Social Systems as Parasites

Seminar 1 December 2017, Francis Heylighen

Social Systems as Parasites

The power of a social system

1. In an experiment concerning punishment, people obey an instruction to administer others electric shocks. People tend to be obedient / “God rewards obedience” / “Whom should I obey first?” 2. When asked to point out which symbol is equal to another, people select the one they believe is equal, but when they are confronted with the choices of the other contestants, they tend to change their selection to what the others have chosen. Social systems in this way determine our worldview, namely the social construction of reality by specifying what is real.

Social systems suppress self-actualization

Social systems don’t ‘want’ you to think for yourself, but to replicate their information instead; social systems suppress non-conformist thought, namely they suppress differences in thought, and thereby they do not allow the development of unique (human) personalities: they suppress self-actualization. Examples of rules: 1. A Woman Should Be A Housewife >> If someone is a woman then, given that she shows conformist behavior, she will become a housewife and not a mathematician &c. Suppose Anna has a knack for math: If she complies then she becomes a housewife and she is likely to become frustrated; If she does not comply then she will become a mathematician (or engineer &c) and she is likely to become rebellious and suffer from doubts &c.2. To Be Gay is Unacceptable >> If someone is gay then, given that she shows conformist behavior, she will suppress gay behavior, but show a behavior considered normal instead; Suppose Anna is gay: If she complies she will be with a man and become frustrated; If she does not comply then she is likely to become rebellious, she will exhibit gay behavior, be with a woman, and suffer from doubts &c.

Social Systems Programming

People obey social rules unthinkingly and hence their self-actualization is limited (by them). This is the same as to say that social systems have a control over people. The emphasis on the lack of thinking is by the authors. The social system consists of rules that assists the thinking. And only thinking outside of those rules (thinking while not using those rules) would allow a workaround, or even a replacement of the rules, temporary or ongoing. This requires thinking without using pre-existing patterns or even thinking sans-image (new to the world).

Reinforcement Learning

1. Behaviorist: action >> reward (rat and shock) 2. socialization: good behavior and bad behavior (child and smile). This was a sparse remark: I guess the development of decision-action rules in children by socialization (smiling) is the same as the development of behavioral rules in rats by a behaviorist approach (shock).

Social systems as addictions

Dopamine is a neurotransmitter producing pleasure. A reward releases dopamine; Dopamine is addictive; Rewards are addictive. Social systems provide (ample) sources for rewards; Participating in social systems is a source of dopamine and hence it is addictive (generates addiction) and it maintains the addiction.


Reinforcement need NOT be immediate NOR material (e.g. heaven / hell). Narratives can describe virtual penalties and rewards: myth, movies, stories, scriptures.

Conformist transmission

When more people transmit a particular rule then more people will transmit it. DPB: this reminds me of the changes in complex systems as a result of small injected change: many small changes and fewer large ones: the relation between the size of the shifts and their frequency is a power law.

Cognitive Dissonant

Entertaining mutually inconsistent beliefs is painful: the person believes it is bad to kill other people. As a soldier he now kills other people. This conflict can be resolved by replacing the picture of a person to be killed by the picture of vermin. The person thinks it is ok to kill vermin.

Co-opting emotions

Emotions are immediate strong motivators that bypass rational thought. Social systems use emotions to reinforce the motivation to obey their rules. 1. Fear: the anticipation of a particular outcome and the desire to avoid it 2. Guilt: fear of a retribution (wraak) and the desire to redeem (goedmaken); this can be exploited by the social system because there can be a deviation from its rules without a victim and it works on imaginary misdeeds: now people want to redeem vis-a-vis the social system 3. Shame: Perceived deficiency of the self because one is not fulfilling the norms of the social system: one feels weak, vulnerable and small and wishes to hide; the (perceived) negative judgments of others (their norms) are internalized. PS: Guilt refers to a wrong action implying a change of action; Shame refers to a wrong self and implies the wish for a change of (the perception of) self 4. Disgust: Revulsion of (sources of) pollution such as microbes, parasites &c. The Law of Contagion implies that anything associated with contagion is itself contagious.

Social System and disgust

The picture of a social system is that it is clean and pure and that it should not be breached. Ideas that do not conform to the rules of the social system (up to and including dogma and taboo) are like sources of pollution; these contagious ideas lead to reactions of violent repulsion by the ones included by the social system.

Vulnerability to these emotions

According to Maslow people who self-actualize are more resistant to these emotions of fear, shame, guilt and disgust.

DPB: 1. how do variations in the sensitivity to neurotransmitters affect the sensitivity to reinforcing? I would speculate that a higher sensitivity to dopamine leads to a more eager reaction to a positive experience, hence leading to a stronger reinforcement of the rule in the brain 2. how do higher or lower sensitivity to risk (the chance that some particular event occurs and the impact when it does) affect their abiding by the rules? I would speculate that sensitivity to risk depends on the power to cognize it and to act in accordance with it. A higher sensitivity to risk leads to attempting to follow (conformist) rules more precisely and more vigorously; conversely a lesser sensitivity to risk leaves space for interpretation of the rule, its condition or its enactment.

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.

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].

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

Het belang van Belousov-Zhabotinsky (BZ) reacties

Sommige kenmerken van complexe adaptieve systemen, het onderwerp van dit blog, zijn ongrijpbaar, bijvoorbeeld omdat ze ingewikkelde oorzaken of mechanismes hebben, omdat we dat niet zo hebben geleerd of omdat ze tegen de intuïtie ingaan. Dat bemoeilijkt de communicatie erover. Eén voorbeeld daarvan is dat zulke systemen ver-uit-evenwicht zijn. Dat wordt vaak geassocieerd met chaotische verschijnselen, wanorde dus. Daar hebben veel mensen weinig ervaring mee, onder andere omdat het geen onderdeel uitmaakt van het lespakket op scholen: meestal gaat het over evenwichten.

Een BZ reactie is een voorbeeld van een scheikundig proces dat ver-uit-evenwicht is. Het is belangijk omdat het laat zien dat chemische reacties zich niet altijd in evenwichtssituaties afspelen. Het is een auto-katalytische reactie, waarin reagerende stoffen andere stoffen opleveren die op hun beurt de productie van de eerste weer bevorderen en zovoort. In het eerste filmpje hieronder is te zien dat (onder invloed van licht) in het mengsel  bovendien patronen ontstaan en dat is bijzonder, want er ontstaat orde in een systeem dat niet in evenwicht is en waarvan je wanorde zou verwachten. Het is namelijk wonderlijk dat al die moleculen zich uit eigen beweging op een ordelijke manier ten opzichte van elkaar gaan ‘gedragen’.

Op Wikipedia te vinden bij Belousov–Zhabotinsky reaction: An essential aspect of the BZ reaction is its so called “excitability”; under the influence of stimuli, patterns develop… Some clock reactions such as Briggs–Rauscher and BZ … can be excited into self-organising activity through the influence of light.

In het tweede filmpje is ook een autokatalytische oscillerende chemische reactie weergegeven, de Briggs-Rauscher reactie. Deze reactie is ook ver-uit-evenwicht en levert ook orde op, door in een vaste volgorde gedurende een redelijk lange tijd van kleur te veranderen.


North over Institutional Change

Deze post is gebaseerd op het artikel ‘Some Fundamental Puzzles in Economic History/Development van D.C. North verschenen in de SFI Proceedings ‘The Economy as an Evolving Complex System’.

North is heeft de term Institutional Economics geïntroduceerd, zie de vorige post: Economische modellen. Hij stelt in dit artikel de vraag waarom de historische ontwikkeling van landen onderling zo verschilt en hoe economische verandering in modellen kan worden opgenomen. Lees verder North over Institutional Change

Padgett over zelf-organisatie

Deze post is grotendeels gebaseerd op het artikel ‘The Emergence of Simple Ecologies of Skill: A Hypercycle Approach to Economic Organisation’ van John F. Padgett opgenomen in Santa Fé Proceedings, ‘The Economy as an Evolving Complex System’.

Dit artikel is één van de sleutels voor mijn onderzoek, omdat het een antwoord geeft op de vraag hoe er samenhang kan ontstaan in activiteiten waarin die samenhang niet expliciet is. Verder bevat het geresenteerde model een voorstel voor een mechanisme waarmee lokale acties naar globaal gedrag propageren. Het model sluit aan bij mijn ‘velden van activiteiten’ (zie post Simplexity en Complicity), de Concepten van Dennett, de Memes van Dawkins, de Bucket Brigade algorithm van Holland (zie de post Inductie) en voorstellen van  Kauffman. Het model is ingebed in de evolutietheorie en geeft daarin een fundament aan het begip organisatie. Als laatste is er een hint naar een natuurlijke moraal die voortkomt uit de vorm van het proces en daar ga ik nog een post aan wijden. Lees verder Padgett over zelf-organisatie

De economische toekomst van landen

Hieronder is een link opgenomen naar een artikel in Nature over het voorspellen of een land economisch gezien robuust is. De vraag die de onderzoekers willen beantwoorden is: ‘Welke landen worden rijk en welke blijven arm?’. Ze gaan uit van de ontwikkeling van de diversiteit van de producten die door de landen worden voortgebracht als proxy voor de toegevoegde waarde van populatie en ondernemingen. De potentie voor succes hangt volgens de onderzoekers samen met de voorspelbaarheid van hun groeipad. Dat is indicatief voor de fase waarin de economie van die landen zich bevindt: chaotisch of stabiel. Dit onderzoek is equivalent met mijn doel om de robuustheid van ondernemingen te kunnen voorspellen. Meer op:

Kans, Tijd en Orde

In eerdere posts is het begrip entropie voorbij gekomen. En in het verlengde daarvan is het begrip tijdpijl (‘arrow of time’) besproken. Het verband tussen die begrippen is dat de tijdpijl in de richting wijst van toenemende entropie, oftewel van de entropieproductie. Entropie wordt geassocieerd met toenemende chaos en afnemende structuur, maar de correcte omschrijving is de richting van een onomkeerbaar proces. Lees verder Kans, Tijd en Orde


Een uitgangspunt van dit onderzoek is het gedrag van ondernemingen in hun context te onderzoeken als een organisme, zie onder andere de post Leven. Ik benader ondernemingen daarbij als een systeem: als geheel in haar context en zonder te kijken naar de details, zie ook de post Complicity en Simplexity. Op dit abstractieniveau heb ik geen verklaring voor het bestaan of het functioneren van bedrijven: het model heeft als het ware geen motor. Mogelijk zouden daarvoor vanuit de details wel (deel)verklaringen kunnen worden gevonden, maar die kan ik niet gebruiken. Lees verder Inductie