Individuation of Social Systems

Lenartowicz, A., Weinbaum, D., Braathen, P. . The Individuation of Social Systems: A Cognitive Framework . Procedia Computer Science (Elsevier), vol. 88 (pp 15-20) . Doi: 10.1016/j.procs.2016.07.400 . 2016


Starting point is formed by the Theory of Individuation (Simondon 1992), Enactive Theory of Cognition (Paolo e.a. 2010) and the Theory of Social Systems Luhmann 1996). The objective is to identify how AI integrates into human society.

1. Introduction

Social systems influence cognitive activities. It is argued that social systems operate as cognitive systems: ‘.. autonomous, self-organizing loci of agency and cognition, which are distinct from human minds and manifesting behaviors that are irreducible to their aggregations’ [p 15]. DPB: I like this (in bold, to end all others) way to formulate the behavior specific to the whole, as opposed to the behavior specific to the individuals therein. It is argued here that these systems individuate in the same way, and their mode of operation is analogous to, other processes of life. This paper does not follow some others that take a narrow approach to cognition starting at the architecture of the individual human mind; instead it presents a perspective of cognition that originates from a systemic sociological view, leading to a socio-human cognitive architecture; the role of the individual human being in the establishing of networks and their operation thereafer is reduced. The theory if based on the view of Heraklitus that ontologically reality is a sequence of processes instead of objects and with Simondon’s theory of individuation: ‘This results in an understanding of social systems as complex sequences of occurrences of communication (emphasis of the authors), which are capable of becoming consolidated to the degree in which they start to display an emergent adaptive dynamics characteristic to cognitive systems – and to exert influence over their own mind-constituted environment’ [p 16]. DPB: this reminds of my understanding of the landscape of Jobs, where Situations and Interactions take place as sequences of signals uttered and perceived.

2. Individuation of Cognitive Agents

The basis is a shift from an Aristotelian object oriented ontology to an Heraklitian process oriented ontology (or rather an ontogenesis); not individuals but individuation are the center-piece; no individual is assumed to precede these processes; all transformations are secondary to individuation: ‘Individuation is a primary formative activity whereas individuals are regarded as merely intermediate and metastable entities, undergoing a continuous process of change’ [p 16]. In this view the individual is always changing, and ‘always pregnant with with not yet actualized and not yet known potentialities of change’ [p 16]. DPB: His reminds me of the monadic character of systems: they are very near completion, yet never quite finished and always ready to fight the previous war. Local and contingent interactions achieve ever higher levels of coordination between their constitutive elements; the resulting entities become ever more complex and can have agency. Cognition can be seen as a process of sense-making; cognition can facilitate the formation of boundaries (distinctions). This is explained by the theory of enactive cognition that treats sense-making as a primary activity of cognition (Varela, Thompson & Rosch 1992; Stewart, Gapenne &Di Paolo 2010; De Jaegher & Di Paolo 2007). This idea is radicalized in this paper: sense-making is assumed to be bringing forth distinctions, objects and relations; sense-making precedes subjects and objects and it is necessary for their emergence; sense-making precedes the existence of consolidated cognitive agents to whom the activity itself would conventionally be attributed. DPB: this firstly reminds me of the phrase ‘love is in the air, even if there is nobody there yet’; ‘processes of individuation constitute a distributed and progressively more coherent (as boundaries and distinctions are formed) loci of autonomous cognitive activity’ [pp. 16-7]; also the process of individuation precedes the process of autopoiesis: the latter cannot exist as a work in progress, but individuation occurs also without autopoiesis; and so autopoiesis can only be a design condition of a process that has already individuated. In this way individuation is taken from its narrow psychological context and projected to a general systems application: ‘Sense-making entails crossing the boundary between the unknown and the known through the formation of tentative perceptions and actions consolidating them together into more or less stable conceptions (emphasis by the author)’ [p 17]. DPB: this is a useful working definition of sense-making; these processes are relevant not just for psychic and social processes, I believe they have their root (and started in some form once) as chemical and physical processes, for which the above terminology does not seem fully suitable; from that point on, these multitudes of elements ‘grew up’ together and became ever more complex. ‘Individuation as an on-going formative process, manifests in the co-determining interactions taking place within the heterogeneous populations of interacting agents. These populations are the ‘raw materials’ from which new individuals emerge. The sense-making activities are distributed over the population and have no center of regulated activity of synchrony. Coordination – the recurrent mutual regulation of behaviors is achieved via interactions that are initially contingent. These interactions are necessary for the consolidation of any organized entity or system’ [p 17].

3 Social Systems as Cognitive Individuals

By a social system is meant any meta-stable form of social activity. DPB: but what is meant with meta-stable. This is the Luhmann understanding of a social system. This paper demonstrates 1. the individuation of social systems and 2. identify social systems as the metastable individuals. Events that are the building blocks for social reality happen as single occurrences of communication, each consisting of: 1. a selection of information, 2. selection of the utterance, and 3. the selection of the understanding. DPB: this is as per my Logistical Model. If and only if the three selections are combined do they form a unity of a communicative event, ‘a temporary individual’. ‘This means that it distinguishes itself from its environment (i.e. any other processes or events) by the means of three provisional boundaries, which the event sets forth: (a) an ‘information-making boundary’ between the marked and the unmarked side of the distinction being made (Spencer Brown, 1994), i.e. delineating the selected information (marked – M) and the non-selected one (unmarked – Un-M), (b) a ‘semiotic boundary’ (Lotman, 2001) between the thus created signified (SD) and a particular signifier selected to carry the information (SR), and (c) a ‘sense-making’ boundary between thus created sign (SGN) and the context (CX), i.e. delineating the understanding of information within its situation (Lenartowicz, Weinbaum & Braaten, 2016)’ [p 17]. DPB: I am not sure what to do with those three selections; I have not used them and instead I am working with selection of some piece of information, while it is uttered, and while it is also perceived (made sense of). I must figure out whether (and how) to use this. Maybe ask ML to clarify how they connect to my logistical model, and especially the E and the B operators. It is important because it is a chain-link in a chain of events: ‘The three selections and corresponding boundaries of an event make the communication available to interact with or to be referred to by another communicative event constituted by another triple selection’ [p 17]. DPB: all this sounds a bit artificial and procedural and mechanical: how can this process come about in a natural way? Once recorded and remembered these elements become available for endless re-use independent of space, time and context (frame). In closed networks of communication, however, they have a tendency to converge into recurrent self-reinforcing patterns, such that the become established and difficult not to be associated with, even if in a negative form or critique. From the associations of these selected simple forms can arise complex individuated sequences, social systems. Through their interactions these systems gain and maintain coherence; as they recur the probability that the same pattern is repeated is higher than the probability that a completely new pattern is selected. Initially contingent boundaries become self-reinforced and stable. ‘On account of their repetition, a social system can be said to develop perceptions (i.e. reappearing selections of information and understanding), actions (i.e. reappearing selections of utterance) and conceptions (percept – action associations) that dynamically bind them. Each such assemblage thus becomes a locus of identifiable cognitive activity, temporarily stabilized within a flux of communication’ [p 18].

4. The Role of Human Cognition

The (three) selections individuating social systems are performed by other cognitive individuated systems. In a social system that is individuated to a level of stability and coherence, emerging patterns in that system further orient the selections made by people. And reciprocally the the psychic environment of the people facilitates the individuation of the social system by selecting new instances of communication that somehow fit the existing parts. Human beings are indispensable for the continuation of communication and hence for the maintenance of a social system, but they are incapable of influencing the social system in the sense that one seedling is incapable of influencing the amount of water in a lake. Only when a social system is at the early stages of its individuation and taking shape can it be influenced by individual people: a pattern of a large social system is confirmed by many other communications and also one different communication, that does not follow the pattern, doesn’t hold sufficient weight to change its course. ‘Taking into account a variety of powerful factors that guide all the linguistic activities of humans: (a) the relative simplicity, associative coherence, frequent recurrence of the cognitive operations once they become consolidated in a social system, (b) the rarity of context-free (e.g. completely exploratory and poetic) communications that is reinforced by the density and entanglement of all “language games” in which contemporary humans are all immersed in, and (c) the high level of predictability of human selection-making inputs observable from the sociological standpoint; it will be reasonable to set the boundaries of our modeling of he general phenomena of human cognition in such a way, which delineates the dynamics of two different kinds of individuating cognitive agencies operating at different scales: the human individual and the social system. Instead of reducing all cognitive activities to the human individual we can clearly distinguish cognitive agencies operating at different scales’ [p 19]. DPB: I like the three arguments above for the likelihood of patterns to appear in communication and also that human cognition is to some extent built with the(extensive) help of social systems, such that human cognition cannot be fully reduced to the individual itself, but also to the social systems in the environment of the individual.

Individuation of Social Systems

Lenartowicz M, Weinbaum DR (Weaver), Braathen P . Global Brain Institute, Free University Brussels . Social Systems: Complex Adaptive Loci of Cognition . Emergence: Complexity & Organization, 18(2) . 2016


Human social systems are concrete non-metaphorical, cognitive agents operating in their self-constructed environments. This theory is an integration of social systems theory (Luhmann) with enactive cognition theory (Di Paolo) and theory of individuation (Simondon). It is marked by a number of shifts in thinking about social systems: 1. becoming rather than being, 2. three-layered understanding of the environment where identities of social systems individuate, 3. a reactive rather than a responsive approach to adaptiveness and 4. social systems are cognitive systems. Social systems are complex individuating communicative interactions that together constitute cognitive agencies. DPB: the text says: ‘sequences of communicative interactions’: from the network perspective, the interactions will most probably not be sequential; they might be from the perspective of the individual agents; they surely are from the perspective of the individual unities of communication (which go ‘from hand to hand’). The discussion about individuation should be in interaction EINT? The relation of these agents with their environments (including other such agencies) can be clarified through the Hayek-Hebb-Edelmann perspective and the Maturana-Varela perspective of perturbation-compensation. The theory is demonstrated by an example of a NASA communication showing how ‘.. a social organization undergoes a process of individuation from which it emerges as an autonomous cognitive agent with a distinct and adaptive identity’ [p 1].


Social systems are seen as complex in the sense that they consist of many parts that interact in a non-simple way (such that it is not trivial to infer the behavior of the whole from the properties of the parts). They are seen as adaptive, because they operate in their environment maintaining a set of their characteristics invariant. But they are not seen as cognitive: 1) the cognitive capacity of the human mind is typically involved, which can be viewed in a black-box manner (to encompass the supposed cognitive qualities of the social system) and 2) when invoked for an entire social system there is a risk of using it in a mystical sense. DPB: would cognition not also be seen as requiring physical sensory machinery, and so where cognition is invoked and individual people, then, given that they avail of the machinery, it must be them providing the cognitive functionality? But this paper supports the claim that social systems are indeed cognitive; this is approached through a re-conceptualization of the concepts of complexity and adaptiveness. Social systems are seen as sequences of complex, individuating sequences of occurrences of communication (events); their operating is approached from the perspective on systems adaptation of Hayek-Hebb and from Maturana-Varela, each revealing a different and complementary facet of the operation of the system, resulting in an integrated abstracted model of individuating, autonomous, and distributed cognition.

Concept 1: Components

It is often assumed that the basic component of social systems is the human being. Luhmann however proposes that social systems consist of sense-making, meaning-processing communications. Properties of human beings (the contents of her mind) play a role only when they are expressed socially, else it remains in the social system’s environment. The Heraklitian shift from being to becoming was elaborated by Nietsche, Simondon, Deleuze, DeLanda, Bergson to emphasize that not objects but processes are the basic elements of systems (‘even the most solid objects are networks of processes’ [p 3]); if this is the case then much of the fabric of reality is overlooked by delineating objects; and we are looking at what is happening within them and among them; looking at actions instead of agents implies looking at differences in states instead of fixed states. From this perspective the agent is left out of the observation, not treated as a component but as a catalyser: ‘an aspect or part of a state that is necessary for the action to occur’ (Heylighen, 2011:8)’ [p 3]. If the ontology is changed from agents to actions then, in Luhmann’s approach, the focus is on communication and not on humans, a communication as a difference-making selection process: 1. selection of information, 2. selection of the utterance, and 3. selection of the (mis)understanding of information and the utterance (Luhmann 2002:157). Only if all three are present communication occurs. DPB: this is how i’ve modeled it and this is also how I have come to understand Luhmann. It is quite different from what I understood form the article Individuation of Social Systems. That difference is important and I must discuss it with Marta. With regards to the NASA example: this illustrates the emergence of a unit of communication; what would be a valid and illustrative example concerning the operations of a firm? The three selections are in this example made by (subjective and changeable) human minds, but this selection can be deferred to objects, machines, AI &c; the selective processes take place regardless the properties of the substrate (chemical physical &c.). When the three selections have taken place then the event of a communication has taken place: ‘Nothing is transferred – Luhmann claims – Redundancy is produced in the sense that communication generates a memory to which many people can lay claim in many different ways (2002:160)’ [p 5]. Operation of these three selections is often imprecise, ineffective, associative, incomplete and inadequate: it is in other words more often than not made up of just-so stories. Given that these communications events interact between them (and via human beings) then their properties are different from those of human agents. Examples of the effects between the selections are: 1. the selection of understanding in one communication event will constrain and be conserved in the following ones, 2. the selection of an utterance in one event will be retained, refused or refined in the following, and 3. adhering to a shared form (utterance) will prompt selection of understanding in a coherent way. These selections lead to sequences that may under the influence of individuation lead to pattern of which a few examples are: organizations, languages, nations, organizations, discourses, &c.

Concept 2: Individuation

Individuation is a primary (to what) formative activity, where individuals are always intermediate, temporarily stable entities, undergoing ongoing change: ’Individuation is a process where boundaries and distinctions that define individuals arise without assuming any individual(s) that precede(s) them. The nature of distinctions and boundaries is subtle: inasmuch as they separate subject from object, figure from background, and one individual from another, they must also connect that which they separate. A boundary, therefore, is not only known by the separation it establishes but also by the interactions and relations it facilitates’ [p 7]. DPB: perhaps another way to formulate this brings a different perspective: ‘A boundary is established by the interactions and relations it’s component’s properties facilitate through their attractions to some and repulsion from properties of other components’ in their environment and within the system itself. In this sense the boundary is a resultant from the myriad attractors and repellers that may exist all along the outer surface of the system. And that outer surface also has an important contribution to the capacity of the system to be distinguished by other systems’. For him (Simondon), the individual is a metastable phase within the a continuous process of transformation, ever impregnated with not yet actualized and not yet known potentialities of being. .. a plastic entity, an on-going becoming’ [p 7]. DPB: this is my monad; but I have never defined the ontogeny of a monad and a individuation process does that. How can this network of communications form an assemblage (DeLanda, 2006) of interacting components? Communication (three elements) results in temporary boundaries: 1. information selection: marked-unmarked (information), 2. semiotic: signified-signifier (utterance), and 3. sense-making: sign and context (understanding). DPB: I am still not sure about the use of these kinds of boundaries, but between brackets the link to the three selections.

Concept 3 Environment

An environment of people is topological, an environment of communications is semiotic. A tentative definition of a communication event is: ’Whatever the communication refers to and is being referred to’ [p 11]. The environment is not the surroundings of the communication process, but the semiotic space delineated by the three meaning-creating selections (utterance, information, understanding). The nouns in an utterance describe (or characterize) the environment of a communication. Once a communication event has taken place, any future event may refer to the initial one as its environment: The environment is not only what it refers to or what is being referred to, but also all the communications that perform the referring. The possibilities for a communication to be referred to are, in ascending order: gestures, speech, writing, social media. ‘Since all communications are endlessly available to be referred to, also the environments that they delineate become available endlessly. Each such an environment has a potential of becoming evoked by a following occurrence of communication and thus, by the means of repetition of such occurrences, has a potential of becoming more or less stabilised’ [p 13]. DPB: reference to the mechanism of the process of individuation, where it produces temporarily stable entities. When communications interact they individuate and become more entangled and so do their (partly shared) environments; and the more a shared environment, the other communications (hetero-reference) and the communication itself (self-reference) are referred to by the various communications, the more stable they can become. As a consequence some communications belonging to each other and they belong to a particular environment: ‘Thus, the whole socially constructed reality (Berger & Luckmann, 2011) comes into existence’ [p 13]. DPB: this is an important argument in the formation of a stable pattern as a system. ‘At some stage of the process of individuation, the locus of control over the boundary between the environment and the individuating sequence of communications (which at this point can be called a system) has started to be positioned within it. This way the Luhmannian social systems arise, which ‘have the ability to establish relations with themselves and to differentiate these relations from relations with their environment’ (Luhmann 1995 Social Systems:13) (emphasis by the authors’ [p 16-7]. DPB: the ontogeny of an assemblage of parts individuating up to the point that they become a system in the sense that they self-organize and then at some point they (it) may get to the point that they (it) become(s) autopoietic: assemblage > self-organized system > autopoietic system. I am not sure about the term assemblage, because it sounds a kind of designed (an assembly is put together), whereas it should be thrown onto a heap such that they come to stick into a group.

Concept 4: Adaptability

Social systems self-maintain their own coherence and identity through their own operations: when a change in the environment occurs, the systems adapts. According to the theory of Hayek-Hebb the system responds and according to Maturana-Varela the system reacts to a change in its environment. The responsive approach claims that the system develops a model of its environment as per a pattern in internal interactions; but this is known not to exist (perhaps something in a functional and abstracted way). The theory of reactive adaptation claims that the system is operationally closed: the operational responses only depend on internal processing and hence on the internal structure of the system, in turn depending on its internal states. If the environment changes then the state may change and the reaction at the next click changes.’It follows, that the system-environment interactions take place only in a way that allows just that: the system’s recursive production of its own identity pattern under ever-changing conditions. Whenever a change in the environment forces an internal shift in the system, the shift is compensated by some other internal changes’ [p 18]. DPB: not very new but well worded. The choice is for the reactive model, given its relevance for biological systems but its controversial status concerning its application for social systems. The center stage position for human beings is no longer required after the Luhmannian explanation of communication; the concept of systems autonomy is a sufficient theoretical justification for the perturbation-compensation mode of adaptation to be derived for social systems: ‘What is needed for such an application is merely understanding the dynamic of systems as structurally defined i.e. that they will not be able to produce any consequent behavior which is not not encoded already in their current structure and state’ [p 19]. DPB: disagree, there is n need for that, it has been shown to not be required.

Concept 4.1 Responsive adaptation

In terms of the Hayek-Hebb responsive adaptation model, the system’s internal model gets updated as a result of a change in the relations between the system and its environment: some get stronger, others weaker. The problem with this approach is that it takes the boundary between system and environment as a given, whereas that boundary can change because of the changes in the environment (the relation between the map and the mapped territory, the interaction between the map and the mapped &c.). The Hayek-Hebb theoretical approach does not allow tracking of the emergence of the boundary between an individuating sequence of occurrences of communication and its multi-layered environment.

Concept 4.2: Reactive adaptation

The ‘reactive adaptation’ approach posits that operational responses of a system in relation too external changes (perturbations) depend only o the inner structure and the state of the system and can only induce further changes to its inner structure and state’ [p 24]. In order to observe a reactive adaptation in sequences of communications, one observes how a communication X points at a previous communications Y using its selections as a rationale to understand how the systems refers to a perturbation in the environment. So, the reference of X to Y reflects the reaction of the system to the change in the environment. X and Y being related as per some criterion, ‘belong’ to the same sequence of communications. DPB: perhaps this is the sequence with the hooks between the events (as a commonality of flavor) that Marta mentioned to indicate the relation between memes and (the individuation of) communication? This theory predicts that a change in the environment leads to a sequence of communications. DPB: this reminds of the Wagensberg model, where a change in the environment leads to changes in the complexity of the system and/or of the complexity of the environment and also to an increase in the amount of information at the boundary. What needs to be addressed is how it can be known whether communications X and Y ‘belong’ to the same sequence of communications: this can be known by the signifier selecting the communications in the entire sequence. The above method of observation using the signifier renders the reactive adaptation method takes a more relaxed stance towards the signifier (someone claims that..), and hence it is much more suitable for the process ontology of social systems. ‘Should a pattern of reactive adaptation be detected in such a fluid realm, this may imply (prove) a temporary existence of an individuated sequence, coherent enough to display an adaptive behaviour’ [p 26]. DPB: I like this, it is a spot-on explanation of the way a firm can be start (while not yet founded) and already takes shape and represents a body of thought. ‘The fluid, processual milieu populated by various occurrences of communication is exactly where the boundaries of the individuating assemblages are formed. It happens by distinguishing between the communications that belong to or are owned by a specific system and those which do not’ [p 27]. DPB: this can explain more specifically how a firm is formed, namely that the ideas belonging to the organizing of the specific production plan are owned by the owners of the firm.

Concept 5: Cognition

This final argument is that social systems áre cognitive systems, and so the argument goes beyond a mere metaphor: ‘a communication-constituted social system is a cognitive system and its on-going constitution is a process of cognitive development (emphasis by the author)’ [p 28]. The argument is 1. that all individuating processes are cognitive processes (following the enactive cognition approach of DiPaolo e.a. 2010) and 2. this approach is used to ‘explicate the intrinsic cognitive nature of communication constituted social systems’ [p 28]. The activity of cognition is ‘naturally associated’ with agents in environments whose operation can be described as an on-going problem-solving activity. But how does this set-up of agents, objects and their relations in an environment emerge? Even though they might be vague and not (yet) fully clear, determined and they can merge or even disappear completely: ‘Crossing this, often unseen, boundary between the unknown and the known, the unformed and the formed is what we call sense-making. Sense-making is the bringing forth of a world of distinctions, objects and entities and the relations among them. Even primary distinctions such as ‘objective-subjective’ or ‘self – other’ are part of sense-making. A relatively new appearance on the sage of cognitive science, the so-called enactive cognition approach, regards sense-making as the primary activity of cognition. The term ‘enactive’, synonymous with ‘actively bringing forth’, makes its first appearance in the context of cognition in the book “The Embodied Mind” (Varela, Thompson and Rosch, 1992) and has since been the subject of many developments and debates (Stewart, Gapenne, and Di Paolo, 2010; Thompson, 2007; Di Paolo, 2006; De Jaegher and Di Paolo, 2007). A guiding idea of the enactive approach is that any adequate account of how the body (i.e. any embodied system) can either be or instantiate a cognitive system must take into account the fact that the body is self-individuating: […] By saying that a system is self-constituted, we mean that its dynamics generate and sustain an identity. An identity is generated whenever a precarious network of dynamical processes becomes operationally closed.[…] Already implied in the notion of interactive autonomy is the realization that organisms cast aa web of significance on their world. […] This establishes a perspective on the world with its own normativity [.] (Di Paolo, Rohde, and De Jaegher, 2010, pp. 38-9, 45). The enactive theory of cognition therefore incorporates the idea of individuation rather naturally as it asserts cognition to be an on-going formative process, sensible and meaningful (value related), taking place in the co-determining interactions (i.e. communications in our case) of agents and their environment (Di Paolo, Rohde, and De Jaegher, 2010)’ [p 28-9]. The concept of sense-making means 1. cognition as a capability of an already individuated system and 2. the individuation of cognition as intrinsic to cognition itself [p 29]. DPB: I believe this is all the same thing: it can have started with fluids or even gases that found themselves to cluster around certain attractors (and away from repellers) and to then form clusters of ever more complex molecules with regulating functionalities to form cells, small organisms &c. But before anything else the elements in each of the clusters must ‘make sense of’ their environment such that they can manage to be attracted by this or repelled by that. The formation of their regulatory functionalities = their organization = their self-individuation = their cognition. Concerning point 2 above: ‘The latter meaning of sense-making is the one corresponding to the acquisition and expansion of concrete cognitive capacities and it also generalizes the concept of cognitive development beyond its psychological context (Piaget, 2013) and makes it applicable to general individuating systems (Weinbaum & Veitas, 2014). Furthermore, in the broadest sense, every individuation process where boundaries, distinctions and relations are progressively determined, is a sense-making process and therefore is cognitive’ [p 29]. DPB: I fully agree. This is an important element in the understanding of the emergence of organizations and firms. Now I know how they come to be, and I already knew how they come to ‘pass away’. But the million dollar question is Why, what is the relation of these events of emerging and dying to the production of information on a cosmic scale, what is its utility? The theory of enactive cognition assets that a relatively stable and autonomous individual is required for sense-making: ‘In contrast, we argue that the broader understanding of cognition as sense-making precedes the existence of systems as already individuated identities (cognitive agents) and is actually a necessary condition to their becoming. Only that at this pre-individuated stage there is still no one for whom sens is being made’ [p 29]. DPB: this is a crucial argument. It is somewhat mistaken (or misleading), because it tacitly assumes that consciousness is required for the sense-making to take place. If the next step is also taken (or what is stated above is followed on) then the sense making is just the processing information in general; if it is about conscious systems, then that has the sense of the processing of the communication events by the mind. In other cases, it is the processing of information, such as the figuring out what to do by some chemicals leading up to the Beloesov-Zhabotisnsky reaction after a shock is administered, having found out that other chemicals are in the vicinity. ‘Our understanding of cognition derives from the broader sense of social systems as individuating systems that enact sense-making via on-going communications. .. Even more importantly, if cognitive development is intrinsic to cognition as argued by Weinbaum & Veitas (2014, 2015), cognizing is not only a core activity of social systems but also a vehicle for their evolution. Embodiment can be understood as a combination of the ‘raw material’ constituents, in our case communications instances, and their coordinated organization, in our case the way communications are related and associated reflecting complex distinct structures. The situatedness of a social system can be understood as the totality of its immediate interactions over already established boundaries. In other words, the situation of the system is the immediate circumstances of enacting its sense-making. Of course for social systems both embodiment and situatedness are distributed and fluid’ [p 30]. DPB: this reminds me of the Situations of the Logistical Model: I had defined them as the change of one meme in the mind of a person. If the sentence in bold above can be taken to mean the forming of a thought (for a person) then the meaning of the two definitions might not be far removed, because to enact its sense-making means to use a ‘tool for thought’ to make sense (process information) of the immediate environment (circumstance?). ‘In a communication-constituted operational domain, the process of individuation may be initiated by a difference of strength of association between a few contingent communications (see also (Weinbaum & Veitas, 2015, pp. 19-23)). A recurrent set of occurrences of communication which are more or less consistent and coherent constitutes a semiotic boundary or part of it’ [p 30]. DPB: this reminds me of my model of the associative relations between memes, connotations. This above does explain that they are contingent, and so there is no certainty or anything goes; it does not explain how these associations can gain strength &c.

Enacting – Structure and Agency

Lenartowicz, M. . How Social Forms Come Alive: The Enactive Workings of Discursive Positioning . Working Paper v.1. . 2017


This is an exploration of the possibility to conciliate the structure and agency dichotomy in social science through the use of positioning theory. The focus is on the structural-enactive aspect of discursive positioning: ‘I argue that the positioning theory precisely identifies the social act which creates and sustains social forms’ [p 1]. DPB: without having read the article yet, the phrase above reminds me of the action by which a Situation (a Bubble) emerges: And an utterance is performed, And an information is included, And a perception is performed, by the triple selection of which a communication comes into being (or it is replicated and hence becomes part of a sequence).

1. Introduction

Traditional scientific disciplines are founded in traditional ontology, and hence attempts to address issues concerning traditional ontology do not usually originate in those same traditional sciences. The reason is that their differentiated existence would come into question. As a consequence the concepts used in such a field of research ‘involve’ in an ever more differentiated manner, without questioning the all too general ontological basis. Some of the ontological assumptions are wrong according to Van Langenhove (Van Langenhove L. Innovating the Social Sciences . Vienna: Passagen Verlag . 2007) and conserved by their perpetuation. In summary the problem of the common ontology is a Newtonian/Euclidean/Humean approach, in summary: thinking is performed by solid objects, fixed in space and time, deterministically influencing one another by cause and effect relations. The structuralist view on the world still dominates, because of the ontological problem with the phenomena (institutions, organizations, nations, communities &c.) around which the disciplines of the social sciences are organized. ‘When explicitly discussing their formative mechanisms, social scientists now tend to point to language and its creations, such as texts, discourses, or stories. However, in order to do social science, they seem to have no other methodological choice but to enter and continue the language game themselves. The comprehension of the linguistic, symbolic composition of the social matter, thus, has not yet taken them far; it does not bear much consequence for their research methodologies, or, even more importantly, for their research questions (emphasis by the author)’ [p 2]. The issue is that all social thinkers have presupposed the existence of language to, then, given language, think about the nature of society. The role of this paper is to research the fundamental constitutive function of language: ‘I will address the need for a conceptual path to bridge the gap between the formative function of language and the shapes and forms that people perceive and interact with while participating in the social world’ [p 3]. A methodology is required to account for these steps: human cognition > language > language use > social actions > social structures. ‘Such paths must be sound enough to make sure that what appears at the other side of the spectrum is, indeed, the result of ‘re-assembling the social’ (Latour 2007) not a projection’ [p 3].

2. Typification of social forms

Allowing people to forge and sustain representations of reality, language also allows us to name these representations. By the means of such naming, what initially was merely an entwinement of actions that happened to be observed as resonating and corresponding with one another – a frequently seen pattern, a repetitively performed chain of action, or a cluster of certain observable features – becomes a social form (entity, structure, system, institution, organization, network, rule, role, etc.). Alfred Schutz, Thoman Luckmann, and Peter L. Berger call that naming typification (Schutz 1967, Schutz & Luckmann 1973, Berger & Luckmann 1966). Typification is an assignment of a symbolic signifier to mark a social form, or, as Rom Harré (1975) calls it, a social icon’ (emphasis by the author) [p 5]. DPB: ‘When it has a name it is probably dangerous’ Lenartowicz, private conversation]. Once some assemblage has individuated to the point that its repetitions become noticeable / perceptible it is ready to beget a name. A pattern of a sufficiently individuated assemblage is in this way typified and the typified thing is now a social form or a social icon. Once it is named or rather that its name has been repeated a couple of times it is a communication. The name through the communication reciprocally provides stability to the pattern also: now it clear what it is and what it does.

3. Discursive positioning (intentional, on purpose, purposeful, rational)

Through speech acts people can place themselves and be placed by others in a social world via the vehicle of their social persons. This is an effect of the perlocutionary force of an utterance (what social position does it point at), hidden behind the locutionary aspect (what is said) and the illocutionary aspect (what is it said for) [p 5]. The effect of these utterances in practical terms can be monitored using 1st and 2nd order cybernetics. DPB: this reminds me of the connotations: I can account for the locutionary aspect (1st order: information content) and illocutionary (2nd order: to charge the information / idea with a ‘spin’); the perlocutionary is strictly speaking the social version of an illocutionary aspect and as such it is a 2nd order observation; it relates to the cognitive connotation, namely the perceived importance of the information / idea by the group. Perhaps this is a link between social systems and how memes are enacted in people’s minds.

4. Form Mutability

The positioning theory originally focuses on the manners in which speech acts are used to affect and shape social persons and confine them to a set of (rightly or not) assigned attributes and powers. In the triadic conceptualization of Harré and van Langenhove (1999) social actions/acts allocate people to positions, which are construed in relation to a relevant storyline. In my understanding, a storyline is what I referred to above as a social form: a symbolically marked typification of a different scrap of the overall social reality. As a result, while focusing on persons and their thus constructed situations, the theory precisely captures yet another perlocutionary consequence of speech acts. Positioning modifies not only the relative situations of persons but also the state of the social form to which the position is attributed’ [p 6]. DPB: In this way the knife cuts both ways: the person is assigned a position and as her narrative, explaining the entitlement to that position, is in use harnessing her social position, the position it designates is also tested against the social reality the person – and her symbolic position – are in. ‘If we realize that the ‘fabric’ from which a typification of any social form can be carved is nothing else than the totality of all social acts that are available to be observed, an inclusion of the acts performed by one particular person to that selected group of acts is admittedly equally as a phenomenological, interpretative operation as was our previous delineation. Nonetheless, there is one significant addition: the act of including – that is, the act of positioning. Because this is a social (speech) act as well, it is added to the totality of all acts that are available to be observed. The social fabric is expanded by another know, another twist. .. By the means of positioning, by the embedding of a reflection of a person in a form, a single social action can now change the state of that form dramatically – in just one sentence, one gesture, or one grimace’ [p 7]. As all communication, positioning now has become alive and it has come to serve its own purposes: to connect the behavior of social systems and people as social beings through the dynamics of social forms: ‘People who position themselves at the conference podium behave so similarly that the question arises: is it not the social form itself that is acting and affecting the world?’[p 8].

5. Enaction of social forms (I guess I would use the term enactment)

Searle (1990) aptly claims the we-mode of speech – in which we socially act not simply as ourselves but as a part of a social arrangement – to be the very peculiarity of language that brings social ontology into existence’ (emphasis by the author) [p 8]. DPB: tis I find an interesting thought: the reflection or projection onto language of a social construct that includes not just myself, but any form of social construction that includes others too. That word is the reflection of the whole of social systems and it forms the basis for social ontology. ‘When our speech acts position us in a particular social locus, and especially if this happens by the self-positioning of the first order, perlocutionarily, we speak as apart of social entities – possibly almost indistinguishable in our agency from theirs. We speak ‘for them’, ‘as them’, and ‘on behalf of them’, driving what is to be done, why, and how from what the form is comped of already. The dynamic agency of social forms deployed in such a we-mode can no longer be considered merely phenomenologically. Another ontological status is needed’ [p 8]. DPB: I like this as an example of ho someone can speak on behalf of a firm, in any case in the various roles that people associated with firms can have. What distinguishes this theory from others, is that it shows that people, for whatever reason, can actively pursue to manage their position in the group of people they are included in. And then the million dollar question: ‘What is, then, the relationship between people and social forms? A good name for this seems to be enacting. People engage in performing actions, interactions with the world on behalf of a form, as if they were its components, when they are not. Thus, the psycho-social process of positioning and being positioned by others bears a structural consequence: a thus-enacted social form comes to be seen as acting itself’ [p 9]. DPB: I have used this term enacting for the acting out of memes: when people are motivated (set in motion) to act as per the memes they are guided by at some point. But is is not necessarily in a social context, any meme goes. This theory complements the social systems theory by identifying by which mechanism one communication connects to another. In addition enaction is argued to be 1. the fundamental feature of cognition and 2. the formative mechanism that precedes the individuation of all cognizing entities, and hence: ‘the state of being enacted opens up a path for the conceptualization of the emergence of an even stronger existence of social forms’ (emphasis by the author) [p 9].

SemioSphere and Cognition

Lenartowicz, M. . Creatures of the Semiosphere – A problematic third party in the ‘humans plus technology’ cognitive architecture of the future global superintelligence . Technological Forecasting and Social Change . January 2017


Human beings can exert selective pressure on emerging new life-forms. The theory of the Global Brain argues that the foreseen collective and distributed super-intelligence will include humans as its key beneficiaries. The collective architecture will include both humans and such new technologies. DPB: the selective pressure is on signals, the basic unity of communication: namely on the ‘utterances’ &c., information and understanding. According to Luhmann a social system is autonomous and this includes AGI development and GB. Humans can attempt to nudge and irritate these systems to change course, but the outcome of the evolutionary process cannot be known in advance and is therefore uncertain. This article serves to offers a new combination of existing theories: theory of adjacent possible (Kauffmann), semiosphere (Lotman), social systems (Luhmann), Theory of Intelligence (Heylighen). The history of the human species can be re-interpreted such that it is not the individual human being but the social systems that are the more advanced human intelligence currently operating on Earth.

Locating the Crown of Creation

To assume that the human being is the final feat of evolution, is, given its other accomplishments, indefensible. Only our feeling of self-importance makes us believe that we should (and will) remain around forever. Exposing that and theorizing about what comes next is therefore justified. ‘It seems now that we are starting to abandon yet another undue anthropocentric belief that the Artificial (DPB: including AGI), which is passing through our hands, is in simple opposition to the Natural and, as such, is excluded from the workings of evolution’ [p 2]. Because why is the passing through human hands be fundamentally different from the passing through a chemical or a physical process? There is no design condition with regards to size: ‘While the idea does appear fantastic when applied to human beings, for nature such shifts between scales – called meta-system transitions – Turchin 1977, Heylighen 1995) are nothing new’ [p 3]. This is extensively formulated in the theory of the global brain. The crux is an ever thickening and complicating network of communication that humans contribute to and process. According to the global brain the next stage in the evolution of intelligence ‘belongs to a complex, adaptive, cognizing network of interconnected agents: humans and technological systems (Heylighen 2015). A thinking, computing, analysing and strategizing, problem-spotting and problem-solving organ of the planet Earth herself’ [p 3]. DPB: it appears that there is no environment for an evolutionary stage where the entire (surface of) the Earth is occupied with the same; who performs the three selecting processes? An additional question is whether the passed-on crown will still be in our hands. Anthropomorphism is a constrain when thinking about these long term questions. Hence an alternative hypothesis: the social systems are the most intelligent systems on Earth at this point.

An Empty Niche in Hunter-Gatherer’s Eden

Genetically we belong to Eden’ [p 4]. Heylighen assumes that the Environment of Evolutionary Adaptedness (a kind of a reference for the direction and level of adaptedness of human beings, the environment for which we are fit) is based on the hunter-gatherers era. Their fitness was supported by the development of language and other symbolic means of communication. These came about as a variation of the means for ‘exchanging useful information with others’ (Heylighen): ‘Thus, language has become a functional adaptation of the species and, by proving remarkably useful, it got selected to stay’ [p 5]. DPB: In this way language is a feat of biological evolution, adding to the fitness of people, namely through its usefulness. Luhmann’s view on language is that it serves a specific role in between the mind and the communication; that surely being one of his more foggy moments, language, from the moment the first ‘mbwa’ was repeated, came to be autonomous, and hence it was initially selected to stay because it added to the hunter-gatherer’s fitness, or, at least it was of some use and did not harm her enough to be selected away. But that provides sufficient space for language to develop itself in its particular evolutionary process (and not as per Luhmann’s special trajectory). The evolution of the swim bladder has had advantages for the fish and in addition it has created an ‘adjacent possible’, namely a new niche for particular bacteria. In the same vein, the development of symbolic means of communication have provided humans with a new feature, and has created an adjacent possible, ‘within which new designs of evolution could appear. And, what is most spectacular: this niche was created outside the biosphere, giving rise to what Yuri Lotman (2001, 2005) called the semiosphere’ (emphasis by the author) [p 6]. First, this proved to be a pragmatic form of signaling and coordinating of actions. Second it provided an increase of the representational capacity. Third, language enabled the building of relations between occurrences of communication, the semiosphere;’They could refer to, describe, interpret, and evaluate other occurrences of symbolic communication, which have happened before’ [p 6]. In that environment these components of communication, new evolutionary forms could assemble (DeLanda), individuate (Simondon 1992, Weinbaum&Veitas 2016), self-organize (Heylighen 1989, 2002) and evolve. And their evolution again created additional adjacent possibles to be occupied by yet other symbolic forms.

Individuation of the Semiospecies

Therefore, if we consider the development of language as giving rise to the (as yet) empty niche of the semiosphere, it would be the Luhmannian social systems what should be considered the newcomers – the novel forms of life, enabled to emerge and evolve by the adjacent possible’ [p 8]. DPB: I annoted here ‘sunfall’: sounds great but I forgot why. Otherwise it is a good quote to sum up what is explained in the previous paragraph. When it was empty, the semiosphere contained only individual instances of communication for single use, unentangled with other. ‘.. the ‘already not-empty’ semiosphere included also complex, lifelike entanglements of such instances, capable of the prolonged perpetuation of their own patterns and of exerting influence onto their own respective environments (Lenartowicz, Weinbaum & Braathen 2016)’ [p 8]. These entanglements take place as per the three selections of information, utterance and understanding (Luhmann 2002). When these selections are made then three distinctions are added to the semiosphere: the information making boundary between marked (the information that was selected to be included in the signal) and unmarked space (what could have been chosen but wasn’t; and remain available as an ‘adjacent possible’ for a next state), the semiotic boundary between the signified and the signifier (carrier of the information, the form or utterance) and the sense-making boundary between the created sign (and the context (the situation against which the understanding was selected, and harnessed because it was selected at the expense of other ways to understand it). DPB: whatever the signal is made of, once it is a sign (information uttered and understood) the next state of the communication is different from its previous state, but not so different that the communication stops. And hence it is individuating to ever more crystallize the communication monadically! The point Marta makes (and told me she introduced in the NASA article where I can’t find it back in) is that the concept of memes connects with this model: they are what it is that hooks the sequences of signals together to become a communication. I am trying to find a suitable example to illustrate this. ‘.. each of such couplings between two occurrences of communication may be seen as one occurrence ‘passing judgment’ – or projecting its own constitution – upon another. The combinatorial possibilities of how any single occurrence may be related to by a following one are multiple’ [p 10]. DPB: this reminds me of the idea that intention consists in fact of processes of attraction and repulsion. At every state the configuration of properties of the elements / parts is such that its relations seem to favor some and shy away from other possible future states, namely by causing an attraction to some and a repulsion from others. ‘In time, the interacting occurrences of communication form ever-complicating streams, in which each occurrence adheres to many others in multiple ways. Gaining in length, ‘mass’, and coherence, these strings form ‘metastable entities in the course of individuation whose defining characteristics change over time but without losing their long term intrinsic coherence and distinctiveness from their milieu’ (Lenartowicz, Weinbau & Braathen 2016)’ (emphasis by the authors) [p 11]. DPB: the remark about coherence reminds me firstly of the idea of connotations: loose, associative relations between signs. The semiosphere is the universe of all the occurrences of all the symbolic communication. It emerged at the first intentionally issued and understood symbol. DPB: can it be that this occurred at the first instance of 2nd order observation: the issuer of the signal observed and understood that her production of (what was turning out to be) a signal, brought about something in another person in the shape of a kind of behavior (or the lack of it: use your knife and fork!), remembered how to produce the signal, and hence deemed useful to do it again whenever that effect, namely the reaction in the other was desired by the issuer. Conversely now the perceiver understands that the issuer has a particular kind of behavioral reaction in mind whenever she issues that signal and so she remembers it also and when it it is perceived and understood in the future that kind of behavior can be produced (eat with knife and fork, but now very noisy). ‘But a semiosphere understood as a simple aggregate of all communicative occurrences happening in the world was bound to be ‘empty’, as a niche, as long as these communicative occurrences did not relate to one another. If they did not relate, they could not be conserved, and thus had to dissolve momentarily’ [p 11]. DPB: I interpret this as to mean that the the semiosphere could be filled only after it was possible to repeat the use of the signals, and I assume it also means that then it is required to start using them in each other’s context, such that they can be constructed by framing/deframing/reframing them (Luhmann 2002). The repetition allowed for individuation of language and communication to take place; stigmergy provided a memory for the objects and places of interest for the hunter-gatherers’ communities. ‘As a result, the boundaries of social systems were practically equal to the topological boundaries delineating the groups of people who were trained in their processing: if anyone was going to reinforce a certain communication by referring to it within the close circle of its eye and ear witnesses’ [p 13]. DPB: this is how we do things around here and if you act like this you surely can be only one of them. When the use of symbols occurred is uncertain, but at least prior to the earliest cave paintings 40ky ago.

A superintelligence which goes unnoticed

The above can be summarized in the statement that assemblages of symbols can self-organize and individuate into creatures of the semiosphere. Now the next step is the statement that these creatures behave intelligently, given that: ‘The thought experiment proposed here is different (to considering the preponderance of the intelligence of a group of people over that of a number of individuals, DPB). It is to consider the intelligence of the self-organizing streams communication delineated in such a way, which treats the human species as their environment’ [p 14]. DPB: I have referred to this condition of people in regards to their relation to communication or memeplexes as a substrate. Should I replace the more unfriendly substrate for environment? The definition of intelligence of Heylighen is used: ‘.. not abstract reasoning (agree DPB), thinking (this is Weaver’s approach, DPB), or computing (this is my approach, but meant in the sense of information processing). It is rather directing and coordinating the actions of an organism within its environment’ [p 14]. DPB: I am not sure of the relevance of the concept of intelligence for my research subject. As it is defined here it is similar to the capacity to anticipate, namely reduce the uncertainties from the environment. In the same vein it can be stated that intelligence is the processing of information from outside so as to steer the operations of a system so as to maintain its autopoiesis intact. The article refers to Heylighen 2014, who points at fitness, but I am not so sure about that concept: it is a constant: a level of performance of the internal operations which is required to have the smallest possible advantage in the real over the entities in the environment. I don’t know. The concept of environmental fitness might be explained by this model of three layers: 1. the environment which is referred to by the communication, 2. other occurrences of symbolic communication, and 3. substrate needed for the operating of the system, namely through uttering, memory, selection making, &c. ‘Once a communication is immortalized through writing, print, digitalization, or another for of recording, it may as well wait decades or centuries for its follower’ [p 16]. DPB: my annotations says stigmergy, but I don’t think that is intended with that concept. It reminds me of the way people can interact in my Logistical Model: there is no reason this should be ‘live’, or at the same location or even at the same time. In other words: to read a book is logically a way to interact with the author of the book. This admittedly feels asymmetrical, because it a one-way thing because you cannot talk back at the author to let her know your response. It is a signal that damages the reader but the not the other way around. And there is also no 2nd order observation in place. But: it is a signal, a meme changes state and so at least it is a bubble. ‘Symbols, narratives, context, and operational consequences can be always restored. This suggests that while, in the most general sense, the environmental fitness of any ‘semiocreature’ hinges on the ability to attract and tie successive occurrences of communication, this process does not have to be continuous nor instant’ [p 16]. DPB: I am curious about the ‘tying’: that is represented by my connotations. ‘What is less frequently realised is that the (re-)presentations are potentially stoppable at any time through a simple withdrawal of all reinforcing communication-making activity on the human side. But this seems to be about the only possible way of dismantling them, as occurrences of communication do reinforce the (re-)presentations of social systems even if they aim to criticize, challenge, or modify them. ‘Semiocreatures’ which are being spoken of are never dead’ [p 17]. DPB: this reminds of the saying that any publicity is good publicity. Also this is why some politicians remain popular for an unimaginable long time. Lastly this refers to the idea of familiarization: when referred to more often, an idea stays on top of mind, but if referred to less often it becomes less and less ‘readily available’ (paraat). Perhaps the idea is not realised so often (as per above) because according to Spinoza people can’t help themselves and they must talk. (With a reference to the ability to deal out stuff to people that are to the advantage of the dealer and not the person) ‘If intelligence is measured by the ability to safeguard and increase one’s own environmental fitness, when confronted with a ‘semiocreature’, we are quite fast to give it up’ [p 18].

Social Systems and Autopoiesis

Lenartowicz, M. . Linking Social Communication to Individual Cognition: Communication Science between Social Constructionism and Radical Constructivism . Constructivist Foundations vol. 12 No 1 . 2016

I wish to differentiate between between a social species in the organic, animalistic sense and the interconnectivity of social personas in social science’s sense. While the former expresses its sense structures, co-opting language and other available symbolic tools towards its own autopoietic self-perpetuation and survival, the latter (personas) self-organize out of the usages of these tools – and aggregate up into larger self-organizing social constructs’ [p 50]. DPB: I find this important because it adds a category of behavior to the existing ones: biological (love of kin &c.), the social (altruism) of the category that improves the probability that the organisms survives, and added is now externally directed behavior that produces self-organization in their aggregate. ‘If we agree to approach social systems as cognitive agents per se, we must assume that there will be instances, or aspects, of human expression that are rather pulled by the “creatures of the semiosphere”, as I call the autopoietic constructs of the social (Lenartowicz 2016), for the sake of their own self-perpetuation, than pushed by the sense-structures of the human self’ [p 50]. DPB: I like this idea of the human mind being attracted by some aspects of social systems (and / or repelled by others); a term that is much used in ECCO is whether ‘something resonates with someone’. The argument above is that a push and a pull exist and that in the case of the social, the semiotic creatures have the upper hand, over the proffered biological motivations. ‘The RC (radical constructivist) approach to human consciousness must, then, be balanced by the RC view of the social as an individuated, survival-seeking locus of cognition. The difference between the two kinds of organic and symbolic expressions of sociality, which are here suggested as perpetuating the two distinct autopoietic systems, .. has finally settled the long-standing controversy about whether social systems are autopoietic (..), demonstrating that both sides were right. They were simply addressing two angles of the social. Maturana’s objections originated from his understanding of social relatedness as a biological phenomenon (the organic social), whereas the position summarized by Cadenas and Arnold-Cathalifaud was addressing the social as it is conceived by the social sciences (the symbolic social). The difference here is not in the different disciplinary lenses being applied to the same phenomenon. Rather, it is between two kinds of phenomena, stemming from the cognitive operation of two kinds of autopoietic embodiments. For one, the social is an extension, or an expression, of the organic, physical embodiment of a social species. It does not form an operational closure itself. For the other, the social has happened to self-organize and evolve in a manner that has led it to spawn autonomous, autopoietic and individuating cognitive agents – the “social systems” about which Luhmann wrote’ [p 50]. DPB: this is a long quote with some important elements. First the dichotomy is explained between the social aspects of humans. Second the reason why Maturana was, of all people, opposed to the applicability of autopoiesis to social systems. Now it seems clear why. Third, embodiment is introduced: for the organic social, the social is an extension of the physical embodiment of the individual, but without the autonomy; for the other the social ís the embodiment, namely it self-organizes and evolves into autonomous systems. I like that: the organization at the scale of the human and the organization at the level of the aggregate of the humans.

The Way we are Free

‘The Way we are Free’ . David R. Weinbaum (Weaver) . ECCO . VUB . 2017

Abstract: ‘It traces the experience of choice to an epistemic gap inherent in mental processes due to them being based on physically realized computational processes. This gap weakens the grasp of determinism and allows for an effective kind of freedom. A new meaning of freedom is explored and shown to resolve the fundamental riddles of free will, ..’. The supposed train of thought from this summary:

  1. (Physically realized) computational processes underpin mental processes
  2. These computational processes are deterministic
  3. These computational processes are not part of people’s cognitive domain: there is an epistemic gap between them
  4. The epistemic gap between the deterministic computational processes and the cognitive processes weakens the ‘grasp of determinism’ (this must logically imply that the resulting cognitive processes are to some extent based on stochastic processes)
  5. The weakened grasp leads to an ‘effective kind of freedom’ (but what is an effective kind of freedom? Maybe it is not really freedom but it has the effect of it, a de facto freedom, or the feeling of freedom)?
  6. We can be free in a particular way (and hence the title).

First off: the concept of an epistemic gap resembles the concept of a moral gap. Is it the same concept?

p 3: ‘This gap, it will be argued, allows for a sense of freedom which is not epiphenomenal,..’ (a kind of a by-product). The issue is of course ‘a sense of freedom’, it must be something that can be perceived by the beholder. The question is whether this is real freedom or a mere sense of freedom, if there is a difference between these.

‘The thesis of determinism about actions is that every action is determined by antecedently sufficient causal conditions. For every action the causal conditions of the action in that context are sufficient to produce that action. Thus, where  actions are concerned, nothing could happen differently from the way it does in fact happen. The thesis of free will, sometimes called “libertarianism”, states that  some actions, at least, are such that antecedent causal conditions of the action are not causally sufficient to produce the action. Granted that the action did occur, and it did occur for a reason, all the same, the agent could have done something else, given the same antecedents of the action’ [Searle 2001]. In other (my, DPB) words: for all deterministic processes the direction of the causality is dictated by the cause and effect relation. But for choices produced from a state of free will other actions (decisions) are possible, because the causes are not sufficient to produce the action. Causes are typically difficult to deal with in a practical sense because some outcome must be related to its causes. This can only be done after the outcome has occurred. Usually the causes for that outcome are very difficult to identify, because the relation is  if and only if. In addition a cause is usually a kind of a scatter of processes within some given contour or pattern, one of which must then ‘take the blame’ as the cause.

There is no question that we have experiences of the sort that I have been calling experiences of the gap; that is, we experience our own normal voluntary actions
in such a way that we sense alternative possibilities of actions open to us, and we sense that the psychological antecedents of the action are not sufficient to fix the action. Notice that on this account the problem of free will arises only for consciousness, and it arises only for volitional or active consciousness; it does not arise for perceptual consciousness‘ [Searle 2001]. This means that a choice is made even though the psychological conditions to make ‘the perfect choice’ are not satisfied, information is incomplete or a frivolous choice is made: ‘should I order a pop-soda or chocolate milk?’. ‘The gap is a real psychological phenomenon, but if it is a real phenomenon that makes a difference in the world, it must have a neurobiological correlate’ [Searle 2001]. Our options seem to be equal to us and we can make a choice between various options on a just-so basis (‘god-zegene-de-greep’). Is it therefore not also possible that when people are aware of these limitations they have a greater sense of freedom  to make a choice within the parameters known and available to them?

It says that psychological processes of rational decision making do not really matter. The entire system is deterministic at the bottom level, and the idea that the top level has an element of freedom is simply a systematic illusion… If hypothesis 1 is true, then every muscle movement as well as every conscious thought, including the conscious experience of the gap, the experience of “free” decision making, is entirely fixed in advance; and the only thing we can say about psychological indeterminism at the higher level is that it gives us a systematic illusion of free will. The thesis is epiphenomenalistic in this respect: there is a feature of our conscious life, rational decision making and trying to carry out the decision, where we experience the gap and we experience the processes as making a causal difference to our behavior, but they do not in fact make any difference. The bodily movements were going to be exactly the same regardless of how these processes occurred‘ [Searle 2001]. The argument above presupposes a connection between determinism and inevitability, although the environment is not mentioned in the quote. This appears to be flawed because there is no such connection. I have discussed (ad-nauseam) in the Essay Free Will Ltd, borrowing amply from Dennett (i.a. Freedom Evolves). The above quote can be summarized as: if local rules are determined then the whole system is determined. Its future must be knowable, its behavior unavoidable and its states and effects inevitable. In that scenario our will is not free, our choices are not serious and the mental processes (computation) are a mere byproduct of deterministic processes. However, consider this argument that is relevant here developed by Dennett:

  • In some deterministic worlds avoiders exist that avoid damage
  • And so in some deterministic worlds some things are avoided
  • What is avoided is avoidable or ‘evitable’ (the opposite of inevitable)
  • And so in some deterministic worlds not everything is inevitable
  • And so determinism does not imply inevitability

Maybe this is how it will turn out, but if so, the hypothesis seems to me to run against everything we know about evolution. It would have the consequence
that the incredibly elaborate, complex, sensitive, and – above all – biologically expensive system of human and animal conscious rational decision making would actually make no difference whatever to the life and survival of the organisms’ [Searle 2001]. But the argument cannot logically be true and as a consequence nothing is wasted so far.

In the case that t2>t1, it can be said that a time interval T=t2-t1 is necessary for the causal circumstance C to develop (possibly through a chain of intermediate effects) into E. .. The time interval T needed for the process of producing E is therefore an integral part of the causal circumstance that necessitates the eventual effect E. .. We would like to think about C as an event or a compound set of events and conditions. The time interval T is neither an event nor a condition‘ [p 9-10]. This argument turns out to be a bit of a sideline, but I defend the position that time is not an autonomous parameter, but a derivative from ‘clicks’ of changes in relations with neighboring systems: this quote covers it perfectly: ‘Time intervals are measured by counting events‘ [p 9]. And this argues exactly the opposite: ‘Only if interval T is somehow filled by other events such as the displacement of the hands of a clock, or the cyclic motions of heavenly bodies, it can be said to exist‘ [p 9], because time is the leading parameter and the events such as the moving of the arm of a clock is the product. This appears to be the world explained upside down (the intentions seem right): ‘If these events are also regularly occurring and countable, T can even be measured by counting these regular events. If no event whatsoever can be observed to occur between t1 and t2, how can one possibly tell that there is a temporal difference between them, that any time has passed at all? T becoming part of C should mean therefore that a nonzero number N of events must occur in the course of E being produced from C’ [p. 9]. My argument is that if a number of events lead to the irreversible state E from C then apparently time period T has passed. Else, if nothing irreversible takes place, then no time passes, because time is defined by ‘clicks’ occurring, not the other way around. Note that the footnote 2 on page 9 explains the concept of a ‘click’ between systems in different words.

The concepts of Effective and Neutral T mean a state of a system developing from C to E while conditions from outside the system are injected, and where the system develops to E from its own initial conditions alone. Note that this formulation is different from Weaver’s argument because t is not a term. So Weaver arrives at the right conclusion, namely that this chain of events of Effective T leads to a breakdown of the relation between deterministic rules and predictability [p 10], but apparently for the wrong reasons. Note also that Neutral T is sterile because in practical terms it never occurs. This is probably an argument against the use of the argument of Turing completeness with regards to the modeling of organizations as units of computation: in reality myriad of signals is injected into (and from) a system, not a single algorithm starting from some set of initial conditions, but a rather messy and diffuse environment.

Furthermore, though the deterministic relation (of a computational process DPB) is understood as a general lawful relation, in the case of computational processes, the unique instances are the significant ones. Those particular instances, though being generally determined a priori, cannot be known prior to concluding their particular instance of  computation. It follows therefore that in the case of computational processes, determinism is in some deep sense unsatisfactory. The knowledge of (C, P) still  leaves us in darkness in regards to E during the time interval T while the  computation takes place. This interval represents if so an epistemic gap. A gap during which the fact that E is determined by (C, P) does not imply that E is known or can be known, inferred, implied or predicted in the same manner that  fire implies the knowledge of smoke even before smoke appears. It can be said if so that within the epistemic gap, E is determined yet actually it is unknown and  cannot be known‘ [p 13]. Why is this problematic? The terms are clear, there is no stochastic element, it takes time to compute but the solution is determined prior to the finalization of the computation. Only if the input or the rules changes during the computation, rendering it incomputable or irrelevant. In other words: if the outcome E can be avoided then E is avoidable and the future of the system is not determined.

.. , still it is more than plausible that mental states develop in time in correspondence to the computational processes to which they are correlated. In other words, mental processes can be said to be temporally aligned to the neural  processes that realize them‘ [p 14]. What does temporally aligned mean? I agree if it means that these processes develop following, or along the same sequence of events. I do not agree if  it means that time (as a driver of change) has the same effect on either of the processes, computational (physical) and mental (psychological): time has no effect.

During gap T the status of E is determined by conditions C and P but its specifics remain unknown by anyone during T (suppose it is in my brain then I of all people would be the one to know and I don’t). And at t2, T having passed, any freedom of choice is in retrospect, E now being known. T1 and t2 are in the article  defined as the begin state and the end state of some computational system. If t1 is defined as the moment when an external signal is perceived by the system and t2 is defined as the moment at which a response if communicated by the system to Self and to outside, then the epistemic gap is ‘the moral gap’. This phrase refers to the lapsed time between the perception of an input signal and the communicating of the decision to Self and others. The moral comes from the idea that the message was ‘prepared in draft’ and tested against a moral frame of reference before being communicated. The moral gap exists because the human brain needs time to compute and process the input information and formulate an answer. The Self can be seen as the spokesperson, functionally a layer on top of the other functions of the brain and it takes time to make the computation and formulate its communication to Self and to external entities.

After t1 the situation unfolds as: ‘Within the time interval T between t1 and t2, the status of the resulting mental event or action is unknown because, as explained, it is within the epistemic gap. This is true in spite the fact that the determining setup (C, P) is already set at time t1 (ftn 5) , and therefore it can be said that E is already determined at t1. Before time t2, however, there can be no knowledge whether E or its opposite or any other event in <E> would be the actual outcome of the process‘ [p 17]. E is determined but not known. But Weaver counter argues: ‘While in the epistemic gap, the person indeed is going through a change, a computation of a deliberative process is taking place. But as the change unfolds, either E or otherwise can still happen at time t2 and in this sense the outcome is yet to be determined (emphasis by the author). The epistemic gap is a sort of a limbo state where the outcome E of the mental process is both determined (generally) and not determined (particularly) [p 17]. The outcome E is determined but unknown to Self and to God; God knows it is determined, but Self is not aware of this. In this sense it can also be treated as a change of perspective, from the local observer to a distant more objective observer.

During the epistemic gap another signal can be input into the system and set up for computation. The second computation can interrupt the one running during the gap or the first one is paused or they run in parallel. However the case may be, it is possible that E never in fact takes place. While determined by C at t1 not E takes place at t2 but another outcome, namely of another computation that replaced the initial one. If C, E and P are specific for C and started by it then origination is an empty phrase, because now a little tunnel of information processing is started and nothing interferes. If they are not then new external input is required which specifies a C1, and so see the first part of the sentence and a new ‘tunnel’ is opened.

This I find interesting: ‘Moreover, we can claim that the knowledge brought forth by the person at t2 be it a mental state or an action is unique and original. This uniqueness and originality are enough to lend substance to the authorship of the person and therefore to the origination at the core of her choice. Also, at least in some sense, the author carrying out the process can be credited or held responsible to the mental state or action E, him being the agent without whom E could not be brought forth‘ [p 18]. The uniqueness of the computational procedure of an individual makes her the author and she can be held responsible for the outcome. Does this uphold even if it is presupposed that her thoughts, namely computational processes, are guided by memes? Is her interpretation of the embedded ideas and her computation of the rules sufficiently personal to mark them as ‘hers’?

This is the summary of the definition of the freedom argued here: ‘The kind of freedom argued for here is not rooted in .., but rather in the very mundane process of bringing forth the genuine and unique knowledge inherent in E that was not available otherwise. It can be said that in any such act of freedom a person describes and defines herself anew. When making a choice, any choice, a person may become conscious to how the choice defines who he is at the moment it is made. He may become conscious to the fact that the knowledge of the choice irreversibly changed him. Clearly this moment of coming to know one‟s choice is indeed a moment of surprise and wonderment, because it could not be known beforehand what this choice might be. If it was, this wouldn‟t be a moment of choice at all and one could have looked backward and find when the  actual choice had been made. At the very moment of coming to know the choice that was made, reflections such as „I could have chosen otherwise‟ are not valid  anymore. At that very moment the particular instance of freedom within the gap  disappears and responsibility begins. This responsibility reflects the manner by  which the person was changed by the choice made‘[pp. 18 -9]. The author claims that it is not a reduced kind of freedom, but a full version, because: ‘First, it is coherent and consistent with the wider understanding we have about the world involving the concept of determinism.  Second, it is consistent with our experience of freedom while we are in the process of deliberation. Third, we can now argue that our choices are effective in the world and not epiphenomenal. Furthermore, evolution in general and each person‟s unique experience and wisdom are critical factors in shaping the mental processes of deliberation‘ [p 19]. Another critique could be that this is a strictly personal experience of freedom, perhaps even in a psychological sense. What about physical and social elements, in other words: how would Zeus think about it?

This is why it is called freedom: ‘Freedom of the will in its classic sense is a confusion arising from our deeply ingrained need for control. The classic problem of free will is the problem of whether or not we are inherently able to control a given life situation. Origination in the classic sense is the ultimate control status. The sense of freedom argued here leaves behind the need for control. The meaning of being free has to do with (consciously observing) the unfolding of who we are while being in the gap, the transition from a state of not knowing into a state of knowing, that is. It can be said that it is not the choice being originated by me but  rather it is I, through choice, who is being continuously originated as the person that I am. The meaning of such freedom is not centered around control but rather around the novelty and uniqueness as they arise within each and every choice as one‟s truthful expression of being‘ [p 20]. But  in this sense there is no control over the situation, and given there is the need to control is relinquished, this fact allows one to be free.

‘An interesting result regarding freedom follows: a person‟s choice is free if and only if she is the first to produce E. This is why it is not an unfamiliar experience that when we are in contact with persons that are slower than us in reading the situation and computing proper responses, we experience an expansion of our freedom and genuineness, while when we are in contact with persons that are faster than us, we experience that our freedom diminishes.

Freedom can then be understood as a dynamic property closely related to computation means and distribution of information. A person cannot expect to be free in the same manner in different situations. When one‟s mental states and actions are often predicted in advance by others who naturally use these  predictions while interacting with him, one‟s freedom is diminished to the point where no genuine unfolding of his being is possible at all. The person becomes a  subject to a priori determined conditions imposed on him. He will probably experience himself being trapped in a situation that does not allow him any genuine expression. He loses the capacity to originate because somebody or something already knows what will happen. In everyday life, what rescues our freedom is that we are all more or less equally competent in predicting each other‟s future states and actions. Furthermore, the computational procedures that implement our theories of mind are far from accurate or complete. They are more like an elaborate guess work with some probability of producing accurate predictions. Within such circumstances, freedom is still often viable. But this may  soon radically change by the advent of neural and cognitive technologies. In fact it is already in a process of a profound change.

In simple terms, the combination of all these factors will make persons much more predictable to others and will have the effect of overall diminishing the number of instances of operating within an epistemic gap and therefore the  conditions favorable to personal freedom. The implications on freedom as described here are that in the future people able to augment their mental processes to enjoy higher computing resources and more access to information will become freer than others who enjoy less computing resources and access to information. Persons who will succeed to keep sensitive information regarding their minute to minute life happenings and their mental states secured and  private will be freer than those who are not. A future digital divide will be translated into a divide in freedom‘ [pp 23-6].

I too believe that our free will is limited, but for additional and different reasons, namely the doings of memes. I do believe that Weaver has a point with his argument of the experience of freedom in the gap (which I had come to know as the ‘Moral Gap’) and the consequences it can have for our dealings with AI. There my critique would be that the AI are assumed to be exactly the same as people, but with two exceptions: the argument made explicit that 1) they compute much faster than people and the argument 2) left implicit that people experience their unique make-up such that they are confirmed by it as per their every computation; this experience represents their freedom. Now people have a unique experience of freedom that an AI can never attain providing them a ticket to relevance among AI. I’m not sure that if argument 2 is true that argument 1 can be valid also.

I agree with this, also in the sense of the coevalness between individuals and firms. If firms do their homework and such that they prepare their interactions with the associated people, then they will come out better prepared. As a result people will feel small and objectivised. They are capable of computing the outcome before you do hence predicting your future and limiting you perceived possibilities. However, this is still a result of a personal and subjective experience and not an objective fact, namely that the outcome is as they say, not as you say.


Feyerabend, Paul . Against method (oospr London Verso), Tegen De Methode. Lemniscaat 2008 . ISBN 1993978-90-477-0031-9

Contra-inductie: hypothesen introduceren en uit te werken die niet stroken met goed bewezen thorriem en of met goed vastgestelde feiten.

Toename van theorieën: anything goes.

‘De creatie van één ding en de creatie van, plus het volledige inzicht in, een juist idee van het ding zijn heel vaak onderdelen van één en hetzelfde ondeelbare proces en kunnen niet worden gescheten zover het proces tot stilstand te brengen’ (p 55).

‘.. dat talen en de reactiepatronen die ze inhouden niet louter instrumenten zijn om gebeurtenissen (feiten, toestanden) te beschrijven, maar dat ze gebeurtenissen (feiten, toestanden) eveneens vormgeven, dat hun ‘grammatica’ en kosmologie omdat, een allesomvattende visie op de wereld, op de samenleving, op de situatie van de mens, die het denken, het gedrag en de waarneming beïnvloedt’ (p 179). ‘Volgens Whorf komt de kosmologie van een taal deels tot uitdrukking door het openlijke gebruik van worden, maar ze berust ook op classificaties die geen openlijk kenteken hebben (..) maar die werken (..) door een onzichtbare ‘centrale uitwisseling’ van aaneengeschakelde verbindingen, zó dat ze de andere woorden die de klasse kenmerken, bepalen’ (p 179). Whorf . Language, Thought and Reality . Cambridge, mass. 1956 . P121.

Omdat na de paradigmaverschuiving nieuwe maatstaven bij oude worden gevoegd, is er geen gemeenschappelijke maat meer en kan er geen logische dwingende reden gegeven worden om te kiezen tussen twee theorieën. Dit is het principe van de incommensurabiliteitsthese. En object of theorie kan beoordeeld worden vanuit verschillende classificatie systemen; die, ten overvloede, beide aansluiten bij de voorhanden stimuli. Een voorbeeld hiervan in de sfeer van perceptie is (iedere afbeelding met perspectief in feite, bijvoorbeeld blokje met kruisje / piramide vanaf de basis of vanaf de apex gezien?). ‘In al deze voorbeelden hangt het waargenomen beeld af van ‘mentale doodposities’ die naar willekeur kunnen worden veranderd (..). Mentale disposities kunnen echter verstarren door ziekte, ten gevolge van een opvoeding binnen een bepaalde cultuur, of vanwege fysiologische determinanten die we niet onder controle hebben. (Niet elke verandering van taal gaat gepaard met perceptuele veranderingen.) Onze houding tegenover andere rassen of tegenover mensen met een andere culturele achtergrond hangt vaak af van’verstarde’ disposities van de tweede soort: omdat we hebben geleerd gezichten op een gekke manier te ‘lezen’ velen we geijkte oordelen en komen we op een dwaalspoor.’ (p 182).

En nagels is de perceptie afbeelding van een object in het brein van iemand. En pseudonabeeld is een afbeelding van een object in het brein van iemand (zonder dat die persoon het object percipieert, bijvoorbeeld door te zien. De familie van concepten rondom een pseudonabeeld en de familie van concepten rondom een materieel object zijn incommensurabel: ‘.. deze families kunnen niet gelijktijdig worden gebruikt en er kunnen noch logische, noch perceptuele verbanden tussen hen eisen gelegd.’ (p 183). De vraag is of een volwassene opgescheept is met een stabiel perceptuele wereld en een daarmee gepaard gaand stabiel conceptueel systeem, dat hij op vele manieren kan wijzigen maar waarvan de hoofdlijnen voor altijd vastliggen. Of is het realistischer te veronderstellen dat veranderingen die incommensurabiliteit met zich meebrengen mogelijk zijn en aangemoedigd moeten worden om een hoger kennis niveau te kunnen bereiken.

Er zijn geen ‘neutrale’ objecten die in ongeacht welke stijl dan ook kunnen worden weergegeven en die de nabijheid van die stijl aan de werkelijkheid afmeten. In andere woorden: iedere afbeelding van een object is door de wol van een bepaalde stijl geverfd; geen enkel object ontkomt daaraan. De toepassing van deze gedachte op talen ligt voor de hand. ‘Daarom zouden we eigenlijk niet moeten zoeken naar de psychische oorzaak van een ‘stijl’, maar eerder moeten proberen de elementen ervan te ontdekken, de functie ervan te analyseren, haar te vergelijken met andere uitingen van dezelfde cultuur ) literaire stijl, zinsconstructie, grammatica, ideologie) om zo tot een schets te komen van het daaraan ten grondslag liggende wereldbeeld, inclusief een verklaring van de wijze waarop dit wereldbeeld de waarneming, het denken en de argumentatie beïnvloedt, en van de grenzen die het aan het ronddwalen van de verbeeldingskracht oplegt.’ (p 185). Een paratactische weergave betekent dat een afbeelding uit componenten wordt samengesteld, en zich sequentieel laat begrijpen. Het ‘leest’ als bijvoorbeeld: kind (rustig), Leeuw (woest), Leeuw eet kind. Er is geen organisatie tussen de componenten, dus de gelaatsuitdrukking van het kind verandert niet. De afgebeelde personen drukken geen natuurlijk besef uit van hun situatie. Dat is wel zo in het geval van een hypotactische beschrijving. Mensen in de oudheid zouden zich ook marionetten kunnen voelen die alleen afhankelijk zijn van externe invloeden. Zo’n realistische interpretatie van stijlen strookt met de stelling van Whorf dat talen, behalve instrumenten om gebeurtenissen te beschrijven, ergens gebeurtenissen vormgeven. Er bestaat dan een linguïstische grens aan wat er in een bepaalde taal kan worden gezegd, en die grens valt samen met de grenzen van het ding zelf. Hij zou verder reiken omdat niet-linguïstische representaties zijn inbegrepen. De realistische interpretatie is aannemelijk maar niet vanzelfsprekend, omdat de kunstenaar een ‘draai’ kan hebben gegeven. ‘De argumentatie (die nooit afdoend kan zijn) bestaat uit het wijzen op karakteristieke kenmerken in ver uitengelegen gebieden. Als de typerende eigenschappen van een specifieke stijl in de schilderkunst ook worden aangetroffen in de beeldhouwkunst en in de grammatica van de talen uit die tijd (en hier vooral in verborgen classificaties die niet eenvoudig te traceren zijn), als kan worden aangetoond dat die talen zowel door kunstenaars als door gewone mensen worden gesproken, als er in de talen filosofische principes zijn geformuleerd die verklaren dat de typerende eigenschappen kenmerken van de wereld zijn en niet slechts kunstmatig toegebrachte kenmerken, en er geen poging wordt gedaan de oorsprong van die principes te verklaren, als de mens en de natuur die kenmerken niet alleen in de schilderkunst bronnen, maar ook in de dichtkunst, in veel voorkomende spreekwoorden en in de gangbare rechtspraak, als de gedachte dat de kenmerken onderdelen zijn van de normale waarneming niet wordt tegengesproken door iets wat we uit de fysiologie of de waarnemingspsychologie weten en als latere denkers de typerende eigenschappen aanvallen als ‘dwalingen’ die voortkomen uit onwetendheid over de’ware weg’ , dan mogen we aannemen dat we niet slechts te maken hebben met technische mislukkingen en specifieke doeleinden, maar met een coherente levenswijze, en mogen we verwachten dat mensen die op deze manier leven de wereld op dezelfde manier zagen als wij nu hun afbeeldingen zien’ (p 190). NB: Hoofdstuk 16 beschrijft een procedure om een meme(plex) te destilleren uit culturele expressies. Hierboven de samenvatting. Deze mensen leven inderdaad in een wereld zoals die door hun kunstenaars wordt afgebeeld.

‘Aldus opgevatte kennis wordt niet verworven door inzicht te krijgen in een essentie achter de boodschappen van zintuigen, maar door 1) de waarnemer in de juiste positie te plaatsen ten opzichte van het object (het proces, de verzameling), door hem op de passende plaats in te voegen in het complexe patroon dat de wereld vormt, en door 2) de elementen bij elkaar te voegen die onder deze omstandigheden worden opgemerkt.’ (p 196).

‘Net als ieder ander object is de mens en uitwisselingsplaats van invloeden en niet zozeer een unieke bron van actie, een ‘ik’ (het ‘Cogito’ van Descartes heeft geen aangrijpingspunt in deze wereld, en met zijn argumentatie kan zelfs geen begin worden gemaakt.)’ (p 197).

‘Er zijn te veel dingen, te veel gebeurtenissen, te veel situaties (Ilias, 2.488), en die kunnen slechts enkele van hen nabij zijn (Ilias, 2.485). Maar ook al kunnen mensen geen volledige kennis hebben, ze beschikken wel over een flinke hoeveelheid ervan. Hoe rijker hun ervaring, hoe groter het aantal van hun avonturen, van de dingen die ze gezien, gehoord en gelezen hebben, des te groter is hun kennis.’ (p 208).

‘En heel wereldbeeld, en heel universum van denken, spreken en waarnemen wordt ontbonden’ (p214). NB bij de overgang van kosmos A naar kosmos B (paradigma). ‘Gezien vanuit A (en eveneens vanuit het gezichtspunt van enkele latere ideologieën) zijn al deze denkers, dichters en kunstenaars malende krankzinnigen. .. We hebben een gezichtspunt (theorie, referentiekader, kosmos, wijze van re-presentatie) waarvan de elementen (concepten, ‘ feiten’, afbeeldingen) opgebouwd zijn volgens bepaalde constructie principes. De principes houden iets in als een soort afsluiting: er zijn dingen die niet kunnen worden gezegd of’ontdekt’, zonder de principes te overtreffen (en dat betekent niet heen tegenspreken). Zeg die dingen, doe de ontdekking, en de principes worden buiten werking gesteld. Neem nu die constituent principes die ten grondslag liggen aan elk element van de kosmos (van de theorie), elk feit (elk concept). Laten we zulke principes universele principesvan de theorie in kwestie noemen. Universele principes buiten werking stellen betekent alle feiten en alle concepten buiten werking stellen. Laten we tenslotte een ontdekking, of een uitspraak, of een houding incommensurabel met de kosmos (de theorie, het referentiekader) noemen als ze enkele van de universele principes ervan buiten werking stelt.’ ( p 215).

‘Hoe wordt de irrationaliteit van de overgangsperiode (van A naar B, dpb) overwonnen? Ze wordt overwonnen op de gebruikelijke manier (zie punt 8 hierboven), dat wil zeggen, door de vastbesloten productie van onzin, totdat het geproduceerde materiaal overvloedig genoeg is om aan de rebellen toe te staan nieuwe universele principes te onthullen en aan alle anderen die te erkennen. (..). Krankzinnigheid verandert in psychische gezondheid, mits ze rijk genoeg en ordelijk genoeg is om het als een fundament van een nieuw wereldbeeld te functioneren.’ (p 216-7).

‘Op basis van wat is gezegd, is het duidelijk dat er de inhoud van A en B niet kunnen vergelijken. (..). .. :B feiten presenteren betekent de principes buiten werking stellen die bij de constructie van A-feiten werden voorondersteld. Al wat we kunnen doen, is B-afbeeldingen van A-feiten in B tekenen, of B-uitspraken over A-feiten in B introduceren.’ (p 217).

Appendix 2

‘.. en dat lijkt te impliceren dat sterk verschillende talen niet alleen verschillende ideeën voor waar aannemen om dezelfde feiten te ordenen, maar dat ze ook verschillende feiten voor waar aannemen. Het ‘linguïstisch relativiteitsprincipe’ wijst zo te zien in dezelfde richting. Het zegt ‘dat, in informele termen, gebruikers van Bert uiteenlopende grammatica’s door hun grammatica’s worden gericht op verschillende soorten waarnemingen en verschillende evaluaties van uiterlijk soortgelijke waarnemings handelingen, en derhalve geen gelijkwaardige waarnemers zijn, maar bij enigzins verschillende wereldbeelden moeten uitkomen. (..) en dat kan betekenen dat waarnemers die van sterk verschillende taalkundig gebruik maken onder dezelfde materiële omstandigheden verschillende feiten voor waar zullen houden, ofwel dat ze soortgelijke feiten op verschillende manieren zullen ordenen.’ (p 219).

‘Incommensurabiliteit verdwijnt wanneer we concepten gebruiken zoals wetenschappers dat doen, op een open, ambigue en vaak contra-intuïtieve wijze. Incommensurabiliteit is een probleem voor filosofen, niet voor wetenschappers, ook al kunnen de laatst laatstgenoemden psychologisch de draad kwijtraken door ongewone dingen’ (p 221).

Wetenschap moet politiek zijn, het moet historisch onderbouwd zijn (maar op een niet-theoretische manier), en niet epistemologisch onderbouwd.


‘Tot nu toe heb ik geprobeerd aan te tonen dat de rede, .., niet geschikt is voor de wetenschap en mogelijk niet heeft bijgedragen tot de ontwikkeling ervan. Zij moeten nu een keus maken. Ze kunnen de wetenschap behouden of ze kunnen de rede behouden; ze kunnen niet beide behouden’ (p 225).

‘De interacties en de resultaten daarvan hangen af van historische omstandigheden en variëren van geval tot geval. En machtige stam die een land binnenvalt, kan zijn weten opleggen en de inheemse tradities met geld veranderen, alleen maar om zelf te worden veranderd door de overblijfselen van de onderworpen cultuur’ (p 226) NB meer voorbeelden van wal en schip.

Naturalisme schiet tekort, omdat een tunnel ontstaat en alles uit het huidige wordt verklaard. Idealisme schiet tekort omdat de praktijk zich niet houdt aan de theoretische regels. Interactie schiet tekort omdat de twee werelden niet aansluiten, namelijk streng en ordelijk enerzijds en plooibaar en weerbarstig anderzijds. De aanvulling die nodig is is óf historisch onderzoek óf politieke actie. Hierover de volgende punten:

I tradities bestaan gewoon, goed noch slecht, II tradities krijgen pas al dan niet wenselijke eigenschappen in relatie met tot andere, III relativisme betreft tradities is verdedigbaar ergens redelijkheid en beschaafdheid IV iedere traditie heeft speciale middelen om volgelingen te werven, V Individuen of groepen die aan de interactie van tradities deelnemen kunnen een pragmatische filosofie aanvaarden bij de beoordeling van gebeurtenissen en structuren die zich aandienen VI Manieren om collectief een oordeel te vellen over een probleem zijn: geleide uitwisseling (alleen reacties binnen de kaders van een gedetailleerde traditie worden door deelnemers toegelaten) en open uitwisseling (de dit partijen gekozen aanpak ontwikkelt zich naar gelang het debat zich ontwikkelt) VII in een vrije samenleving hebben alle tradities gelijke rechten en toegang tot scholing en machtsposities VIII en vrije samenleving wordt niet opgelegd maar zal slechts ontstaan wanneer mensen en open uitwisseling aangaan en eventueel beschermende surfen indien al naar gelang van hun ontwikkeling IX debatten die de structuur van een vrije samenleving regelen zijn open en niet geleid X en vrije samenleving staat op een scheiding tussen wetenschap en samenleving.


‘Volgens het idealisme is het rationeel (juist, in overeenstemming met de wil van de goden, – of welke andere bemoedigende worden er maar worden gebruikt om de inlanders een rad voor ogen te draaien) om bepaalde dingen te doen – wat er ook gebeurt. Het is rationeel (juist &c) om de vijanden van het geloof te vermoorden, ad-hoc hypothesen te vermijden, de beheren van het lichaam te verachten, tegenstrijdigheden uit te bannen, progressieve onderzoeksprogramma te ondersteunen enzovoort.’ (p 243).

Volgens het naturalisme is de rede volledig bepaald door onderzoek. Te handhaven is de gedachte dat onderzoek de rede kan veranderen.

Naturalisme en idealisme in combinatie: ‘.. een leidraad die deel uitmaakt van de geleide activiteit en die daardoor wordt veranderd.’ (p 245). Dus het probleem is niet de interactie van een praktijk met iets anders wat van buitenaf komt, maar de ontwikkeling van één traditie onder de invloed van andere‘ (p 245). Onderzoek dat zich niet aan de te onderzoeken maatstaven houdt. De natuur is kwalitatief en kwantitatief oneindig: er is behoefte aan het principe van het toenemen van inhoud. Theorieën die een overvloedige inhoud hebben in vergelijking met wat er al is zijn te verkiezen boven theorieën die dat niet hebben.

‘Anderzijds handhaven wij de les dat de geldigheid, het nut en de adequaatheid van populaire maatstaven slechts kunnen worden getoetst door onderzoek dat zich niet aan die maatstaven houdt‘ (p 247).

Experimenten van ( Salvador Luria en Delbrück 1943) op de bron van adaptatie van de weerstand van bacteriën tegen het binnendringen van bacteriofagen hebben de theorie van Lamarck weerlegd.


‘Nu zijn methoden die niet uit gewoonte, zonder een gedachte te wissen aan de redenen daarvan, worden gebruikt, vaak gekoppeld aan metafysische overtuigingen’ ( p 255). NB metafysica is de wijsgerige leer die niet de realiteit onderzoekt zoals we die ervaren door middel van onze uiterlijke zintuigen (zoals de fysica), maar datgene wat boven de materie uitgaat, de totaliteit van al het gegevene.

‘Religie (..) zal lange tijd als een vitale kracht in de samenleving blijven bestaan. … Kan de religie niet worden vernietigd door de mensen die haar wellicht verwerpen. De spirituele zwakheid van het wetenschappelijke naturalisme is te wijten aan het feit dat het niet zo’n primaire bron van kracht kent.’ (EO Wilson In Human Nature . Cambridge Massachusetts . 1972 . p. 192 ev in Feyerabend p 260).

Ze (de toneelschrijvers, dpb) moeten in geen geval proberen ‘moreel gezag’ uit te oefenen. Moreel gezag, ten goede of ten kwade, verandert mensen in slaven, een slavernij, zelfs slavernij in dienst van het Goede of van God in eigen persoon, is de ellendige toestand die er bestaat.’ ( p 266).


‘De kunsten, zoals ik hen tegenwoordig zie, vormen geen domein dat van het abstracte denken is gescheiden, maar vullen het aan een hebben er behoefte aan hun mogelijkheden volledig te realiseren.’ ( p 2

Hannah Arendt

Verantwoordelijkheid en Oordeel . Vertaald van Responsibility and Judgment . 2003 . Shocken books . NY . ISBN 90-5637-573-3

Uit Persoonlijke verantwoordelijkheid onder een dictatuur.

Gehoorzaamheid bestaat niet voor volwassenen. Wat er gebeurt is met jouw instemming.

Enkele problemen uit de moraal filosofie

Kant: den Begriff der Tugend würde klein Mensch haben wenn er lauter unter Spitzbuben wäre.

De dief gelooft ook in rechtsbescherming.

Misschien zouden we beter af zijn als we onszelf zouden toestaan ons tot de literatuur te wenden, tot Shakespear of Melville of Dostojevski, waar we de grote schurken aantreffen. Ook zijn zijn wellicht niet in staat ons iets specifieke te vertellen over de aard van het kwaad, maar ze gaan het in ieder geval niet uit de weg.

Verantwoordelijkheid versus schuld als staatsburger en afwezigheid daarvan als statenloze burger. Als je de voordelen geniet dan ook verantwoordelijk voor de nadelen maar niet schuldig eraan.

Collectieve schuld stopt als je niet langer lid bent van de groep. Niemand kan zonder groep. Je ruilt één groep inclusief verantwoordelijkheden in voor een andere.

De vraag is niet of een burger goed is maar of zijn gedrag goed is voor de wereld waarin hij woont.

Vanwege hun goddelijke herkomst zijn de regels van het christendom absoluut. De sancties toekomstige beloningen en straffen.

Socrates zegt: beter kwaad ondergaan dan kwaad aandoen. Het politieke antwoord is dat kwaad de wereld uit moet een dat kwaad geen plaats mag hebben in de wereld.

De ‘ziel’ in religieuze taal is de ‘zelf’ in seculiere taal.

Het morele argument in de vorm van een Socratische stelling om niet ‘mee te lopen’: als ik doe wat van me wordt gevraagd (als de prijs voor deelname), hetzij uit louter conformisme hetzij omdat het de enige kans is op uiteindelijk succesvol verzet, dan zou ik niet langer met mezelf kunnen leven; mijn leven zou voor mij niet meer de moeite waard zijn. Daarom onderga ik nu veel liever kwaad, een betaal zelfs liever de prijs van de doodstraf als ik tot deelname wordt gedwongen, dan dat ik kwaad die een voortaan met een boosdoener moet samenleven. Bijvoorbeeld een moord. Het is subjectief door zijn afhankelijkheid van de bereidheid om te lijden. Het geldt alleen voor mensen die expliciet met zichzelf leven, die kortom een geweten hebben. De enige seculiere activiteit die daar bij aansluit is denken als een stilzwijgende dialoog tussen mij en mijzelf. Dan kan verbeelding worden ingezet om elke handeling die wordt gevraagd te representeren. Geen enkele individuele moraal cq gedragsnormen kan ons ontheffen van collectieve verantwoordelijkheid. Want verantwoordelijkheid nemen voor dingen waar we geen schuld aan hebben is de prijs die er betalen voor het feit dat we met anderen samen leven en dat het vermogen tot handelen alleen kan worden verwerkelijkt in een vorm van menselijke gemeenschappelijkheid.

Denken en Morele Overwegingen

Het kwaad kan ontstaan uit een onvermogen om te denken. ‘ Clichés, stereotiepe frasen, zich houden aan conventionele een geijkte vormen van expressie en gedrag hebben de maatschappelijk erkende functie ons te beschermen tegen de realiteit, tegen het beroep op onze weloverwogen aandacht die alle gebeurtenissen en feiten krachtens hun bestaan opwekken. Als we voortdurend aan die oproep beantwoordden, zouden we uitgeput raken;..’ (pp 162-3). Is ons vermogen te oordelen over goed en kwaad, mooi en lelijk, dus afhankelijk van ons vermogen te denken? Valt een onvermogen om te denken samen met de afwezigheid van een geweten? Zou denken de mensen kunnen conditioneren tegen kwaad doen?

Kant heeft denken (intellect) van kennen (rede) gescheiden. Nu kan kennis (ie religie) de rede niet meer in de weg staan, maar slechts de rede zichzelf. Als dat onderscheid verband houdt met het onderscheid goed-kwaad dan moet van één ieder worden geëist dat hij denkt. Dus volgens Kant is de rede, filosofie nodig om het kwaad tegen te gaan.

‘Want het is het belangrijkste kenmerk van het denken is dat het alle doen ontbreekt, alle gewone activiteiten, ongeacht welke. .. Handelen en leven in de meest algemene zin van inter homines esse, ‘onder mijn medemensen vertoeven’ – het Latijnse equivalent voor ‘in leven zijn’ – voorkomt beslist dat we gaan nadenken’ (p 165). Het object van denken is altijd een re-presentatie, iets dat niet feitelijk maar slechts in de geest aanwezig is en dankzij de verbeeldingskracht ”present’ kan stellen in de vorm van een beeld’ (p 165). Denken gaat over verschijningsvormen: ‘.. ; zolang we met hem samenzijn denken we niet aan hem-al kunnen we wel indrukken verzamelen die later voedsel voor ons denken kunnen worden; ..’ (p 166).

Betreft een begrip dat een wolk aan verschijningsvormen vertegenwoordigt: ‘Het huis in en op zichzelf, een ‘auto kath’auto’, dat huis dat ons het woord laat gebruiken voor al deze specifieke en zeer uiteenlopende gebouwen, wordt nooit gezien, noch door de ogen van het lichaam noch door die van de geest; ieder denkbeeldig huis, hoe abstract ook, dat een minimum aan kenmerken heeft om het herkenbaar te maken, is al een specifiek huis’ (p 171).

‘Het woord ‘huis’ is zoiets als een bevroren gedachte die het denken als het ware moet ontdooien als het de oorspronkelijke betekenis ervan wil ontdekken’ (p 171).

Het ligt in zijn (de wind baan het denken) aard om uit te wissen, als het ware te ontdooien, wat de taal, het medium van het denken, tot gedachten heeft bevroren – de woorden (concepten, zinnen, definities, leerstellingen) waarvan Plato de ‘zwakheid’ en onbuigzaamheid zo schitterend aan de kaak stelt in de Zevende Brief. De bevroren gedachten zijn zo handzaam dat ze slapend kunnen worden toegepast. Als je begint te denken verandert alles in wanorde. Het gevolg is dat denken en destructieve activiteit is ‘.. voor gevestigde criteria, waarden, maatstaven voor goed en kwaad, kortom op die gewoonten en regels die we in moraal en ethiek behandelen’ (p 173). Op die manier kan denken en einde maken aan de orde en tot ‘goddeloos gedrag’ leiden. Denken is voor alle credos gevaarlijk; niet denken lijkt aanbevelenswaardig maar door ze te beschermen tegen de gevolgen van denken houden ze vast aan bestaande gedragsregels. Als ze daar niet over denken beoordelen ze nooit de inhoud ervan en zijn die gemakkelijk af te schaffen al zijn ze werkbaar door iemand die een alternatief biedt.

Wrange vruchten

‘.. en het oog van de reclamemakers* is steeds minder gericht op de behoeften van de consument en steeds meer op de behoefte van de koopwaar om in steeds grotere hoeveelheden te worden geconsumeerd’ (p 241). *the term “Madison Avenue” refers specifically to the agencies, and methodology of advertising.

Vooruitgang: ‘Op weg zijn is het doel’, maar niet omdat dit ‘op weg zijn’ een eigen schoonheid of betekenis bezat. Juist niet meer op weg zijn, stoppen met verspillen, stoppen met steeds meer een steeds sneller consumeren, op een bepaald moment zeggen dat het genoeg is, zou de onmiddellijke ondergang betekenen. Deze vooruitgang, die vergezeld gaat van het onophoudelijke tumult van reclamebureaus, heeft zich voortgezet ten koste van de wereld waarin we leven, ..’.

‘De verschrikkelijke waarheid die uit het verhaal dat in deze (Pentagon dpb) Papers wordt verteld kan worden geconcludeerd, is dat het enige duurzame doel het imago zelf geworden was, ..’ (p 242).

Design for a Brain

Ashby, W.R. . Design for a Brain – The origin of adaptive behaviour . John Wiley & Sons (second edition revisited) . 1960


This is a model for the adaptive behavior of the nervous system. The basis is the fact that the nervous system is adaptive and the hypothesis that it is mechanistic. It is attempted identify the properties the nervous system must have if it is both adaptive and mechanistic. To that end a logic of mechanism is required. Only what can be expressed in mathematical form is accepted so as to protect the rigor of expression. A coherent whole is developed from the concepts of organization, behavior, change of behavior, part, whole, dynamic system, co-ordination, &c.

Chapter 1, The Problem

1/1 The brain resembles a machine. The living organism behaves in a purposeful and adaptive way. The aim is to show that a system can be both mechanistic and adaptive. With the developed methosd it is possible to make a machine’s behavior adaptive.

Behaviour, Reflex and Learned

1 /2 Reflex behavior is genetically determined and not altered by individual experience. Learned behavior is not genetically determined and it is modified by an individual experience.

1/3 Reflex behavior is not in the scope of this research: each reflex is produced by some neural physico-chemical reflex to produce some behavior; this is complex but no difficulty of principle is involved.

1 /4 We are concerned with the second type, learned behavior; man produces many examples of this kind of behavior. The nervous system in people and animals is capable to develop behavior that is not genetically determined nor specified by a gene pattern in detail.

1/5 The principal concern here is with learning that changes behavior for the better; the exact meaning of ‘better’ will be discussed later on, but it relates to the bettering of the individual’s chances of survival. The problem in preliminary form: what are the cerebral changes occurring during the learning process? / Why does the behavior generally change for the better? / What type of mechanistic process can show the same advancement of behavior?

1/6 A perceived change can result in a response or change many times bigger through the spreading of the effect. The nerve cells can rouse mechanical power through their control of the muscles. The nerve cells have potentiality for action. The question how it changes for the better isn’t answered by the increase of activity; in real-life examples there is no relation between the change in energy prior to and after learning. The same counts for the level of activity: the correlation between more activity and an improvement of the situation can be negative.

The Relation of Part to Part

Normality at the level of components’ behavior bears no relation with normality at the level of the behavior of the organism, because the two forms of normality have no definite relationship.

1/8 Neural activities are composed of excitations, inhibitions and other physiological processes the correctness of which is not determined by the process itself but by its relations with other processes. ‘These considerations reveal the main peculiarity of the problem. When the nervous system learns, its behaviour changes for the better. When we consider its various parts, however, we find that the value of one part’s behaviour cannot be judged until the behaviour of the other parts is known; and the values of their behaviours cannot be known until the first part’s behaviour is known. All the valuations are thus conditional, each depending on the others. Thus there is no criterion for ‘better’ tha can be given absolutely, i.e. unconditionally. But a neuron must do something. How then do the activities of the neurons become co-ordinated so that the behaviour of the whole becomes better, even though no absolute criterion exists to guide the individual neuron?’ (p 7). NB: this is descriptive of the behavior of a wide variety of complex systems and how local and global behavior relate. Also it is descriptive of the control that the global behavior has as a context, an ambience, an environment over the local actors.

The genetic control of cerebral function

1/9 The development of adaptive behavior is genetic in the sense that the extent of the adaptive capabilities varies per species.

Restrictions on the concepts to be used

1/10 In this book the brain is treated as an organ that has been developed in evolution as a specialized means of survival.

1/11 Living matter is assumed similar to other matter. The only reason admitted for the behavior of some component is its own state and the condition of its immediate surroundings led by the usual laws of nature.

1/12 The ‘operational method’ will be followed and no concept will be used unless it can be shown to exist in objective form in non-living systems.

1/13 No teleological explanation for behavior will be used. The assumption is that a machine or an animal behaves in some way because its nature and its circumstances at some point allow it no other behavior.

1/14 Each component, of the observed system and the system’s environment alike, is assumed to function determinedly; this means it functions in one way, namely the way it is directed by its particular surrounding components. Strong proof exists that memory, as part of the nervous system, behaves determinately (ex. Skinner p 10). But this is part of the question and the statement that components are, will be tested.

1/15 The consequence of answering the research question is that, directly or by implication, will enable the specification of an artificial system to be made that will be able to develop adaptation in its behavior such as the living brain.​​​ Thus is the requirement to the quality of the answer to the research question: that a brain can be built based upon the specifications developed. NB: This is a very ambitious criteria: can’t this be a requirement for the development of a firm also?

1/16 The concept of consciousness is not included in the argumentation in this book, because it is not necessary to explain the subject of study of this book, learning. Example: to turn left with a bicycle one steers right first. Every bike rider has learned it and practices it, but not consciously so. This is not an argument against the existence of consciousness, but an argument against its use here: ‘This knowledge of personal awareness, therefore, is prior to all other forms of knowledge. If consciousness is the most fundamental fact of all, why is it not used int his book? The answer, in my opinion, is that Science deals, and can deal, only with what one man can demonstrate to another. .. And until such a method, or its equivalent, is found, the facts of consciousness cannot be used in scientific method’ (pp. 11-12).

1/17 State some well-known practical problem as a type-problem so that general problems may refer to it. NB: what could the equivalent of this question be concerning a firm? The summary of the research is: assumptions: the organism is mechanistic, the organism is composed of parts, the behavior of the whole is the outcome of the compounded actions of the parts, organisms change their behavior by learning and that they change it so that the latter behavior is better adapted to the environment than the earlier: ‘Our problem is, first, to identify the nature of the change which shows as learning, and, secondly, to find why such changes should tend to cause better adaptation for the whole organism’ (p 12).

Chapter 2. Dynamic Systems

2/1 It is important to define properties of dynamical systems because there is ample room for ambiguity and confusion. A first assumption is that with regards to the brain we are dealing with a dynamical system, something that changes with time; it will be referred to as the ‘machine’ and no restriction is applied to it.

2/2 The objective of this chapter is to construct a method for the study of this machine; the principal axioms as per 1/10 -15 are:

(1) it is precisely defines and in operational form (2) it must be applicable to all material machines, animate and inanimate (3) its procedure for obtaining information from the machinne must be objective (demonstrable to other observers) (4) it must obtain all information from the machine and no other source is permitted. ‘The method proposed here must have the peculiarity that it is applicable to all; it must, so to speak, specialise in generality’ (p 14). NB: some such condition s relevant to firm theory also, because there is no limitation to the number of staff, the turnover or the product range and it cannot be limited to some stage in the firm’s ontogeny; it must apply to every conceivable firm.

Variable and system

2/3 In this book we are concerned with the relations between parts and the focus will be on the behavior of the individual parts. To do that he focuses on any number of variables; a variable is defined as a measurable quantity which at every instant has a definite numerical value (if it can be represented by a pointer on a dial, even if the reading is 0 and the entity is absent): ‘Eddington’s statement on the subject is explicit: ‘The whole subject matter of exact science consists of pointer readings and similar indications. Whatever quantity we say we are ‘observing’, the actual procedure nearly always ends in reading the position of some kind of indicator on a graduated scale or its equivalent’’ (p 15).

2/4 Every real machine embodies an infinite number of variables, the lion’s share of which must be ignored; those considered by the observer are the system. If a new set of variables is drawn up, then a new system is considered.

2/5 As a consequence, first an observer must be given. The system is defined as the set of variables that the observer selects from the set available on the machine. The system therefore is different from the machine. On the list of variables, system is kept separated from time and time is not included in the variables of the system.

2/6 The state of a system at a given time is the set of numerical values of its variables at that instant. Two states are equal if and only if all of the pairs of numerical values of their variables are equal.

The operational method

2/7 In the book only the case is considered where the observer can control every variable and so that he has access to every state of the system. The postulate implies that any variable can be forced to follow some prescribed course. If a variable of the system cannot be set to the desired value, then the observer waits for it to occur (e.g. astronomical and meteorological systems). The observer also has control over the variables that are not a part of the system but that have an effect on it. This is assumed to arrive at a basis model; complications to not have full control over every variable can be added later.

2/8 The primary operation means that the observer enforces a particular state of the system by selecting the variables of the system; and he selects the variables of the environment, sets their values; and he allows a unit of time to elapse. He observes the state that the system goes to as it moves under the drive of its own dynamic nature; he observes a transition from a particular state under particular circumstances. The experimenter observes how one variable changes over time while another is kept constant or caused to change in some prescribed way.

2/9 This objective approach is required as the source of the knowledge must not be the previous experience of the observer, because it is not wholly reliable. The unexpected must be allowed to happen: ‘and the only way to be certain of the relation between parts in a new machine is to test the relation directly’ (p 19). The transition by this method is an objective and demonstrable fact.

2/10 The power of the method is that the experimenter can repeat it with variations and relate the ddifferent responses to the variations; after an operations te next may be varied a) include new or omit old variables, b) change of the initial state, and c) change of the surrounding states. These variations may be applied to yield second-order (and more) relations between responses and different levels. All our concepts will be expressed in terms of this method.

Phase-space and field

2/11 A line of behavior is specified by a succession of states and the time-intervals between them.

2/12 and 2/13 Representations of a system can be graphical, tabular (the most factual, suggesting nothing else), phase space (time is eliminated from the graph; a maximum representation of 3 variables is possible in a graph).

2/14 ‘A system’s field is the phase-space containing all the lines of behaviour found by releasing the system from all possible initial states in a particular set of surrounding conditions’ (P 23). The concept of a field defines all the characteristic behaviors of a system under constant conditions ‘frozen into one unchanging entity that can be thought of as a unit. Such entities can readily be compared and contrasted, and so we can readily compare behaviour with behaviour, on a basis that is as complete and rigorous as we care to make it’ (p 24). NB: what happens to a firm if some initial characteristic value of a variable is varied and it is ‘released’ into a static environment. The variable would have to pertain to the memeplex at the basis of the firm.

The Natural System

2/15 If a system is to be studied with profit its variables must have some naturalness of association: 1) if an active and relevant variable is left unobserved then the system becomes capricious; if the state is known and the external conditions then the transition is known; if the pairs C (external condition, input) and S (state, transition) invariably lead to the same transition given some C and / or some S then the system is a machine with input. A special case is a state-determined system where all the events in one field (all the system’s behaviors in some constant C) occur in one set of conditions, e.g. a pendulum: at no point of the field of a state-determined system do the lines of behavior cross.

2/16 What does a natural association of the variables mean? A definition must have these properties: 1) it must have the form of a test, separating all systems in two classes 2) its application must be objective 3) it must agree with common sense in typical and undisputed cases. Because of 3) no verbal definition is possible but a working hypothesis that must be used. A basis hypothesis in scientific research is that given a set of variables a larger set can be found that a) includes these variables and b) is state-determined. This is implicit in many scientific research and never mentioned explicitly. NB: ‘The assumption is known to be false at the atomic level. We, however, will seldom discuss events at this level; and as the assumption has proved substantially true over great ranges of macroscopic science, we shall use it extensively’ (p 28).

Strategy for the complex system

2/17 Theories are of various types: Newton is simple, precise and exactly true. ‘Darwin’s theory, on the other hand, is not so simple, is of quite low accuracy numerically, and is true only in a partial sense – that the simple arguments usually used to apply it in practice (..) are gross simplifications of the complex of events that will actually occur. The theory attempted in this book is of the latter type. The real facts of the brain are so complex and varied that no theory can hope to achieve the simplicity and precision of Newton’s; what then must it do? I suggest that it must try to be exact in certain selected cases, these cases being selected because there we can be exact… This scientific strategy is by no means as inferior as it may sound; in fact it is used widely in many scoences of good repute’ (p 29). NB: this is the level of the firm theory attempted also and so this can prove to be useful as a quote.

Chapter 3. The Organism as Machine.

3/1 In accordance with S. 1/11 it is assumed that living organism in its nature and processes is not different form other matter. The truth of this assumption will not be discussed. The chapter will deal with the technique of applying this assumptions to the complexities of biological systems.

The specification of behaviour

3/2 Is the behavior of a system capable of being specified by variables, given that their representation can be by dial readings (S. 2/3)? In principle the measurement of bodily functions can be represented by variables, though their measurement is with technical difficulty in practice.

3/3 But can not only ‘straightforward’ physico-chemical, but ALL biological events be represented by readings on dials? To that end it every associated variable is presumed present, but as long as it is unused to represent a system’ s behavior, its value remains 0. Now this method of description can be used in a wide range of phenomena. If there is no relation between the measurements then they can be cardinal instead of ordinal, provided that it is used systematically throughout the system and over time.

3 /4 The behavior of the organism must be measured and so subjective elements (what it thinks or feels) are ruled out and if the complexity increases then more than one variable can be applied to describe the system.

3/5 –

3/6 the nervous system in a physiological experiment can be assumed to be state-determined.

3/7 the animal in an experiment concerning conditioned reflexes can assumed to be state-determined.

3/8 ‘Given an organism, its environment is defined as those variables whose changes affect the organism, and those variables that are changed by the organisms behaviour. It is thus defined in a purely functional, not a material, sense’ (p 36) NB: the variables are internal to the system or internal to the environment. Their interface is the behavior of the organism and the environment respectively as isolated systems. The functionality implies that the boundary between environment and organism is functional also (and not material). The environment is a) representable by dials, b) objective, c) explorable by primary operations and d) state-determined.

Organism and environment

3/9 The free-living organism and its environment, taken together as one system can be represented with sufficient accuracy by a set of variables that forms a state-determined system. The organism and its environment can be treated by identical methods because the same assumptions are made about them.

3/10 ex.

3/11 The organism affects the environment and vice versa; the system has feed-back. Systems without feed-back are a special class of systems with feed-back.

3/12 If organism and environment are observed as one then the dividing line between them becomes conceptual if the view is not material but functional. If this flexibility of division is allowed then no bounds can be put to its application. In this sense, the cortex can have to deal with different environments within the body (eating without biting its tongue, playing without exhausting itself, talking without getting out of breath). The system now means not only the nervous system, but the organism-cum-its-environment; if the system has a property it belongs to the whole; detailed study is required to identify the contributions of the components. NB: this is relevant to identify the system that is a firm: following this description it is the components that identify a firm per se plus the environment (or environments) that it is associated with. It is relevant because it is assumed in my book that the firm is a resultant of the beliefs that are widely held in society and that for via patterns in the behavior of the people associated with the firm, a firm. ‘In some cases the dynamic nature of the interaction between organism and environment can be made intuitively more obvious by using the device, common in physics, of regarding the animal as the centre of reference. In locomotion the animal would then be thought of as pulling the world past itself’ (p 41). NB: this is an interesting way of experimenting wth the idea of how a firm would behave, ‘pulling the world past itself’.

Essential variables

3/14 The biologist must see the brain as a means of survival. As per 2/10 survival must be translated into the standard form here to say what it means in standard operations: the essential variables of a system are those that may change over the course of time and then show mere small deviations, other variables show large deviations initially that at some later stage become even larger until eventually the machine changes into something else. The first are the essential variables; they indicate whether an organism is or isn’t alive. NB: this relates to my question: ‘What is the invariant in the life time of the the firm?’ Translated to this theory: ‘What variables change with large variations and keeps changing at later stages of its life time?

3/15 The essential variables do not indicate lethality in the same way or with the same urgency. Survival can now be defined: ‘We can now define survival objectively and in terms of a field: it occurs when a line of behaviour takes no essential variable outside given limits’ (p 43). NB: How does this definition of survival relate to the viability condition as an extension of the autopoiesis theory?

Chapter 4. Stability.

4/1 Cube, sphere and cone resting on a horizontal surface are in stable, neutral and unstable equilibrium; stable equilibrium is used a lot here.

4/2 Stability is an aspect of a material body. We do not study physical bodies but entities abstracted from them; to that end we must define them as results of primary operations (S. 2/10):

4/3 The state of stability does not belong to a body but to a field.

4/4 Given a field then a state of equilibrium from which the representative point does not move. A transition from a stable point is to itself only. This is a point in phase-space and it does not mean that the object is not moving.

4/5 and 4/6 –

4/7 If a system is stable, then, after some displacement, it is possible to define a bound to the next movement of the representative point in phase-space. If it is unstable then this is not possible or it depends on something outside of the system.

4/8 ‘Given the field of a state-determined system and a region in the field, the region is stable if the lines of behaviour from all points in the region stay within the region. ’ (p 48) ‘A field will be said to be stable if the whole region it fills is stable; the system that provided the field can then be called stable’ (p 49).

4/9 –

4/10 If a line of behavior re-enters itself, the system undergoes a recurrent cycle. If the cycle is contained in a region and the lines lead into the cycle then the cycle is stable.

4/11 –

The diagram of immediate effects

4/12 and 4/13 the arrow between the representations of variables represents a relation between them (not a material connection between them). The chain of cause and effect is re-entrant. The diagram can be derived wholly from the results of primary operations. By reversing the arrows between the variables, the immediate effects between variables can be tested.


4/14 The nature of the feedback usually have an effect of the stability of the system or its instability (runaway, vicious circle).

4/15 ‘But here it is sufficient to note two facts: a system which possesses feedback is usually actively stable or actively unstable; and whether it is stable or unstable depends on the quantitative details of he particular arrangement’( p 54). NB:

4/16 Stable systems have the property that if they are displaced from their equilibrium, then the subsequent response is such that the system is brought back to its equilibrium: ‘A variety of disturbances will therefore evoke a variety of matched reactions’ (p 54). This is specific for the behavior of a pendulum but not for the behavior of living organisms. This can be referred to as ‘goal seeking’. A stable system is not necessarily a rigid system and restricted only in the sense that it does not show the unrestricted divergences of instability. NB: this is relevant where it concerns the way in which a state in an evolutionary process restricts to possible configurations of the next state.

Stability and the whole

4/18 A system’s stability is a property of the entire system and can be contributed to no part of it. The stability belongs to the combination and it cannot be related to the parts considered separately. Examples are given of operations (combination with another system, separation from another system) on systems such as to render them stable or unstable.

4/19 ‘The fact that the stability of the system is a property of the system as a whole is related to the fact that the presence of stability always implies some co-ordination of the actions between the parts. .. as the number of variables increase so usually do the effects of variable on variable have to be co-ordinated with more and more care if stability is to be achieved’ (p 57).

Chapter 5. Adaptation as stability.

5/1 and 5/2 The definition must be precise and it must be given in terms that can be reduced to primary operations.


5/3 ‘I propose the definition that a form of behaviour is adaptive if it maintains the essential variables (S. 3/14) within physiological limits’ (p 58). NB: to fully justify it involves an impossibly large task. It must however be sufficiently discussed to show how fundamental it is and how wide its applicability. First an outline of the concept of homeostasis as per Cannon: 1) each mechanism is ‘adapted’ to its end, 2) its end is the maintenance of the values of some essential variables within physiological limits and 3) almost all behavior of an animal’s vegetative system is due to such mechanisms. When an essential variable is driven outside its normal limits by an external disturbance then another process is started by the same external change activating a mechanism that opposes the disturbance. The essential variable is maintained in narrower limits than if the effects of the disturbance remained unopposed. ‘The narrowing is objective manifestation of the mechanism’s adaptation’ (p 61).

5/5 These mechanisms of 5/4 act mostly through the body but some of them act through the environment also. The extremes of homeostatic mechanisms are: those that work within the body alone and mechanisms that work largely through the environment.

Generalised homeostasis

5/6 The same criterion of homeostasis for adaptation can be used to judge the behavior of the free-living animal in its learned reactions. The cat regulates her distance to an open fire so as to optimize body heat while refraining from direct contact with the fire: ‘Such behavior is ‘adapted’: it preserves the life of the animal by keeping the essential variables within limits. The same thesis can be applied to a great deal, if not all, of the normal human adult’s behaviour. .. Many of the other conveniences of civilisation could, with little difficulty, be shown to be similarly variation-limiting. .. The thesis that ‘adaptation’ means the maintenance of essential variables within physiological limits is thus seen to hold not only over the simpler activities of primitive animals but over the more complex activities of the ‘higher’ organisms’ (pp. 62-3). NB: I find this remark about the limiting of variation very important because it seems to me to be very close to some generalized driving force of all organization to reduce the amount of variation (or rather uncertainty) that the organism has to deal with in its environment. Check the relation of this thesis with the thesis of Wagensberg concerning the reduction of uncertainties in the environment of an organism and also the thesis of Jagers te Opperhuis (?) about the utility of diversity with the consequence that to increase universal utility, order must increase or decrease. For order to increase or decrease, the level of organization must increase or decrease. If order increases for increased organization, order decreases also.

5/7 The first stage of the process of learning occurs when the animal ‘learns’ and it changes from an animal without to an animal with the mechanism, the second stage is when the developed mechanism changes from inactive to active.

5/8 ‘We can now recognize that ‘adaptive’ behaviour is equivalent to the behaviour of a stable system, the region of the stability being the region of the phase-space in which all the essential variables lie within their normal limits’ (p 64). Also quoted Starling, Cannon, Pavlov and McDougall.


5/9 and 5/10 The constancy of essential variables is crucial to adaptive behavior and the activity (change) of the other variables is important only to the extent that it contributes to this end.

Stability and co-ordination

5/11 Up to this point, the relation between stability and adaptation were discussed; now it is argued that co-ordination has an important connection with stability. Co-ordination means the combination of the behavior of several components such that the resulting movement of the whole is as appropriate.

5/12 Of stable systems we have so far only discussed the property of keeping variables in limits; other properties are: 1) the lines of behavior may not directly return to their stable state (but only after moving away from it first) and 2) an organism reacts to a variable with which it is not directly in contact; co-ordination will first occur between part and part and then between part and environment and reciprocally between environment and part and then between part and part: ‘Here we should notice that the co-ordination of the behaviour of one part with that of another part not in direct contact with it is simply an elementary property of the stable system’ (p 70). NB: this is the mechanism of coupled dancing landscapes: the transmission of information through components of the system to others and interactions with the environment.

5/14 The problem can be stated as: ‘A determinate machine changes from a form that produces chaotic, unadapted behaviour to a form in which the parts are so co-ordinated that the whole is stable, acting to maintain its essential variables within certain limits..’ (p 70).

Chapter 6. Parameters.

6/1 A system is formed by selecting some variables out of all variables; forming it, variables are divided into two classes: within the system and without. Their relation to the system is different.

6/2 Given a system, a parameter is a variable not included in it, a variable is within the system. The closeness of relation between a parameter and a system varies from no effect to a large effect.

Parameter and field

6/3 A change in the value of an effective parameter changes the field. A system can show as many fields as the total number of combinations of values of its parameters.

6/4 A change in a variable leads to a change of state; this is a change that IS behavior. A change in a parameter leads to a change of field; this is a change of behavior.


6/5 Many stimuli can be represented as a change of value of a parameter; the effect of a sharp parameter change is that the field briefly changes whereby the point is carried away from its initial position. When the parameter is returned to its original value, the original field is restored and the representative point is away from its initial position, on another line of behavior and as it returns to its initial position (or another equilibrium point if multiple exist), and it responds. This is called an impulsive.

Joining dynamic systems

6/6 Joining occurs whenever one system has an effect on another, such as communication, forcing, and signaling. To join systems A and B such that A affects B, some parameters of B must become a function of the variables of A. If a joining is made in two directions, then feedback is set up between the two systems.

Parameter and stability

6/7 ‘Because a change of parameter-value changes the field, and because a system’s stability depends on its field, a change of parameter-value will in general change a system’s stability in some way’ (p 77). A change in a parameter substitutes the field; this leads to any change in behavior: stable or unstable, cyclic, single or multiple states of equilibrium. ‘ a state-determined system, a change of stability can only be due to change of value of a parameter, and a change of value of a parameter causes a change in stability’ (p 78).

Equilibria of part and whole

6/8 If system A with variables u and v is joined with system B with variables x, y and z and the joint of A and B (with variables u, v, x, y, z) is in equilibrium, then the transition is from that state to itself. Given the constancy of its parameters x, y and z, the values of the variables of A are unchanged and conversely, given the constancy of the parameters u and v of B, its variables x, y and z remain constant also. A and B are both in a state of equilibrium as is their whole: ‘So, the whole’s being at a state of equilibrium implies that each part must be at a state of equilibrium, in the conditions provided (at its parameters) by the other parts’ (p 79). Conversely, if, given the values of their reciprocal parameters (the conditions given them by the other parts), A is in equilibrium and B is in equilibrium, then their whole is in equilibrium also.

6/9 If a single part of a whole is not in equilibrium, then it will again change, changing the conditions (the parameters) of the other parts and in turn start them moving again. Any part of the system can prevent the whole to enter a state of equilibrium, it has the power of veto over the states of equilibrium of the whole.

6/10 ‘..each part acts selectively towards the set of possible equilibria of the whole’ (p 79). NB: A smallest common denominator of all variables of the whole (the variables of all parts) detemines whether there can be some specific state such as an equilibrium.

Chapter 7. The Ultrastable System.

7/1 How does the kitten change from not having a mechanism to show no adaptive behavior to having one that does show adaptive behavior?

The implications of adaptation

7/2 In accordance with S. 3/11 and S. 4/14 (if the organism and the environment mutually affect each other’s stability, the system has feedback) the kitten and environment are to be considered as interacting. System and environment interact (have feedback) if they influence each other’s stability. R is a system that belongs to the organism and that acts when the organism reacts to a signal; the arrows between R and the environment and between R and the organism represent the motor and sensory channels. A change of parameters (represented by S) affect the behavior of the kitten; the change in S do not (directly) affect the environment; the number of distinct values of parameters S must be at least as great as the number of distinct behaviors of the kitten.

7/3 If the environment and R or both affect the essential variables of the organism, then its survival is at risk; the more interesting case being the external threat.

7/4 ‘To be adapted, the organism, guided by information from the environment, must control its essential variables, forcing them to go within the proper limits, by so manipulating the environment (through its motor control of it) that the environment then acts on them appropriately’ (p 82). R in this sense can be thought of as an organism trying to control the output of the environment, a black box the contents of which is unknown to it. The procedure to know the contents of a black box is to feed it input and to register the output; to do things to it and act in accordance with the way they affected the environment; the kitten can know the situation by proceeding by trial and error. This test procedure is a necessity in the case of a black bow, because it is the only way can the reuired information be obtained. From the viewpoint of success trial and error is a second rate method, but from the viewpoint of gaining information it ranks higher.

7/5 The essential variables are to have an effect on which behavior the kitten must produce for them to remain inside their limits; a channel must exist from the essential variables to the parameters S. The organism now has a motor output to influence the environment and two feedback loops: sensory input and a carrier of information whether the values of the essential variables are within their limits and it acts on parameters S: the first feedback plays a part within each reaction, the second determines which reaction will occur.

7/6 1) with essential parameters within their limits the overt behavior of R is such as follows from a parameter set is S1 and 2) with the essential parameters outside of their limits, the overt behavior of R is such as follows from a parameter set S2. The overt behavior changed such that S2 is not equal to S1: the different values at the essential variables led to different values of S; a change of essential variables has led to a change of parameters.

7/7 If a trial is unsuccessful then change behavior. If and only if an outcome is successful then retain the way of behavior.

7/8 This is necessary: ‘That is to say, any system that has essential variables with given limits, and that adapts by the process of testing various behaviours by how each affects ultimately the essential variables, must have a second feedback formally identical (isomorphic) with that described here’ (p 85).

The implications of double feedback

7/9 In what material form will the above mechanism necessarily show adaptive behavior?

7/10 –

7/11 The whole consists of two parts coupled: 1) R plus the Environment, and 2) the essential variables and S. The whole can only be in equilibrium if the parts are. S is in equilibrium if the essential variables are. The whole can have such states of equilibrium as allow states of equilibrium in both S and in the essential variables; S is at equilibrium only if the essential variables are within the given limits; if the whole is at some state and it goes to an equilibrium along a corresponding line of behavior, then the equilibrium is always an adapted one. This is a sufficient condition and together with S. 7/8, the necessary condition it is the solution to the original question.

7/12 Assume for sake of clarity that the variables in the environment and in R vary continuously and those in S vary discreetly.


7/13 – 7/18

7/19 Systems tend to show changes of a step-function form if their variables are driven far from some usual value. The nervous system may not be different in that respect.

Systems containing step-mechanisms

7/20 Can a machine be determinate and capable of spontaneous change?

7/21 A system with continuous variables A and B and step variable S can be said to be state-determined in one field. But the system of main variables A and B can be said to have as many kinds of behavior as the step-variable(s), in this case S, has (combinations of) values: ‘And if the the step-mechanisms are not accessible to observation, the change of the main variables from one form of behaviour to another will seem to be spontaneous, for no change or state in the main variables can be assigned as its cause’ (p 95).

7/22 and 7/23 By changing the value of the step function, the system transitions into different fields; each new field can have a new state of stable equilibrium as well as critical states. Once the system has entered a region where it is attracted to such a stable state, it will remain there. If the organism is displaced moderately from this region it will return to it, demonstrating instances of adaptation.

7/24 This field will therefore persist indefinitely. The trial and error exercise has proven bloody and exasperating, but it was successful for finding a stable solution in phase-space. This trial and error is efficient if the result is also used many times to increase performance.

7/25 ‘It should be noticed that the second feedback makes, for its success, no demands either on the construction of he reacting part R or on the successive values that are taken by S. Another way of saying this is to say that the mechanism is in no way put out of order if R is initially constructed at random or if the successive values at S occur at random. (The meaning of constructed at random’ is given in S. 13/1)’(p 97)

The ultrastable system (definition)

7/26 ‘Two systems of continuous variables (that we called ‘environment’ and ‘reacting part’) interact, so that a primary feedback (through complex sensory and motor channels) exists between them. Another feedback, working intermittently and at a much slower order of speed, goes from the environment to certain continuous variables which in their turn affect some step-mechanisms, the effect being that the step-mechanisms change value when and only when these variables pass outside given limits. The step-mechanisms affect the reacting part; by acting as parameters to it they determine how it shall react to the environment’ (p 98)

7/27 –

Chapter 8. The Homeostat.

8/1 The homeostat is a physical instance of an ultrastable system.

8/2 and 8/3 –

8/4 and 8/5 Diagram of immediate effects a) 12, b) 1→2→3→1. NB: how can an interaction as per Knorr Cetina be represented in a diagram of immediate effects? ‘The nervous system provides many illustrations of such as series of events: first the established reaction, then an alteration made in the environment by the experimenter, and finally a reorganisation within the nervous system, compensating for the experimental alteration. The Homeostat can thus show, in elementary form, this power of self-reorganisation’ (p107).

8/6 and 8/7 If the configuration of the main variables of an ultrastable system is such that their field is unstable, then the system will change the field such that the system becomes stable.


8/8 The process of training in relation to ultrastability. All training involves punishment and or reward. In the required form punishment means (S. 7/19 and 9/7) that a sensory organ was stimulated causing a step-change causing the system to enter a different field. The operations following a reward are assumed to be similar than following a punishment (but they are more complex). The trainer a) plans the experiment deciding on the rules that should be obeyed and b) the trainer plays a part in the experiment and obeys the established rules: this part of the ‘training’ situation implies that the ‘trainer’ or some similar device is an integral part of the trained system. Consider this system Trainer Animal to be ultrastable; the step-mechanisms are assumed to be confined to the animal.

8/9 To say that the trainer has punished the animal is equivalent to saying that the system has a set of parameter values that make it unstable. ‘In general, then, we may identify the behavior of the animal in ‘training’ with that of an ultrastable system adapting to another system of fixed characteristics’ (p 115).

8/10 If it has to adapt to two alternating environments an ultrastable system will be selective for fields that adapt to both environments (the field that is terminal for one environment will be lost at the next change).

8/11 What will happen if the ultrastable system is given an unusual environment, namely an environment where some of the parameter values are unusual. The ultrastable system will always produce a set of step-mechanism values, which will in conjunction with the parameter settings, produce stability. If the parameters have unusual values, then so will the step-mechanisms lead to compensating values that are unusual in the same vein.

Some apparent faults

8/12 this model cannot match the richness of adaptations of higher animals in reality.

8/13 if the critical surfaces are not disposed in proper relation to the limits of the essential variables then the system may seek an inappropriate goal or may fail to take action.

8/14 this model cannot deal with sudden discontinuity.

8/15 sufficient time must elapse between the trials so the system has enough time to get away from the region of the previous, critical state.

8/16 Systems may encounter easy environments with few independent variables; in difficult environments the encounter many interlinked variables.

Chapter 9. Ultrastability in the Organism.

9/1 Some further considerations concerning the relation between the organism and the theoretical construct more specifically as per Figure 7/5/1.

9/2 When one real machine is examined by the observer with a variety of technical methods, it can give rise to a variety of systems and of diagrams of immediate effects; sometimes two methods give rise to the same diagram (of IE): When this happens we are delighted, for we have found a simplicity; but we mustn’t expect this to happen always’ (p 122). Physical systems of which the design in some way resembles Figure 7/5/1 are not the only pattern; ‘for there are also systems whose parts or variables have no particular position in space relative to one another, but are related dynamically in some quite different way. Such occurs when a mixture of substrates, enzymes, and other substances occur in a flask, and in which the variables are concentrations. The the ‘system’ is a set of concentrations, and the diagram of immediate effects shows how the concentrations affect one another. Such as diagram, of course, shows nothing that can be seen in the distribution of matter in space; it is purely functional. Nothing that has been said so far excludes the possibility that the anatomical-looking Figure 7/5/1 may not be of the latter type. We must proceed warily’ (p 123). NB; this points at auto-catalytic systems: apparently they can be ultrastable systems; however Maturana and Varela rule them out as AP systems; this is a conseuence of their lack of topological structure. Auto-catalysis can be ultrastable but it can not be autopoietic; this means that auto-catalytic systems can be adaptive at some point for a finite period, but they cannot be adaptive for an infinite period.

9/3 –

Step-mechanisms in the organism

9/4 What to look for? For instance not: where to look, because that implies they are located somewhere – anatomically or in another way not applicable to the variable.

9/5 – 9/7 –

A molecular basis for memory?

9/8 – 9/9 –

Are step-mechanisms necessary?

9/10 Does evidence exist that the process of adaptation implies the existence of step-functions?

9/11 The way a system is observed, for instance the time lapse (micro-seconds, years) of the observation of a system is important for the categorization of the system as a step-function.

9/12 The behavior of a step-function is simple compared to the behavior of a full-function (continuous?); not every real object can be made to show such simple behavior; to say that something can show step-function-type behavior is unconditionally true; if a three dimensional system can be shown to show behavior in a field on two two-dimensional planes then this is special, because not all systems show this characteristic.

9/13 The nervous system often shows some persistence in its behavior: make a trial, persist for some time, make another trial, persist again &c. The shown behavior is less than fully complex by a full-function; every trial represents a field, each field persists for some time and so the behavior can be said to be discreet. Full functions could not represent this discrete character (from trial to trial) and so that they may be s represented is meaningful restriction on their nature. ‘If we now couple this deduction with what has been called Dancoff’s principle – that systems made efficient by natural selection will not use variety or channel capacity much in excess of the minimum – then we can deduce that when organisms regularly use the method of trials there is .. evidence that their trials will be controlled by material entities having (relative to the rest of the system) not much more than the minimum variety. There is therefore strong presumptive evidence that the significant variables in S (of Figure 7/5/1) are step-functions, and that the material entities embodying them are of such a nature as will easily show such functional forms’ (p 130). NB: can this be said of firms also? Is Dancoff’s principle also relevant for social systems, namely for all evolving systems with selection?

Levels of feedback

9/14 Are the two channels of feedback of Figure 7/5/1 relevant in reality? a) an impulsive disturbance to the main variables of the system (fire flares up) and the adaptive system reacts (kitten moves away a bit), and b) a parameter to the whole system changes (from a value it had during many impulsive perturbations). ‘The impulse made the system demonstrate its stability, the change at the parameter made the system demonstrate (if possible) its ultrastability. Whereas the system demonstrates, after the impulse, its power of returning to the state of equilibrium, it demonstrates, after the change of parameter-value, its power of returning the field (of its main variables) to a stable form’ (p 131). The latter are of a step-functional form. ‘When the disturbances that threaten the organisms have, over many generations, had the bi-modal form just described, we may expect to find that the organism will, under natural selection, have developed a form fairly close to the ultrastable, in that it will have developed two readily distinguishable feedbacks’ (p 131).

The control of aim

9/16 The systems discussed so far sought constant goals through the development of a variety of fields. If he critical states’ distribution in the main variables’ phase-space is altered then the ultrastable system will be altered in the goal it seeks; the ultrastable system will always develop a field of which the representative point is kept within the region of the critical states.

9/17 Starting at Figure 7/5/1: 1) the environment is given arbitrarily 2) the channel by which the environment affects the essential variables is given arbitrarily 3) the essential variables and their limits are determined genetically (species’ characteristics) 4) the reacting part R has three inputs: a) sensory input from the environment (quasi-continuous change) b) the values of its parameters in S (genetic, change between trial and trial) and c) parameters developed during embryonic development (changes once in a lifetime) and 5) the relation between the essential variables and the variables in S, namely that the essential variables force the variables in S to change if their values are threatened to go outside their limits; and not to change otherwise (changes ad-hoc and this can only be based on genetic sources).

9/18 ‘For ultrastability to have been developed by natural selection, it is necessary and sufficient that there should exist a sequence of forms, from he simplest to the most complex, such that each form has better survival-value than that before it’ (p 135). NB: this implies a ratchet.

9/20 ‘To some extent, the generality of the ultrastable system, the degree to which it does not specify details, is correct. Adaptation can be shown by systems far wider in extent than the mammalian ad the cerebral, .. . Thus the generality, or if you will, the vagueness, of the ultrastable system is, from that point of view, as it should be’ (p 137) NB: how wide, can it include the workings of social systems?

Chapter 10. The Recurrent Situation.

10/1 So far the basis; now complications can be added to better model living systems. It seems that living systems when adapting follow a path that is not so far from the path involving the least energy, time and risk.

10/2 Let’s return to first principles. Success or adaptation to an organism means that, in spite of the world showing its worst side, the organism lives to reproduce at least once. What the world did to the organism can be regarded as a Grand Disturbance and the response of the organism as the Grand Response to eventually lead to the Grand Outcome, success or failure to reproduce. The partial disturbances (the whole of which forms the GD) and the partial responses (the whole of which forms the GR) can be interrelated to any degree, zero to complete. In the latter case, the GO is a function of all the partial responses forming a very complex relation between GO and GR. This is rare in reality, because the GD of the real world contains a lot of constraint: ‘Thus the organism commonly faces a world that repeats itself, that is consistent to some degree in obeying laws, that is not wholly chaotic. The greater the degree of constraint, the more can the adapting organism specialise against the particular forms of environment that do occur. As it specialises so will its efficiency against the particular form of environment increase.’ (p 139). NB: this is reminiscent of Oudemans’ increasing restrictions or limitations on the following configurations, it reminds of Wolfram, namely with regards to the units of computation that will be equal as well as the powers of perception of people that are of the same order of complexity as the processes they are trying to perceive and analyze (and that themselves are produced by). A few lines previous: ‘Were it common, a brain would be useless (I. To C. 13/5). In fact, brains have been developed because the terrestrial environment usually confronts the organism with a GD that has a major degree of constraint within its component parts, of which the organism can take advantage’ (p 139). This attributes a natural role to the brain: to ferret out the regularities in the environment of the organism. How is the analogy brain : organization with firm : organization?

10/3 –

The recurrent situation

10/4 Consider the case in which disturbances are sometimes repetitive; in those cases if a response is adaptive on the disturbance’s first appearance, it is also repetitive on later appearances. This is not automatic, because in some cases a disturbance’s appearance depends on the number of times it has appeared before. In this chapter disturbances are studied that are independent of where it appears in the sequence of previous appearances; the only condition is that if a response is adaptive to the first appearance it also is on later occasions. The advantage is that exploratory trial and error is required only at the first appearance and not at the later appearances. If an organism can adapt to multiple (different kinds of) disturbances, then these can be considered multiple environments; an extension of the environments it can adapt to, means an increase of its chances of survival: this organism can accumulate adaptations.

10/5 The alternative is that the system does not jump to conclusions; in a pré-bait kind of situation it would perform better than the rat. But if the environment is constrained in its possible behaviors, then the system is at a disadvantage.

10/6 and 10/7 –

The accumulator of adaptations

10/8 Step mechanisms can be thought of as information about the way that the essential variables of an ultrastable system have behaved in the past. They must be split into classes and they cannot belong to the same set, because on the occurrence of some new event, the stored information will be overwritten; separate stores must exist for different kinds of occurrences.

10/9 et it be given that the organism adapts to P1 initially in a process of trial and error and if P1 occurs a second time it adapts at once. The same counts for P2; from this is follows that te step-mechanisms must be divided into non-overlapping sets, that the reactions to P1 and P2 are due to their particular set. The presentation of the problem value of P) must determine which set is brought to bear, while the remainder is left inactive.

10/10 The subsets of S need not be efficiently organized and can be random processes. A mechanism for a gating mechanism (the selection of appropriate subset for the problem at hand) is presented in 16/13. The basic requirements are easily met. Even thought eh arrangement may not be as tidy as the abstract design here.

10/11 In many cases a specific sequence exists between various situations. The design of Figure 10/9/1 caters for this naturally, as P1 is followed by P2 &c (first do not touch the teapot, then don’t wipe the jam, don tip over the milk jar, then reach for the cookie). Only certain fragmented situations allow this kind of environment; if it is then a mechanism such as presented above improves the organism’s adaptive capabilities. How the entire regulatory device of an organism develops depends on the situations of the environment presented to it.

10/13 The mechanisms of adaptation are not due to star dust or excellent cerebral design; adaptivity can be a ‘dumb’ process which can occur in a non- neurophysiological environment such asa a computer.

Chapter 11. The Fully Joined System.

11/1 A basis version of the ultrastable system can work; not consider some complications. the first of which is a large number of components.

Adaptation time

11/2 Suppose the Homeostat is made up with 1,000 units (instead of 4) and suppose that all but 100 are shorted out, the order of magnitude of essential variables in a living organism. Because they are essential, they must all remain in their limits; suppose that the step-mechanisms give a 50% chance to each variable to stay within limits and an independent 50% chance to move outside the limits. How many trials are necessary on the average before adaptation? At this rate the probability is (½)¹⁰⁰ ; at 1 pr second this implies that it will take approximately 1022 years to arrive at a situation where all are within limits; this in fact means very close to never; and yet the human brain can do this in a reasonable period of time, does it use the ultrastable mechanism? ‘It can hardly be that the brain does not use the basic process of ultrastability, for the arguments of S. 7/8 show that any system made of parts that obey the ordinary laws of cause and effect must use this method’ (p149).

11/3 and 11/4 similar outcomes as 11/2

11/5 The processes are so time consuming because partial successes go to waste with regards to the establishment of the Grand Success. Consider a case where it isn’t: N events, independent chance of success of p, A covering fraction p of the circumference of each wheel and B the remainder, 1 spin takes 1 second: case 1) all N wheels are spun and when all N are A it stops (this requires (1/p)N spins, (1/2)1000 if N=1,000, p=2), case 2) the first wheel is spun until it is A, then the second wheel is spun until it is A and so on until all are A (this requires N/p spins, 1,000/p if N is 1,000, p=2) and case 3) of all the wheels initially spun, the ones that are A remain, the remaining contingent is spun again and the ones that are B are spun again &c (this requires 1/p spins, if N=1,000, p=2). Case 1 requires 10293 year, case 2 requires 8 minutes and case 3 mere seconds.

11/6 Case 2 and case 3 can use partial successes to built the Grand Success where case 1 cannot. ‘The examples show us the great, the very great, reduction in time taken that occurs when the final Success can be reached by stages, in which partial successes can be conserved and accumulated’ (p 152).

11/7 If the cases are applied to the selecting of a number registration on cars ending 1, then 2 then 3 up to and including 9, then using the method of case 1 this requires 10 billion cars to pass by, using case 2, 50 suffice.

11/8 ‘A compound event that is impossible if the components have to occur simultaneously may be readily achievable if they can occur in sequence or independently’ (p 153).

11/9 The difference between the Homeostat and a living organism is exactly that the organism does not engage in trials until all comes right at once, but instead while making trials, achieves and retains (accumulates) successes as it goes, until the Grand Success is possible. A combination lock is an example where human organism and Homeostat fail alike.

Cumulative adaptation

11/10 The organism has many essential variables; the organism manages to reach adaptation fairly quickly; what can be deduced from this? ‘It has thus been shown that, for adaptations to accumulate, there must not be channels from some step-mechanisms (e.g. S3) to some variables (e.g. M12), nor from some variables (e.g. M3) to others (e.g. M12). Thus, for the accumulation of adaptations to be possible the system must not be fully joined. .. This is the point. If the method of ultrastability is to succeed within a reasonably short time, then the partial successes must be retained. For this to be possible it is necessary that certain parts should not communicate to, or have an effect on, certain other parts’ (p 155). NB: this is a very important argument for the way the system retains information in this case so as to get work done in a reasonable time-frame. But why should it be required that it does this in a reasonable time-frame? Brains have developed for there are regularities in the environment that it can anticipate; had there been no regularities ata ll then there would not have been a need for a brain. Now that there is a brain, all it needs to do is to anticipate the event before it occurs; if it does not do so then it is useless after all and the world would appear to be just as random as it does without any regularity. I reckon that this is what Wolfram refers to if he suggests that the processes that developed people’s brains are the same processes that occur in nature.

11/11 Because we worked with systems that were assumed to be richly connected there could not be a discussion about integration or mechanisms that work in separate parts: ‘The reacting parts and the environments that we have discussed have so far been integrated in the extreme’ (p 156). NB: this is where the channels M sit. This Statement seems to bear a relation with the (Wagensberg) interface that the system has with the environment.

11/12 The Homeostat is too well integrated, too much cross-joined, and as an ultrastable system takes too long to adapt: to what level should it be cross-joined? The separation into parts and the union into a whole are extremes on the scale of connectedness; in the above sense adaptation requires independence of unrelated activities as well as integration of related activities. NB: this refers to an example of a driver keeping a car on the road while clutching and changing gears.

11/13 ‘They do this by developing partial, fluctuating and temporal independencies within the whole, so that the whole becomes an assembly of subsystems within which communication is rich and between which it is more restricted’ (p 157).

Chapter 12. Temporary Independence.

12/1 Physical separation or connection is useless as a criterion of independence.

12/2 No relation necessarily exists between the direction of control and the direction of the flow of matter or energy if the situation is such that all the system’s parts are freely supplied with energy.


12/3 X and Y are variable sin a system. Set X and observe the value of Y. Reset X and reset Y. Set X to a value different from the first trial. Observe Y. If the value of Y is now the same as it was the first time then Y is independent of X. Dependent means ‘not independent’; the concept needs 2 transitions.

12/4 If Y is independent of X regardless every possible value of the other variables, then Y is unconditionally independent of X. Y is independent of X in every field of the system. However, this is possible without conditions only if the system is suitably simple, else additional information must be provided.

12/5 Because independence varies one system can give a wide variety of diagrams of immediate effects.

12/6 If X is independent of Y and Y is not independent of X then X dominates Y.

12/7 Of every variable of an entire system A is independent of every variable in system B then system A is independent of system B. A may in addition dominate B and a mutual dependence can exist.

12/9 The definition makes independence dependent on one time, step, click, or infinitesimal time if continuous. If Z depends on Y and Y depends on X, then if X changes then Y changes and, one step later Z changes. So Z depends on X delayed. The diagram of ultimate effects shows the dependencies if time is allowed for all the effects to work around the system.

The effects of constancy

12/10 If component C depends on component B and component B depends on component A and A, B and C all contain various variables, then to make A and B independent requires that the variables in B are null-functions, implying separation at B by a wall of constancies. This also implies that this is not necessarily the case at every field: A and C can be sometimes joined and sometimes independent.

12/11 –

12/12 The diagram of ultimate effect can take a different shape if one or more of the variables in the system are constant; this includes the reversal of dominancy between variables.

12/13 –

The effects of local stabilities

12/14 For a system to have temporary independencies it must have variables that are temporarily constant. Any subsystem that is constant is in a state of equilibrium. If its surrounding parameters are constant then the subsystem has a state of equilibrium in the corresponding field; if it stays constant if the parameters change, then that is an equilibrium state in all the fields occurring. Constancy in a subsystem implies it is in an equilibrium state; constancy in the presence of small disturbances implies stability. Constancy, equilibrium and stability are closely related.

12/15 These kind of systems are common, see S. 15/2; two types worth noting are: 1) with a probability p some randomly selected state of a system is equilibrial and 2) all states are stable if some parametric value is below a threshold and few or none are if it exceeds that value. The latter can easily generate varying connections between variables by readily giving constancy.

12/16 Consider ABC, then if B is equilibrial for all values from A and C, then A and C are independent. If however, B is equilibrial for some and not for other values from A and / or from C, then A and C will sometimes be and sometimes not be dependent: ‘Thus we have achieved the first aim of this chapter: to make rigorously clear, and demonstrable by primary operations, what is meant by ‘temporary functional connexions’, when the control comes from factors within the system, and not imposed arbitrarily from outside’ (p 169). NB: this statement is relevant with regards to autopoietic systems: the control lies within the system. The difference is that adaptive systems are adaptive to their environment at once and not necessarily in an evolutionary process a/p autopoiese.

12/17 ‘The same ideas can be extended to cover any system as large and richly connected as we please’ (p 169). Constancies, in other words, can cut a system to pieces.

12/18 –

Chapter 13. The System with Local Stabilities.

13/1 Rigor and precision are possible examining the kinds of systems that show the above behavior; it is required to define a set with certain properties and the statements must be precise and concern the properties of the set: we are now not talking about individual systems but about a set of systems. NB: how is this relevant to the definition of individual firms or of a set of firms with some specific properties? The discussed systems are random in the sense that they are generic with typical properties such as to arrive at a precise deduction about the defined set of systems.

13/2 A polystable system is any system whose parts have many equilibria and that has been formed by taking parts at random and joining them at random.

13/3 –

13/4 In a state-determined system, if a sub-system has been constant and it starts to show change, then it can be deduced that a change must have occurred in one or more of its parameters. If a sub-system that is a part of a state-determined system, it is stable, and its parameters (variables of other subsystems) are constant, then it is trapped in equilibrium; only an external source can allow it to change.

Progression to equilibrium

13/5 –

13/6 let i be the number of components in a system that is in equilibrium and let n be the number of components. If i=n then every component is in equilibrium and the whole is also. If i<n and n-i components are not in equilibrium and they will assume a new value at each step and a new state of the whole appears.

13/7 In a particular system its behavior is determinate if the system and its initial state is given. In a set of systems this is not the case, except at the two extremes, namely richly connected and hardly connected.

13/8 How will i behave if every component is connected to all others, meaning n(n-1) arrows in the diagram of immediate effects? If p is independent and unequal 1 and n is large then the probability that the whole is in equilibrium is small and i will be approximately np. The line of behavior starts a random walk and the systems meets and equilibrium in case i by chance becomes n. The time to get there is of geological (astronomical) timescales.

13/9 A special case is when i is close to n: at the next step, its value will average away from n and so the number of elements in equilibrium decreases. Such a system will fall back to an average state; it is typically unable to retain partial or local successes.

13/10 Consider a system will large n, independent p and the elements not much connected. This resembles the situation where p is very close to 1: many elements remain in equilibrium for long periods of time; they are constant and leave large areas in the system isolated, in effect this means they are not much connected. Consider a case where none of the n variables is connected with any of the others: this is a system only in the nominal sense; once in equilibrium an element stays in equilibrium because it cannot be disturbed. So all elements that contribute to i (set of elements in equilibrium) at an earlier state, must contribute to i at a later state; and as a consequence the value of i cannot fall with time (or clicks). This type of system goes to its final state of equilibrium progressively in the sense of Case 3 of S. 11/5 and the time the system takes is not excessively long.

13/11 The more interesting kind is the systems that near the limit of disconnection, where i has the tendency to move to n: ‘This is the sort of system that, after the experimenter has seen i repeatedly return to n after displacement, is apt to make him feel that i is ‘trying’ to get to n’ (p 177).

13/12 –

13/13 Connection is an important determinant for the way in which a system goes to equilibrium; when the connection is rich then the behavior tends to become complex, the time to reach n is long and if some high i is reached then it cannot retain the excess over the average. When the connection is poor (either by few joints or by many constancies), the line of behavior is short and the time lapse for the whole to arrive at equilibrium is short. When a state is met where a large number of variables are stable, the excess of the average is retained for a time; local equilibria are accumulated and equilibrium for the whole is progressed.


13/14 This is the phenomenon that, given arbitrary sections of the behavior of a system, the variables that are active in a previous section are different from the active variables in a later section; the sections can come from the same line or from different lines. The essential feature is that even if the sections differ in one or few variables, namely their dependency, the changes that result may distribute the activations to different sets of variables, namely to different places in the system: ‘Thus the important phenomenon of different patterns (or values) at one place leading to activations in different places in the system demands no special mechanism: any polystable system tends to show it’ (p 179).

13/15 If the two places are to have minimal overlap then the parts should have almost all their states equilibrial; then the number active will be few: if the fraction is r, then the fraction of the overlap is r². If the proportion of the equilibrial states is nearly 1, then r is correspondingly small. ‘Thus the polystable system may respond, to two different input states, with two responses on two sets of variables that may have only small overlap’ (p 179).

13/16 Dispersion is used widely in the sense organs and in the nervous system. NB: it is possible to translate this to the workings of organizations.

13/17 ‘The fact that neuronic processes frequently show threshold, and the fact that this property implies that the functioning elements will often be constant (S. 12/15) suggest that dispersion is bound to occur, by S. 12/16’ (p 180).

Localisation in the polystable system

13/18 How will the set of active variables be distributed over the whole set? The answer to whether activity is restricted to a certain variables only is ‘yes’; the answer to whether the variables occur in no simply describable way is ‘no’: the variables can be determined from local circumstances but the outcome on a global scale is random.

13/19 ‘The set of variables activated at one moment will usually differ from the set a later moment; and the activity will spread and wander with as little apparent orderliness as the drops of rain that run, joining and separating, down a window-pane. But though the wanderings seem disorderly, the whole is reproducible and state-determined; so that if the same reaction is started again later, the same initial stimuli will meet the same local details, will develop into the same patterns, which will interact with the later stimuli as they did before, and the behavior will consequently proceed as it did before’ (p 182). This describes the dichotomy between local behavior and global behavior and how a pattern must occur and how it can be repeated because of its deterministic character. It is stable in the face of the removal of material: ‘For in a large polystable system the whole reaction will be based on activations that are both numerous and widely scattered. And, whole any exact statement would have to be carefully qualified, we can see that, just as England’s paper industry is not to be stopped by the devastation of any single county, so a reaction based on numerous and widely scattered elements will tend to have more immunity to localised injury than one whose elements are few and compact’ (pp. 182-3).

13/20 –

Chapter 14. Repetitive Stimuli and Habituation.

14/1 Two reasons: 1) Exercise in discussing polystable systems in terms that are both general and precise and 2) the behavior of a system in equilibrium is often perceived as ‘boring’ in the sense of a run down clock. However, when a complex system nears an equilibrium this involves complex (and interesting) relations between the states of the various parts of the observed system. This chapter shows how a system running to equilibrium under a complex and repetitive input produces interesting behavior.

14/2 Definition: when there are many states of equilibrium in a field and every line of behavior terminates at some state of equilibrium, the lines of behavior collect into sets, such that the lines in each set terminate into one common point or cycle of termination; the field can be divided into regions such that one region contains one and only one state or cycle of equilibrium to which each line of behavior in the region eventually comes; this region is called a confluent (this is a basin of attraction DPB). Important properties of the confluent are: a) a line cannot leave it if arepresentative point is released within it, and b) it will go to the equilibrium or cycle, where it remains sso long as the parametric conditions remain unchanged: ‘The division of the whole field into confluents is not peculiar to machines of special type, but is common to all systems that are state-determined and that have more than one state of equilibrium or cycle’ (p 185).


14/3 Impulsive parametric changes can bring the system into a new confluent, given sufficient delay between the applications for the line of behavior to find the equilibrium. There it can again be brought to another and another, or it can be trapped inside the confluent; some confluents can hold the line inside while others can’t: the process is selective.

14/4 –

14/5 The polystable system is selective, because at some point the line will be transported to a confluent where the stimulus cannot shift it from. ‘And, if there is a metric and continuity over the phase space, this distance that the stimulus S finally moves the point will be less than the average distance, for short arrows are favoured. Thus the amounts of change caused by the successive applications of S change from average to less than average. .. What we should notice is that the outcome of the process is not symmetric. When we think of a randomly assembled system of random parts we are apt to deduce that its response to repetitive stimulation will be equally likely to decrease or to increase. The argument shows that this is not so: there is a fundamental tendency for the response to get smaller. .. If the responses have any action back on their own causes, then large responses tend to cause a large change in what made them large; but the small only act to small degree on the factors that made them small. Thus factors making for smallness have a fundamentally better chance of surviving than those that make for largeness. Hence the tendency to smallness’ (p 187).

14/6 –

14/7 ‘The argument of this chapter suggests that it is to be expected to some degree in all polystable systems when they are subjected to a repetitive stimulus or disturbance’ (p 189).

Minor disturbances

14/8 If the arrow S does not represent a single response but a distribution of responses, inside and outside of the confluent. The answer is roughly the same. The confluent who’s arrows go far is left by the representative point and the ones who’s arrows remain in its own confluent act as a trap. Thus the polystable system selects the equilibria that are immune to the actions of small irregular disturbances (and will be destroyed by large field shifts).

14/9 –

14/10 Bizarre fields are selectively destroyed when the system is subjected to small, occasional, and random disturbances. ‘Since such disturbances are inseparable from practical existence, the process of ‘roughing it’ tends to cause their replacement by fields that look like C of Figure 14/9/1 and act simply to keep the representative point well away from the critical states’ (p 191). NB: this resembles Wolfram’s remark that selection smooths out the edges and polishes existing order to a workable and simpler design.

Chapter 15. Adaptation in Iterated and Serial Systems.

15/1 Let us resume the task of considering how a large and complex system can adapt to a large and complex environment without taking almost an infinite time to do it. The facts are as follows: 1) the ordinary terrestrial environment has a distribution of properties very different from what was assumed earlier (S. 11/2), 2) against the actual distribution of terrestrial environments, the process of ultrastability can give adaptation in a reasonably short time, 3) when environment gets more complex then the time of adaptation of an ultrastable system goes up, not only theoretically but in real living systems, and 4) when the environment is excessively complex and closely-knit, the theoretical ultrastable system and the living system fail alike.

15/2 An ordinary terrestrial environment has these features: 1) many of the variables are constant over considerable amounts of time such that they behave as part-functions, 2) most variables of the environment have an immediate effect on only a few of the totality of variables; this operates as a system of part-functions. ‘A total environment, or universe, that contains many part-functions, will show dispersion, in that the set of variables active at one moment will often be different from the set active at another. The pattern of activity within the environment will therefore tend, as in S. 13/18, to be fluctuating and conditional rather than invariant’ (p 195). NB: what are (examples of) these constants and temporary or quasi relations between variables and variables and variables and parameters? In my mind’s eye it is visualized as blocks of temporarily invariant situation where interaction between the e.g. an animal and the environment occurs. How does this view on interacting relate to the view of Knorr-Cetina, namely the establishment of a third body? As an interaction with an environment takes place, now this set is active, now that set. If some set is active for a long time and others sets are inactive and inconspicuous, then the observer may call the first part the environment. And if later the activity changes to another set, he may call that also a (second) environment.

15/3 Previews to cases: 1) a whole of which the connections between the parts is zero 2) subsystems are connected in a chain 3) subsystems are connected unrestrictedly in direction so that feedback can occur and 4) chapter 16: systems with non-rich connections in all directions; these kinds of systems can be thought of as constructed from sub-systems that are internally richly connected with feedback loops between them that are much poorer.

Adaptation in iterated systems

15/4 Consider from a field of interactions between elements one configuration where some feedback loops are closed; the entire system contains a number of subsystems; functionally this represents an organism dealing with its environment by several independent reactions. The whole is said to consist of iterated systems. If i is the number of subsystems in equilibrium then i will not fall but can only rise as a consequence of S. 13/10.

15/5 Whether the feedbacks are first-order or second-order is irrelevant; if the system has essential variables and step-mechanisms it will go to equilibrium and the system’s adaptation will develop cumulatively and progressively. The process of trial and error takes place in the different subsystems independently of the developments in the others.

15/6 The time it takes for the iterated set to become adapted is of the order T3; this means of the order of one of its subsystems.

15/7 If the components are not connected then each can adapt independently (parameters are constant) and the time of the whole to equilibrium is of the order T3. If two components are connected then one cannot reach equilibrium until the other has; the time to reach equilibrium is of the order 2 x T3 if the step-mechanisms of the component systems are connected and of the order T1 (almost indefinite) if the systems’ reaction parts are connected: a joining from the reacting part of A to that of B can have the effect of postponing the whole’s adaptation almost indefinitely.

Serial adaptation

15/8 As per S. 15/3 the second stage of connectedness occurs when parts of the environment are joined as a chain: ‘Thus we are considering the case of the organism that faces an environment whose parts are so related that the environment can be adapted to only by a process that respects its natural articulation’ (p 200).

15/9 As an illustration: the environment allows only that an organism learns to walk before learning how to run; additional examples: falcons, chimpanzees, children.

15/10 Part A, the avoiding system: objects are noticed by the organism via skin and eyes; objects are handled via muscles. Part B, the feeding system: the blood glucose level is communicated to the brain; the brain instructs the muscles to get food; the muscles get food. As a consequence of a process of dispersion A and B may share variables (brain, muscle). A and B interact. Assume that no step-changes in A occur while adaptation of B occurs; the adaptation is now in Part B alone, interacting with ‘an environment’ A. Whatever the particularities of the conditions of the domain of A, B will be forced to adapt within the scope defined by them. NB: this is relevant to the case of a firm: everything but the firm’s memeplex is external to it; the memeplex interacts with those things such as to adapt to them; these include elements traditionally considered internal to the firm such as employees. PS: if viewed anatomically, the (sets of) variables are grouped differently from a functional view: anatomically, two variables are external to the system, functionally, all of the variables are part of the whole system and organized into an adapting part (B) to which A is the environment. Now, given that adaptations in A only occur in between step-changes in B, collisions between A and B will not occur.

15/11 In a sequence of nested sub-systems, every sub-system will be affected (and will adapt to) every disturbance in every (sub-) system in the chain it is dominated by as well as every reaction to those disturbances. If the channel capacity of the connections is high then so much disturbance is transmitted to the sub-systems that their adaptation is postponed indefinitely. If the capacity is low then the adaptation is so rapid that C, though affected by B, may be unaffected by disturbances in A and so on. In this way, if the connections get weaker then the adaptation tends to be more sequential, first A thenn B and so on, and limiting to the iterated set. If sequential the behavior tends to Case 2 (turn each wheel until A, then turn the next wheel &c.) and the time will be of the order T2. ‘Thus adaptation, even with a large organism facing a large environment, may be achievable in a moderate time if the the environment consists of sub-systems in a chain, with only channels of small capacity between them’ (p 204).

Chapter 16. Adaptation in the Multistable System.

16/1 Consider sub-systems of the environment that are connected unrestrictedly in direction so that feedback occurs between them. The type may vary according to the amount of communication between sub-system and sub-system, of special interest are: 1) it is near maximum and 2) the amount is small.

The richly joined environment

16/2 In this case, the division into subsystems ceases to have a basis.

16/3 Examples of large richly connected systems are rare, as the terrestrial environment is highly subdivided: combination lock, mathematical examples where the behavior of every sub-system depends on the behavior of all others.

16/3 ‘Thus the first answer to the question: how does the ultrastable system, or the brain, adapt to a richly joined environment: is – it doesn’t’ (p 207).

The poorly joined environment

16/5 This was shown in S. 15/2 to be the case in most terrestrial environments: sub-systems affect each other only occasionally, weakly, or via other systems. If the degree of interaction varies, at the lower end is the iterative system of S. 15/4, at the upper end is the richly connected systems of S. 16/2.

16/6 What is now assumed: 1) the environment consists of large numbers of sub-systems that have large numbers of states of equilibrium as per S. 15/2, 2) whether because of few connections or because equilibria are common, the interactions are weak, 3) the organism coupled to this environment will adapt by the method of ultrastability and 4) the organism’s reacting part is itself divided into sub-systems between which there is no direct connection: each sub-system is supposed to have its own essential variables and second order feedback.

16/7 ‘In other words, within a multistable system, subsystem adapts to subsystem in exactly the same way as animal adapts to environment. Trial and error will appear to be used; and, when the process is completed, the activities of the two parts will show co-ordination to the common end of maintaining the essential variables of the double system within their proper limits. Exactly the same principle governs the interactions between three subsystems. If the three are in continuous interaction, they form a single ultrastable system which will have the usual properties’ (p 210). NB: this appears to explain how social behavior of people gets to be correlated.

16/8 –

16/9 What modifications are required to allow that in a multistable system the number and distribution of the sub-systems active changes at each moment? Adaptation of the whole will occur, whether dispersion occurs or not. Dispersion destroys the individuality of the sub-systems. If the adaptation of the multistable system is tested by displacing its representative point then the system’s sub-systems will be found to react in a way co-ordinated to some common end. ‘But though co-ordinated in this way, there will, in general, be no simple relation between the actions of subsystem on subsystem: knowing which subsystems were activated on one line of behaviour, and how they interacted, gives no certainty about which will be activated on some other line of behaviour, or how they will interact’ (p 213). In other words: what is sub-system A and what is B can change from moment to moment.

16/10 NB: the structure changes from moment to moment, the content and the process interchange. And in addition, no anatomical or histological existence may exist of these functionalities.

16/11 What is the time required of these kinds of multistable systems to adapt? This largely depends on the richness of connection of the systems.

Summary If the actual richness is not high then the time required to reach adaptation is reasonable in practical terms.

Retroactive inhibition

16/12 Figure 7/5/1 breaks up into a multistable systems like Figure 16/6/1. Questions: 1) can a multistable system take advantage of a recurring situation? As a reminder: polystable systems have dispersion; the number of active variables they have in common is limited; a different line of behavior results in changes in their respective sets, which may or may not overlap. In the case of a multistable system, the outcomes that would be the same given two different disturbances sufficiently separated, is P1 x P2. ‘Thus the multistable system, without further ad-hoc modification, will tend to take advantage of the recurrent situation’ (p 216).

16/13 If the disturbances vary widely then the multistable system tends to direct the activations to widely different sets of step-mechanisms providing a functional equivalent of the gating mechanism of S. 10/9.

16/14 If two disturbances are nearly equal, then the overlap of the activated sets is larger; chances increase that the effects of the last disturbance destroys the effects of the first one. New learning destroys old learning: retroactive inhibition. In a multistable system the more the newer stimuli resemble the old, the more will the new upset the old. This is matched by a similar tendency in the nervous system.

16/15 Adaptability or the power to accumulate adaptations means that later adaptations shall not be destructive to earlier ones; this is the opposite of retroactive inhibition meaning that later adaptations shall be destructive to earlier ones. A brain model should show both. The homeostat shows retroactive inhibition maximally, iterated systems with a gating-mechanism shows adaptive behavior maximally and the multistable system of some intermediate degree of connection can show both. The latter will resemble the living organism.

Chapter 17. Ancillary Regulations.

17/1 Some objections (other than processing time) to the thesis that the brain is to a large extent multistable are discussed.

Communication within the brain

17/2 Why are in the multistable system and its Figure no connections between the parts of the brain, namely in the lower part, the organism; why are the connections in the environment?

17/3 Dispose of the idea that the more communication within the brain, the better. Three ways in which a function can be successful only if certain pairs of variables are not allowed to communicate or only to a certain degree: (1) in S. 8/15 it was shown that the essential variables must change the step-mechanism such that there is sufficient time between (discrete) trials; in that way the essential variables change slower than the rate of the main variables; if the essential variables change too fast there is not enough time to communicate the appropriateness of the values around the system and the environment as they are implementing their trial; changing too fast means acting before communication has arrived: ‘And if it takes ten years to observe adequately the effect of a profound re-organisation of a Civil Service, then such re-organisations ought not to occur more frequently than at eleven-year intervals. The amount of communication from essential variables to step-functions can thus become harmful if excessive’ (p 219), (2) When presented with a recurrent situation A and then with Band again with A, a system can act on A appropriately. It was shown in S. 10/8 that while adapting to B the step-mechanisms concerned with the adaptation to A must not be affected with what happens at the essential variables; allowing such communication would be harmful, and (3) It was shown in S. 16/11 that a system’s adaptation depends on its approximation of the iterated form; every addition of channels of communication takes it further away from that state and increases the time to adaptation: ‘Thus in adaptive systems, there are occasions when an increase in thee amount of communication can be harmful’ (p 219).

17/4 Another objection to the lack of connection between part and part is that coordination between part and part is required; this communication is not necessary: First, if the parts in the environment are not connected then no coordination (no communication) between parts of the organism is necessary because the changes in essential variables come (and can be responded to) independently. Second, if the parts in the environment are connected then the actions between the parts of the organism must be coordinated, because the state of all the essential variables must be kept within limits, each in relation to the others’ actions. To achieve this coordination however, communication does not necessarily take place between the organism’s parts, but can take place via the environment.

17/5 Two reasons for communication to exist between part of the organism are: 1) disturbances can come from the environment as well as from other parts; if they come from other parts it is useful if the communication is direct such that it arrives early,

17/6 and 2) the fewer the joins, the smaller the range of behaviors available to the organism (and conversely the larger, the wider the repertoire). In summary: some connections between the parts of the organism are realistically there.

17/7 With increasing connections between the (reacting) parts of the organism, the time to adapt also increases. The richness of connection between the parts of the brain has advantages and disadvantages and so the brain has to develop to reach some kind of optimum; the optimum is not a goal in itself, but is a condition for proper functioning between given limits: ‘Thus, for the organism to adapt with some efficiency against the terrestrial environment, it is necessary that the degree of connexion between the reacting parts lie between certain limits’ (p 224).

Ancillary regulations

17/8 The phrase ‘between certain levels’ above is not a circular argument, because two types (levels, orders) of adaptation are involved; in S. 3/14 it was assumed that certain essential variables, say E, remain within limits. In Chapter 11 the time for achieving equilibrium, say F, was added as an essential variable; time is different from other kinds of essential variables, but it must keep within limits also. The effect of F exceeding its limits on the behavior of a very essential (but not so essential that the organism dies from it) variable EE is that the system must now start to look for other essential variables than EE to change such that the system survives; the difference with an additional change in EE beyond some F is that the step-changes of EE do not suffice and, follwing the method of ultrastability, the step-mechanism of another E (one that remained unchanged while EE changed) is required; an example: the cat has tried every possible combination of levers to get out of the box and must now revert to mewing. Changes in E bring answers, F ‘helps’ only in the sense of forcing a change of set of essential variables hence step-mechanism. As a consequence the conclusion that certain parameters will have to be brought within certain limits does not imply a circular reference.

17/9 real systems are much more complicated than this thesis poses. The reaction part R can contain a multistable system and moreover, it can contain sub-systems of the same form and with its own sub-essential variables and sub-adaptations.

17/10 A mechanism to represent the human brain must find one that adapts really efficient. In S. 17/7 it was argued that this implies adjustment of the degree of intra-cerebral connectivity in the brain to within certain limits. Other parammeters that must be kept within limits also are: (1) duration of trial: this was hinted at in S. 8/15 but not how it is automatic, (2) the essential variables should via the step-mechanisms ‘hunt at bad’ and ‘stick with good´, but it is unclear how this relation works, (3) in S. 10/8 a gating-mechanism was introduced but it is unclear how the organism should get it, and (4) in S. 13/11 the importance was shown of the parameter: richness of equilibria among the states of the parts, but it is unclear how this parameter can be adjusted within limits. Another is discussed in the next paragraph.

Distribution of feedback

17/11 If in Figure 16/6/1 a disturbance is delivered by the environment of some part, it will affect the essential variables, through the corresponding step-mechanism, on to the reacting part and affect THE SAME environment that caused the disturbance initially. This indeed favors efficiency but it need not be so designed: the second-order feedback loops can be connected to another part. The system could not retain adaptations from the past and achieve an equilibrium in any efficient way in practical terms.

17/12 Following the above at least five ancillary regulations must be in place to achieve addaptation with reasonable efficiency and speed: how are they to be achieved?

17/13 The law of requisite variety states that if a certain quantity of disturbance is prevented by a regulator, then the regulator must be capable of exerting at least that quantity of selection. ‘The provision of the ancillary regulations thus demands that a process of selection, of appropriate intensity, exists. The biologist, of course, can answer the question at once; for the work of the last century and especially of the last thirty years has demonstrated beyond dispute that natural, Darwinian, selection, is responsible for all the selections shown so abundantly in the biological world. Ultimately, therefore, these ancillary regulations are to be attributed to natural selection’ (p 229 – 30).

17/14 The purpose of the next section is to show: ‘.. how the ancillary regulations must be developed in brains other than the living’ (p 230). A second purpose is to show that adaptation is the inevitable outcome of the process of causal relations starting at a general point.

Chapter 18. Amplifying Adaptation.

Selection the state-determined system

18/1 Selection is performed by every isolated state-determined system (also I. to C., S. 13/19): ‘In such a system, as two lines of behaviour can become one, but one line cannot become two, so the number of states that it can be in can only decrease’ (p 231). NB: this must connect with utility of diversity (how?) and also with Wolfram’s hunch that selection smooths existing patterns. Selection means that the system tends to achieve some equilibrium; in simple systems this seems trivial, such as a clock running towards its run-down state. The more complex the system gets, the more interesting this property becomes, ‘.. to show: (1) a high intensity of selection by running to equilibrium and (2) that the selected set of states, though only a small fraction of the whole (set of states), is still large enough in itself to give room for a wide range of dynamic activities’ (p 231). ‘Thus, selection for complex equilibria, within which the observer can trace the phenomenon of adaptation, must not be regarded as an exceptional and remarkable event: it is the rule. The cchief reason why we have failed to see this fact in the past is that our terrestrial world is grossly bi-modal in its forms: either the forms in it are extremely simple, like the run-down clock, so that we dismiss them contemptuously, or they are extremely complex, so that we think of them as being quite different, and say that they have Life’ (p 231-2).

18/2 These above are extremes of the same scale. Survival of Odds over Evens (and 0 over all alike) example.

18/3 The common denominator is that whenever a single-valued operator (the ‘law’ of the system) is performed repeatedly on a set of states, then the system tends to the states that are not affected by the operation or to a lesser degree: ‘In other words, every single-valued operation tends to select forms that are peculiarly able to resist its change-inducing action. In simple systems this fact is almost truistic, in complex systems anything but.’ (p 233). Think of the states of preference as a consequence of evolution on the earth: ’The development of life on earth must thus not be seen as something remarkable. On the contrary, it was inevitable’ (p 233). Consider the enormous amount of selection performed by this process, which in fact is the same as the processes we see around us everyday; the greater space available allows more forms to test and the greater period of time allows a greater level of intricate co-ordination. Under evolutionary processes forms in conjunction with their environments have developed powers to resist to the change-inducing actions of the world around them: ‘They are resistant, .. , in the dynamic and much more interesting way of forming intricate dynamic systems around themselves (their so-called ‘bodies’, with extensions such as nests and tools) so that the whole is homeostatic and self-preserving by active defenses’ (p 233). NB: can firms be seen as part of the defenses of people?

18/4 If an organisms deals with disturbances that are not adaptable, because they change over the long run (too fast for its gene-pattern) but remain the same during the generation, then it is advantageous to have the outline of the adaptive mechanism controlled by the gene-pattern and the details by the details within that generation: ‘This is the learning mechanism. Its peculiarity is that the gene-pattern delegates parts of its control over the organism to the environment. Thus, it does not specify how a kitten shall catch a mouse, but provides a learning mechanism and a tendency to play, so that it is the mouse which teaches the kitten the finer points of how to catch mice’ (p 234). NB: the environment of people changes faster than their gene-pattern can accommodate. Genes allow the environment including the firm to take some control over people?

18/5 The law of requisite variety must be applied to ancillary regulations, how the relevant parameters are brought to their appropriate values as follows: 1) some are injected by the genes and the organism is born with the correct values or 2) other ancillary regulations can be adjusted by the gene-pattern at one remove: the gene-pattern establishes a mechanism, a regulator that would then proceed at its own initiative to bring parameters to their appropriate values. However systems can seldom be arranged into distinct levels.

Amplifying adaptation

18/6 How much regulation does the gene-pattern achieve, considering the law of requisite variety? Under direct regulation some mechanism ensures that an essential variable is maintained within limits; under indirect regulation, a regulating mechanism of a parameter affecting the essential variable ensures that the parameter stays within limits which keeps the essential variable within limits. There is no relation between the amount of regulation to keep the essential variable within limits and the amount of regulation to keep the parameter within limits; as a consequence the amount of regulation to keep the parameter within limits can be small but the amount to keep the essential variable within limits can be large. Under direct regulation the amount is limited by what can be supplied by the law of requisite variety, under indirect regulation more regulation may be shown by the essential variable than is supplied to the parameter. Indirect regulation can amplify the amount of regulation.

18/7 ‘Living organisms came across this possibility aeons ago, for the gene-pattern is a channel of communication from parent to offspring..’ (p 236). NB: the meme-pattern is also a channel of communication from ‘parent’ to ‘offspring’ in a cultural sense. The gene-pattern leads to the growing in organisms of a brain that is partly adapted by details in the gene-pattern as well as by details in the environment: ‘The environment acts as the dictionary’ (p 236-7). Thus the information that comes to an organism via its gene-pattern is supplemented by the information supplied by the environment: ‘.. so the total adaptation possible, after learning, can exceed the quantity transmitted directly through the gene-pattern’ (p 237).


All state-determined dynamic systems are selective; from whatever initial state they go towards states of equilibrium; considering the change-inducing laws of the system, these states are exceptionally resistant: ‘Specially resistant are those forms whose occurrence leads, by whatever method, to the occurrence of further replicates of the same form – the so-called ‘reproducing’ forms’ (p 238). Local equilibria take the shape of sub-systems that are exceptionally resistant to local disturbances; the parts of such a stable local equilibrium are co-ordinated in their defence against disturbances. If the class of disturbance changes from generation to generation then the organism can be more resistant if it is born with a mechanism that the environment will make it act in a regulatory way against the particular environment – the learning organisms.

Cultural Evolution of the Firm

Weeks, J. and Galunic, Ch. . A Theory of the Cultural Evolution of the Firm: The Intra-Organizational Ecology of Memes . Organization Studies 24(8): 1309-1352 Copyright 2003 SAGE Publications London, Thousand Oaks, CA & New Delhi) . 0170-8406[200310]24:8;1309-1352;036074 . 2013

A theory of the cultural evolution of the firm is proposed. Evolutionary and cultural thinking is applied to the questions: What are firms and why do they exist? It is argued that firms are best thought of as cultures, as ‘social distributions of modes of thought and forms of externalization’. This culture encompasses cultural modes of thought (ideas, beliefs, assumption, values, interpretative schema, and know-how). Members of a group enact the memes they have acquired as part of the culture. Memes spread from mind to mind as they are enacted; the resulting cultural patterns are observed and interpreted by others. This refers to the meeting of content and process: as memes are enacted the ‘physical’ topology of the culture changes and as a consequence the context for the decisions of other changes. Variation in memes occurs through interpretation during communication and the re-interpretation in different contexts. The approach of taking the meme’s eye view allows a descriptive and non-normative theory of firms.


Firm theory: Why do we have firms? (and to what extent do they have us?). Firms have a cultural influence on people and that is why it is difficult to answer the question of why firms exist: we believe we need them because we were schooled in believing that. ‘They serve our purposes because they have a hand in defining those purposes and evaluating their achievement’ (p 1309). Assuming this is true then a functionalist approach, treating firms as if they are people’s tools, doesn’t help to understand why firms function as they do. It is not sufficient to start at a normative model and explain away the rest as noise as is the common practice with firm theorists; as a start they assume that firms should exist (for instance because of a supposed performance advantage over market forms of coordination) and that these theoretical advantages would pan out in practice. It is argued that a truly descriptive theory of the firm takes seriously the idea that firms are fundamentally cultural in nature and that culture evolves.

Existing theories of the firm

1) Transaction cost economics (Coase, Williamson): individuals will organize in a firm rather than contract in a market because firms are efficient contractual instruments; this organization economizes transaction costs. A contender is knowledge based firm theory (Conner and Prahalad, Kogut and Zander, Grant) positing that firms are better than markets at applying and integrating knowledge to business activity. These theories are complementary in the sense that they share the idea that business organizations exist because they offer some economic advantage to members. This theory makes a further attempt at enhancing purely economic theories of the firm. This theory reaches beyond the idea of a firm as a knowledge bearing entity to a culture bearing entity, where culture is a much wider concept of ideas than mere knowledge. In addition it is required to understand that some elements will enhance the organization’s performance and further the interests of its members and other will not. The theory must explain both. In addition the theory must explain how a firm functionally evolves if it is not towards an optimum in a best of possible worlds while aberrations are minimalized.

Defining Characteristics of the Firm

In transaction cost economics, the difference between a market and a firm is defined by authority (Coase). If B is hired by A to reduce the transaction cost of the market, then A controls the performance of B and hierarchy is introduced, whereas in a market A and B are autonomous: hierarchies and markets differ in how they exert control. The word ‘firm’ denotes the name under which the business of a commercial house is transacted, its symbol of identity (Oxford English Dictionary). It came to refer to a partnership for carrying on a business and then expanded to a broad definition of any sort of business organization. Hierarchy is common in business organizations, but it is not the defining attribute. The defining difference between market and firm is not only control but also identity; this is a key insight of the knowledge based view (Kogut and Zander 1992). People express this identity in their shared culture (Kogut and Zander 1996); the identity reflects participation in a shared culture. The knowledge based view claims that it is this shared culture that affords firms their lower transaction costs compared to the market. However, culture is left exogenous in the knowledge-based theory and in the transaction-based theory; culture is presupposed in both.


Bounded rationality: only if people are fully rational is the neo-classical assumption of rationality justified. In that case the organizational advantage over markets is limited and this assumption of transaction-based economics is invalid. If agents are unable to construct contracts with one another as autonomous agents is it valid. Similarly if no threat of opportunism exists and everybody is fully trustworthy (and known to be so) then organizations bring no additional advantage over the markets, market operations and firm operations imply the same transaction costs. Because this element is of a weak form (it suffices if some agents are unreliable), this is a realistic assumption. The third assumption is the functionalism: not only should transaction cost be economized, but given time and sufficient competitive forces (Williamson and Ouchi 1981: 363-364: 10 years). However, for the transaction cost theory to be descriptive, it needs an explanation of the identification and realization of the efficiency of the economies of the costs of transactions; how do economic agents know the origins, the effects of the cost and how do they know how to economize on them? This requires strong assumptions of neo-classical competition and human rationality. The knowledge-based firm theory is also functional and it is assumed that: 1) the interests of the individual and the enterprise are aligned and 2) individuals can and will always identify the relation between performance and business organization and market respectively when deciding whether to establish a firm or definitely be selected out in time. Firms are theorized to do better than markets is to share and transfer knowledge between members of the organization, individuals and groups, because of the shared identity. This shared identity is built through culture and this takes time; not only does it allow capturing of specific knowledge, also it limits the kind of future knowledge can be further captured and exploited.

An evolutionary model is more suitable: firms evolve as cultures and this need not be functional from the point of view of the organization as a whole. Cultural patterns do not necessarily arise among a social group because they benefit the members of the group equally: power may result in the benefiting of some members more than others, some elements of organizations even though carefully managed do not benefit every member equally and some elements seem not to benefit or disadvantage anyone. Culture seems to be an emergent phenomenon and even organizations that were created for specific purposes tend not to dissolve after having met them, but rather tend to adapt their goals for new purposes unforeseen by their founders.

Intra-organizational Perspective

Individuals learn more about organizations if they are more and longer involved with them, but they are likely to not learn all of it and seldom to accept all that is learned. This is called ‘population thinking’ (Ernst Mayer): every member of the organization has an interpretation resulting in a scatter of cultural elements that they carry and reproduce in a slightly different way. The scatter results in a center of gravity (or a contour) of the prototypical culture of the firm. The interpretation of the culture by each member is a variation to that prototype. None of them might be exactly the same but they have what Wittgenstein calls the ‘family resemblance’: ’They share enough of the beliefs and values and meanings and language to be recognized and to recognize themselves as part of the culture’ (p 1316) NB: this prototype resembles the organization of the autopoietic system that keeps it intact as a unity and that gives it its identity such as to allow it to be recognized by an observer. The entire scatter of cultural elements that builds the firms culture is the structure. Those elements that are dispensable are structure, those that are not are also part of the organization of the autopoietic system that is the firms culture. Complications: 1) how is the social distribution formed and how does it change over time? A theory is needed for the ecology of the cultural elements as well as how they change as they spread over the organization and how a flow of new cultural elements enter the firm and has an impact on existing culture 2) How do the careers of cultural elements develop over time. Memes refer to cultural modes of thought values, beliefs, assumptions, know-how &c. ‘Culture results from the expression of memes, their enactment in patterns of behavior and language and so forth’ (p 1317). Studying evolution of culture it is important to keep in mind that memes have a meanings in the context of other memes.

A firm theory based on knowledge-based firm theory must take into account not only knowledge but culture; it must be evolutionary so as to account for the firms’ changes over time, while a ‘use’ or a ‘purpose’ for some or all of the members of the population is not required for the change to take place.

Memes: The Unit of Cultural Selection

What this means is that the overall, intricate patterns of culture that we call firms are not the best understood as the result of the conscious and coherent designs of astonishing organizational leaders. Instead, for better or for worse, they emerge step-by-step out of the interactions of intendedly rational people making what sense they can of their various situations, pursuing their various aims, and often acting in ways that they have difficulty explaining, even to themselves’ (p 1318)

The key to evolution in the sense of an algorithm providing selection, variation and retention is that it postulates a population of replicators but it does not make assumptions about what those can be. Assuming that the environment stays the same, then every next generation will be slightly better adapted to that environment than the previous one. Competition is assumed for some scarce resource, be it food, air or human attention. Retention assumes the ability of a replicator to be copied accurately. ‘Firms and markets are cultural entities. They have evolved in the same way any part of culture evolves: though selection, variation and retention of memes. Memes are the replicators in cultural evolution. They are the modes of thought (ideas, assumptions, values, beliefs and know-how) that when they are enacted (as language and other forms of expression)create the macro-level patterns of culture. Memes are units of information stored in the brain that replicate from brain to brain as people observe and interpret their cultural expression. .. Memes are the genes of culture. Just as plants and animals and all biological organisms are the phenotypic expression of particular combinations of genes, so cultural patterns such as firms are the phenotypic expression of particular combinations of memes’ (p 1320)

Small Replicators

Genes are the replicators, not the organism. Organisms exist because they are a good way to replicate. Memes are the replicators, not people and not culture. But those memes that are part of firms replicate more than those who aren’t. ‘We have the firms that we do, in other words, not because they are necessarily good for society or good for their members (though often they are both), but fundamentally because they are good was for memes to replicate themselves’(p 1321). To study a firm in this sense is the equivalent of studying ecology: selection but not variation nor retention. Firms do not replicate themselves in toto; selection, however, is theorized as occurring to this object in its entirety. A unit of selection is required that is smaller than the firm as a whole.

Systemic Elements and Social Phenomena

First premise: memes are small and analytically divisible. Second premise: the environment where the selection of memes takes place principally includes other memes. The memes build on themselves and they do so according to the ‘bricoleur principle’ (Lévi-Strauss 1966: 17): building on making use of the materials at hand. Memes are recycled and recombined, informing and constraining the creation of new memes. Some are implicated more than others. NB: here the existence of culture is confused with the existence of memes. The latter are the tools for thought and culture is built of their enactment. And so memes are the experiments (anything that can be uttered) and culture is their expression in the physical world, even spoken, gestured & written (anything that is in fact uttered). ‘In firms, these fundamental memes are akin to what Schein ((1992) calls basic assumptions. They are deeply held assuumptions about the nature of reality and truth, about time aand space, and about the nature of human nature, human activity, and human relationships (Schein 1992: pp. 95-6). When these are widely shared in a culture, they tend to be taken for granted and therefore pass unnoticed. They structure the way firm members think of the mission and goals of the firm, its core competencies, and the way things are done in the firm. Often borrowed and reinterpreted from some part of the wider context in which the firm is located, they are central to the identity of the firm and the identity the firm affords its members. The concept of meme must be robust enough to include these taken-for-granted assumptions if it is to serve usefully as the unit of selection in a theory of the cultural evolution of the firm’ (p 1323). NB This does not explain clearly whence memes come. My premises is that the firm is a cultural pattern originating in the memes that stem from the commonly held beliefs in a society. Not that they merely structure goals and mission, but that they are the stuff of them. There is indeed a relation between the memes and the identity of the firm. There is no mention of the belief systems and more specifically belief in the idea of progress, ala capitalism &c.

Why Memes

Meme is the umbrella term for the category containing all cultural modes of thought. Memes are cultural modes of thought. The concept preserves the distinction between modes of thought and their forms of externalization: the memes in people’ s heads and the ways they talk and act and the artifacts they produce as a product of enacting those memes. ‘The firm is a product of memes in the way that the fruit fly is the product of genes’ (p 1324): a distinction is possible between particular elements of culture and the memes that correspond to them. ‘Memes, the unit of selection, are in the mind. Culture, on the other hand, is social. Culture reflects the enactment of memes. Culture is a social phenomenon that is produced and continuously reproduced through the words and actions of individuals as they selectively enact the memes in their mind. Culture may be embedded in objects or symbols, but it requires an interpreting mind to have meaning and to be enacted’ (p 1324)

With memes in Mind

Without human minds to enact it and interpret it, there is no culture: ‘Memes spread as they are replicated in the minds of people perceiving and interpreting the words and actions and artifacts (compare Hannerz 1992: 3-4; Sperber 1996: 25). They vary as they are enacted and reinterpreted’ (p 1324). A change in culture can be seen as a change in the social distribution of the memes among the members of the population carrying that culture. NB: the social distribution trick gets rid of the meme – culture difference. A change in memes produces different enactment in turn produces different culture resulting in different cultural products such as utterances and artifacts. From the existence of phenotypic traits, the existence of genes and their relation to that phenotype (that property) can with some considerable difficulty be inferred through a reverse engineering exercise. The analog statement is that from cultural features the existence of these particular memes that caused those features can be inferred. This statement is of a statistical nature: ‘He is implicitly saying: there is variation in eye color in the population; other things being equal, a fly with this gene is more likely to have red eyes than a fly without the gene. That is all we ever mean by a gene ‘for’ red eyes’ (p 1325, Dawkins 1982: 21). Concerning the substance of memes and the way it is enacted in culture: ‘Studies of psychological biases (Kahneman and Tversky 1973) can help us to understand ways in which the make-up of our brains themselves may shape the selection of memes’ (p 1326).

The Meme’s-Eye View

The essence is that not survival of the organism but survival of the genes best capable to reproduce themselves. These statements are usually congruent: whatever works for the organism works for the gene and the genes best suitable to reproduce are inside the fittest organism. The Maltusian element of Darwin’s theory is that evolution is about selection based on competition for a scarce resource; in the case of memes the scarce resource is human attention. Memes compete to be noticed, to be internalized and to be reproduced. Memes can gain competitive advantage by their recognized contribution to the firms performance; misunderstanding or mismanagement can lead to reproduction of the wrong memes by management. If firms would be subject to competition and the least successful would die out at each generation then the most successful would thrive in time: ‘We hold that a theory of the firm must be able to explain not why we should have firms, but why we do have the firms (good, bad, and ugly alike) that we have’ (p 1327). NB: This is too modest and I do not agree: before anything can be said about their characteristics, an explanation must be in place about the raison d’ for firms, why does something like a firm exist? But why this limitation of the scope of the explanation?

Mechanisms of Selection, Variation, and Retention

Selection. A meme is internalized when the cultural expression corresponding to it is observed and interpreted by a member of the firm. NB: Is not a form of memorization required such that the observation and enactment are independent in time and ready for enactment? A meme is selected when it is enacted. ‘At any point in time, the pattern of selection events acting on a given variation of memes across the firm defines the ecology of memes in the firm’ (p 1327) NB: Firstly it defines the culture in the firm as the expressions of actions, the enactments of the memes hosted by individuals; those enactments in turn harbor memes and those remain for other members to observe, to interpret and at to enact at some occasion. Selective pressures on memes are: function, fit and form. Function: members believe that some function is served when a particular meme is enacted. This is not straightforward because 1) functionality is wrongly defined because reality and the reaction to it is complex, especially given that people are boundedly rational. Events will conspire to ensure that ill-functioning memes are selected against: members notice that they do not lead to the aspired goal and stop reproducing them. If not they may be removed from their position or the part of the firm or the entire firm is closed. For myriad reasons (p 1328), members may not deviate from their belief in the functional underpinning for a particular meme and they keep reproducing it; therefore function is not a strong argument for the selection of memes. 2) Fit: the manner in which a meme fits into a population of other memes and the memes that fit with other dominant memes stand a better chance of survival: ‘Institutional theory emphasizes that organizations are open systems – strongly influenced by their environments – but that many of the most fateful forces are the result not of rational pressures for more effective performance but of social and cultural pressures to conform to conventional beliefs’ (Scott 1992: 118 in p 1329) NB: this is crucial: the beliefs deliver memes that deliver culture hen they are enacted. The feedback loop is belief > memes > culture > memes > culture and performance is a cultural by-product. How does the produced culture feed back into the memes? ‘Powell and DiMaggio (1991: 27-28) describe this environment as a system of ‘cultural elements, that is, taken-for-granted beliefs and widely promulgated rules that serve as templates for organizing’. In other words, as a system of memes’ (p 1329). NB: this is complex of just-so stories guiding everyday practice. ‘The memetic view shares a central assumption with institutional theory: choices and preferences cannot be properly understood outside the cultural and historical frameworks in which they are set (Powell and DiMaggio 1991: 10). Our perspective, our identity, is a cumulative construction of the memes we carry (see Cohen and Levinthal 1990; Le Doux 2002). We are a product of our memes’ (p 1329) NB: this is a long and generalized version of the memes originating in a belief in the idea of progress. ‘By focusing analysis on the social distributions of memes within the firm, rather than assuming the firm is a monolith that adapts uniformly to its competitive or institutional environment, the memetic view suggests that its isomorphism is always imperfect, and that there are always sources of variation that may evolve into important organizational traits’ (p 1330). NB: this is the equivalent of the monadic view: as perfect as possible given circumstances and time, but never quite perfect. Also the identity of the firm as a consequence of the autopoietic organization and the structure is develops and that adds additional traits to the identity but that can be selected away without losing its identity as a unity. 3) Memes can be selected for their form: the morphology of genetic expressions may influence reproductive success; the ease with which an idea can be imitated is correlated to its actual reproductive success (urban legend, disgustingness, sound bite, self-promotion in the sense of piggybacking on others so as to be reproduced more often and in the sense of creating more network externalities (Blackmore on altruism), catchyness, stickyness).


Novel combinations of memes and altogether new memes. NB if a memeplex is an autopietic system then it is closed to external information. It is a linguistic system. Signals are received and trigger the system to react to them. But no information is actually transferred; this implies that memes stay inside the memeplex and that other members carrying other memeplexes copy based on what they perceive is the effect of the meme in another member in their context. A distinction is made into mutation and migration of memes. The latter does not exist in in autopoietic systems. Hiring is limited because of the tendency to hire those who are culturally close to the firm as is; and the effect of firing severs the availability of their views. Different backgrounds of people in a firm are seen as a source of diversity of memes. NB: how does this idea match autopoiesis?

A difference is pointed out between potential variation and realized variation: the number of new memes that come available to the members of the firm versus the number of new memes that are actually realized. ‘If there is ‘information overload’ and ‘information anxiety’, then it is to a great extent because people cannot confidently enough manage the relationship between the entire cultural inventory and their reasonable personal share in it’ (Hannerz 1992: 32 in p 1332). In this way an increase in the potential memetic variety can lead to a decrease in the realized memetic variety. Whether a relation exists between the potential and the realized in evolving systems is unclear. ‘But an evolutionary perspective, and an understanding of the firm as an ecology of memes, should make us a little more humble about predicting unidirectional outcomes between such things as diversity and performance’ (p 1333). Mutation is a source of variation via misunderstandings. These are in practical terms the rule rather than the exception, especially if conveyed not via written or even spoken word. The final source of variation is recombination: move around the group and then actual recombination. NB: this is the preferred version in an autopoietic system.


Key elements are 1) longevity, 2) fidelity, and 3) fecundity. 1) Longevity is about the firm reproducing itself through the actions of individuals as they conduct recurring social practices and thereby incorporate and reproduce constituent rules and ideas, memes, of the firm. ‘In other words, firm activity is not a fixed object, but a constant pattern of routine activity that reproduces the memes that express these routines’ (p 1335). NB: routine activity in this phrase resembles the organization of an autopoietic system 2) Fidelity means how accurately memes are copied. This is an advantage over markets. ‘The defining elements of the firm (its characteristic patterns of control and identity) provide for meme retention. Control in firms means that employees accept to a relatively greater degree than in markets that they may be told how to behave and even how to think. They accept, in other words, reproducing certain memes and not others’ (p 1335). NB: this is a key notion: based on this definition of control in firms, this is the effect that firms have as the context (ambience) for their employees: they get to copy some desired memes and not others. I have a difficulty with the word ACCEPT in this context: how does it relate to the concept of free will and the presumed lack of it? ‘Those memes that become part of the firm’s identity become less susceptible to change (Whetten and Godfrey 1998). Being consistent with dominant memes in the firm becomes a selection factor for other memes, which further reinforces fidelity’ (p 1336). NB: Copy-the-product versus copy-the-instruction. 3) Fecundity refers to the extent to which a meme is diffused in the firm. This depends on the mind that the meme currently occupies: the more senior the member, the higher the chance that the meme gets replicated. ‘The cultural apparatus includes all those specializations within the division of labor which somehow aim at affecting minds, temporarily or in a enduring fashion; the people and institutions whose main purpose it is to meddle with our consciousness’ (Hannerz 1992: 83). This was meant to apply to societies (media &c.), but it can be used for firms just the same, especially because it is assumed to part of the standard outfit of firms that some groups of people meddle with the minds of other groups.

Why Do Firms Exist?

Why has the cultural evolution process led to a situation where the memes bundle together as firms?’ (p 1337). The scope of the answer is in the bundling of the memes (into patterns of control and identity) such that they have a competitive advantage over others; why do memes that are a part of firms replicate more often than memes that are not a part of a firm? NB: Weeks and Galunic are mistakenly assuming that memes in firms benefit their host by offering them an advantage (p 1338). ‘A cultural and evolutionary theory also forces us to recognize that the reasons firms came into existence are not necessarily the reasons this form persists now’(p 1338). Two questions arise: 1) what are the historical origins of the evolution of the firm and 2) why does the concept of the firm persist until today? Ad 1 origins) the idea is that large (US) firms exist around 50 years. The concept started as a family-run firms and grew from that form to a larger corporate form. As the scale of the business grew it was not longer possible to oversee it for one man and so management emerged, including the functional areas of production, procurement &c. ‘From a meme’s-eye view, we would say that these memes produced cultural effects with a tremendous functional selection advantage, but they did so only when bundled with each other. This bundling was made possible by the enacted identity and control memes of the firm. Thus, together, both sets of memes flourished’ (p 1339). ‘In evolutionary terms, this pattern is to be expected. Through bundling, replicators can combine in ways that produce more complex expressions that are better to compete for resources (such as human attention in the case of memes), but this bundling requires some apparatus to be possible. In our case, this apparatus consists of the memes that enact the firm’ (p 1340). NB: Because of their complexity they are better suited to compete because they better manage to retain bundles of memes for business functions such as production, procurement and distribution. Firms enhanced the faithful reproduction and enactment of those memes; they have reduced variation.


Once the bundle of memes we call the firm had emerged, the logic of its evolution changed somewhat and the possibility of group selection emerged’ (p 1340). NB: I don’t believe that the concept of the firm has changed since it was initially conceived: it must be mirrored. Also as an autopoietic system it has to have existed as a unity and an organization, a unity from the outset in whatever slim shape. It cannot ‘emerge’ from nothingness and evolve into something.’There is always a balance in any evolving system between the longevity offered by retention at the level of the individual meme and for adaptation at the level of of the bundle of memes. The firm emerged because of the reproductive advantages it gave memes, but it persisted because it was also able to provide more effective variation and selection processes’ (p 1340). NB: this is about the diffusion of administrative and managerial processes.


Firms offer memes advantages of retention as a result of: 1) control: peole can be told what to do and what to think 2) the identity that employees develop towards their firms, which brings them to hold certain memes close and protect them against different ideas. ‘Control and identity come together in firms by virtue of the legitimacy granted generally by society and specifically by employees to managers of firms to impose and manipulate corporate culture and thus the assumptions, beliefs, values, and roles internalized by employees and enacted by them not only in the organization (when management may be looking to ensure displays of compliance) but outside as well’ (p 1341). NB: I find this still not entirely satisfactory, because I am convinced that the memes carried by management may be somewhat more specialized than those of the people outside the firm, but the general ideas are widely known and carried by members of society. A firm could not exist in a society where some of the memes that compose a firm do not exist or are not believed to be true. ‘Without very much exaggeration we might say that firms are systems of contractual docility. They are structures that ensure, for the most part, that members find it in their self-interest to be tractable, manageable and, above all, teachable’ (p 1341). The economy for an incumbent meme to be added to the memeplex is described as follows: ‘When you can give ideas away and retain them at the same time, you can afford to be generous. In contrast, it is less easy to maintain allegiance to any number of contradictory ideas, and especially to act in line with all of them. Thus, if somebody accepts your ideas and therefore has to discard or reject competing ideas, in belief or in action, he may really be more generous than you are as a donor’ (Hannerz 1992: 104 in p 1341). NB: members protect memes because they are a product of them. Firms through their efforts of dedicated management to replicate meme high-fidelity and their firm-specific language, facilitate the retention of memes in the minds of their members.

Apart from control and authority, firms provide identity for members. At the core of institutional thinking two elements are held: 1) human actors are susceptible to merging their identity with that of the firms and 2) to be an institution presupposes some stable core memes as attractors of social union. Ad 1 identity) people are inclined to collective enterprise for a need to cooperate (Axelrod 1997) and from a natural tendency to seek and adopt moral order (Durkheim 1984; Weber 1978): ‘This is the sense in which the firms have us as much as we have them: they socialize us, fill our heads with their memes, which shape our sense of identity and which we carry, reproduce, and defend outside the organization as well as inside’ (p 1342). NB: this is where process and content meet: members reproduce the memes provided by the firm and the enacted memes produce the culture which is the environment for the members to base their beliefs on about ‘how things are done around here’. The culture is now also the basis for the development of memes; the content has become process. ‘.. the presence of managerially assigned monetary incentives and career progression that motivate the display of adherence to corporate memes; and, not least, the power of leaders to sanction and select out actors who do not abide by corporate values’ (p 1342).

Selection and Variation

Firms offer two sorts of selection and variation advantages to memes: 1) they offer a context that places memes that are potentially beneficial to the firm in closer proximity to one another than is typical in markets (complementary ideas, groups socially evolving norms) and 2) the presence of professional management who motivated and responsible for the creating and enforcement of memes considered beneficial. ‘.. firms have an advantage over markets as superior explorers of design space and thus are beter able to create variation through novel recombinations of memes’ (p 1344).