves are constructed. If this is the way the world (and our movement through and management of the world) works, then what is key is our intention: to what use are we putting our stories?

    My daughter has this great quote from John Steinbeck's East of Eden) hanging on her bedroom wall; it offers one way of distinguishing among stories:

    I think the difference between a lie and a story is that a story utilizes the trappings and appearance of truth for the interest of the listener as well as of the teller. A story has in it neiher gain or loss. But a lie is a device for profit or escape.

    the gift that keeps on giving
    Name: Anne Dalke
    Date: 2006-01-27 17:16:10
    Link to this Comment: 17823

    So--that was the anecdotal warm-up. What I was working my way towards (and here's the punch line) is a postulation/question that might shift our focus from the opposition we developed over the past two weeks, between truth and lies, to a discussion of what difference it makes if we conceive of our object of study (the world, or any slice of it--economic, literary, biological, etc.) as an open system. (My thinking about this goes all the way back to that summer of very-interesting inquiry into Information.) What I re-discovered, in reading Michael's article about Derrida and Friedman, was Derrida's essay on "The Gift," and its claim that gifts (like credit! like going off the gold standard!) unsettle closed systems. They don't expect exchange or reciprocity (needed in a closed system, where energy cannot be lost) but rather bring in from outside something NEW, stringlessly, without expectation of return.

    How helpful is THAT?


    meta-meta--and beyond
    Name: Anne Dalke
    Date: 2006-02-01 13:50:14
    Link to this Comment: 17914

    My questions this week--arising from Sandy's lit review, this morning, of social scientists who are using an emergent framework to think about issues of inequality--are really meta-meta (so I'm unsure if I can really articulate them or if--having tried to do so--anyone can understand me). But: nothing ventured, nothing gained. So here goes (straight to the mountaintop):

    Emergence and Feminism
    Name: Laura
    Date: 2006-02-03 08:39:47
    Link to this Comment: 17948

    Since I brought up some issues about women as mothers vs. the workplace during Sandy's talk, I wanted to point you all to some reading that might get you thinking about how emergence is at work in such things. First, there's this piece by Linda Hirschman that got a lot of play among bloggers, primarily very educated women bloggers who were at home with their kids. In it, she says basically that feminism has failed because so many educated women are now choosing to stay at home and that those women have basically "wasted their education" and are ruining it for those who choose to work. Sandy's talk made me think about what's at work here. The system has emerged in a way that, for whatever reason and no matter how much policy encourages changes in culture, women end up at home with the kids. I actually think this whole is frought with so much complication and cultural baggage that it's difficult to even begin to contend with it. As someone who's been both a stay at home mom and a working mom, I can tell you that you get beat up from all directions. When you're at home, there's a subtle message from some corners that you should be working (Hirschman is less subtle). When you're working, there's a subtle message that you should be at home. I'm guilty of sending these messages myself, even though I try to appreciate everyone's choices. Another source from which I've drawn insight on this issue is Ann Crittendon's The Price of Motherhood. She focuses on the short and long-term economic losses that women incur when they have children. Really, the whole family incurs them, but when women end up single (and a great many do), their economic situation is far worse than men in the same situation. If this dynamic is indeed an emergent phenomenon, is there any way to disrupt it? In a way, Sandy's talk depressed me on that front, since it seems that no amount of policy-making can "fix" something like workplace gender issues. Anyone else have ideas about that?

    Re: Emergence and Feminism
    Name: Lisa
    Date: 2006-02-05 23:30:38
    Link to this Comment: 17981

    This is interesting, because in my somewhat limited experience, it seems like most Emergence Group discussion has been descriptive rather than normative: how do emergent phenomena work? Laura's question, by contrast, seems to be asking whether there is a way to modify these workings to produce a different result - i.e., workplace gender equality. Arguably, Linda Hirshman's suggestion that educated women seek high-powered jobs and marry men who will do the childcare for them is such an attempt: not top-down policymaking, but encouraging individual women to make choices that will demonstrate their (marketable) capabilities and thus increase overall respect for women. I'm not sure I agree with her specific proposal, but does its reliance on how cultural attitudes (could) change emergently make it more likely to succeed than anti-discrimination legislation?

    Can we manipulate emergent phenomenon?
    Name: Doug Blank
    Date: 2006-02-06 09:55:48
    Link to this Comment: 17986

    Very interesting discussions already this semester! One common thread, perhaps, is: can we manipulate emergence? This is also related to last semester's discussion "Emergence in emergencies" on hurricane Katrina, and George Lakoff's talk on use of language.

    Sandy discussed an attempt to manipulate emergent systems through policy, and that was seen to work somewhat. But the system largely resisted the attempt and showed robustness and stability to remain in place.

    Laura showed us the blogosphere, and demonstrated "google bombs", grassroots, coordinated, distributed, conscious attempts to create a "tipping point".

    When a company tries to trick the system into giving its product pages a higher ranking, they call it "webspam". Matt Cutts is the Google employee responsible for the webspammers. Recently, he wrote in his blog about a recent example by BMW. He discusses the rules, and how they broke them. Here is an article also about it.

    Mark's discussion explored how one could fashion a message to be easily digested, and passed around in an emergent system. It seemed to work pretty well.

    All of this reminds me of an analogy I think of often: imagine yourself as a neuron, attempting to get your fellow nodes to fire. It may be that we can manipulate the system, but not directly through policy. We may have to make very subtle movements with items that don't appear to have much to do with the topic of interest. For example, what to do about inequalities in gender value? Maybe we just need to wear red. Or talk softly. Or refer to pickles often. The point is that it is an emergent system, and we have to manipulate it at that level.

    Maybe if we get our fellow neurons to, say, laugh, that might cause a spread of a little dopamine, and they'll fire at will. Think emergently.

    emerging parenting
    Name: Anne Dalke
    Date: 2006-02-07 13:11:06
    Link to this Comment: 18008

    I was struck--surprised--by Laura's invitation to us to think about the "failure of feminism" (i.e. women ending up @ home w/ the kids) as an emergent phenomena--since I have come to think of emergence as a principle that enables change (see, for instance, my quarrel w/ Appiah: "the duty of [wo]man respect to [her] own nature...not to follow but to amend it").

    The sort of analysis Laura sent us to, such as the piece on America's Stay-at Home Feminists, which describes women who think they are "voluntarily taking themselves out of the elite job competition" under the assumption that they are 'choosing' their gendered lives," actually seems to be strongly anti-emergent in both its presumptions and its prescription (i.e., it argues for a linear single-causal intervention: "find the money," use your "college education with an eye to career goals," etc. etc.)

    Consider, alternatively (emergently?) the question that has come up repeatedly in a series of conversations on Representing Parenting, being held on Friday afternoons this year over @ the Multicultural Center on the Bryn Mawr campus: Why/how has the work culture in this country become too deeply entrenched to create a space to mother?

    Anyhow, if you'd like to talk some more about this-and-related issues--i.e., to take what Lisa calls a "descriptive rather than normative" approach: asking not just "how emergent phenomena work," but how to "modify these workings to produce a different result," come to the next of these events, being held @ the end of this week:

    Can Women Have It All?
    And What Role does Public Policy Play?
    A Study of Bryn Mawr Alumnae in the Federal Civil Service

    Can women "have it all?" Based on interviews with Bryn Mawr alumnae in the federal civil service, Marissa Golden can answer, "kind of." She found that these women work in meaningful and rewarding jobs and feel that they spend enough time with their kids but that they have almost all taken themselves off the career "fast track." In a talk this Friday, Marissa will discuss the competing goals that "family-friendly" workplace policies are designed to achieve and how these policies help in the attainment of some of these goals but not others. She will also make an argument for why she thinks it is so important to get at least some of these women back on the "fast track" but why she also thinks that our public policies need to do more to improve the well-being of the children of these working moms.

    Please join us for this talk, this Friday, February 10,
    2:30-4pm in the Multicultural Center.
    Drinks and snacks provided.

    Fifth in a series on "Re-presenting Parenting,"
    co-sponsored by the Program in Gender and Sexuality
    and the Center for Science in Society:

    emerging emergence ...
    Name: Paul Grobstein
    Date: 2006-02-11 10:12:04
    Link to this Comment: 18064

    Thanks all for both interested and critical engagement with the story I started Wednesday, for contributions to it, and for a willingness to carry it over another week. I've added a place holder in the notes, both as a reminder of what we did/didn't get to and as an addition of issues that have come up along the way that struck me. Happy, of course, to have others add others here. Very much looking forward to continuing the conversation next Wednesday.

    More on parenting
    Name: Laura
    Date: 2006-02-11 10:55:15
    Link to this Comment: 18065

    I ran into this blog post this morning which might further contribute to our thinking about gender equality, parenting and the workplace. The author questions the assumptions we might be making about the nuclear family as the baseline from which to work. And the commenter questions the reasons there are dual-income families in the first place, suggesting it is the increased wages available to women, and not, as was discussed at Marissa Golden's presentation yesterday, that families just can't make in on a single income. I have no idea really how this might fit into emergence, except that perhaps the nuclear family is an emergent phenomenon itself. We are somehow continually drawn to this concept whether it is the norm in reality or not.

    Date: 2006-02-11 11:08:07
    Link to this Comment: 18066

    In my new book, Welfare Discipline, I argue that gender is a complex system of circular causality that we are all implicated in. We all enact discursive practices that from the bottom up reinforce the gender binary. As a result, both gender-sensitive and gender-neutral public policies are at risk of being implemented in ways that reinforce gender distinctions for better or worse. Therefore, I found Marissa's study of that even women working in federal agencies with family-friendly policies end up using these policies in ways that reinscribe their gendered status as caregivers first. So even as we enact policies to address gender bias in the workplace, we also recreate it, if in new forms. It will take more than family-friendly policies to make the workplace gender fair. We must work from the bottom up to generate new possibilities that enable both men and women to be valued for their caregiving as well as breadwinning capabilities. Public policy can help but its effectiveness is contingent upon how we choose to enact it in our daily lives. Only when men and women together work to resist the binaries that reinscribe caregiving as a gendered activity of lesser worth will these policies come to have the kinds of impact we hope for them.

    Seeing gender as generative of an emergent system underscores how it is a complex system of circular causality. Gender is as gender does. We recreate it even as we change it. Power migrates, suturing itself to new binary distinctions, creating new double binds, reinscribing women's relative status to men even as policies work to change that.

    This is its own form of a perverse gift. I discuss Derrida and the Gift in the end of my book. Derrida's point is the impossibility of the gift--i.e., there are no real gifts because all gifts are grounded in gift relationships that imply obligations in return, whether they take the form of private charity or public entitlements. Derrida, in his wonderful essay, Given Time, says that it is more than a coincidence of language that the word in English that we use for that point in time we call "now" is "the present." This is because the real gift we can give any one is to be free here now in the present, free of past debts and future obligations. This evanescent, if not entirely impossible, gift is the real gift.

    The real gift of gender would be to allow us to live without the double bind that the complex system of gender hierarchy creates for us. We need to resist insisting that people have to perform gender in ways that deny them their self-ownership and therefore their freedom. Helping to make possible the freedom to care for others as much as work for yourself would be a compassionate response that has to be invoked every time we are at risk of reinscribing gender subordination. We can begin by how the state, market and family get articulated in public policy, but we must continue to work through this complex system each and everyday as we enact gender in our daily lives. As an emergent system, gender will only change if we consider the possibilities to transgressively exploit the opportunities to do so, each and every time it arises. I call this kind of micropolitics "radical incrementalism," for it works to make small changes here and now in ways that build in the possibility for bigger changes later.

    We can start by resisting daily practices that reinforce gender hierarchy, whether it is the assumption that women need more time for caregiving but men do not or it is the idea that caregiving is of lesser value than work to our individual and collective well-being. Public policy can help from the top down, with paid family leave and other supports, but we all must make use of these policies in ways that resist recreating gender disadvantage. Otherwise, the emergent system's possibilities for generating change will be squandered on inventing new ways to reinscribe gender oppression. By working from the top-down and the bottom-up, a more progressive kind of radical incrementalism is possible.

    for Sandy and Mark
    Name: Anne Dalke
    Date: 2006-02-18 10:58:28
    Link to this Comment: 18187

    "Thinning the Milk Does Not Mean Thinning the Child," NYTimes (2/12/06): "skeptics say they are not surprised that, even with studies showing the ineffectiveness of intervention...communities continue to mandate those same changes. Scientists and the public...'have this wonderful capacity for ignoring negative evidence.'"

    for all
    Name: Paul Grobstein
    Date: 2006-02-18 15:33:22
    Link to this Comment: 18192

    Appreciate patience, thoughts, contributions last Wednesday (and the week before). My new buzz words are "open-ended" and "transactional" (to add to "non-foundational" and "non-deterministic"). Thanks to all for contributing to my understanding of the significance of "transactional". A few other reflections have been added at the end of my notes.

    conflict in non-normal inquiry
    Date: 2006-02-18 16:01:12
    Link to this Comment: 18193

    i agree with paul that conflict is essential to developing the capacity to change in an emergent/open system. jane addams and john dewey disagreed on the value of conflict to get change. their debate is revisited in the book entitled the metaphysical club. this may have been where addams's utopianism as reflected in her pacifism led her astray in insisting the conflict was never good. i think dewey for once got it more right than her, on this one point at least.

    right understanding--for now?
    Name: Anne Dalke
    Date: 2006-02-22 17:43:35
    Link to this Comment: 18291

    What a pleasure, exploring with y'all way beyond cluelessness this morning. Thanks for interest/prodding/further thoughts-and-questions. 'Til the next round, I'm bookmarking these notes:

    On to revolution. Stay tuned.

    & on beyond social science
    Name: Anne Dalke
    Date: 2006-02-22 18:17:37
    Link to this Comment: 18293

    (In the meantime, should anyone be pursuing a career, a publishable idea, or a richer conversational life:) here's a relevant call for papers for a new peer-reviewed journal on Emergent Anthropologies, which welcomes "responses to ideas of 'emergence' and 'anthropology' in its broadest sense."

    dismal science
    Name: Sandy Schr
    Date: 2006-02-23 10:11:44
    Link to this Comment: 18311

    I am not only confused about gifts but also the origins of "the dismal science:"

    It turns out that that precise phrase was used by Thomas Carlyle, not in talking about Malthus, but in talking about how social science suggests that if newly freed slaves would not work for low wages they ought to be compelled to take those jobs. That is indeed pretty dismal, if not a science!

    Re: on beyond cluelessness
    Name: Al Albano
    Date: 2006-02-23 20:24:28
    Link to this Comment: 18317

    *"what would happen if you substituted for the contrast between open and closed systems the (less binary) distinction between binary and continuous systems?" (do I understand you aright, Al? thinking like a physicist means re-conceptualizing the social, as the natural, world in terms of multiple variables, not easily reducible/clearly separable into 0/1, off/on, up/down?)

    There are some physical variables that can take on only one of two values (yes or no, zero or one); there are others that can take on a full range of values (from some smallest value to a largest value, with all values in between possible). Was your point that sexuality/gender need not be represented by a variable that can take only two values, but rather by one that can take on all values from one extreme to the other? a continuous range of grays from white to black?

    * "although the closed system is a very important concept in physics--i.e., the amount of available energy does not change--shifting the scale opens up possibilities" (do I understand you aright, again, Al? "all physics is local"; subsystems may be open "enough" for our purposes)

    I'd say say so, but with some caveats. I'll take at least an hour in March to try to explain what I mean by that!. No system is truly isolated. Our universe probably is (Is our universe the only one there is? If not, then it may not be global, either!)

    * "but you can't really consider utility a subset of physics" (I'm not sure I understood you, Ronni--did you mean that it's 'way too glib/easy to use energy as a measure for social change?)

    I thought more about this afterwards and I'm still not sure I know what I'm talking about -- Of course, physics has nothing to say about things like utility, meaning, value. When we deal with human/social questions and use physics as a metaphor, we the "story tellers" introduce these notions and make them part of the story we tell. But these did not come from physics.

    * "let's question the presumption that it's a good thing to have more (rather than less) people engaged in any project--as well as the further presumption that involving more people introduces more flexibility and fluidity into the system" ...

    When you were discussing this, I kept thinking of Emmy Noether, who taught mathematics at BMC in the 1930's. She did a whole slew of brilliant mathematics under very adverse anti-feminist and anti-semitic conditions in Germany (I think she should really be a feminist icon!) but among physicists, she is well-known for just one theorem (called Noether's theorem, what else?). It applies to a very narrowly-defined mathematical context, but some 15 years ago, I took some liberties with it and came up with the following: "if you have a theory about the way a system behaves, and if the mathematical form of your theory does not change even if you change your point of view, then there exists in that theory a quantity whose value will characterize the system forever. In effect, what Noether's theorem says is that concepts which do not lose their integrity and their attractiveness even when considered from different points of view are invariably linked with values which are of lasting importance..."

    But is that putting too much value on consensus?

    without further embellishment
    Name: Anne Dalke
    Date: 2006-02-24 07:24:53
    Link to this Comment: 18324

    And now totally out in left field...

    I've been spending some time, lately, engaged in (and of course reading about!) a variety of Buddhist meditation practices. Early this morning I came upon this phrase, in Pema Chodron's When Things Fall Apart:

    "Meditation is probably the only activity that doesn't add anything to the picture. Everything is allowed to come and go without further embellishment....Not filling the space... provides the basis for real change."

    Anyone else see a connection, here, with this week's conversation about moving in the direction of positive social change through a process of non-normal inquiry? I'm referring, first, to the exercise of not forcing things to happen/events to evolve, but allowing them to, as they inevitably will. But I'm also gesturing (I think...) to something much deeper, something which nibbles @ Paul's observation that finally, economics' expansionist premises will need to come face-to-face w/ the laws of closed-energy physics: that not adding anything...

    is the only way to add anything.

    Name: Mark Kuper
    Date: 2006-02-27 17:23:23
    Link to this Comment: 18370

    * "markets are always a positive-sum game" (do I understand you aright, Mark? thinking like an economist means presuming NOT mere re-distribution of resources w/in a closed system, but actually generating new resources of production?)

    This is actually a little complicated:

    1) One can think like an economist with respect to the "mere re-distribution of resources" and with respect to "generating new resources". Different, more complex issues, arise when "generating new resources", but fundamental economic thinking applies to both.

    2) With respect to the "re-distribution of resources", this is not Always a positive sum game.

    a) A deep insight of economics is that even with a fixed amount of resources there can still be improvements in everyone's utility (we call these "pareto improvements" after the late 19th/early 20th century Italian economist/sociologist Vilfredo Pareto who formalized the definition of economic efficiency that we use today). So, if we randomly distribute a fixed amount of goods among a lot of people, they can ALL be made better off (or at least not worse off) if we allow them to trade. So, what may appear as a zero sum game really isn't (this is what I was emphasizing in my remarks to Paul). This is one strong justification for markets.

    b) But, once all of the pareto improving trades have occurred, so no one has any desire to trade what he/she has with anyone else, we ARE in a zero sum situation: we can only improve the utility of one person by taking utility away from someone else. Put another way, the process of getting to an efficient allocation of resources can be a positive sum game - this is what voluntary trade is. (Parenthetically, you can, however, get to an efficient allocation of resources in other ways that are not pareto improving). Once you are at an efficient allocation, you are in a zero sum game.

    c) For the advanced students amongst us, there is one caveat to the above. Competitive markets determine prices and as large numbers of consumers or producers change what they do, these prices can change. These price changes can hurt people. So, for example, if China buys up a big part of the world's concrete, concrete prices will rise. Americans who are buying concrete will be worse off than if China had not entered the market, so the price movements themselves are not positive sum games - they create winners and losers. Still, if at any given moment, I decide to buy concrete, I am better off conducting that transaction than I would be trying to make the concrete myself (otherwise, I would not be in the market).

    3) "we never have perfect information; gains in trade are never guaranteed". This is, of course, true, but the question is:
    How often does it happen that we make a trade that we regret, in comparison to the sum total of all trades that we make? I say this because the alternative seems to be to close down markets and have no trades (since we cannot in advance know which trades we will not regret).

    4) "there is an essential interface between economics and physics: the former assumes that expansion is good; the latter acknowledges that resources are limited" WRONG Economics is ALL about scarcity. If there was no scarcity, there would be no subject called economics. We are all about making decisions subject to constraints. Optimization subject to constraints is the heart of economics.

    on beyond cluelessness
    Name: Wil Frankl
    Date: 2006-02-27 17:25:22
    Link to this Comment: 18371

    Upon reading Al's and Mark's responses I am curious about how hierarchical/scalar analysis applies to defining open versus closed systems.

    Economics particularly interests me as I admit I know little of... At what temporal scale is value determined in markets? At what temporal scale is utility determined? Per Al, open vs closed systems might be better qualified as how proximate or distal/ultimate you define your system. If this idea is applied generally to economics, then value of trade/markets, utility of trade/markets is altered by the scope of the system defined. Thus, valuing immediate capital gains at the expense of long term sustainability seems to be an arena that could benefit from our sliding scale "emergent-y" analysis (hierarchical analysis).

    I would like to explore whether or not there exists useful universals/rules that apply to sliding the scope of systems towards the open end of the spectrum versus the closed end of the spectrum (maybe narrowly defined systems versus broadly defined systems helps here). If I understand Anne correctly, she is suggesting that opening up Gender Studies will be beneficial--more agents, more engagement, more diversity, more generativity. But does opening the system always create more value/utility/generativity? Or is there a limit? If so, are there any general principles to help choose a boundary? Per Mark, limits apply in economics after "pareto improvements" have been maximized. (Vilfredo Pareto is an exquisite name). If no general rules apply, exploring the limits within the gender system has been very provocative, digital images not withstanding. Thanks, Anne.

    opening/closing the emergent system
    Name: Anne Dalke
    Date: 2006-02-27 17:31:04
    Link to this Comment: 18372

    So what strikes me here is that we've got ourselves

    All this noted because I want to understand better whether, when we talk emergence, we are talking open or closed--or blithely (or carefully) shifting between the two. Could make a big difference, I think.

    Public Forum at The Fabric Workshop and Museum
    Date: 2006-03-01 14:20:07
    Link to this Comment: 18415

    The Fabric Workshop and Museum presents a
    Lecture with SWARM Guest Curators, Abbott Miller and Ellen Lupton
    Friday, 3 March 2006
    6:00 p.m.
    Miller and Lupton will convene a discussion of "swarming" as it reflects contemporary views of nature, politics, and social life that favor unplanned and decentralized modes of organization. They will be joined by Deborah Gordon, Professor of Biological Sciences, Stanford University and Eugene Thacker, Assistant Professor at the School of Literature, Culture & Communication, Georgia Institute of Technology.

    Biting the bitten bullet ...
    Name: Paul Grobstein
    Date: 2006-03-01 14:29:30
    Link to this Comment: 18416

    Very clear/rich presentation by Ronni this morning. Thanks to her/all for very generative discussion. Yes, indeed, an important question is how emergence and ethics relate to one another. Is there an "ethics/morality" in emergence? And what would it look like?

    So here's the rub in Ronni's story (for me at least). One can use emergence as a way to get to a particular place, ie not tell people what you're trying to get them to do collectively but instead give them properties/circumstances that will by virtue of their interactions cause them to get there. Alternatively, one can commit oneself firmly to the proposition that emergence is a process whose function is as much to discover/create new places to be (in perpetuity) as it is to get to any particular place. All other things being equal, the latter it seems to me requires one to act in ways that maximize the generative capabilities (and hence likely differences) of individual humans since that in turn maximizes the variety of places being conceived/explored by the society/culture.

    Ronni's setting her story in the context of pragmatism and evolving morality took us a long ways in that direction but ... then there was the bitten bullet: roughly "I don't care how or why people believe in the symmetry principle but only that they do so". And here I think I'm on Ronni's roomate's side, at least as far as the theory is concerned (more on the issue of practice below). I share Ronni's sense that the "symmetry" argument is an important one for people to be aware of but I'm disinclined to hang it entirely on an argument about "social good" and still more disinclined to try and get people to "believe" it without question.

    The problem with hanging the argument on "social good" is, of course, that different people have different conceptions both of what "social good" consists of and about how to get there (including what tradeoffs between ideals and practices/politics are appropriate). And while some of these differences may be such that large numbers of people agree on one rather than another ("nazism"), there remain differences between people that are .... differences within the community of "reasonable" people. The upshot is that "social good" won't itself provide a reasonable basis for adjudication among alternatives.

    More importantly, any effort to get all people to believe anything without question itself provokes .... question. And conflict. This is a big problem (a "bug") if one wants to achieve a particular social outcome but perhaps more of a positive (and hence a "feature") if one is thinking of emergence and an ethics thereof. That people "question" and therefore are inclined to think of alternatives to those presented to them is, all things being equal, a desirable characteristic if one is commited to emergence as the ongoing exploration of novelty (and perhaps even if one is committed to the "social good" by narrower definitions; having individuals think for themselves is a not bad strategy for businesses, for example to discover new and improved ways to do things, and so to compete successfully in the marketplace).

    So, what about the "tragedy of the commons" (and a whole variety of similar cases)? How does ond deal with the situation where most people have only local information and so act in particular ways, and someone who happens to have a broader view sees a different way for everyone to act that would get everyone more of what they want? How should that person act? Must they give up the commitment to emergence? In the interests of the "social good"? In the interests of emergence?

    That person in that situation is the "non-normal" inquirer (also known as the truly effective therapist/teacher/parent/lawyer/social activist, aka the fuschia dot). That person knows they have a "less wrong" story than any other stories floating around, but also knows there exist as yet untold still less wrong stories, that getting to them depends on the diversity of stories in play and that that in turn depends on people developing their own skills as independent inquirers/story tellers.

    What this suggests is that the primary commitment of the "non-normal" inquirer, of the emergentist (and all of those other things) has to be to the process of inquiry/emergence itself rather than to any particular outcome, and so they must act in ways that preserve, indeed enhance inquiry/emergence of what has not yet been. All other things being equal, this precludes their trying to get people to "believe" things and certainly precludes their discouraging people from doing their own questioning. In short, I think the emergentist has no sound moral position except to function as an educator: to tell his/her story, as clearly as possible, while listening to and encouraging others to do the same, and to trust that the dynamic interaction among stories will make appropriate use of one's own story and others in the ongoing process of the emergence of ideas/stories.

    "All other things being equal"? Emergentism, and story telling, is of course derivitive of and contingent upon life. I can imagine circumstances in which the need to preserve life (one's own or that of others) overrode the requirement to educate, to facilitate inquiry/story telling. Even here, however, the moral argument is the same: as an emergentist one's obligation is to protect/enourage/support emergence/inquiry, all that which is necessary for the discovery/creation of what has not yet been.

    Its in and from the bumping of stories against one another than new ones emerge. Many thanks to Ronni for a story (including the bitten bullet) that triggered this one. I hope mine in turn might provoke some further new stories form others.

    deliberately introducing a-symmetry
    Name: Anne Dalke
    Date: 2006-03-01 17:06:31
    Link to this Comment: 18418

    Very provocative, Ronni-- very important, and very, very brave. So--what you've got me wrestling with/provoked me to? A strong resistance both to

    Once the system--even/particularly the sort of self-correcting system that you've designed--is held hostage both to a non-negotiable starting point and a non-negotiable end-point, then all the changes in the middle...? seem to me just fiddling.


    It occurs to me that this last bit is the most interesting aspect of the range of reactions that your talk provoked for me, and it's the crack I want to walk through how. I'm realizing that--along with a compelling interest in systems that are not formally axiomatic, in those lacking any clear (or @ least identifiable) linear causality--what I've been exploring quite a bit over the years might well be called the 'generativity of a-symmetry'; I've written about/been written about/gotten other people writing about this topic in a range of venues. See, for instance, That's the starting/returning/non-ending point from which I'd like to see an ethics emerge. Not tit-for-tat, but diverse, with different needs and ends. Not from "the virtue of stubbornly convicting" the irrational to be rational, but from a celebration of, working with, and playing w/ our multiple irreducible irrationalities, inconsistencies, and asymmetries.

    a-symmetry continued: none of us are exceptions
    Name: Anne Dalke
    Date: 2006-03-03 07:48:34
    Link to this Comment: 18442

    I'm still mulling over this matter of a-symmetry, still thinking through possible alternatives to acknowledging that one's self is not an exception, that we need to grant the same freedom of choice (and the same irrational unpredictable behavior!) to others that we grant to ourselves. Am put in mind of Rabbi Hillel's version of the Golden Rule: "Do not do unto others as you would not have done unto you." As noted in Karen Armstrong's The Spiral Staircase, "Hillel's version is better than Jesus' takes more discipline to refrain from doing harm to others. It's easier to be a do-gooder and project your needs and desires onto other people....when they might need something quite different."

    Replying to Anne's comment on the Golden Rule:
    Name: Lisa Benso
    Date: 2006-03-14 03:35:20
    Link to this Comment: 18515

    Could you clarify why “Hillel’s version is better than Jesus’”? It seems to me that they are both symmetrical and Hillel’s version is simply the reverse. To avoid doing to others what you would not have done to yourself would be problematic if someone did want something done to them which you find personally undesirable. Is that any less “projecting your needs and desires onto other people”?
    Additionally, I didn’t get the sense that moral symmetry means everyone needing to have the same preferences about what is done (or not done) to them, but maybe Ronni can address this.

    Tomorrow's Meeting
    Name: Doug Blank
    Date: 2006-03-14 11:27:52
    Link to this Comment: 18520

    The Emergence Group will again meet tomorrow (Wednesday) March 15, 8am in Park Science 230. All are welcome; muffins, coffee, and scones provided.

    Rich Wicentowski will lead the discussion on:

    Knowledge-Free Induction of Inflectional Morphology

    When we last met, we looked at a (questionably) emergent way of discovering the morphology of a written language. I presented examples from research I've done. Though we didn't get through all of it, I think you got enough of a flavor of it that we don't need to try and finish it up (though we could if you really want).

    I'll present some research that takes a different approach to the same problem. If you want to get a head start, you can take a look at these papers:

    Schone, P. and Jurafsky, D., 2000. Knowledge-Free Induction Of Morphology Using Latent Semantic Analysis. Proceedings of the 4th Conference on Computational Natural Language Learning and of the 2nd Learning Language in Logic Workshop.


    Schone, P. and Jurafsky, D., 2001. Knowledge-Free Induction Of Inflectional Morphologies. Proceedings of the 2nd Meeting of the North American Chapter of the Association for Computational Linguistics.


    Hope you can make it!

    radical incrementalism
    Date: 2006-03-15 10:56:11
    Link to this Comment: 18535

    Rich's presentation was really interesting and Karen's comment helped me see how rules play a role in bottom up emergent practices. I see now how mining a corpus can produce rules that people can use to practice within a system and even change it as they go.

    But switching gears, I promised Anne I would post this on radical incrementalism:

    Okay, now I am really confused!

    Evidently folks in business, computing, technology studies, education and even architecture all lay claim to the emergence of radical incrementalism, an idea I feel I first introduced in the early 1990s:

    Policy Sciences: Integrating Knowledge and Practice to Advance Human Dignity

    And which i have continued to emphasize:

    Introduction, Praxis for the Poor: Piven and Cloward and the Future of Social Science in Social Welfare

    The newer forms of radical incrementalism are mentioned everywhere:

    John Seely Brown and John Hagel III,"Flexible IT, better strategy"

    Lou Anna Kimsey Simon,"University Outreach: Realizing the Promise through Vision and Accountability"

    These are not in my mind equally protean of progressive political possibilities for making emergent more opportunities to live less oppressively.

    Other folks extend my version of radical incrementalism in ways that emergence theorists might find more prodcutive:

    Nancy Campbel and Virginia Eubanks, "Making Sense of Imbrication: Popular Technology and 'Inside-Out' Methodologies"

    Kate Boyer, "Reform and Resistance: A Consideration of Space, Scale and Strategy in Legal Challenges to Welfare Reform"

    Joseph Lambert, "Incremental Progress"

    Is radical incrementalism an idea worth taking seriously and if so, which verison?

    If this is a question that has value for emergence then perhaps you will find these links useful. Otherwise, delete.

    From similarity analysis to evolution
    Name: Paul Grobstein
    Date: 2006-03-15 17:27:11
    Link to this Comment: 18541

    Thanks to Rich, others for interesting conversation this morning. What intrigued me, in and among the array of interesting and appropriate questions about language itself, is a set of more general ideas about the nature of inquiry and hence, I think, about emergence in the most general sense. Along these lines, some notes to myself, and anyone else interested ...

    A "similarity analysis", of the general kind done by Rich on a language corpus, strikes me as an interestingly "minimal" kind of basis for inquiry/exploration from which lots of other things could follow. By "minimal" what I mean is that it requires VERY few presumptions about what is being inquired into/explored (only that looking for patterns may be productive?) and requires VERY little pre-existing structure (only enough to detect and represent temporal and/or spatial correlations). The latter certainly exists in the unconscious component of the bipartite brain and, arguably, exists in all living organisms/model builders. My guess is that it in fact exists, in at least rudimentary forms (see information and decoders) in the pre-existing "active inanimate", and so needn't be presumed to depend on anything other than on ongoing process of exploration that predates life (ie there is no need to presume a "designer" at any point).

    Moving the other direction, similarity analysis readily yields (as Rich showed) "patterns" that in turn challenge one (if one has "story telling capability", which itself may arise without a designer) to try and create "rules", ie "summaries of observations" that are shorter than the catalogue of observations (and so constitute "understanding" the patterns) and have preductive value. An important point at this juncture, as exemplified in the discussion today, is that this step involves (necessarily) an arbitrary choice of which patterns to attend to and of different ways "rules" might be made. To put it differently, no particular set of rules follows inevitably from the similarity analysis. The rules are always a "story", developed (unavoidably) from a particular perspective/reference frame.

    What particularly caught my interest though was Rich's notion that one can evaluate the "rules" by rematching them to the patterns, in his case by asking which set of rules is "simplest". This is I think akin to the "fuschia dot" action in the bipartite brain, the bidirectional exchange between unconscious and story teller. And, to make the whole thing even MORE interesting, the choice of "rule set" in turn alters the production of whatever the system is producing (language in Rich's case) which in turn alters the set of observations (Rich's corpus) and in turn a subsequent similiarity analysis and subsequent "rule set". Bingo, evolution, in general and in language.

    and now arising
    Name: Anne Dalke
    Date: 2006-03-15 17:50:59
    Link to this Comment: 18542

    You know, I've been telling Eric Raimy for years that the work he does in linguistics doesn't interest me because "it's just about rules, not about meaning"--but Rich's talk this morning taught me something quite handy about the process whereby meaning arises from rules, which can arise in turn from clusters, which can arise in turn from taking note of similarities, which can arise in turn from summarizing observations, which can arise in turn....

    In short, arising out of Rich's work, I can now begin to envision something of a prototype for how inquiry can happen: gathering data, clustering it into patterns, seeing how simple/efficient an account of the governing "rules" one can devise---

    and looping on 'round again. Thanks, Rich (and Paul, who really clarified this for me).

    This all also seems related to Sandy's further questions about whether thinking "emergently" can help us to an awareness of how to bring about "incremental change." Whether that change is "radical"--in either the sense of profound or left- or socially-justly-leaning, is another matter; this is what I realized in response to Laura's invitation to us, a while back, to think about the "failure of feminism" (i.e. women ending up @ home w/ the kids) as an emergent phenomena--since I had come to think of emergence as a principle that enables change. In the talk I gave to this group a few weeks ago, I was interested in going beyond both "normative" and "descriptive," to look @ the possibility of intervention...

    but what I realized, in the process, was that emergence doesn't necessarily contribute to positive change --it's just a useful/skillful/not-so-discouraging way of thinking about how to bring change about....

    Anyhow, am quite curious to see how "knowledge-free" we can be, next week--
    and just where that might get us.
    Til then, in gratitude,

    knowledge free
    Date: 2006-03-18 18:18:53
    Link to this Comment: 18587

    Rich's presentation and the comments in response, both oral and now written, have prompted me to think that knowledge free is as i should have thought--just another version of the dominant myth that continues to enthrall the western mind. the image of european western civilization as beyond culture, above parochialism, is behind the idea that we can have a "knowledge free" system of thought. pure science is independent of culture is the analogous phraseology. but, science is its own culture. paul, and snow, and others have continued to remind us of that. there is no knowledge free system anywhere. all systems implicitly trade on assumptions from outside themselves to make it see that they are autonomous and independent of external sources for their truth claims. this then is the borges allegory of the encyclopedia or the catalogue, all over again. it is the "big man" thesis of regionalism in anthropology that shows the chief is often able to be the big man, not because he is the best among the natives, but because he was able to import resources from the outside that supplement the community in ways that make it whole as it could not be before. so the reality is that knowledge free systems will always end up in the black hole of each proving each other to have smuggled in assumptions from the outside, whether they are about the prior ability to speak language or something else. it could well be then that no system is really autonomous. all are embedded, nested. everything is based on something else. there is no beginning and there is no end. they myth of the knowledge free system only delays our recognition of our embeddness. something we need to take account of if we are to understand how change is possible, if difficult. i won't try to format this. (another example of embeddness!)

    the logic of traffic jams
    Name: Anne Dalke
    Date: 2006-03-22 16:05:10
    Link to this Comment: 18649

    Not so fast with the dismissal of the knowledge-free. I'm still trying to hold on to my revelation of last week, when I felt I'd been given a prototype for how inquiry can happen: by gathering data, clustering it into patterns, seeing how simple/efficient an account of the governing "rules" one can devise---and looping on 'round again.

    So what fascinated me in this morning's session was the attempt of Rich and his compatriots to work from a place of "no logic" to one of logic, to derive semantics out of syntax, rules out of word detection. I found myself wondering how (various) linguists understand-and-express the relation between semantics and syntax; I found myself remembering my own paper about why and how meaning arises, which (among other things) challenges the presumption of a logic underlying morphology, a "sense" that upholds structure (which is what makes puns so disconcerting to linguists....?)

    Speaking of first encounter w/ emergence (which led me directly into regular attendance in the emergence group) was a brown-bag talk Panama Geer gave four years ago on decentralization and self-organization. It drew on Mitch Resnick's Turtles, Termites, and Traffic Jams, and it was soon after that I had my first experiential awareness of the logic of emergent systems, in a traffic jam. It amuses me no end that some of our group is now likewise experiencing new-clogged-traffic-pattern emergence as they manfully (sic) try to get to our Wednesday morning discussions. Surely we can use all these hours' worth of discussions to figure out some pragmatic, emergent solution to this dilemma?

    What is NOT emergent (belatedly)
    Name: Paul Grobstein
    Date: 2006-03-29 11:04:00
    Link to this Comment: 18717

    What Rich's presentation helped me realize is that not EVERYTHING is emergent, and that some kinds of normal science/inquiry in particular are not. Looking at a data set (a word corpus in the case at hand) to see if there are patterns in it using procedures that may or may not show interesting patterns is certainly an emergent approach. So too, I think, is developing rules to account for any observed patterns and, perhaps, comparing those rules to some pre-existing set of rules (syntactic or semantic in this case) to see how closely they do (or don't match). Doing so might turn out to be generative science/inquiry, either normal or non-normal, depending on the outcome (and the inclinations of investigors/audiences; see below).

    What is NOT emergent is to then start looking in the data set for new patterns and new rules in order to make the patterns/rules derived from the data set get progressively closer to the pre-existing set of rules. This is not only not emergent, it is "massaging the data", frequently counterproductive for science/inquiry, and helps to illustrate on the occupational hazards of "normal" science/inquiry. The key point here, as for computer modelling, is that most phenomena can in principle always be accounted for if investigators are given enough degrees of freedom to work with and indeed can usually (always?) be accounted for in multiple different ways. From which it follows that simply coming up with a set of rules that accounts for something is not itself remarkable or necessarily "generative". A common problem of "normal" inquiry, in lots of fields, is that of progressively adding to/fiddling/modifying the story to make it work. After a while (sometimes a painfully long while) people simply lose interest because the research is progressively inward directed (created by the problems of the inquiry itself) and the story gets so complex/talmudic that people can no longer be bothered to keep track of all of it.

    This is not intended as an argument against normal science/inquiry. Non-normal science/inquiry too has occupational hazards, both are interdependent, and each ultimately has to answer only to the "generativity" criterion,. But it is interesting (to me at least) that there is a distinctive occupational hazard of normal science/inquiry that relates to giving up its potentially emergent character, to taking as the problem the "explanation" of something "out there" by whatever means we can manage it. Maybe there is a similar issue and warning for non-normal science/inquiry? That one can never actually be "knowledge free" but one can take the degree ot which one surprises oneself as one good criterion for predicating the generativity of what one is doing, whether normal or non-normal?

    more on normal/non-normal inquiry
    Name: Paul Grobstein
    Date: 2006-03-29 18:03:19
    Link to this Comment: 18720

    Very nice presentation by Al this morning, very interesting case study in/on normal/non-normal science/inquiry, very interesting discussion. Thanks all.

    Most interesting, to me at least, was the demonstration that a given piece of research (observatons/interpretations) can (will always?) be seen as either "normal" or "non-normal" depending on the observers (and independent of the intent of the creators). Wheeler certainly has in mind a "story" quite different from the ones many of us use most of the time (starting "without laws" or "space" or "time" and having "a participatory universe" as a central concept, recognizing that the referent for science is not "reality" but "what can be said about the world" with the notion that the observer is always implicated in it). And it was certainly in that spirit that Zeilinger is working ("This possibility of deciding long after registration of the photon whether a wave feature or a particle feature manifests itself is another warning that one should not have any realistic pictures in one's mind when considering a quantum phenomenon ... Zeilinger, 1999; thanks to Sandy for the link).

    On the flip side, Zeilinger's work (and earlier/related work by others) can be not only regarded as but reacted to as "normal" science. "Entanglement" was inherent in the equations that gave rise to modern quantum theory and the kind of work talked about today can be seen as simply new sets of observations that have "tested" that theory and are consistent with it. Moreover, one can react to it, as many people (both themselves inclined to normal science/inquiry in their own activities and those not) by puzzling over it in "normal" terms: this is a new observation about "reality"; how come it doesn't fit what I would have predicated given my understanding of "reality"? what (relatively small) changes in my understanding of "reality" do I need to make to fit it in?

    An important lesson for me (and perhaps for others?) is that a given set of observations/interpretations does not (ever?) compel people to adopt either a normal or a non-normal science/inquiry posture. It may encourage some movement from one preference to the other but the normal/non-normal distintiction is not inherent in the observations/interpretations taken alone (ie it doesn't reflect an "essential" property of them). Instead, it is an observer dependent distinction. For some people, a given set of observations/interpretations will encourage a major shift in perspective (and hence in how one subsequently asks new questions) while for others it won't, and its only after the votes are in that one can characterize the particular set of observations/interpretations as "normal" or "non-normal". And those votes themselves are, of course, in some significant part bets on "generativity", which itself can also be evaluated only after the fact.

    That said, there was still something very exciting to me about the observations/interpretations as Al characterized them. Entanglement is one possible source of this. The phenomenon is certainly intriguing when one first encounters it, but is also at this point pretty familiar to anyone who has been following recent physics developments (as evidenced by, among other things, its having progressed to the practical realms of applied physics). The observations certainly establish that there is some more global connecteness than was imagined in the stories of classical physics, and so might be used by some people to validate their intuitions about global connectednesses in other realms. There are though very significant limitations in directly connecting quantum phenomena to phenomena at other scales, so for the moment any extension to other realms is useful metaphorically at best. For my part, I've never felt that phenomena need to be seen at the level of physics in order to be potentially significant at other levels and so I'm less inclined to be excited about entaglement in these terms. There are plenty of other reasons to suspect that there are larger patterns of connectedness at scales I'm interested in (brains, organisms, societies), independently of whether there are or aren't at the quantum scale. And asking for an explanation of entanglement at the quantum level is missing the point that physics (like any other kind of inquiry) is a "story" (Bohr's "what can be said about the world), and not all story elements have explanations in other terms (the failure of the "action at a distance" explanation). Entanglement, at the quantum level, just IS. For the moment.

    What was a little more exciting to me (and led to my simultaneously blasphemous and off-color expression of surprise) had to do with "observer dependence". It was not observer dependence per se that startled me; that too has long been well documented at the quantum level. And that too, just like entanglement, is, for the moment at least, of no more than not necessary metaphorical interest for other levels of inquiry (where observer dependence can clearly be demonstrated directly). What surprised and interested me was the inquiry into the NATURE of "observer dependence", the observation that one doesn't actually have to make an observation so much as to simply set up the circumstances by which an observation might be made. THAT, I think, is actually telling us something new, certainly at the quantum level, probably be metaphorical extension to other levels, and possibly even directly. Given the (apparent) history of the universe prior to the appearance of humans, it has never made sense to me that the collapse of the quantum wave function (to yield actuality rather than probablistic potentiality) depends literally on a "human observer" and can only occur in the presence of one (see information working group discussion). My guess is that the Zeilinger work and further work like it will help to clarify what is actually meant by "observer dependence", and that it will turn out not to require human beings or any other comparable agent (ie a story teller).

    What was though MOST exciting was the more general story telling context, the notion of a world continually evolving out of the actions of many observer/participants (some of them themselves story tellers). This I contend is indeed "non-normal" science/inquiry, as evidenced not only by the wide spread efforts to make it more "normal" ("how does it change is my question" ... maybe it doesn't?) but also by the opening of new questions that might not otherwise have been asked (what IS an "observer"?). That one might get to this particular vantage point either as a physicist or as a neurobiologist further suggests that this particular odd platform might in fact by sturdy enough to support ongoing, perhaps even generative inquiry. And, who knows, perhaps inquiry of a kind in which physical observations and neurobiological ones can be reciprocally fundamental. Maybe of a kind in which observations of social scientists and humanists could be as well? If enough of all of them (and everyone else too) could get their heads fully around the idea that all inquiry is necessarily and inevitably "story", and that there is nothing to be lost and lots to be gained by recognizing that one is always and necessarily personally involved with and a contributor to the stories one tells and their continuing evolution?

    Emergence and Quantum Theory
    Date: 2006-03-30 11:11:56
    Link to this Comment: 18741

    I remain confused about how entangled photons can provide the same readings just on the basis of how things are set up to record them. Okay, now I am getting closer. Check this out:

    "In the beginning was the bit"

    Where it states:

    When, say, two electrons are entangled, it is impossible even in principle to describe one without the other. They have no independent existence. This seems bizarre until you use Zeilinger's principle. Concentrating on their spins, a two-electron system contains two bits. For example, they might be "The spins in the z direction are parallel," and "The spins in the x direction are antiparallel". The two bits are thereby used up, and the state is completely described--yet no statement is made about the direction of spin of one electron or the other. The entire description consists of relative statements, or correlations. This means that as soon as one spin is measured along a certain direction, the other one is fixed, even if it happens to be far away.

    Zeilinger's single, simple principle leads to these three cornerstones of quantum mechanics: quantisation, uncertainty and entanglement. What, then, of the more formal elements of quantum mechanics such as wave functions and Schrödinger's equation--the bread and butter of atomic physicists? The road promises to be long and steep, but Zeilinger and his student Caslav Brukner, have now begun the ascent.

    Wow. that is starting to make some sense. Not a lot but some.

    Nice summaries of the zeilinger research are available at:

    "Experiment and the foundations of modern physics"

    "On the Interpretation and Philosophical Foundation of Quantum Mechanics"

    "A Foundational Principle for Quantum Mechanics"

    "Quantum Communication"

    In the mean time, here are two interesting articles on how quantum theory is related to ideas of emergence:

    (1) time as emergent from the quantum theory of gravity (where the emergence of time is entangled with the problem of time in the classical theory)--

    J. Butterfield, "On the Emergence of Time in Quantum Gravity"

    (2)emergence as emergent from a post-particle quantum metaphysics that creates the basis for imagining a non-linear, emergent causality (via lehigh university):

    Mark H. Bickhard with Donald T. Campbell, "Emergence"

    And then there is Robert Laughlin on emergence and quantum theory, though I gather not everyone likes his book:

    A Different Universe: Reinventing Physics from the Bottom Down

    Getting Farther away--I think this is the right di
    Name: Sandy Schr
    Date: 2006-03-30 16:32:39
    Link to this Comment: 18749

    Still confused but I am staring to think that Alice and Bob are not real. You would think I would have appreciated that a while ago since they are always shown in cartoon form and never with head shots or any kind of photo whatsoever! They are just ciphers cutout to make the visualization of the mathematics of quantum mechanics's mystery of entanglement possible. Holograms of their own entanglement. And then it might be that they do not actually exchange information as much as the mathematics makes it seem as if they do. What does happen then is perhaps that once the position on one side is fixed in the math and we state the location of an electron, then the math requires the opposite for the other side. Okay maybe that is trivializing it, the following is a more robust version of entanglement:

    coming at this from another direction
    Name: Anne Dalke
    Date: 2006-03-30 22:29:03
    Link to this Comment: 18754

    I spent many hours this week sitting in on a court case, arguing with the chicken processing plant that abuts my farm in Virginia about who "really" owns a small bit of property we both lay claim to. What I learned (aside from the saying that "you never want to be a plaintiff in a boundary dispute") is that

    All of which is to (come from another direction to) say that...

    I was well prepped for Al's presentation Wednesday morning, quite softened up and ready to be shown the degree of genuine indeterminacy in physical (as well as in all cultural) systems. And/but I'm puzzled/intrigued by Sandy's subsequent dogged pursuit of the details about how things operate on the quantum level.

    As I observed in the car, driving back from that uncertain place (Swarthmore) to the place of certainty (Bryn Mawr), I'm not convinced that understanding the story of how wierdly things work @ the quantum level necessarily gives us any guidelines for understanding how they (do, or should) operate on a social or cultural or political level. This follows Paul's observation, above, that "asking for an for an explanation the quantum level is missing the point that physics (like any other kind of inquiry) is a 'story'"

    --i.e., no more "foundational," no more "real" than any other account, at any other level.

    Michel Serres
    Date: 2006-03-31 17:37:40
    Link to this Comment: 18776

    Here's a real boundary dispute: social vs. natural and how they are imbricated in each other in emergent ways. Nobody does this better than Michel Serres:

    Towards dissolving boundary disputes ...
    Name: Paul Grobstein
    Date: 2006-04-01 09:15:26
    Link to this Comment: 18778

    Being, Thinking, Story Telling: What It Is and How It Works, Reflectively

    some more resources
    Name: Paul Grobstein
    Date: 2006-04-05 10:42:25
    Link to this Comment: 18841

    Re Al's talk and resulting discussion on entanglement: Re Alan's talk and resulting discussion on "social epistemology" The last was originally created for a workshop on "leadership" but may serve more generally to show the kind of network "architecture" that I think could usefully be explored in re both the functionalism/mental state distinction in individual behavior and the group behavior/group "mind" distinction. The key here is that assemblies of neurons perform some function without "mental state"; one adds an additional set of neurons with particular connection patterns internally as well as to the "functional" assemblies to get "mental state" (see Bipartite Brain). Similarly, some assemblies of people have functions in the absence of "group mind" but, arguably, assemblies organized more similarly to the bipartite brain may indeed have something parallel to group mind. Just a sketch of an argument, perhaps worth exploring further.

    Name: Sandy Schr
    Date: 2006-04-05 11:09:49
    Link to this Comment: 18842

    I really enjoyed Alan's presentation this morning. I think it leads in very useful directions. My concern is with the priors or assumption that premised the analytical approach to comparing the group mind to the individual's.

    First, it seems that analytical philosophy starts with assumptions of methodological individualism, ala rational choice theory in economics (as represented by Kenneth Arrow's Impossibility Theorem) and only then takes the long way around to getting to social holism that assumes groups are real and have a status of their own where the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Many people in the social sciences, especially since Marx and most especially since Durkheim, start with social holism, where classes, or social groupings have a real status independent of the individuals who comprise them.

    Second, the analytical approach is to start with a Cartesian set of assumptions where the autonomous individual and her or his consciousness is assumed to be literal and then the issue is to see to what extent a group consciousness, mental state, in the form of knowing or believing, is analogous. This then becomes various forms of "socially extended cognition." Yet many practitioners of social wholism question whether we should start with autonomous individual consciousness as the touchstone of what is to be taken to be literal and judge everything else as various extensions of that. What is all consciousness is from the very beginning social.

    For instance, John Dewey, relying heavily on George Herbert Mead, believed that intelligence was by definition social and individuals partook of that shared social capital, they could in that sense "bank" on it. Cognition in this sense is always already social even before it is extended to the group. The distinction between individual and group consciousness deconstructs itself on when we see how what Jacques Derrida calls, questioning Edmund Husserl, a certain culturally encoded "western metaphysics of presence" or "logocentrism" is operating in the thought experiments regarding whether groups think like individuals. The entire process is reversible.

    Even though John Searle was at pains to insist on the mind/brain distinction in the Chinese box experiment, he and Jacques Derrida disagreed about how to understand things like consciousness and its relationship to language. Their debate is especially relevant for thinking about what should be taken as literal versus what is to be seen as figurative or metaphorical. In spite of this (or because of this--I am not sure), Searle has his own way of suggesting that the mind is emergent from the brain. Here are some relevant links, provided in hypertext formatting, now that I have been properly and graciously educated by Anne:

    "Reality Principles: An Interview with John R. Searle"

    Limited Inc, by Jacques Derrida

    "Searle vs. Derrida: An Artificially Translated Version"

    The last link is a bit of whimsical verisimilitude. This is from a webpage in French that is translated by the computer. It is a horrible translation, perhaps not definitive evidence but suggestive that artificial intelligence is a pale, artificial version of human intelligence and needing much more programming before it can operate at a higher level of consciousness where it can recognize and practice its own intentionality. The computer knows some rules for translation but it has a really rough time connecting the dots and imputing meaning to the words it translates. As a result, a lot gets lost in the translation. What that lot is is perhaps the difference between the brain and the mind, between conscious intelligence and artificial intelligence.

    As for applications, public opinion research in recent years has moved heavily into the idea that "the public" is manufactured by polls rather than reflected by them. And once constituted, "the public," as a reified entity operates in our politics as a constraint on individual consciousness, belief an opinion, such that, for instance, people who are polled about what they individually think is the most important social issue say what they have heard (usually from the mass media) is "the public's" major concern. So many people will rank crime high even though they do not think themselves that crime is a major social issue. Here the group, in the form of "the public," influences what the individual thinks or believes. Individual opinion is constructed out of what is taken to be group opinion, raising the issue of the extent to which people have autonomous individual opinions in the first place.

    See: "Diana C. Mutz and Joe Soss. 1997. “Reading Public Opinion: The Influence of News Coverage on Perceptions of Public Sentiment.” Public Opinion Quarterly. 61(3): 431-51.

    Additional research shows that changing the information about what "the public" believes influences what people say they believe. Further work on narrative frames adds to this hypothesis.

    Daniel Dennett
    Date: 2006-04-05 12:53:28
    Link to this Comment: 18844

    Here's two great links on Daniel Dennett and his functionalist account of mind to brain, belief to knowing, freedom to determimism, and evolution to athesism. I think there is a version of emergence in here somewhere:

    "Interview with Daniel Dennett

    "Stage Effects in the Cartesian Theater:A review of Daniel Dennett's Consciousness Explained"

    one story
    Name: Anne Dalke
    Date: 2006-04-07 00:01:49
    Link to this Comment: 18888

    So: what I think I'm hearing is really just a single story, told from two different starting points: analytical philosophy starts with individualism, and works its way out to group mind (Alan's project last Wednesday morning). Contrari-wise, the social sciences start with social groupings--and then look to see if individuals can fall out (Sandy's welfare initiatives). Of course it's pretty clear that--whichever your starting point--you need to be able to give an account that accomodates both individuals and the groups out of which they arise and to which they contribute.

    So far so good.

    Where it starts to get really interesting, I think, is when we acknowledge what Al told us two weeks ago, and which got told again and again in the follow-up conversation making meaning out of entanglement: that the whole experimental apparatus includes the experimenter as an inextricable part of this story of reality. There is no independent perspective outside the system, but only interactions between investigator and object.

    Where it gets really, really interesting is when one notes that to get "group mind" rather than just "group behavior," the observer actually has to be operating within the system (that cute little fushia dot, who sees the whole picture and can feed it back to all other parties involved).

    Is there anything wrong with that story? The same week that Al introduced us to entanglement, Peter Beckmann gave a talk in another venue nearby, challenging the conventional compartmentalization that separates "action" from "attribute"/ "properties" from "behavior." The recognition that individuals give rise to group mind only if there is an observer to recognize what is going on (and that groups give rise to individuals only if they can observe for themselves what is going on?!) is a nice turn of the screw in that argument, for the "action" of "observation" has the capacity to alter "attributes"; the "behavior" of noting what is going on the ability to change the "property" being noted.

    Is there anything wrong with that story?

    Something we can all agree on
    Name: Mark Kuper
    Date: 2006-04-12 15:17:55
    Link to this Comment: 18998

    Today's talk crystallized something for me that we can all, Paul, Sandy, Anne, Doug, and me (to name a few), agree on - and how totally rare and seemingly impossible is that? The proposition is this:

    The simpler the organism/entity (by which I mean the simpler the set of rules that describe the organism/entity’s behavior), the easier it is to aggregate a group of such organisms/entities into a coherent whole. I will leave coherent as an undefined term, but it could mean rational or predictable or purposeful. This is a pretty important principle for any study of emergence.

    group behavior, group mind, catastrophe?
    Name: Anne Dalke
    Date: 2006-04-12 16:27:54
    Link to this Comment: 19002

    Yes, I think I would agree w/ this...

    though I'm not sure I agree on its importance.

    What I've been chewing over is the distinction made last week (and made again so insistently today) between "group behavior" and "group mind," between (let me try a range of possible analogies here) acting and reflecting, blinking and thinking, unconscious and conscious processing.

    I was interested in the trajectory of today's conversation: from George's intended focus (the way in which the behavior of a group of ants might model the activity of a human mind), to a different level (the way in which the behavior of a group of ants might model the interactions of many human minds, of human groups --whether group behavior or group mind, I'm unclear). On that level...

    I want to re-ask my question regarding what might differentiate a ritual from a war, a staged contest w/ no means of enforcing the outcome from a contest where the outcome is guaranteed by a body count. That's a way of introducing a series of questions about how individual behaviors aggregate into collective behavior, how individual intelligence aggregates into group intelligence, how individual knowledge becomes organizational knowledge. (And maybe some more complicated questions about how behavior aggregates into mind?) In posing those questions, I'm reminded of the discussion Tim Burke led last fall about "emergence in emergencies," which led to the proposal that a useful response to Katrina might have included the building of a firewall, some means of dampening positive feedback that turns...

    individual behavior into group awareness into...


    simpler or fewer
    Date: 2006-04-12 17:54:57
    Link to this Comment: 19003

    Mark makes a great point that the simpler the rules, the easier it is to organize. Elegant statement on elegance of the organizing principle. Yet before we celebrate this verisimilitude, I wonder whether simpler is being mistaken for fewer. What I got out of George's excellent presentation was that ants are organized with very few rules but that those rules may be incredibly, even inscrutably complex. So it might be that with a few,elegant rules organization is easily finessed. But this is not necessarily simple, especially since the ants, neurons or social actors in what case is at hand may be part of an unconscious enactment of those rules. Are ants conscious of the rules and interpret them? No that was the whole point of George's presentation. Therefore, it might be that a few very complex rules make organization easier. Emergence seems in this way to be the bottom up invoking of rules the logic of which the actors do not understand. In this way, collective action can be unconscious and rational at the same time. Choice takes on a higher form of complexification than normally allowed in decision theory. Could this be what emergence has to offer the decision sciences? I wonder. My experience is that agreement rarely last long....

    ants, brains, cultures (human and otherwise)
    Name: Paul Grobstein
    Date: 2006-04-12 18:32:57
    Link to this Comment: 19005

    Thanks to George for kicking off a rich conversation this morning, and to all for contributions. A few thoughts it generates in me, for my own notes and whatever use they might be to others ...

    There ARE, I think, important parallels between ant colonies, brains, and human groups that are instructive for thinking about any and all of them. And there are also differences that thinking about the three of them together can help to illuminate.

    Ants lack, so far as we know, any equivalent to the human process of reflective thought, which is to say that ants have no conception of themselves or of other ants or of an ant colony, and do not experience (among other things) intentions, choices, or successes/failures. That groups of ants nonetheless display highly sophisticated collective behavior is apparently the result of "relatively simple interactions of relatively simple things", ie the organized behavior is "emergent". It occurs in the absence of a blueprint or a conductor, with nothing in any element of the system that represents the observed behavior in some ideal form and hence might act to produce or shape it (there is no "pacemaker").

    Moreover, individual ants have only "local" interactions, ie their behavior reflects only their internal organization and their immediate interactions with things around them (other ants/organisms and the non-living environment). This does NOT, however, imply that the behavior of individual ants cannot be affected by collective properties. The frequency of interactions with other ants is, for example, a function of a more global property (colony size) and may alter the behavior of individual ants. In addition, the behavior of ants alters the non-living environment. Given that the state of the non-living environment ((the concentration of pheromones at any given location, for example) may reflect the behavior of many ants, each ant can be affected by a collective property ("stigmergy").

    The upper figure to the right summarizes this characterization of ant colony behavior. Each ant interacts locally and independently with the non-living environment (vertical arrows) as well as with other ants (horizontal arrows). The upshot is a "group product" that may be remarkably sophisticated/adaptive but lacks within the colony any representation of either group product or group objective. And, correspondingly, any "mind".

    The upper figure is, significantly, an equally good representation of a variety of biological systems. If one understands the grey border as the edge of the ant colony, the whole thing is an ant colony made up of individual ants. If one understands that border as the surface of the skin, it is a reasonable representation of most multicellular organisms, with various body systems as the dots. And it seems as well to be a quite good representation of the nervous systems of many organisms, with the grey border being the interface between the nervous system and the rest of the body/world, and the dots representing neurons or circuits of neurons. In all these cases, one is dealing (entirely or nearly entirely) with local interactions among simple elements and elaborated group products reflecting mostly distributed rather than hierarchical or centralized organization. And no "mind".

    The human nervous system (and probably the nervous systems of a group of related, ie fuzzy, organisms) seems to have a similar architectural organization but with one significant addition, as shown n the lower part of the figure above. All of the nervous system in this case consists of locally interacting (mostly) neurons and most of it is organized in the same way as in the upper figure. In addition, however, there is a group of neurons/circuits that do not either get direct input from nor generate outputs to the outside. This region (the fuschia dot in the figure) is in the business of collecting information from the the other dots about what they are doing and using that to create a story about and a sense of purpose for the entire system that in turn influences the function of the dots it is collecting information from. It is the activity of this region that makes humans (and probably some other organisms) different and introduces for the first time something akin to a blueprint or a conductor (albeit one that is itself constantly undergoing modification). It is this subcomponent that one might reasonably call "mind" and that gives humans (at least some of them) a legitimate claim to regard purpose or intention as a significant part of their behavior. There is not only "group product" but a mechanism for adjusting group product in relation to a group objective.

    What ant colonies (among other things) help us to understand is how much can be done without "mind". Since "mind" is the only thing we are conscious of, we tend to think it is essential for everything we do. In fact, it is not; it is a very small influence on human behavior (at least most people's). Hence, we are surprised not only by the behavior of ant colonies but also by the similarities between the behavior of ant colonies and ourselves, both individually and collectively. We shouldn't be. Much of our behavior, including group behavior, expresses characteristics of "relatively simple things interacting in relatively simple ways", of architectures like those of the ant colony, with no significant influence of "mind".

    Of course not all of our behavior does. Each of us can (and sometimes does) call on our fuschia dots to conceive personal intentions and try to implement them (with varying degrees of success, since the fuschia dot has to work through all the other dots). And in this sense, we sometimes are not fully emergent; there is, for better or for worse, some effect of a blueprint or conductor. And, as Doug says, this actually tends to make us poor "neurons". Or ants, for that matter. Wanting to follow one's own objectives is not a good way to run a colony (or an assembly line, or an efficient bureaocracy). The offsetting benefits? A system that can adjust in novel ways? And supports individuals in creating novelty?

    So, back to Alan's discussion of "socially extended cognition". There clearly is, among humans as among ants, group behavior. Is there a "group mind"? I think usually not, just as there is no "mind" in an ant colony, ie no representation in the system of a group objective that can be used to monitor and adjust group performance. But it is, I think, in principle possible for groups to develop an architecture that is sufficiently similar to that of the human nervous system so that a "mind" in the same sense comes into existence, ie for some humans to play the fuschia dot role sufficiently successfully for there in fact to be a group objective that is an influential part of the function of all of the dots. Maybe that's something to encourage, emergently or otherwise? (cf Some Thoughts on Academic Structure (and Socio-Political Structures Generally: A Biological Metaphor as an Alternative to both State's Rights and Federalism).

    out of left field
    Name: Radcliffe
    Date: 2006-04-12 21:24:53
    Link to this Comment: 19009

    Greetings! Pardon the intrusion from one who has been following the conversation only sporadically and from a distance, but I happened to read Anne's most recent comments and was struck by them. One thing that struck me, perhaps because I am a philologist, was a certain pattern in the use of verbs in the conversation. When I see a sentence such as " The simpler the organism/entity (…), the easier it is to aggregate a group of such organisms/entities into a coherent whole," my immediate reaction is to ask "easier for whom?". Likewise, the question of "how individual behaviors aggregate into collective behavior," seems to me to depend importantly on who is doing the aggregating, that is, on who is observing the phenomena and trying to discern a coherent pattern.

    The questions Anne was raising about the distinction between group behavior and group mind seem to hinge on this problem, since the difference between acting and reflecting (to take one of her distinctions) could very well be described in terms of the actor being observed by another or observing himself. So too, the difference between a ritual contest and a war (or a boxing match and a brawl) depends on who is trying to make that distinction. For an outside observer, who has no understanding of the implicit rules that govern the ritual contest, the phenomena may not seem much different. For an inside observer, that is a participant in the contest, the difference is obvious and palpable because he knows all the complicated rules that govern his choice of actions as well as determine the conditions under which the game is considered over. (Of course, such a participant can choose to violate those rules, to stab his opponent with a knife or to refuse to concede the contest, but that still depends on a clear awareness of which rules are being violated.)

    So, the difference between group mind and group behavior might lie precisely in the position of the observer. An outside observer can only observe the behavior of a group, describe the patterns in which that group takes action. Group mind might depend upon a self-conscious awareness of the individual's position within the group, a conscious directing of one's actions according to the patterns of the group activity.

    In any case, thanks for stimulating me to think of other things. I would be curious to know if my idea of the importance of the observer is useful or meaningful to the discussion. I'll head back into left field now…


    observing from the inside: behavior all the way do
    Name: Anne Dalke
    Date: 2006-04-13 16:04:15
    Link to this Comment: 19026

    Seems to me this ball game, as observed from left field, just got refined a bit.

    When Rad noticed the use of the "evasive passive" (verb forms with no actor, the sort I steer my first-year writing students away from) in sentences like "The simpler the organism...the easier it is to aggregate"--he was actually flagging (what I think is) *the* key idea in emergence: no director. Which means that, when describing a truly emergent system, it is actually more appropriate/accurate to say "it occurred" than "we decided" (as it would be in describing Quaker process: the decision arises "below," from group interaction, not by fiat, from '"above"). As per Paul's post, there's no decider....

    But a few weeks ago, Al got some of us thinking about/puzzling over what difference it makes to the system--either on the quantum or the "everyday" level--if it has an observer (not a conductor or pacemaker, just an observer). Now here's where it gets cute.

    I hear Rad saying that only an inside (self-consciously aware) observer can see "group mind," while an outside observer can only see "group behavior." But what our working group on emergence seems to have noticed (can groups take notice?) is that it's often the outside observer who (inaccurately) impunes a "mind" to group behavior. Learning about how such behavior happens on the inside (from George about how ant hills operate, for instance, or from Alan about "socially extended cognition"), we come to realize that it's often "behavior"--no mind--all the way down.

    Whatever we think we observe.

    A radical emergent perspective
    Name: Doug Blank
    Date: 2006-04-14 13:12:16
    Link to this Comment: 19031

    I disagree with Paul that an anthill doesn't have a mind, and that there is no group mind. Paul says:

    Ants lack, so far as we know, any equivalent to the human process of reflective thought, which is to say that ants have no conception of themselves or of other ants or of an ant colony, and do not experience (among other things) intentions, choices, or successes/failures.

    If you replace "ant" with "neuron" in this quote, the confusion of levels becomes apparent. I have no doubt that anthills do have experiences of intentions, choices, successes, and failures. At least as much as we have those experiences. How can one tell? The same way we do with humans: ask it (the anthill)! See Hofstadter's "Prelude..., Ant Fugue" in "The Mind's I" for, er, proof. :)

    Paul also says:

    Moreover, individual ants have only "local" interactions, ie their behavior reflects only their internal organization and their immediate interactions with things around them (other ants/organisms and the non-living environment).

    If I may paraphrase the political saying, all interactions are local. Newspapers, for example, are just another form of stigmergy not some special form of global information. That is, all information comes into our brains through local interactions.

    Paul's fuchia dot sound a whole lot like a homunculus to me. No doubt the human brain (and mind) can do what it does because of its organizational structures. But I bet we can find equally compelling structures in space and time in an anthill, and group interactions too. We just haven't learned how to see them yet. The human brain is just one way that an emergent system can be instantiated. Wherever you have interactions, you'll find emergent properties. But you have to look higher than the ant.

    To avoid confusion ...
    Name: Paul Grobstein
    Date: 2006-04-15 09:31:42
    Link to this Comment: 19041

    There is no "confusion of levels". I'm perfectly happy, in the sentence Doug cites from my earlier posting, to replace "ants" (meaning individual ants) with "neurons" (meaning individual neurons). Neither has any "conception of themselves ... " and both do not "experience ... intentions ...").

    The issue isn't ants or neurons individually but rather whether particular assemblies of ants or neurons have/do the things under discussion. The answer in the case of the assemblies of neurons that make up the human brain is (I assume we agree?) yes. The answer in the case of the assemblies of ants that constitute an ant colony is what's in question. Here is the sort of place where scientists (and others if they want) need to place their bets. And if Doug actually wants to bet that ant colonies have "conceptions of themselves" and do "experience ... intentions", I'm more than happy to take the bet, functionalist arguments notwithstanding.

    My own experiences with real nervous systems (cf Bipartite Brain) are hard to make sense of in terms other than that some assemblies of neurons have these properties and others don't, with the key distinction being architectural. Alternate possibilities, such as that the properties we ourselves experience are epiphenomena lacking causal significance or that they are instead inherent and causally significant in all assemblies seem to me either to ignore relevant existing observations or to be less promising in terms of motivating further explorations. The same goes for the notion that the properties in question simply appear when and because assemblies grow beyond some minimum size.

    My further guess about the presence or absence of such properties in ant colonies and human assemblies is based on a straightforward presumption that similar architectures can generate similar properties even when the building blocks have significant differences (being silicon instead of carbon based, or ants/humans rather than neurons). It was offered not as a conclusion but as a possibly generative path for further exploration in a number of different realms. Others are of course free to look in such directions or not based on their own intuitions. Hence, the bet, which wouldn't be worth making were there not in the present genuine choices about paths of inquiry whose generativity is likely to be measurable in the future.

    The fuschia dot, as I conceive it, is not an "homunculus" (ie something that "accounts for a phenomenon in terms of the very phenomenon that it is supposed to explain"). It is an assembly of neurons having a particular architectural (and hence) functional relation to other assemblies of neurons. From which emerges in some clear and some less clear ways causally significant properties with which we are all reasonably familiar (a sense of self and other, intentions, free will, neuroses and other internal conflicts, some kinds of inquiries and bets on them, some sorts of social affiliations and questions about them, and the like).

    My interest is in those particular properties, and it is about those that I think there is an interesting (and potentially generative) bet to be made. Whether we can find other "equally compelling structures in space and time in an anthill, and group interactions too" is a different and much less focused question. "The human brain is just one way that an emergent system can be instantiated. Wherever you have interactions, you'll find emergent properties. But you have to look higher than the ant". Or the neuron, or the person, or a CPU. Of course ... "Simple things interacting in simple ways can yield surprisingly complex outcomes ...". The question, for me, is not whether ant colonies (or assemblies of neurons or groups of people) are consistent with an emergent perspective but rather what particular kinds of interactions yield what particular phenomena.

    Towards a science of emergence
    Name: Doug Blank
    Date: 2006-04-15 12:50:51
    Link to this Comment: 19042

    Thanks, Paul, for the comments. I think that there are some important points here, and this is very useful for me, at least, to help make them more clear.

    When we talk about a group (be it humans or ants or neurons) having particular properties, we might try to be specific about exactly we are talking about. I tend to think in terms of the Systems Response to Searle's Chinese Room which Alan discussed a couple of weeks ago. Applied to the ants, I think we need to include the ants, earth (both structures and stigmergy), paths, pheromones, time of day, etc.

    On the other hand, being too specific may exclude us from considering other realms of interactions, and thus we may miss key forms of information exchange. We should be on the lookout for interactions that take place on very long timescales or across vast distances, for example.

    Next, we need to ask: What properties are we looking for? What would constitute an instance of "self-reflection"? In many ways, I would consider myself a behaviorist. If there is no resulting behavior of the anthill-system, then it doesn't count. I hold the same criteria for human-level behavior. Some of these perceived properties of humans (intentionality, for example) might not hold up to such a functional, behavioral constraint. That's fine by me.

    These properties will result in behavior, but in what form will they take? I think we tend to get really confused about this question when dealing with human groups. Consider a group attempting to make a decision. If we are looking for group behavior there, we have to look above the group members. We need to examine group-level activities, and these might not have anything to do with what the humans think that they are doing (the decision to be made).

    I'll take the bet that groups of ants, and groups of people, act as a "mind" and make decisions at that level. I doubt that it will look like the human-level mind though. Maybe more like of an ant. Or a penguin.

    The Middle Path
    Name: Paul Grobstein
    Date: 2006-04-16 09:53:54
    Link to this Comment: 19045

    Doug's latest and an off line correspondence I've been having with Sandy Schram seem to me to together pose a generally interesting problem. Here, with his permission, is part of the exchange with Sandy ... Schram, Wed. 12 April
    this is profoundly provocative. but none of this has to do with minds only brains. the mind is where the brain goes when we choose it to, by definition. if there is no choice there is no mind, brain or otherwise notwithstanding. the mind is emergent from the brain only because we have chosen to make it so. biology by itself will never be enough to make that happen. enter interdisciplinarity.

    Grobstein, Thurs. 13 April
    You teasing or serious about "none of this has to do with minds only brains"? And the fundamental dualism that seems to imply? If so, there is a long and serious conversation to be had, in the interests of social science, as much as of biology.

    Schram, Thurs. 13 April
    i am serious. i dont think it makes sense to say the mind is reducible to the brain. so neurons can independently all contribute to brain functioning but that does not tell us how our minds operate. the mind is something about the consciousness we derive from our brains but it is not determined in whole by the brain's functioning. the mind goes beyond that. it's what we use to fill in the gaps in neuroscience when it can locate what part of the brain is functioning when we think something or do something but it can't tell us what we are thinking or how. that extra stuff is referred to as the mind. that is why it makes sense to speak of a group mind but not a group brain.
    Behaviorism to one side of me ("Some of these perceived properties of humans (intentionality, for example) might not hold up ...") and dualism to the other ("that extra stuff is referred to as the mind"). What's a poor empirical neurobiologist to do?

    How about "Sandy, meet Doug .... Doug, meet Sandy .... I'm sure the two of you will have a lot to talk about ... oh, by the way, I've been called to the bedside of a suddenly ill aunt, so you guys have fun and play nice"? Nope, that doesn't seem ... professionally responsible. There has to be a way to get across this particular divide. Several hundred years (at least) of history notwithstanding.

    Hmmmm, here's a thought. You know, Sandy, I think you've got something. "if there is no choice there is no mind" ... I assume you mean, no "conscious" choice, no internal experience of choosing, right? And, Doug, I think you've got something too. "If there is no resulting behavior ... then it doesn't count". Meaning, I assume, that there is no point in presuming things going on inside where one can't see unless one needs them to account for things outside where one can?

    How about if I could display an interconnected set of neurons that constitutes the experience of deliberating between alternative possibilities and making a choice, and show that its operation produces observable effects on behavior? Then, perhaps, we could all be happy learning more about the brain and stop worrying, on the one hand, that doing so would impoverish humanity, and, on the other, that trying to account for day to day experiences we all have necessarily requires mysticism or magic?

    In the meanwhile, I gather we're all comfortable with the idea that "Simple things interacting in simple ways can yield surprisingly complex outcomes ..." and that we don't yet know all that that implies? So maybe its a little premature to decide that 1012 interconnected neurons can't yield some particular outcome and hence that that phenomenon either doesn't exist or must be accounted for in some other way?

    the space between
    Name: Anne Dalke
    Date: 2006-04-20 13:11:42
    Link to this Comment: 19105

    When Ken laid out his figure yesterday morning (here's my version:)

    implementation --> representation --> behavior/experience
    observation-driven --> focused on "relationships among data" --> model-driven
    physiology --> computer science --> experimental psychology

    --btw (she said crankily, having just created this figure) when folks do power point presentations, could they send their slides to Doug Blank or Selene Platt, w/ the request that they be made available on Serendip? The archive and reference would be handy.

    Anyhow, as I was saying (before I interrupted myself...) as Ken was laying out this figure yesterday morning, and I was struggling to make sense of it, I was reminded of an analogous one which Rob Wozniak presented to this group in October 04: "The Clarifying Example from Mars, or That Vs. What Is":

    (Rob's gloss: " Knowledge of the Electrochemical state of Every Cell in Your Brain at the Moment You Perceive A Cup Will Record that you Perceive a Cup, but not WHAT the Perception of the Cup is Like to You. Or: mental states may be extensionally but not intensionally equivalent to states of the nervous system: mental terms cannot be replaced with neural terms without loss of meaning; there is surplus meaning in mental terms.")

    What I think Rob was highlighting was (what he thought of as) the non-traversable gap between knowing the rule sets and experiencing the experience (i.e.: the plugged-in Martian can identify the neural terms, but not the mental state, of another's inside). For me, the Martian is a figure for Ken's physiologist (who knows all the inputs, but doesn't know what the experience is that arises from it). The perceiver of the cup is his experimental psychologist, who can give an account of the behavior, but not what imputs caused it. (Closer to home, following Paul's introductions, above: Doug may be a plugged-in Martian, Sandy a cup-perceiver.)

    So what was really helpful for me, yesterday morning, was to see Ken foregrounding the space between "imputs" and "observables," suggesting that that "huge middle ground of possible pathways and explanatory links" is the place where computer science operates. I'm not convinced that this space belongs only or particularly to computer science (I'd venture that all intellectual inquiry, done well, involves a "loopiness," a moving-back-and-forthness between observing and modeling). But I did find it useful to entertain the notion that computer science (too!) involves procedures for "looking at the relationships among data" (see Rethinking Computer Science Education for a recent, fuller account of this process).

    I also found it very useful to think of computer science (along w/ all other field of inquiry) as "letting the data breathe a little longer," as "suspending judgment" about what's going on between implementation and behavior. This seems strikingly akin to advice we'd gotten earlier this semester about the need to avoid premature storytelling, to have the patience to wait til one's gathered enough evidence to tell a new story, not to be hurried by the need to provide an answer that works. Now.

    I'm looking forward to the promise of Ken's return visit, with a fuller account of what it means to do this, to explore the difference between "dense" (widely distributed) relationships among data and "the grandmother cell" (completely localized representations), to understanding more completely the advantages of those "sparse" representations inbetween. Til then, just for pleasure (and the archive) a few more memorable quotes from the morning:

    "How do you know what the data are?"
    "Real life is not a sequence of trials."
    "You can always learn something by paying attention to the edges."
    "The deep point is that in principle there is no way to know."
    "You can make any hard problem easy by representing it the right way."
    "The more you know about any field, the less solid it becomes."

    Name: Anne Dalke
    Date: 2006-04-30 22:07:45
    Link to this Comment: 19199

    "How do you know what the data are?....
    The more you know about any field, the less solid it becomes."

    That's where we left off, with Ken, two weeks ago. But this past week, Doug was working this from the other end of the stick (trying both to identify the data and make things more solid) by asking us to think w/ him about what a rule is:

    I was back @ Swat this weekend (I do like both the architecture and the conversation @ that place...) for a conference on Feminist Transnational Studies, where I picked up a relevant phrase/insight regarding the "fluxidity of field and object." I wonder if that idea wouldn't loosen/unpack some of the above, particularly the notion that "object" can be distinguished from "field," "relationships" from the "facts" that relate....? aka "How do you know what the data are?....The more you know about any field, the less solid it becomes."

    The funniest (and actually? most illuminating) moment for me of last Wednesday's session was Sandy's observation that Prolog (which Doug introduced to us as shorthand for "PROgramming in LOGic") was misnamed, since a "prologue" is a preface or introduction, and our motivating query for the morning--"what is a rule?"--had arrived at the understanding that rules come after, are descriptions of patterns seen retrospectively.

    "Exactitude in Science"
    Name: Anne Dalke
    Date: 2006-05-10 19:29:49
    Link to this Comment: 19303

    Doug ended his tri-partite session yesterday in hopes of a "summary" from me--which he's not going to get.

    Instead, I thought it might be fun to share with you guys the one-paragraph short story by Jorge Luis Borges which Sandy referenced; written in the form of a literary forgery, it's called "Del rigor en la ciencia" ("Exactitude in Science", or "Rigor in Science"), imaged as "a Map of the Empire whose size was that of the Empire, and which coincided point for point with it."

    I'm smiling, thinking that this image of a map as large as the world it represents might be what the Working Group on Emergence is turning into--especially some days (like y'day morning) when we seem to be tracing again and again (w/ what alteration?) territory that we've covered before.

    In what way does a description differ from an explanation? Does it have to do w/ size, relative to the thing being described (i.e. any account that is "shorter than a complete history of the inputs"?)

    Anyhow, here's how the map is looking/where the mountaintops are, right now, from my particular perspective on the universe:

    irregular verbs the most common verbs
    Name: Doug Blank
    Date: 2006-05-12 16:28:40
    Link to this Comment: 19380

    Thanks, Anne, for whatever you want to call those notes :) It nicely "summarized" some of the good, sticking points for me. That's all I wanted


    And--while I'm here/before I go: what I really REALLY want to know is whether it actually is the case that, in many languages, the most common verbs are irregular ones--and why that might be? If (if that is the case) what that tells us about the human propensity both to make, and to break, rules....

    I haven't found a definitive source, but I think Pinker mentions it in "Words and Rules" (don't have it right here). I bet Rich can answer that. But, here are some examples from particular languages:

    (French) Regular verbs and Irregular verbs

    "Now there's good news and bad news. The good news concerns so-called regular verbs, which are the vast majority... The bad news is that some verbs - the most common ones - are irregular..."

    "It shouldn't come as a big surprise that the most common verbs are the most irregular; that tendency is a natural way that many languages develop."

    A NEW VIEW OF IRREGULAR VERBS: Application of the motor theory of language

    (German and English)

    "Irregular verbs are the most common verbs and vice-versa, in English and most other languages. Among the thousand most common German verbs ... the irregulars are used an average of 640 times in every million words, and the regulars are used an average of 77 times. [comparable figures for English are 684 and 73)]."


    words and rules
    Name: David Chud
    Date: 2006-05-12 16:30:56
    Link to this Comment: 19381

    ...the article ("Words and Rules," Pinker)... I personally think provides a great treatment of the "rules" issues (for the specific domain of language). I'm very sorry to have missed Doug's take on this stuff, though (all three presentations).

    completely wrong
    Name: Doug Blank
    Date: 2006-05-12 16:32:00
    Link to this Comment: 19382

    Thanks, David. I hadn't seen this article, which seems to sum up the main points of his book.

    I, too, am sorry you couldn't make it, because I was, of course, arguing against his "great treatment." Actually, I didn't argue that it wasn't a great treatment, just that he was completely wrong.

    I'd love to have your (and everyone's) feedback on the chapter that I'll be putting together for our book based on these discussions.


    Asimov's Three Laws of Robotics
    Name: Doug Blank
    Date: 2006-05-12 16:34:21
    Link to this Comment: 19383


    Here is an interesting, serendipitous, question I received yesterday from a colleague that makes another point about "rules" that I had completely missed:

    "I would like your professional assessment of whether Isaac Asimov's Three Laws of Robotics are/will be implementable in future robots. I am working on a paper along these lines and have come across several articles (from non-roboticists) that state, 'Today, [the three laws] are taken for granted - by science fiction writers and robot designers alike.' I'm not sure if they ARE taken for granted by robot designers at all and am doing an informal, unscientific survey to find out. I would value your opinion and, if you have others in the field that you think would be willing to respond, please let me know so that I can contact them."

    For reference, here they are:

    1. A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.

    2. A robot must obey orders given it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.

    3. A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.

    The question about the three laws is an interesting point where fiction and science fiction are very far away from each other. First, let's imagine a robot that really does operate on symbols and rules such that its control system is arranged so that you could insert a statements of the form:

    do_not_injure(X) :- human(X).
    allow_harm(X) :- human(X), action(self, nothing).
    This is one possible way of representing the conditions of the first law. The other laws would be even harder to represent as they represent even more abstract notions like "obey", "existence", "conflict", "self", and being able to *refer* to a set of its own rules (let alone for a rule to refer self-referentially to itself).

    How would such a system work? How would the robot know whether Sally were human? Maybe because it was explicitly stated:

    human(Sally). But in a system that is hooked up to the real world, how would it be certain that it was looking at Sally? And consider the predicate do_not_injure. How is that determined? How is "injure" related to kill, cajole, make fun of, taunt, poke, jibe, assault, criticize?

    Most robots don't have the ability to look at a person and see them as a human, let alone a specific human. And they certainly can't look at a situation and see in it the ideas of "harm", "action", nor "inaction". But then comes the hard part. Now they must be able to counterfactualize about all of those concepts, and decide for itself if an action would break the rule or not. They would need to have a very good prediction of what will happen when they make a particular action.

    Even if a robot could do all of the above, then there is a big question of levels at which the rules must apply. For example, if you had a robot that could do the above, then it probably isn't following a set of easy-to-understand "rules", but its behavior is a much more complex emergent phenomena resulting from many lower-level systems. They would follow rules about as well as humans follow rules. On the other hand, if you tried to put the rules into the hardware, you don't know the "internal language" of the system, and couldn't hardwire it to do what you want (just like we can't do brain surgery to make people not break the law---how many millions of neurons would you need to adjust? and which ones? and how to adjust them?)

    In short, it is a confusion of levels at which "rules" apply to a computer. If the system was simple enough to be able to insert such rules, then the system wouldn't be sophisticated enough to follow them. On the other hand, if it were complex enough to understand and follow the rules, then it would not be easy to insert such constraints into the system. Either way, this is one place where science and science fiction will probably never meet.


    virtual thought experiment
    Name: Deepak Kum
    Date: 2006-05-12 16:35:22
    Link to this Comment: 19384

    Someone (any one know who?) once said:

    "If the human brain were so simple that we could understand it, we would be so simple that we couldn't."

    On the topic of Asimov's "Laws": Why should robots be singled out to adhere to such laws when humans themselves don't? Also, I do not see most creations of humans being designed with these in mind....think, trains, plains, automobiles, ...etc. At best, Asimov's "laws" represent a "Virtual Thought Experiment" (yes, the second degree is intentional here)...

    If the goal of robots is to be as intelligent as humans and behave like humans, they will have the inherent capability of hurting humans based on their own desires and intentions...just like certain humans...and no one (as in the case of humans) will/ought to be able to control it...having free will includes the free will to cause harm. Of course Asimov's "laws" were created with this in mind...


    the weighting of robot brains
    Name: Tim Burke
    Date: 2006-05-12 16:37:53
    Link to this Comment: 19385

    In Asimov's stories, to some extent, he has a "magic" tech that lets him address some of Doug's comments, what he calls a "positronic" brain for robots. But if you read between the lines, and accept some of the later scientific amendations made by Asimov, what he's talking about is a kind of neural network with various weightings.

    The Asimov stories themselves largely play with some of the problems that Doug references. The simplest positronic robots in the early stories of "I, Robot" are easily disabled or fouled up by basic definitional problems: inability to recognize "humans", confusion over what constitutes "self" in the context of the 3rd law, and so on. Over time, Asimov has the weighting of positronic robot brains becoming much more sophisticated, with many many more layers, and in the fictions, robots become more and more difficult to "lock-up" by confusing them on points of fundamental definition. But even his late robot stories play with some of these basic issues, as a telepathic robot appears who finds that his ability to read and interpret human consciousness is ultimately disabling as he cannot decide what things humans genuinely wish him to do. This robot has a colleague who is not initially telepathic but who has highly developed deductive reasoning systems and eventually argues that there is an implied "Zeroth Law" that directs him to preserve humanity in the aggregate first over individual humans, which allows him to use utilitarian and consequentialist reason in a manner comparable to human beings.

    emergence as .... less wrong
    Name: Paul Grobstein
    Date: 2006-06-20 17:30:26
    Link to this Comment: 19536

    Thanks to Mikio/all for interesting conversation this morning. A few thoughts it triggered in me, for whatever use they might be to others ....

    Its interesting/useful for me to find myself "on the other side of the fence", ie being challenged for (possibly?) paying too little attention to the human-centric character of all inquiry/knowledge. For the sake of the record, I regard ALL human understanding as necessarily and inevitably "story", ie deriving from its origins in human brains (as per Getting It Less Wrong: the Brain's Way). But one CAN "get it less wrong" by noticing particular features of the human perspective that might productively be altered ("The sun DOES look like it goes around the earth, the earth DOES look flat, but if we notice and correct for our limited perspective (by making new observations) we get a less perspective/context/frame dependent understanding: we are on an earth much bigger than ourselves which in turn moves around the sun.". To put it differently, one can "get less wrong" not only by making new observations but also by noticing and altering one's own perspective.

    And that is indeed what seems to be most interesting about the "emergence perspective". I make no claim that the notion of a universe that evolved in the absence of a designer/architect derives from attaining a perspective outside that of the human brain, but only that it encourages one to look at things from a perspective that doesn't have the evident limitations/problems (including that of infinite regress) inherent presuming there must be architects/designers (or at least rules) to account for patterns/organization.

    Along similar lines, it doesn't either the promise or the problems of the "everything has a simple explanation" approach. Some things MAY of course have simple explanations, so one needn't give up entirely aspirations along those lines. And similarly some things MAY be predictable, so one can cherish some hopes along those lines as well. What the emergence perspective does though is to allow for/acknowledge the possibility that neither characteristic is guaranteed. In so doing, it not only opens the possibility of new worlds but also poses the novel question of why it is that some things (and not others) ARE predictable/have simple explanations. Rather than starting with either as the sine qua non of inquiry, one might instead aspire to locate and make sense of simplicity and predictability as part of a broaden prospectus of inquiry (as with "rules" and "architects/designers" and "meaning" .... and the very concept of emergence itself).

    Date: 2006-09-09 02:50:05
    Link to this Comment: 20318

    "Meaning is context-bound....context is boundless;
    there is no determining in advance what might count as relevant. "

    This is interesting.

    Forum Archived
    Name: Webmaster
    Date: 2006-10-05 12:08:51
    Link to this Comment: 20615

    This forum has now been archived and is closed to new postings. If you are interested in continuing the conversation, please check out this year's forum at Emergence 2006-07.

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