Distributed Intelligence

Heylighen, F. and Beigi, S. . mind outside brain: a radically non-dualist foundation for distributed cognition . Socially Extended Epistemology (Eds. Carter, Clark, Kallestrup, Palermos, Pritchard) . Oxford University Press . 2016


We approach the problem of the extended mind from a radically non-dualist perspective. The separation between mind and matter is an artefact of the outdated mechanistic worldview, which leaves no room for mental phenomena such as agency, intentionality, or experience. [DPB: the rationale behind this is the determinism argument: if everything is determined by the rules of physics (nature) then nothing can be avoided and the future is determined. There can be no agency because there is nothing to choose, there can be no intentionality because people’s choices are determined by the rules of physics (it appears to be their intention but it is physics talking) and there can be no personal experience because which events a person encounters is indifferent from the existence of the (physical) person]. We propose to replace it by an action ontology, which conceives mind and matter as aspects of the same network of processes. By adopting the intentional stance, we interpret the catalysts of elementary reactions as agents exhibiting desires, intentions, and sensations. [DPB: I agree with the idea that mind and body are ‘functions of the same processes’. The intentional stance implies the question: What would I desire, want, feel in his place in this circumstance, and hence what can I be expected to do?] Autopoietic networks of reactions constitute more complex superagents, which moreover exhibit memory, deliberation and sense-making. In the specific case of social networks, individual agents coordinate their actions via the propagation of challenges. [DPB: for the challenges model: see the article Evo mailed]. The distributed cognition that emerges from this interaction cannot be situated in any individual brain. [DPB: this is important and I have discussed this in the section about the Shell operator, who cannot physically be aware of the processes out of his own scope of professional activities]. This non-dualist, holistic view extends and operationalizes process metaphysics and Eastern philosophies. It is supported by both mindfulness experiences and mathematical models of action, self-organization, and cognition. [DPB: I must decide how to apply the concepts of individuation, virtual/real/present, process ontology and/or action ontology, distributed cognition and distributed intelligence (do I need that?), and computation/thinking/information processing in my arguments].


Socially extended knowledge is a part of the philosophical theory of the extended mind (Clark & Chalmers, 1998; Palermos & Pritchard, 2013; Pritchard, 2010): mental phenomena such as memory, knowledge and sensation extend outside the individual human brain, and into the material and social environment. DPB: this reminds of the Shell narrative. The idea is that human cognition is not confined to information processing within the brain, but depends on phenomena external to the brain: ‘These include the body, cognitive tools such as notebooks and computers, the situation, the interactions between agent and environment, communications with other agents, and social systems. We will summarize this broad scale of “extensions” under the header of distributed cognition (Hutchins, 2000), as they all imply that cognitive content and processes are distributed across a variety of agents, objects and actions. Only some of those are located inside the human brain; yet all of them contribute to human decisions by providing part of the information necessary to make these decisions’ [pp. 1-2]. The aim of this paper is to propose a radical resolution to this controversy (between processes such as belief, desire and intention are considered mental and other such as information transmission and processing, and storage as mechanical): we assume that mind is a ubiquitous property of all minimally active matter (Heylighen, 2011)’ (emphasis DPB: this statement is similar to (analogous to?) the statement that all processes in nature are computational processes or that all processes are cognitive and individuating processes) [p 2].

From dualism to action ontology

Descartes argued that people are free to choose: therefore the human mind does not follow physical laws. But since all matter follows such laws, the mind cannot be material. Therefore the mind must be independent, belonging to a separate, non-material realm. This is illustrated by the narrative that the mind leaves the body when a person dies. But a paradox rises: if mind and matter are separate then how can one affect the other? Most scientists agree that the mind ‘supervenes’ on the matter of the brain and it cannot exist without it. But many still reserve some quality that is specific for the mind, thereby leaving the thinking dualist. An evolutionary worldview explains the increasing complexity: elements and systems are interconnected and the mind does not need to be explained as a separate entity, but as a ‘.. mind appears .. as a natural emanation of the way processes and networks self-organize into goal-directed, adaptive agents’ [p 5], a conception known as process metaphysics. The thesis here is that the theory of the mind can be both non-dual AND analytic. To that end the vagueness of the process metaphysics is replaced with action ontology: ‘That will allow us to “extend” the mind not just across notebooks and social systems, but across the whole of nature and society’ [p 5].

Agents and the intentional stance

Action ontology is based on reactions as per COT. Probability is a factor and so determinism does not apply. Reactions or processes are the pivot in action ontology and states are secondary: ‘States can be defined in terms of the reactions that are possible in that state (Heylighen, 2011; Turchin, 1993)’ [p 7]. DPB: this reminds of the restrictions of Oudemans, the attractors and repellers that promote the probability that some states and restrict the probability that other states can follow from this particular one. In that sense it reminds also of the perception that systems can give to the observer that they are intentional. The list of actions that an agent can perform defines a dynamical system (Beer, 1995, 2000). The states that lead into an attractor define the attractor’s basin and the process of attaining that position in phase-space is called equifinality: different initial states produce the same final state (Bertalanffy, 1973). The attractor, the place the system tends to move towards is its ‘goal’ and the trajectory towards it as it is chosen by the agent at each consecutive state is its ‘course of action’ in order to reach that ‘goal’. The disturbances that might bring the agents off its course can be seen as challenges, which the agent does not control, but which the agent might be able to tackle by changing its course of action appropriately. To interpret the dynamics of a system as a goal-directed agent in an environment is the intentional stance (Dennett, 1989).

Panpsychism and the Theory of Mind

The “sensations” we introduced previously can be seen as rudimentary “beliefs” that an agent has about the conditions it is experiencing’ [p 10]. DPB: conversely beliefs can be seen as sensations in the sense of internalized I-O rules. ‘The prediction (of the intentional stance DPB) is that the agent will perform those actions that are most likely to realize its desires given its beliefs about the situation it is in’ [p 10]. DPB: and this is applicable to all kinds of systems. Indeed Dennett has designed different classes for physical systems, and I agree with the authors that there is no need for that, given that these systems are all considered to be agents (/ computational processes). Action ontology generalizes the application of the intentional stance to all conceivable systems and processes. To view non-human processes and systems in this way is in a sense ‘animistic’: all phenomena are sentient beings.


In the action ontology a network of coupled reactions can be modeled: the output of one reaction forms the input for the next and so on. In this way it can be shown that a new level of coherence emerges. If such a network produces its own components including the elements required for its own reproduction it is autopoietic. In spite of ever changing states, its organization remains invariant. The states are characterized by the current configurations of the system’s elements, the states change as a consequence of the perturbations external to the system. Its organization lends the network system its (stable) identity despite the fact that it is in ongoing flux. The organization and its identity render it autonomous, namely independent of the uncertainties in its environment: ‘Still, the autopoietic network A interacts with the environment, by producing the actions Y appropriate to deal with the external challenges X. This defines the autopoietic organism as a higher-order agent: A+XA+Y. At the abstract level of this overall reaction, there is no difference between a complex agent, such as an animal or a human, and an elementary agent, such as a particle. The difference becomes clear when we zoom in and investigate the changing state of the network of reactions inside the agent’ [p 14]. DPB: this is a kind of a definition of the emergence of organization of a multitude of elements into a larger body. This relates to my black-box / transparency narrative. This line of thought is further elaborated on in the COT, where closure and self-maintenance are introduced to explain the notion of autopoiesis in networks. Closure means that eventually no new elements are produced, self-maintenance means that eventually all the elements are produced again (nothing is lost), and together they imply that all the essential parts are eventually recycled. This leads to states on an attractor. Also see COT article Francis. //INTERESTING!! In simple agents the input is directly transformed into an action: there is no internal state and these agents are reactive. In complex networks an input affects the internal state, the agent keeps an internal memory of previous experiences. That memory is determined by the sequence of sensations the agent has undergone. This memory together with its present sensations (perceptions of the environment) constitutes the agent’s belief system. A state is processed (to the next state) by the system’s network of internal reactions, the design of which depends on its autopoietic organization. A signal may or may not be the result of this processing and hence this process can be seen as a ‘deliberation’ or ‘sense-making’. Given the state of the environment, and given the memory of the system resulting from its previous experience, and given its propensity to maintain its autopoiesis, an input is processed (interpreted) to formulate an action to deal with the changed situation. If the action turns out to be appropriate then the action was justified and the rule leading up to it was true and the beliefs are knowledge: ‘This is equivalent to the original argument that autopoiesis necessarily entails cognition (Maturana & Varela, 1980), since the autopoietic agent must “know” how to act on a potentially perturbing situation in order to safeguard its autopoiesis’. This is connected to the notion of “virtue reliabilism”, that asserts that beliefs can be seen as knowledge when their reliability is evidenced by the cognitive capabilities (“virtues”) they grant the agent (Palermos, 2015; Pritchard, 2010) [p 15]. UP TO HERE //.

Socially distributed cognition

In our own approach to social systems, we conceive such processes as a propagation of challenges (Heylighen, 2014a). This can be seen as a generalization of Hutchins’s analysis of socially distributed cognition taking place through the propagation of “state” (Hutchins, 1995, 2000): the state of some agent determines that agentś action or communication, which in turn affects the state of the next agent receiving that communication or undergoing that action. Since a state is a selection out of a variety of potential states, it carries information. Therefore, the propagation of state from agent to agent is equivalent to the transmission and processing of information. This is an adequate model of distributed cognition if cognition is conceived as merely complex information processing. But if we want to analyze cognition as the functioning of a mind or agency, then we need to also include that agent’s desires, or more broadly its system of values and preferences. .. in how far does a state help to either help or hinder the agent in realizing its desires? This shifts our view of information from the traditional syntactic perspective of information theory (information as selection among possibilities) (Shannon & Weaver, 1963)) to a pragmatic perspective (information as trigger for goal-directed action (Gernert, 2006)(emphasis of DPB) [pp. 17-8]. DPB: this is an important connection to my idea that not only people’s minds process information, but the organization as such processes information also. This can explain how a multitude of people can be autonomous as an entity ‘an sich’. Distributed cognition is the cognition of the whole thing and in that sense the wording is not good, because the focus is no longer the human individual but the multitude as a single entity; a better word would be ‘integrated cognition’? It is propose to replace the terms “information” or “state” to “challenge”: a challenge is defined as a situation (i.e. a conjunction of conditions sensed by some agent) that stimulated the agent to act. DPB: Heylighen suggests that acting on this challenge brings benefit to the agent, I think it is more prosaic than that. I am not sure that I need the concept of a challenge. Below is an illustration of my Shell example: an individual know that action A leads to result B, but no one knows that U →Y, but the employees together know this: the knowledge is not in one person, but in the whole (the organization): John : U V, Ann : V→W, Barbara : W→X, Tom : X→Y. Each person recognizes the issue, does not know the (partial) answer, but knows (or finds out) who does; the persons are aware of their position in the organization and who else is there and (more or less) doing what. ‘Together, the “mental properties” of these human and non-human agents will determine the overall course of action of he organization. This course of action moves towards a certain “attractor”, which defines the collective desire or system of values of the organization’ [p 21]. DPB: if I want to model the organization using COT then this above section can be a starting point. I’m not sure I do want to, because I find it impracticable to identify the mix of the ingredients that should enter the concoction that is the initial condition to evolve into the memeplex that is a firm. How many of ‘get a job’ per what amount of ‘the shareholder is king’ should be in it?

Experiencing non-duality

Using the intentional stance it is possible to conceptualize a variety of processes as mind-like agencies. The mind does not reside in the brain, it sits in all kinds of processes in a distributed way.

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].

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.

Time and the Other

Fabian, J. . Time and the Other – How Anthroplogy Makes its Object . Columbia University Press . New York . 1983 . ISBN 0-231-05590-0

Anthropology is the study of humans and their societies in the past and present. Its main subdivisions are social anthropology and cultural anthropology, which describes the workings of societies around the world, linguistic anthropology, which investigates the influence of language in social life, and biological or physical anthropology, which concerns long-term development of the human organism.

‘Time much like language or money, is a carrier of significance, a form through which we define the content of relations between the Self and the Other.. Time may give form to relations of power and inequality under the conditions of capitalist industrial production’ [Preface and Acknowledgements p. IX]. This means that time is an aspect that determines the interface between Self and the Other and so Time influences our view on the Other.

How does our use of the concept of time influence the construction of the object of study of antropology? The difficulty is in our understanding of we as the subject of anthropology, because in that role we as the subject of history can not be presupposed or left implicit nor should it be allowed to define the Other in an easy way. The contradiction is that the study of anthropoloy is conducted by involving with the object of research intensively, but based on the knowledge gained in that field research, to pronounce a discours construing the Other in terms of spatial and temporal distance.

Ch 1 Time and the Emerging Other

Knowledge is power and the claim to power of anthropology stems from its roots: the constituting of its own object of study, the Other (originally the object was the savage). All knowledge of the Other also has a historical, therefore a temporal element. In this sense accumulating knowledge involves a political act, namely from the systematic oppression to anarchic mutual recognition.

Universal time was established in the renaissance and its spread during the Enlightenment. The confusion exists because of the multitude of historical fact. Universal history is a device to distinguish different times by comparing the histories of individual countries with it: in this way it is what a general map is to particular maps [Bossuet 1845: 1, 2]. Universal can have the connotation of total (the entire worlds at all times) and general (applicable to many instances). Bossuet doesn’t address the first, but the second: how can history be presented in terms of generally valid principles? This can be done if in the ‘sequence of things, la suite des choses’ one can discern the ‘order of times’. This can be done if the order can be abbreviated to allow an instant view. the ‘epoch’ is proposed as a device, a resting place in time to consider everything that happened before that point and everything after it.

Travel gave a new impetus to anthropology and to time. Travel is now a vehicle for self-realization and the documents produced as a result form a new discours. The new traveler citiqued the existing philosophes: things seen and experienced while traveling are not as per the reality distorted by preconceived ideas.

The objective of the modern navigators is ‘to complete the history of man’ [La Pérouse in Moravia 1967:964 f in Fabian p. 8]. The meaning of complete can be to self-realisation and it can also be understood as to fill out (like a form).

The conceived authenticity of a past, found in ‘savage cultures’ is used to denounce an overly acculturated and urbanized present by presenting counterimages to the pristine wholeness of the authentic life. Time is at this point in the nineteenth century secularized.

From history to evolution (from secularization of time to evolutionary temporalizing): 1) time is immanent to the world, nature, the universe, 2) relations between parts of the world can be understood as as temporal relations. The theory of Darwinian evolution can only be accepted on the condition that the concept of time that is crucial to it, is adapted to the one in vigor. Only then can tis theory be applied to projects with the objective to show evolutionary laws in society. Darwin had based his concept of time on [Charles Lyell’s Principles of Geology 1830] and he cites in a section in the origin of Species named ‘On the lapse of Time’: ‘He who can read Sit Charles Lyell’s grand work on the Principles of Geology, which the future historian will recognize as having produced a revolution in the natural sciences, yet does not admit how incomprehensibly vast have been the past periods of time, may at once close this#volume’ [1861 third ediction:111]. Lyell suggests the theory of Uniformitarianism: ‘All former changes of the organic and physical creation are referable to one uniterrupted succession of physical events, governed by laws now in operation’ [quoted in Peel 1971:293n9 in Fabian p.13]. Geological time endowed them with plausibility and scope they did not have before; the biblical time wasn’t the right kind of time, because it relays significant events from a Christian perspective, but not a neutral time independent of the events it marks. And so it cannot be part of a Cartesian time-space system.

Darwin states that time has no inner necessity or meaning: ‘The mere lapse of time itself doesn’t do anything either for or against natural selection. I state this because it has been erroneously asserted that the element of time is assumed by me to play an all-important part in natural selection, as if all species were necessarily undergoing slow modification from some innate law’ [Darwin 1861:110 f]. Also Darwin hinted at the epistemological status o scientific discovery as a sort of developing language or code. The new naturalized time is a way to order the discontinuous and fragmentary record of natural history of the world. Evolutionists now ‘spatialized’ time: instead of viewing it as a sequence of events, it now becomes a tree of related events.

By claiming to make sense of society in terms of evolutionary stages, Christian Time was now replaced with scientific Time. ‘In fact little more had been done than to replace faith in salvation by faith in progress and industry..’ [Fabian 1981 p17]. In this way the epistemology of anthropology became intellectually linked to colonization and imperialism. All societies past, present and future were placed on a stream of Time. This train of thought implies that the Other is studied in terms of the primitive, Primitive principally being a temporal concept, a category, not an object of western thought.

The Use of Time

The use of Time in anthropologic field research is different from the theoretical discourse. The latter is used for different purposes:

  • Physical time used as a parameter to describe sociocultural process.
  • Mundane time used for grand-scale periodizing.
  • Typological time, used to measure the intervals between sociocultural events.
  • Intersubjective time: an emphasis on the action-interaction in human communication.

‘As soon as culture is no longer primarily conceived as a set of rules to be enacted by individual members of distinct groups, but as the specific way in which actors create, and produce beliefs, values, and other means of social life, it has to be recognized that Time is a constitutive dimension of social reality’ [Fabian 1981 P 24].

The naturalization of time defines temporal relations as exclusive and expansive: the pagan is marked for salvation, the savage is not yet ready for civilization. What makes the savage significant for evolutionary time is that he lives in another time. All knowledge acquired by the anthropologist is affected by the historically established relations (of power and domination) between his society and the society of the one he studies; and therefore it is political in nature. The risk however is distancing. Moreover: distancing is often seen as objective by practitioners. Intersubjective time would seem to preclude distancing as the practitioner and the object are coeval (of the same same age, duration or epoch, similar to synchronous, simultaneous, contemporary), namely share the same time. But for human communication to occur, coevalness has to be created: communication is about creating the same shared time. And so in human communication recognizing intersubjectivity, establishing objectivity is connected with the creating of distance between the participants or object and subject in research. This distancing is implied in the distinction between the sender, the message and the receiver. Even if the coding and decoding of the message is taken out then the TRANSFER of it implies a temporal distance between the sender and the receiver. Distancing devices produce a denial of coevalness: ‘By that I mean a persistent and systematic tendency to place the referent(s) of anthropology in a Time other than the present of the producer of the anthropological discourse‘ [Fabian 1981 p. 31].

Coevalness can be denied by Typological time and by Physical time, intersubjective time may pose the problem described above: if coevalness is a condition for communication and anthropology is based on ethnography and ethnography is a form of communication then the anthropologist is not free to choose coevalness for his interlocutors or not. Either he submits to the condition of coevalness and produces ethnographic knowledge or he doesn’t. If anachronism is a fact or statement that is outdated in a certain timeframe: it is a mistake or an accident. As a device, and not a mistake, this is named allochronism.

Coevalness is present in the field research and not in the theory development and writing. This latter activity is political in the sense that is rooted in the early existence of the science and so it is connected with colonialism. At this point hardly more than technological advance and economical exploitation seem the most available arguments to explain western superiority (p. 35).

Ch 3: Time and Writing about the Other

Even if (an observer) is in communication with other observers, he can only hear what they have seen in their absolute pasts, at times which are also his absolute past. So whether knowledge originates in the experience of a group of people or of a society, it must always be based on what is past and gone, at the moment when it is under consideration‘ [David Bohm in Fabian 1981 p. 71].

In previous chapters it was argued that the temporal conditions experienced in the field differ from those as expressed when writing or teaching. Empirical research can only be productive if the researcher and the researched share time. Usually the intepretation of the research occurs at a (temporal) distance, denying coevalness to the object of inquiry. This is a problem if both activities are part of the same discipline: this was not always so (travelogues versus armchair anthropology). This is also a problem if the practice of coevalness assumed a given in field research indeed contributes to the quality of the research and that it should not in fact be distanced also in an ideal world.

Now historical discourse introduces two new presuppositions in that it, first, replaces the concept of achronicity with that of temporality. At the same time it assumes that the signifier of the text which is in the present has a signified in the past. Then it reifies its signified semantically and takes it for a referent external to the discourse‘ [Greimas 1976:29 in Fabian pp. 77-8]. The referent being a society or a culture of reference, to reify means ‘render something concrete’.

The Ethnographic Present as a literary convention means to give account of other societies and cultures in the present tense. Historical accuracy, if the past tense in the accounts is used, is a matter of the ‘critique of the sources’. Also the comparison with the referents is not strict anymore, because that needs to be based on past data of the referent also. Another problem is that the present tense may freeze the picture of the state of affairs as it is found in a culture, which is a dynamical thing in nature and freezing it doesn’t take this into account. Another issue is with the autobiographical style of reporting of field research: this has a partly etymological and partly practical backdrop.

This is an important foundation for intersubjective knowledge ‘Somehow we must be able to share each other’s past in order to be knowingly in each other’s present‘ [Fabian 1981 p. 92]. In other words: reflexive (reflexion, revealing the researcher) experience is more important than reflective (reflection, neutralised for the researcher’s presence thus eliminating subjectivity) experience, because if the first were unavailable then the information about the object (the individual and his society) would be unidirectional in time and therefore tangential (irrelevant and beside the point) and therefore another symptom of the denial of coevalness. Additionally reflexion requires the researcher to ‘travel back and forth in time’ and so the researched can know the researcher as well as the converse. The same goes for the storing of data.

The method of observation can be a source of denial of coevalness also: the structure of the observations, the planning, the visual aspects deemed relevant, the representation of the visual data, the indications of speed included in the observations all presuppose a format stemming from one time and projecting itself and / or conditioning the observation. These are criteria brought to the observation process by the researcher and forms the basis for the production of knowledge. In additon to changing and emphasizing some criteria deemed relevant by the researcher and other criteria are left out at his choice.


Anthropology emerged and established itself as an allochronic discourse; it is a science of other men in another Time. It is a discourse whose referent has been removed from the present of the speaking/writing subject. This ‘petrified relation’ is a scandal. Anthropology’s Other is, ultimately, other people who are our contemporaries‘ [Fabian 1985 p. 143].

The western countries needed Time to accommodate the schemes of a one-way history: progress, development, modernity and their negative mirror images: stagnation, underdevelopment and tradition. The fiction is that interpersonal, intergroup, international the time is ‘public time’, there for the taking of anyone interested and as a consequence allotted by the powers that be. The notion of ‘public time’ provided a notion of simultaneity that is natural and independent of ideology and individual consciousness. And as a result coevalness is no longer required.

As soon as it was realized that fieldwork is a form of communicative interaction with an Other, one that must be carried out coevally, on the basis of shared intersubjective Time and intersocietal contemporaneity, a contradiction had to appear between research and writing, because anthropological writing had become suffused with the strategies and devices of an allochronic discourse‘ [Fabian 1985 p. 148].

they (the sign-theories of culture DPB) have a tendency to reinforce the basic premises of an allochronic discourse in that they consistently align the Here and Now of the signifier (the form, the structure, the meaning) with the Knower, and the There and Then of the signified (the content, the function or event, the symbol or icon) with the Known‘ [Fabian 1985 p. 151].

It is expressive of a political cosmology, that is, a kind of myth. Like other myths, allochronism has the tendency to establish a total grip on our (the anthropologists DPB) discourse. It must therefore be met by a ‘total’ response, which is not to say that the critical work be accomplished in one feel swoop‘ [Fabian 1985 p 152].

The ideal of coevalness must of course also guide the critique of the many forms in which coevalness is denied in anthropological discourse‘ [Fabian 1985 p. 152].

Evolutionism established anthropological discourse as allochronic, but was also an attempt to overcome a paralyzing disjunction between the science of nature and the science of man‘ [Fabian 1985 p 153].

That which is past enters the dialectics of the present, if it is granted coevalness’ [Fabian 1985 p. 153].

The absence of the Other from our Time has been his mode of presence in our discourse – as an object and victim‘ [Fabian 1985 p. 154].

Is not the theory of coevalness which is implied (but by no means fully developed) in these arguments a program for ultimate temporal absorption of the Other, just the kind of theory needed to make sense of present history as a ‘world system’, totally dominated by monopoly- and state-capitalism?’ [Fabian 1985 p. 154].

Are there, finally, criteria by which to distinguish denial of coevalness as a condition of domination from refusal of coevalness as an act of liberation?‘ [Fabian 1985 p. 154].

What are opposed, in conflict in fact, locked in antagonistic struggle, are not the same societies at different stages of development, but different societies facing each other at the same Time‘ [Fabian 1985 p 155].

Point of departure for a theory of coevalness: 1) recuperation of the idea of totality (‘.. we can make sense of another society only to the extent that we grasp it as a whole, an organism, a configuration, a system’ [Fabian 1985 p 156]. This is flawed because a) system rules are imposed from outside and above and because culture is now a system, a theory of praxis (the process by which a theory, lesson, or skill is enacted, practiced, embodied, or realized) not provided b) if a theory of praxis is not conceived then anthropology cannot be perceived as an activity that is part of what is studied.

.. the primitive assumption, the root metaphor of knowledge remains that of a difference, and a distance, between thing and image, reality and representation. Inevitably, this establishes and reinforces models of cognition stressing difference and distance between a beholder and an object‘ [Fabian 1985 p 160].

‘A first and fundamental assumption of a materialist theory of knowledge, .. , is to make consciousness, individual and collective, the starting point. Not disembodied consciousness, however, but ‘consciousness with a body’, inextricably bound up with language. A fundamental role for language must be postulated.. Rather, the only way to think of consciousness without separating it from the organism or banning it to some ‘forum internum’ is to insist on its sensuous nature; .. to tie consciousness as an activity to the production of meaningful sound. Inasmuch as the production of meaningful sound involves the transforming, shaping of matter, it may still be possible to distinguish form and content, but the relationship between the two will then constitutive of consciousness. Only in a secondary, derived sense (one in which the conscious organism is presupposed rather than accounted for) can that relationship be called representational (significative, symbolic), or informative in the sense of being a tool or carrier of information’ [Fabian 1985 p 161].

it is wrong to think of the human use of language as characteristically informative, in fact or in intention. Human language can be used to inform or to mislead, to clarify one’s own thoughts or ot display one’s cleverness, or simply for play. If I speak with no concern for modifying your behavior or thoughts, I am not using language any less than if I say exactly the same things with such intention. If we hope to understand human language and the psychological capacities on which it rests, we must first ask what it is, not how or for what purpose it is used‘ [Chomsky 1972 p 70 in Fabian p 162]. Chomsky, N. . Language and Mind – Enlarged Edition . New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovic . 1972

‘Man does not ‘need’ language; man, in the dialectical, transitive understanding of ‘to be’, is language (much like he does not need food, shelter, and so on, but is his food and house). Consciousness, realized by the (producing) meaningful sound, is self-conscious. The Self, however, is constituted fully as a speaking and hearing Self. Awareness, if we may thus designate the first stirrings of knowledge beyond the registering of tactile impressions, is fundamentally based on hearing meaningful sounds produced by Self and Others. .. Not solitary perception but social communication is the starting point for a materialist anthropology, provided that we keep in mind that man does not ‘need’ language as a means of communication, or by extension, society as a means of survival, Man is communication and survival. What saves these assumptions from evaporating in the clouds of speculative metaphysics is, I repeat, a dialectical understanding of the verb ‘to be’ in these propositions. Language is not predicated on man (nor is the ‘human mind’ or ‘culture’). Language produces man as man produces language. Production is the pivotal concept of materialist anthropology‘ [Fabian 1985 p162].

The element of thought itself – the element of thought’s living expression-language-is of a sensuous nature. The social reality of nature, and human natural science, or the natural science about man, are identical terms‘ [Marx 1953:245 f, translation from The Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844 1964:143 in Fabian 1985 p 163]. [Marx, K. . Die Frühschriften . Siegfried Landshut, ed Stuttgart: A. Kröner – 1964. The Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844 . Dirk Struik . ed. New York : International] en [Marx, K. and Engels, F. . Marx and Engels: Basic Writings on Politics and Philosophy . Feuer, L. S. . ed. Garden City. New York: Doubleday]

‘Concepts are products of sensuous interaction; they themselves are of a sensuous nature inasmuch as their formation and use is inextricably bound up with language… it is the sensuous nature .. that makes language an eminently temporary phenomenon. Its materiality is based on articulation, on frequencies, pitch, tempo, all of which are realized in the dimension of time… The temporality of speaking .. implies cotemporality of producer and product, speaker and listener, Self and Other’ [Fabian 1985 p. 163-4].

Information, Entropy, Complexity

Original question

If information is defined as ‘the amount of newness introduced’ or ‘the amount of surprise involved’ then chaotic behaviour implies maximum information and ‘newness’. Systems showing periodic or oscillating behaviour are said to ‘freeze’ and nothing new emerges from them. New structure or patterns emerge from systems showing behaviour just shy of chaos (the edge of chaos) and not from systems showing either chaotic or oscillating behaviour. What is the, for lack of a better word, role of information in this emergent behaviour of complex adaptive systems (cas).

Characterizing cas

One aspect characterizing cas is generally associated with complex behaviour. This behaviour in turn is associated with emergent behavior or forming of patterns new to the system, that are not programmed in its constituent parts and that are observable. The mechanics of a cas are also associated with large systems of a complicated make-up and consisting of a large number of hierarchically organised components of which the interconnections are non-linear. These ‘architectural’ conditions are not a sine-qua-non for systems to demonstrate complex behaviour. They may very well not show behaviour as per the above, and they may for that reason not be categorised as cas. They might become one, if their parameter space is adapted via an event at some point in time. Lastly systems behaviour is associated with energy usage (or cost) and with entropy production and information. However, confusion exists as to how to perform the measuring and interpret the outcomes of measurements. No conclusive definition exists about the meaning of any of the above. In other words: to date to my knowledge none of these properties when derived from a cas give a decisive answer to the question whether the system at hand is in fact complex.

The above statements are obviously self-referencing, unclear and undecisive. It would be useful to have an objective principle by which it is possible to know whether a given system shows complex behaviour and is therefore to be classified as a cas. The same goes for clear definitions for the meaning of the terms energy, entropy (production) and information in this context. It is useful to have a clear definition of the relationships of some such properties between themselves and between them and the presumed systems characteristics. This enables an observer to identify characteristics such as newness, surprise, reduction of uncertainty, meaning, information content and their change.

Entropy and information

It appears to me (no more than that) that entropy and information are two sides of the same coin, or in my words: though not separated within the system (or aspects of the same system at the same time), they are so to speak back-to-back, simultaneously influencing the mechanics (the interrelations of the constituent parts) and the dynamics (the interactions of the parts leading up to overall behavioral change of the system in time) of the system. What is the ‘role’ of information when a cas changes and how does it relate to the proportions mentioned.

The relation between information and entropy might then be: structures/patterns/algorithms distributed in a cas enable it in the long run to increase its relative fitness by reducing the cost of energy used in its ‘daily activities’. The cost of energy is part of the fitness function of the agent and stored information allows it to act ‘fit’. Structures and information in cas are distributed: the patterns are proportions of the system and not of individual parts. Measurements therefore must lead to some system characteristic (ie overall and not stop at individual agents) to get a picture of the learning/informational capacity of the entire CAS as a ‘hive’. This requires correlation between the interactions of the parts to allow the system to ‘organize itself’.

CAS as a TM

I suspect (no more than that) that it is in general possible to treat cas as a Turing Machine (TM), ‘disguised’ in any shape or, conversely, to treat complex adaptive systems as an instance of a TM. That approach makes the logic corresponding to TM available to the observer. An example of a system for which this classification is proven is 2-dimensional Cellular Automata of Wolfram class 4. This limited proof decreases the general applicability, because complex adaptive systems, unlike TM in all aspects, are parallel, open and asynchronous.


Perhaps illustrative for a possible outcome, is, misusing the Logistic map because no complexity lives there, to ‘walk the process’ by changing parameter mu. Start at the right: in the chaotic region, newness (or reduction of uncertainty / surprise / information) is large, bits are very many, meaning (as in emerging patterns): small. Travel left to any oscillating region: newness is small, bits are very few, meaning is small. Now in between where there is complex behaviour: newness is high, bits fewer than the chaotic region, meaning is very high.

The logical underpinning of ‘newness’ or ‘surprise’ is: if no bit in a sequence can be predicted from a subset of that sequence, it is random. Each bit in the sequence is a ‘surprise’ or ‘new’ and the amount of information is highest. If 1 bit can be predicted, there is a pattern, an algorithm can be designed and, given it is shorter than this bit (this is theoretical) the surprise is less, as is the amount of information. The more pattern, the less surprise it holds and the more information appears to be stored ‘for later use’ such as processing of a new external signal that the system has to deal with. What we observe in a cas is patterns and so a limitation of this ‘surprise’.

A research project

I suggest the objective of such project is to design and test meaningful measurements for entropy production, energy cost and information processing of a complex adaptive system so as to relate them to each other and to the system properties of a cas in order to better recognize and understand them.

The suggested approach is to use a 2-dimensional CA structure parameterized to show complex behavior as per Wolfram class 4 as described in ‘A New Kind of Science’ of Stephen Wolfram.

The actual experiment is then to use this system to solve well-defined problems. As the theoretical characteristics of (the processing of and the storage by) a TM are known, this approach allows for a reference for the information processing and information storage requirements that can be compared to the actual processing and storing capacities of the system at hand.

Promising measurements are:

Measurement Description Using
Entropy Standard: this state related to possible states Gibbs or similar
Energy cost Theoretical energy cost required to solve a particular problem versus the energy the complex adaptive system at hand uses See slide inserted below, presentation e-mailed earlier: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9_TMMKeNxO0#t=649

Schermafdruk van 2015-06-09 12:56:03

Information Earlier discussion: Using this approach, we could experimentally compute the bits of information that agents have learned resulting from the introduction of new information into the system. I suggest to add: ..compute the bits of information that agents have learned relating to the system…. That subset of information distributed stored in the system representing the collective aspect of the system, i.e. distributed collective information. Amount of information contained in the co-evolving interfaces of the agents or parts of the system equivalent to labels as suggested by Holland.

Turing Machines and Beyond

To put to bed the discussion about companies being the computer – and for me to finalize the invention of yet another existing wheel, find attached this document. The author surveys the latest in computational logic, in the process describing Natural Computation. This is apparently an existing name for the beast I described in the posts categorized under Turing Machines so far!

Networks are capable of processing information in parallel, while interacting dynamically with their changing environment, asynchronously if necessary (companies!). TM as defined here compute solutions for given problems using algorithms and as such are a special case for the general principle of Natural Computation.


De Piloten van Luyendijk

Deze post is een reactie op het recente en waardevolle boek van Joris Luyendijk: Dit Kan Niet Waar Zijn. Luyendijk analyseert als ‘tot antropoloog opgeleide journalist’ en zonder kennis van financiële markten, het gedrag van mensen in hun professionele habitat: de financiële sector in Londen. Zijn eerste interview vraag is ongeveer deze: ‘hoe kun jij met jezelf leven na wat je de mensheid hebt aangedaan in de crisis van 2008?’. Zijn beeld na circa twee jaar onderzoek en 200 interviews is: een vliegtuig met problemen en een lege cockpit. Met de kennis die ik tot nu toe heb verzameld over complexe adaptieve systemen ga ik op zoek naar de missende piloten van Luyendijk. Lees verder De Piloten van Luyendijk

Lane over de MAX Rule

Deze post is ook gebaseerd op het artikel ‘Information Contagion: Is what is good for each best for all?’ van David Lane, 1997, in SFI Proceedings The Economy as an Evolving Complex System. Dit is zo’n opmerkelijk onderdeel daaruit dat ik er een aparte post aan wijd. Lees verder Lane over de MAX Rule

Lane over Individuele Keuzes en Marktaandeel

Deze post is gebaseerd op het artikel ‘Information Contagion: Is what is good for each best for all?’ van David Lane, 1997, in SFI Proceedings The Economy as an Evolving Complex System. De vraag is hoe keuzes van individuele kopers via hun interacties leiden tot een marktaandeel. Lees verder Lane over Individuele Keuzes en Marktaandeel

Lane en Maxfield over Strategie in Complexe omstandigheden

Deze post gaat over strategieontwikkeling in complexe omstandigheden en is grotendeels gebaseerd op het artikel van David Lane en Robert Maxfield getiteld ‘Foresight, Complexity and Strategy’, 1996, opgenomen in SFI Proceedings: ‘The Economy as an Evolving Complex System’. Lees verder Lane en Maxfield over Strategie in Complexe omstandigheden