Simon – The Architecture of Complexity

Simon, H.A. . The Architecture of Complexity . Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society, Vol 106, No 6, pp. 467 – 482 . 1962

Development of a general systems theory to find out which abstracting properties from all of them can apply to all kinds of systems. Do diverse systems have anything non-trivial in common? This is addressed by ideas under the umbrella of cybernetics (if not a theory than at least an interesting point of view). The goal is to cast some light on the ways complexity exhibits itself wherever it is found in nature. The rough description of a complex system used here is: a system made up of many parts which interact in a non-simple way. In such systems the whole may be more than the parts in a pragmatic sense: ‘In the face of complexity, an in-principle reductionist may at the same time be a pragmatic holist’ [Simon 1962 p 468]. How complexity frequently takes the form of hierarchy is discussed in four sections: 1) frequency of the occurrence of hierarchy in complex systems 2) hierarchic systems evolve more quickly than non-hierachic systems 3) dynamic properties of complex systems and they can be decomposed into subsystems 4) relation between complex systems and their descriptions.


A hierarchic system is a system that is composed of other interrelated hierarchic systems. DPB: a hierarchic system integrates other hierarchic systems until some lower, elementary level of subsystems is arrived at. What that level is, is somewhat arbitrary and how it can be done is a subject of this article. Hierarchy is often referred to the structure where systems are subordinated by a relation of authority to the system they belong to. This means the existence of a boss and subordinate subsystems. Each system has a boss who is subordinated to the boss of the system. This is a formal approach to hierarchy. ‘I shall use hierarchy in the broader sense introduced in the previous paragraphs, to refer to all complex systems analyzable into successive sets of subsystems, and speak of ‘formal hierarchy’ when I want to refer to the more specialized concept’ [Simon 1962 p 468].

>>Social Systems

One kind of hierarchy in social sciences is the formal organization of businesses &c. Another is families, tribes, clans, &c.

> >Biological and physical systems

Cell-up Cell>tissue>organ>system. Cell-down: Cell>nucleus>mitochondria>membrane>microsomes.

Elementary particles, Planetary systems

A gas is seen as a random distribution of complex systems, namely particles.

Hierarchy refers to a system with a moderate number of subsystems with their subsystems (a diamond is a flat hierarchy with many subsystems, and atypical). The number of subsystems subordinated to the system is the span of that system. If the span of a (sub) system is wide it is flat at that location. A diamond has a wide span / is flat at the crystal level, but not at the molecular level. Biological and physical systems differ from social systems in that the first are described in spatial terms and the second by defining who interacts with whom. This can be reconciled by defining hierarchy by intensity of interactions.

>>Symbolic systems: Books>Chapters>Paragraphs>Alinea>Words>Letters, &c.


Watch maker 1: One system. When assemblage is interrupted the entire watch falls apart. Watch maker 2: Subsystems of 10 subsystems each. When assemblage is interrupted the subsystem at hand falls apart. This one is more likely to survive.

>>Biological evolution

The time required for the evolution of a complex form from simple elements depends critically on the numbers and distribution of potential intermediate stable forms’ [Simon 1962 p 471]. Comments: a) no teleology is suggested and the structure can come from random processes. When complex forms once existent become stable they give direction. But this is survival of the fittest, namely survival of the stable b) not all large systems appear hierarchical c) the evolution of complex systems from simple elements implies nothing concerning the change of entropy: free energy can be taken up or generated by the evolutionary process

>>Problem solving as natural selection

Problem solving requires selective trial-and-error. .. In problem solving, a partial result that represents recognizable progress toward the goal plays the role of a stable sub-assembly’ [Simon 1962 p 472]. Human problem solving involves only trial-and-error and selectivity. The selectivity derives from heuristics to suggest which paths to try first.

>> The sources of selectivity

When we examine the sources from which the problem-solving system, or the evolving system, as the case may be, derives its selectivity, we discover that selectivity can always be equated with some kind of feedback of information from the environment’ [Simon 1962 p 473]. DPB: the approach to modeling evolution is the same as that to modeling problem solving. There are two paths of selection in problem solving: a) various paths are tried out, the results are noted and this information is used for further search and b) using previous experience: doing the same paths that lead to an earlier solution. In this way trial-and-error is reduced or eliminated. The closest analogue of this in organic evolution is reproduction.

>>On empires and empire building

When an empire breaks up, it doesn’t tend to fall apart into its smallest elements but into the next scale of subsystems.

>>Conclusion: the evolutionary explanation of hierarchy

Systems will evolve from stable intermediate forms faster than from basic elements to form hierarchies, the subsystems based on the intermediate forms. Hierarchies have the time to evolve.


A distinction can be made between the interactions within subsystems and between them. Their intensity and their frequency is different to orders of magnitude. Employees within the formal organization of a department have more and more intensive contacts than employees of different departments. The decomposable case can be used as a limit over a wide range. In the nearly decomposable case the interactions between the subsystems are weak but not negligible. From the latter case these can be proposed: a) the short run behavior of the subsystem is independent of that of the other subsystems and b) in the long run the behavior of a subsystem depends on the behavior of the others in the aggregate. This is illustrated with an insulated house within which there are somewhat insulated rooms within which there are hardly insulated cubicles. A change of the temperature in the rooms, induces a rapid change of the temperature between the cubicles, but a slow change of temperature between the rooms. If a complex system can be described with a nearly decomposable matrix then the system has the properties a) and b) above.

>>Near decomposability of social systems

Most of the communication channels in formal organizations are between employees and a very limited number of other employees. The departmental boundaries are assumed to assume the same role as the walls in the thermal insulation example.

>>Physico-Chemical examples

The theory of the thermodynamics of irreversible processes, for example, requires the assumption of macroscopic disequilibrium and microscopic equilibrium, exactly the situation described in our heat-exchange example’ [p 476]. DPB: how does this work?

>>Some observations on hierarchic span

Suppose that the elements of a system have properties for stronger bonds and for weaker bonds and that the stronger bonds exhaust through the bonding. Subsystems form through the strong bonds until they are exhausted. Then the subsystems will be linked by the weaker second-order bonds into larger systems. In social systems the number of interactions is limited by the serial character of human communication (one at the time) and limitation on the time consumption involved in a role and hence of the number of roles one can handle (one can have a group of friends consisting of a dozen but not hundreds).

>>Summary: Hierarchies tend to be near-decomposable.


People draw complex objects in a hierarchical way. The information about the object is arranged hierarchically in memory, like a topical outline. DPB: re active association. When information is presented in this way the relations between a subpart and another subpart can be presented and between subsubparts within each. Information about reations between subsubparts of different subparts is lost.

>>Near decomposability and comprehensibility

By representing parts hierarchically little information is lost (re b, aggregate effect above). Many complex systems have a near-decomposable, hierarchical structure. That enables us to see them. If complex systems exist that are not so structured then they are unobserved and not understood. ‘I shall not try to settle which is chicken and which is egg: whether we are able to understand the world because it is hierarchic, or whether it appears hierarchic because those aspects which are not elude our understanding and observation’ [Simon p 478]. DPB: the processes that brought forth our powers of perception and the processes in nature are fundamentally the same.

>>Simple descriptions of complex systems

There is no conservation law that prescribes that the description of a complex system should be as complex as the system itself. Example of how such a system can be described economically, or, in other words, how it can be reduced. This is only possible if there are redundancies in the system. If it is completely unredundant then the system is its own simplest (most economical) description and it cannot be reduced. DPB: this notion of reduction is exactly the opposite of the notion used by Ashby. He uses reduction to indicate the opposite of organization. That which is not organized can be reduced (away) until organization remains. This is the mathematical definition of reduction. Here it is the opposite: whatever is redundant leaves room, or in other words can be reduced to, a rule. Three forms of redundancy are: a) hierarchic system is often assembled from a few kinds of different subsystems in various arrangements. DPB: this is a form of repetition of the components used. b) ‘Hierarchic systems are often nearly decomposable. Hence only aggregative properties of their parts enter into the description of the interaction of those parts. Not the lower level properties of the composing elements of the parts play a part in the interactions of the components at the higher levels. A generalization of the notion of near composability might be called the ‘empty world hypothesis’: most things are only weakly connected with most other things’ [Simon 478]. DPB: This means that some properties of the subcomponents of a complex hierarchical system, which are themselves built of subcomponents, enable interaction with other subcomponents, and form the complex hierarchical system that they are a subcomponent of. But those enabling properties of the subcomponents are properties of, or based on properties of the subcomponents of the subcomponents that form the complex hierarchical system. ‘The children are not allowed to participate in the discussion between the family elders’. Given that emptiness can be described by the absence of a description it can be described economically. DPB: how is this a form of repetition? The aggregative properties of the subcomponents of the system repeat, and they are based on repeating or comparable properties of the sub-sbcomponents. c) Redundancy can originate in a constant relation between the state of a system and a later state of it. DPB: this is a form of repetition of the behavior of the system. It can be a literal repetition or the lingering of a system like a kind of an after image of the previous state. In any case the current state can be compared with the previous one and with the next state also. Cognition is the application of its powers to compare, identification of redundancy, so as to perform a (re)cognition of recurrence of coherence, namely pattern. On a devised continuum of cognition ‘a suspicion’ is on the one extreme, where a pattern merely reminds of something such that it cannot be predicted for what it ‘is’ or whether it will occur with any certainty. ‘Knowing’ is at the other extreme, where the pattern is known and its occurrence can be predicted with a high level of certainty.

>>State description and process description

State -: a circle is an object of which all points are equidistant from one point. Process -: hold one arm of the compass in place, rotate the other arm until is is back at the initial point. ‘These two modes of experience are the warp and weft of our experience. .. The former characterize the world as sensed; they provide the criteria for identifying objects, often by modeling the objects themselves. The latter characterize the world as acted upon; they provide the means for producing or generating objects having the desired characteristics. The distinction between the world as sensed and the world as acted upon defines the basic condition for the survival of adaptive organisms. The organism must develop correlations between goals in the sensed world and actions in the world of process. When they are made conscious and verbalized, these correlations correspond to what we usually call means-end analysis. Given a desired state of affairs and an existing state of affairs, the task of an adaptive organism is to find the difference between these two states, and then to find the correlating process that will erase the difference. Thus, problem solving requires continual translation between the state and process descriptions of the same complex reality’ [Simon 1962 p 479]. DPB: this is my equalizing of differences. It refers to adaptive organisms that is autopoietic systems. The translation between state and the process are then the same as the recurring consequence of structure and operations: the description of what it is and the description of what it does, &c. Refer to this in the main theory. ‘We pose a problem by giving the state description of the solution. The task is to discover a sequence of processes that will produce the goal state from an initial state. Translation from the process description to the state description enables us to recognize when we have succeeded’ [Simon 1962 p 479]. DPB: can this be coupled to challenge propagation?

>> Ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny

If genetic material is seen as a program, it: a) is self-reproducing, b) developed by Darwinian evolution. A human develops gills and then use them for other purposes. Instruct a 20th century workman to build a car by what he knows: start with a cart, remove the singletree then build a motor onto it, then a transmission. &c. DPB: this does not necessarily apply to the memetic instructionset of a firm. Or is it, sometimes routines are in place that stem from previous versions of work instructions that are no longer in place: ‘The generalization that in evolving systems whose descriptions are stored in a process language, we might expect ontogeny partially to recapitulate phylogeny has applications outside the realm of biology. It can be applied as readily, for example, to the transmission of knowledge in the educational process. In most subjects, particularly in the rapidly advancing sciences, the progress from elementary to advanced courses is to a considerable extent a progress through the conceptual history of the science itself. Fortunately, the recapitulation is seldom literal – any more than it is in the biological case. .. But curriculum revisions that rid us of the accumulations of the past are infrequent and painful’ [Simon 1962 p 481]. DPB: this is an important thought concerning the execution, namely the enactment of memes ad how the are restricted by the actual state of affairs, when the firm is operational.

Ashby Principles of the self-organizing system

Ashby WR . Principles of the Self-Organizing System . Principles of Self-Organization: Transactions of the University of Illinois Symposium, H. Von Foerster and G.W. Zopf, jr editors . Pergamon Press London UK pp. 255-278 . 1962

What is organization?

The hard core of the concept (of organization DPB) is, in my opinion, that of ‘conditionality’. As soon as the relation between two entities A and B becomes conditional on C’s value or state then a necessary component of ‘organization’ is present. Thus the theory of organization is partly co-extensive with the theory of functions of more than one variable’ [Ashby 1962 p 256, emphasis of the author]. DPB: this is my example of the chess board FIND CHESS and, apparently, how the pieces are organized by the conditions of the others. Refer to this text there. The converse of ‘conditional on’ is ‘not conditional on’: the converse of ‘organization’ is separability or reducibility. See below.In a mathematical sense this means that some parts of a function of many variables do not depend on some other parts of it. In a mechanical sense it means that some components of a machine work independent of other components of that machine. DPB: the outcome of the function or the machine depend on the workings of the reducible variables in a simple way. The converse of conditionality is reducibility. DPB: conditionality implies organization. Reducibility implies a lack of organization. This is the opposite of what I thought because whatever is organized is repetitive, a pattern, and it can be reduced away, because it can be summarized in a rule.

In computability theory and computational complexity theory, a reduction is an algorithm for transforming one problem into another problem. A reduction from one problem to another may be used to show that the second problem is at least as difficult as the first. Intuitively, problem A is reducible to problem B if an algorithm for solving problem B efficiently (if it existed) could also be used as a subroutine to solve problem A efficiently. When this is true, solving A cannot be harder than solving B. “Harder” means having a higher estimate of the required computational resources in a given context (e.g., higher time complexity, greater memory requirement, expensive need for extra hardware processor cores for a parallel solution compared to a single-threaded solution, etc.). We write A ≤m B, usually with a subscript on the ≤ to indicate the type of reduction being used (m : mapping reduction, p : polynomial reduction). First, we find ourselves trying to solve a problem that is similar to a problem we’ve already solved. In these cases, often a quick way of solving the new problem is to transform each instance of the new problem into instances of the old problem, solve these using our existing solution, and then use these to obtain our final solution. This is perhaps the most obvious use of reductions. Second: suppose we have a problem that we’ve proven is hard to solve, and we have a similar new problem. We might suspect that it is also hard to solve. We argue by contradiction: suppose the new problem is easy to solve. Then, if we can show that every instance of the old problem can be solved easily by transforming it into instances of the new problem and solving those, we have a contradiction. This establishes that the new problem is also hard. In mathematics, a topological space is called separable if it contains a countable, dense subset [Wikipedia].

The treatment of ‘conditionality’ (whether by functions of many variables, by correlation analysis, by uncertainty analysis, or by other ways) makes us realize that the essential idea is that there is first a product space – that of the possibilities – within which some sub-set of points indicates the actualities. This way of looking at ‘conditionality’ makes us realize that it is related to that of ‘communication’; and it is, of course, quite plausible that we should define parts as being ‘organized’ when ‘communication’ (in some generalized sense) occurs between them. (Again the natural converse is that of independence, which represents non-communication.)’ [Ashby 1962 p 257 emphasis of the author]. DPB: the fist sentence bears a relation to the virtual-actual-real. The second sentence can be read as the existence of some sort of a relation between the organized parts. And hence a kind of communication takes place between them. When there is no communication, then A and B can be wherever on the chess board, and there is no constraint between them, and hence no organization: ‘This the presence of ‘organization’ between variables is equivalent to the existence of a constraint in the product-space of the possibilities. I stress this point, because while, in the past, biologists have tended to think of organization as something extra, something added to the elementary variables, the modern theory, based on the logic of communication, regards organization as a restriction or constraint [Ashby p 257 emphasis of the author]

DPB: This is much like the chess example: Organization comes from the elements, and it is not imposed from somewhere else. The product space of a system is its Idea. ‘Whence comes this product space? Its chief peculiarity is that it contains more than actually exists in the real physical world, for it is the latter that gives us the actual, constrained subset’ [Ashby p 257]. DPB: I have explained this in terms of individuation: the virtual+actual makes the real. Refer to this quote above at the chess game section!

The real world gives the subset of what is; the product space represents the uncertainty of the observer’ [Ashby 1962 p 258]. DPB: this is relevant too, because it related to the virtual: everything it could be in the focus of the observer, its space of possibilities. The space changes when the observer changes and two observers can have different spaces: ‘The ‘constraint’ is thus a relation between observer and thing; the properties of any particular constraint will depend in both the real thing and on the observer. It follows that a substantial part of the theory of organization will be concerned with properties that are not intrinsic to the thing but are relational between observer and thing’ [Ashby p 258]. Re: OBSERVER SUBJECT / OBJECT

Whole and Parts

In regards the concept of ‘organization’ it is assumed that there is a whole that is composed of parts: a) fx= x1 + x2+..+ xn means that there are n parts in this system. b) S1, S2, .. means that there are states of a system S without mention of its parts if any. The point is that a system can show dynamics without reference to parts, and that does therefore not refer to the concept of organization: the concepts are independent. This emphasizes the idea that organization is in the eye of the observer: ‘..I will state the proposition that: given a whole with arbitrarily given behavior, a great variety of arbitrary ‘parts’ can be seen in it; for all that is necessary, when the arbitrary part is proposed, is that we assume the given part to be coupled to another suitably related part, so that the two together form a whole isomorphic with the whole that was given’ [Ashby 1962 p 259]. DPB: isomorphic means invertible mathematical mapping. Does this mean that A and B are the structure that forms C which is the whole under a set of relations between A and B? ‘Thus, subject only to certain requirements (e.g. that equilibria map into equilibria) any dynamic system can be made to display a variety of arbitrarily assigned ‘parts’, simply by a change in the observer’s view point’ [Ashby 1962 p 260 amphasis of the author]. DPB: dit is een belangrijke opmerking die past bij het Deleuze / Luhmann verhaal over de observer. Also the pattern ‘versus’ coherence section. Re OBSERVER

Machines in general

The question is whether general systems theory deals with mathematical systems, in which case they need only be internally consistent) or with physical systems also, in which case they are tied to what the real world offers. Machines need not be material and reference to energy is irrelevant. ‘A ‘machine’ is that which behaves in a machine-like way, namely, that its internal state, and the state of its surroundings, defines uniquely the next state it will go to’ [Ashby 1962 p 261]. This definition was originally proposed in [Ashby W.R. . The Physical origin of adaptation by trial and error . G. Gen. Psychol., 32, pp. 13-25 . 1945]. DPB: this is much applicable to FIND INDIVIDUATION. See how to incorporate it there as a quote. I is the set of input state, S is the set of internal states, f is a mapping IxS into S. The ‘organization’ of a machine is f: change f and the organization changes. ‘In other words, the possible organizations between the parts can be set into one-one correspondence with the set of possible mapings of IxS into S. ‘Thus ‘organization’ and ‘mapping’ are two ways of looking at the same thing – the organization being noticed by the observer of the actual system, and the mapping being recorded by the person who represents the behavior in mathematical or other symbolism’ [Ashby p 262]. DPB: I referred to the organization as per Ashby observed as a pattern, which is the result of a coherence of the system in focus, Ashby says the actual system. Re COHERENCE PATTERN

‘Good’ organization

Whether an ‘organization’ is good depends on its usefulness. Biological systems have often come to be useful (DPB: preserving something, rendering it irreversible) under the pressure of natural selection. Engineered systems are often not useful: a) most organizations are bad ones b) the good ones have to be sought for c) what is meant with ‘good’ must be clearly defined, explicitly if necessary, in every case. What is meant with a ‘good’ organization of a brain? In the case of organisms this is the case if it supports its survival. In general: an organization can be considered ‘good’ if it keeps the values of a set of (essential) variables within their particular limits. These are mechanisms for homeostasis: the organization is ‘good’ if it makes the system stable around an equilibrium. The essence of the idea is that a number of variables so interacts as to achieve some given ‘focal condition’. But:’ .. what I want to say here – there is no such thing as ‘good organization’ in any absolute sense. Always it is relative; and an organization that is good in one context or under one criterion may be bad under another’ [Ashby 1962 p 263 emphasis of the author]. DPB: the OUTBOARD ENGINE is good to produce exhaust fumes and to consume toxic fossil materials and not good at driving boats. Every faculty of a brain is conditional because it can be handicapped in at least one environment by precisely that faculty: ’.. whatever that faculty or organization achieves, let that be not in the focal conditions’ [p 264 emphasis of the author]. There is no faculty (property, organization) of the brain that cannot be (become) undesirable, even harmful under certain circumstances. ‘Is it not good that a brain should have memory? Not at all, I reply – only when the environment is of a type in which the future often copies the past; should he future often be the inverse of the past, memory is actually disadvantageous. .. Is it not good that a brain should have its parts in rich functional connection? I say NO – not in general; only when the environment is itself richly connected. When the environment’s parts are not richly connected (when it is highly reducible in other words), adaptation will go faster if the brain is also highly reducible, i.e. if its connectivity is small (Ashby 1960, d)’ [Ashby 1962 pp. 264-5]. DPB: this is relevant for the holes that Vid can observe where others are. re VID Ashby refers to Sommerhof: a set of disturbances must be given as well as a focal condition. The disturbances threaten to drive the outcome outside of the focal condition. The ‘good’ organization is the relation between the set of disturbances and the goal (the focal condition): change the circumstances and the outcome will not lead to the goal and be evaluated ‘bad’.

Self-Organizing Systems

Two meanings of the concept: a) Changing from parts separated to parts joined (‘Changing from unorganized to organized’), and this concept can also be covered with the concept of self-connecting b) ‘Changing from a ‘bad’ organization to a ‘good’ one’ [Ashby 1962 p 267]. DPB: do I address this somewhere in regards the self-organization I guess I talk only about the first meaning? The last one refers to the case where the organization changes itself from showing bad behavior to showing good behavior. ‘ machine can be self-organizing in this sense’ [Ashby 1962 p 267]. f: I x S = S. f is defined as a set of couples such that si leads to sj by the internal drive of the system. To allow f to be a function of the state is to make nonsense of the whole concept. DPB: but this is exactly what individuation does! ‘Were f in the machines to be some function of the state S, we would have to redefine our machine’ [Ashby 1962 p 268]. DPB: the function does not depend on the set S, because then all of the states, past and present could be occurring simultaneously, hence the reference to the new machine. But, given the concept of individuation, it should depend on the present in S? ‘We start with the set S of states, and assume that f changes, to g say. So we really have a variable, a(t) say, a function of time that had at first the value f and later the value g. This change, as we have just seen, cannot be ascribed to any cause in the set S; so it must have come from some outside agent, acting on the system S as input. If the system is to be in some sense ‘self-organizing’, the ‘self’ must be enlarged to include this variable a, and, to keep the whole bounded, the cause of a’s change must be in S (or a). Thus the appearance of of being ‘self-organizing’ can be given only by the machine S being coupled to another machine (of one part)..’ [p 269]. DPB: Big surpise. How to deal with this? Through individuation, and I feel the use of time t as an independent is confusing. So what happens is that that a is in the milieu. Therefore a is not in S. Therefore the Monad can only exist in the Nomad &c. Re INDIVIDUATION, MILIEU

The spontaneous generation of organization

.. every isolate determinate dynamic system obeying unchanging laws will develop ‘organisms’ that are adapted to their ‘environments. The argument is simple enough in principle. We start with the fact that systems in general go to equilibrium. Now most of a system’s states are non-equilibrial (if we exclude the extreme case of the systems in neutral equilibrium). So in going from any state to one of the equilibria, the system is going from a larger number of states to a smaller. In this way it is performing a selection, in the purely objective sense that it rejects some states, by leaving them, and retains some other state, by sticking to it. Thus, as every determinate system goes to equilibrium, so does it select. ## tot zo ver? We have heard ad nauseam the dictum that a machine cannot select; the truth is just the opposite: every machine, as it goes to equilibrium, performs the corresponding act of selecting##. Now, equilibrium in simple systems is usually trivial and uninteresting … when the system is more complex, the and dynamic, equilibrium, and the stability around it, can be much more interesting. .. What makes the change, from trivial to interesting, is simply the scale of the events. ‘Going to equilibrium’ is trivial in the simple pendulum, for the equilibrium is no more than a single point. But when the system is more complex; when, say, a country’s economy goes back from wartime to normal methods then the stable region is vast, and much more interesting activity can occur within it’ [Ashby 1962 pp. 270-1]. DPB: this is useful in regards the selective mechanisms of individuation re machines.


So the answer to the question:How can we generate intelligence synthetically? Is as follows. Take a dynamic systems whose laws are unchanging and single-valued, and whose size is so large that after it has gone to an equilibrium that involves only a small fraction of its total states, this small fraction is still large enough to allow room for a good deal of change and behavior. Let it go on for a long enough time to get to such an equilibrium. Then examine the equilibrium in detail. You will find that the states or forms now in being are peculiarly able to survive against the disturbances induced by the laws. Split the equilibrium in two, call one part ‘organism’ and the other part ‘environment’: you will find that this ‘organism’ is peculiarly able to survive the disturbances from this ‘environment’. The degree of adaptation and complexity that this organism can develop is bounded only by the size of the whole dynamic system and by the time over which it is allowed to progress towards equilibrium. Thus, as I said, every isolated determinate system dynamic system will develop organisms that are adapted to their environments. .. In this sense, then, every machine can be thought of as ‘self-organizing’, for it will develop , to such a degree as its size and complexity allow, some functional structure homologous with an ‘adapted organism’ [Ashby 1962 p 272]. DPB: I know this argument and I’ve quoted it before, I seem to remember in Design for a Brain or else the article about Requisite Variety. FIND NOMAD MONAD The point seems to be that the environment serves as the a, but is is not an extension of the machine in the sense that it belongs to it, because it belongs to its environment and is by definition not a part of it. ‘To itself, its own organization will always, by definition, be good. .. But these criteria come after the organization for survival; having seen what survives we then see what is ‘good’ for that form. What emerges depends simply on what are the system’s laws and from what state it started; there is no implication that the organization developed will be ‘good’ in any absolute sense, or according to the criterion of any outside body such as ourselves’ [p 273]. DPB: this is the point of Wolfram that the outcome is only defined by the rules and the initial conditions.

Chemical Organization Theory and Autopoiesis

E-mail communication of Francis Heylighen on 29 May 2018:

Inspired by the notion of autopoiesis (“self-production”) that Maturana and Varela developed as a definition of life, I wanted to generalize the underlying idea of cyclic processes to other ill-understood phenomena, such as mind, consciousness, social systems and ecosystems. The difference between these phenomena and the living organisms analysed by Maturana and Varela is that the former don’t have a clear boundary or closure that gives them a stable identity. Yet, they still exhibit this mechanism of “self-production” in which the components of the system are transformed into other components in such a way that the main components are eventually reconstituted.

This mechanism is neatly formalized in COT’s notion of “self-maintenance” of a network of reactions. I am not going to repeat this here but refer to my paper cited below. Instead, I’ll give a very simple example of such a circular, self-reproducing process:

A -> B,

B -> C,

C -> A

The components A, B, C are here continuously broken down but then reconstituted, so that the system rebuilds itself, and thus maintains an invariant identity within a flux of endless change.

A slightly more complex example:

A + X -> B + U

B + Y -> C + V

C + Z -> A + W

Here A, B, and C need the resources (inputs, or “food”) X, Y and Z to be reconstituted, while producing the waste products U, V, and W. This is more typical of an actual organism that needs inputs and outputs while still being “operationally” closed in its network of processes.

In more complex processes, several components are being simultaneously consumed and produced, but so that the overall mixture of components remains relatively invariant. In this case, the concentration of the components can vary the one relative to the other, so that the system never really returns to the same state, only to a state that is qualitatively equivalent (having the same components but in different amounts).

One more generalization is to allow the state of the system to also vary qualitatively: some components may (temporarily) disappear, while others are newly added. In this case, we  no longer have strict autopoiesis or [closure + self-maintenance], i.e. the criterion for being an “organization” in COT. However, we still have a form of continuity of the organization based on the circulation or recycling of the components.

An illustration would be the circulation of traffic in a city. Most vehicles move to different destinations within the city, but eventually come back to destinations they have visited before. However, occasionally vehicles leave the city that may or may not come back, while new vehicles enter the city that may or may not stay within. Thus, the distribution of individual vehicles in the city changes quantitatively and qualitatively while remaining relatively continuous, as most vehicle-position pairs are “recycled” or reconstituted eventually. This is what I call circulation.

Most generally, what circulates are not physical things but what I have earlier called challenges. Challenges are phenomena or situations that incite some action. This action transforms the situation into a different situation. Alternative names for such phenomena could be stimuli (phenomena that stimulate an action or process), activations (phenomena that are are active, i.e. ready to incite action) or selections (phenomena singled out as being important, valuable or meaningful enough to deserve further processing). The term “selections” is the one used by Luhmann in his autopoietic model of social systems as circulating communications.

I have previously analysed distributed intelligence (and more generally any process of self-organization or evolution) as the propagation of challenges: one challenge produces one or more other challenges,  which in turn produce further challenges, and so on. Circulation is a special form of propagation in which the initial challenges are recurrently reactivated, i.e. where the propagation path is circular, coming back to its origins.

This to me seems a better model of society than Luhmann’s autopoietic social systems. The reason is that proper autopoiesis does not really allow the system to evolve, as it needs to exactly rebuild all its components, without producing any new ones. With circulating challenges, the main structure of society is continuously rebuilt, thus ensuring the continuity of its organization, however while allowing gradual changes in which old challenges (distinctions, norms, values…) dissipate and new ones are introduced.

Another application of circulating challenges are ecosystems. Different species and their products (such as CO2, water, organic material, minerals, etc.) are constantly recycled, as the one is consumed in order to produce the other, but most are eventually reconstituted. Yet, not everything is reproduced: some species may become extinct, while new species invade the ecosystem. Thus the ecosystem undergoes constant evolution, while being relatively stable and resilient against perturbations.

Perhaps the most interesting application of this concept of circulation is consciousness. The “hard problem” of consciousness asks why information processing in the brain does not just function automatically or unconsciously, the way we automatically pull back our hand from a hot surface, before we even have become conscious of the pain of burning. The “global workspace” theory of consciousness says that various subconscious stimuli enter the global workspace in the brain (a crossroad of neural connections in the prefrontal cortext), but that only a few are sufficiently amplified to win the competition for workspace domination. The winners are characterized by much stronger activation and their ability to be “broadcasted” to all brain modules (instead of remaining restricted to specialized modules functioning subconsciously). These brain modules can then each add their own specific interpretation to the “conscious” thought.

In my interpretation, reaching the level of activation necessary to “flood” the global workspace means that activation does not just propagate from neuron to neuron, but starts to circulate so that a large array of neurons in the workspace are constantly reactivated. This circulation keeps the signal alive long enough for the different specialized brain modules to process it, and add their own inferences to it. Normally, activation cannot stay in place, because of neuronal fatigue: an excited neuron must pass on its “action potential” to connected neurons, it cannot maintain activation. To maintain an activation pattern (representing a challenge) long enough so that it can be examined and processed by disparate modules that pattern must be stabilized by circulation.

But circulation, as noted, does not imply invariance or permanence, merely a relative stability or continuity that undergoes transformations by incoming stimuli or on-going processing. This seems to be the essence of consciousness: on the one hand, the content of our consciousness is constantly changing (the “stream of consciousness”), on the other hand that content must endure sufficiently long for specialized brain processes to consider and process it, putting part of it in episodic memory, evaluating part of it in terms of its importance, deciding to turn part of it into action, or dismissing or vetoing part of it as inappropriate.

This relative stability enables reflection, i.e. considering different options implied by the conscious content, and deciding which ones to follow up, and which ones to ignore. This ability to choose is the essence of “free will“. Subconscious processes, on the other hand, just flow automatically and linearly from beginning to end, so that there is no occasion to interrupt the flow and decide to go somewhere else. It is because the flow circulates and returns that the occasion is created to interrupt it after some aspects of that flow have been processed and found to be misdirected.

To make this idea of repetition with changes more concrete, I wish to present a kind of “delayed echo” technique used in music. One of the best implementation is Frippertronics, invented by avant-garde rock guitarist Robert Fripp (of King Crimson):

The basic implementation consist of an analogue magnetic tape on which the sounds produced by a musician are recorded. However, after having passed the recording head of the tape recorder, the tape continues moving until it is read by another head that reads and plays the recorded sound. Thus, the sound recorded at time t is played back at time t + T, where the interval T depends on the distance between the recording and playback heads. But while the recorded sound in played back, the recording head continues recording all the sound, played by either the musician(s) or the playback head, on the same tape. Thus, the sound propagates from musician to recording head, from where is is transported by tape to the playback head, from where it is propagated in the form of a sound wave back to the recording head, thus forming a feedback loop.

If T is short, the effect is like an echo, where the initial sound is repeated a number of times until it fades away (under the assumption that the playback is slightly less loud than the original sound). For a longer T, the repeated sound may not be immediately recognized as a copy of what was recorded before given that many other sounds have been produced in the meantime. What makes the technique interesting is that while the recorded sounds are repeated, the musician each time adds another layer of sound to the layers already on the recording. This allows the musician to build up a complex, multilayered, “symphonic” sound, where s/he is being accompanied by her/his previous performance. The resulting music is repetitive, but not strictly so, since each newly added sound creates a new element, and these elements accumulate so that they can steer the composition in a wholly different direction.

This “tape loop” can be seen as a simplified (linear or one-dimensional) version of what I called circulation, where the looping or recycling maintains a continuity, while the gradual fading of earlier recordings and the addition of new sounds creates an endlessly evolving “stream” of sound. My hypothesis is that consciousness corresponds to a similar circulation of neural activation, with the different brain modules playing the role of the musicians that add new input to the circulating signal. A differences is probably that the removal of outdated input does not just happen by slow “fading” but by active inhibition, given that the workspace can only sustain a certain amount of circulating activation, so that strong new input tends to suppress weaker existing signals. This and the complexity of circulating in several directions of a network may explain why conscious content appears much more dynamic than repetitive music.

Mafia Culture

Blok, A. . The Mafia of a Sicilian Village, 1860-1960 – A study of violent peasant entrepreneurs . . 1974 . Waveland Press, Inc. . Prospect Heights Illinois . 1988 . ISBN 0-88133-325-5

The idea is that memes are the ideas that replicate: they are the basis for selective pressures. And so once a meme is interesting enough it gets replicated by its host. In this way it is successful and fit. It can’t be said to be useful for the person replicating it or for society in general or for some group in particular. It just happens to be accepted or believed, communicated and replicated and it survives. However the case may be: the memes we encounter today are the products of many years of ‘experience’ and in that sense they already have been selected by the evolutionary forces. Their ancestors have been around in some shape or form, initially basic but ever more sophisticated and competing for human attention, they have been around ever since human beings communicate. In theory those would be the ones providing some evolutionay advantage to their hosts, but there is no need for that. The prevailing memes can be about anything: if they are damaging to their host, they should not be too quick about it. Some examples were given of memes concerning the economic lives of people at this point. They can all be said to be useful for the host up to some point and so to identify their workings, an inventory was made of the memes that must be in play in a traditional sicilian village in the period 1860-1960.

A pivotal characteristic of mafia is the private use of unlicenced violence as a means of control in the public sphere. Many people are involved in it or with it and it is still widespread, but it is not a centralized or single organisation. However the case may be: mafiosi exist and the sum of their actions associated with the use of violence is known as the mafia: mafia exists but The Mafia doesn’t. Mafioso or ‘ntisu (he who is listened to).

The reason why Sicily is ungovernable is that the unhabitants have long ago learned to distrust and neutralize all written laws (alien laws in particular) and to govern themselves in their own rough homemade fashion, as if official institutions did not exist. This arrangement is highly unsatisfactory (the inhabitants themselves endlessly lament their fate) because it cures no ills, in fact makes them worse, promotes injustice and tyranny, leaves crimes unpunished, does not make use of Sicilians’ best qualities, and has kept the country stagnant and backwards in almost every way. It consists of a technique, or art, which is second nature to all Sicilians, both the decent hard-working, honorable Sicilians, and the criminal minority, which includes the Mafia, that of building up one’s personal power, and of acquiring enough power to intimidate or frighten one’s competitors, rivals, or enemies, in order to defend one’s honor and welfare at all times [Barzini 1972: 75-6 in Blok 1988 foreword p xiv].

M1: Distrust the law and any alien forces. Govern thyself.

M2: Defend your honor and welfare. Expand your power to intimidate your competitors and rivals.

The existence of the mafia hinges on a set of economic and political arrangements and so to discover the drivers of its mechanisms is about the locating of the connections between those two elements and the prevalence of private violence.

Fundamental framework of social life: landless / landpoor laborers, rentiers (owners of land) and managers (running the estates and oversee strongarm men hired to protect the property). The managers maintained the rentiers’ incomes from their property and their local power. In return they received liberty to exploit the local workers for their own ends. The landlords used their own private forces to ward off outside interference from rivals and the state and to protect their managers. The produce is to a large extent exported and some level of large-scale organisation is in place and so to label the sicilian society as backwards doesn’t explain the state of afffairs. Blok calls this system rent-capitalism. An important piece of the puzzle is that the laborer spends a lot of time traveling between his job(s) and between his own scattered plots of land (itinerant lifestyle). As a result of this and the insecurity caused by a lack of state control, protection could be offered to the laborer in exchange for a tribute, added to the burdens of direct exploitation (low wages and high leases and taxes). But the population pressure was high enough to keep the wages low and underemployment prevalent, the communication between villages was limited and so the laborers were not in a position to organize themselves, emigration was difficult and protection by the state was limited.

M3: (peasant). Me and my family must survive. Get work at any price wherever and whenever.

The origins of the emergence of the mafia lies in the liberalisation of the lands as a consequence of the dispossessions of the church, breaking up of common lands, abolition of feudal landownings and so on. This lead to the acquiring of large estates and stretches of land by a few bourgeois joining old aristocrat families, preventing farmers joining in and state intervention regarding genuine land reform. ‘The mafiosi were creatures of the landlords; they began as armed retainers, and ended up as exploiters with considerable autonomy‘ [Blok 1988 p. xviii]. ‘While on one hand, mafiosi heightened class tensions though their control over land, they checked open rebellions and sustained revolts in several ways: by force; by keeping a hold on outside influence; by opening avenues for upwardly mobile peasants; and by turning outlaws and bandits into allies‘ [Blok 1988 p. xviii].

M4: (peasant). The security and welfare (and honor) of a mafioso is safeguearded. Get a job as a mafioso.

M5 (peasant) A mafioso is selected because of his outstanding cruelty. Show exceptional cruelty.

The mafiosi are protected by the landlords mightier then them; they in turn have fabricated some agreement of non-intervention with the regional authorities. This system rests on patronage without complete control: in case the national state collapsed then the non-intervention agreement is rendered useless and space opens for other power structures. If the protectors are replaced by the government than the autonomy of the mafiosi decreases and the effect of that for the populace depends on the concrete relative characteristics of the mafia and the state. The amount of force depends on the amount of autonomy that the parties have managed to ssecure for themselves.

The system producing mafia is both cruel and curious. Like governments, the beneficiaries of the system, directly or indirectly, tax the producers of the wealth – the agricultural workers. Like many governments, the system permits each of the operators to scoop some of the proceeds from the flow towards the top. It depends on government to stand far enough away not to interfere with the flow of proceeds, but close enough to assure that neither rivals nor the people at the bottom will block the flow. Unlike most governments, however, the system has no accountability, no visibility, no means of representation for those under its control. So the mafia system is more curious and more cruel than the government itself.’ ‘The murders, thefts and mutilations its operators use to maintain their control- to ‘make themselves respected’-are only the most lurid manifestations of its evil’ [Blok 1988 p xix-xx].

M6 (mafia): the more invisible the less accountable. Remain as little visible and representing as possible.

In that regard, one might imagine a continuum running from anarchy to banditry to mafia to routine government. The defining feature of that continuum is the extent to which control over the use of force is concentrated in a single organization. That implicit continuum connects Blok’s analysis to phenomena far more general than mafia or Sicilian villages. What he calls state-formation, other people have often tried to deal with as ‘political development‘ [Blok 1988 p. xx-xxi].

State-formation is not immanent, unidirectional or a displacement of the traditional by the modern nor universal (namely not historically specific) but it is international (namely occurring in a network of neighbouring or otherwie dependent states). The processes that Blok identified in Sicily are fairly standard State-formation processes: consolidation of the controol of over the use of force, elimination of rivals, formation of coalitions, extension of protection, routinized extraction of resources. Had one mafia network managed to extend its control over Sicily, then it would have been closer to a public rather than a private authority, a State rather than a movement.

Poised between landowning elite and peasants, between city and countryside, and between central government and the village, they sought to control and monopolize the links between these various groups and segments of society‘ [Blok 1988 p. xxviii].

M7 (mafia): There is a profit to be made by exploiting violence in the vacuum between the peasants and the landowners. ??

Land is the basis for social and political life in Genuardo: the majority of the population did not own or have power over suffficient land to live on. The only way to survive is to come to terms to those who do own it or have access to it. This was increased because in the new structure of landownership, the feudo (classical estate) was replaced with the latifondo: the mechanism of the common grounds were now no longer in place and all land was on lease. These lands were part of the rivalry of the existing landownners and the new incumbants. This further impoverished the peasants, because they were now forced to pay a lease for the formerly free of charge commons. The latifondo were large, but their lands were leased out in smaller strips of land to peasant on short term leases. The estate was itself leased out to a gabelloto (leaseholder) who paid a fixed fee per annum or a amministratori (steward) who represents the owner and has an annual income. They are referred to as peasant entrepreneurs because they were of peasant stock and manipulating people and resources for profit.

Who are the entities engaged in this game and what are their tools for thought?

General (a.p. Barzini quote) held belief:

The reason why Sicily is ungovernable is that the unhabitants have long ago learned to distrust and neutralize all written laws (alien laws in particular) and to goven themselves in their own rough homemade fashion, as if official institutions did not exist… It consists of a technique, or art, which is second nature to all Sicilians, both the decent hard-working, honorable Sicilians, and the criminal minority, which includes the Mafia, that of building up one’s personal power, and of acquiring enough power to intimidate or frighten one’s competitors, rivals, or enemies, in order to defend one’s honor and welfare at all times[Barzini 1972: 75-6 in Blok 1988 foreword p xiv]

This orientation of peasants having a relatively high degree of independent control over their land is completely at variance with the attitudes of the dependent peasantry discussed in this book. For them, manual work was and still is looked dow upon, and those engaged in it – the contadini or vidani – are socially degraded‘ [Blok 1988 p48-9].

M8: manual labor is degraded for contadini or vidani. Advancing in the world (civiltà) means absence of manual work. To get a job that is free from manual work is better than a job involving manual work.

To bridge seasonal shortfalls, the peasants received loans from the gabellotti: they left the feudal system to enter a system of indebtedness.

The sharecropper (bringing own equipment ot the estate) was permanently indebted to the gebellotti because of these fees and tributes: 1) ¾ of the crops, 2) verbal contract 3) net / gross measurements when the gebelloto calculated payables and receivables 4) gifts to the gebelloto as tributes for protection to share out to whomever it may concern 5) high interest rates on loans 6) risks on production were with the sharecropper.

1) Peasants and shepherds as seasonal workers during summer and fall. They travel between estates and their own holdings. They need money to sustain their families and they can emigrate with considerable difficulty only. Some of them are retained by the managers as a mafioso or by other mafiosi as a collegue; thus a way up is offered to peasants skilled in violence and in so doing keeping restive peasants in submission. They have a tendency to dislike the land and the work on the land. Also they are looked down upon and seen as degraded: they are seen to have a lack of civiltà (as uncivilized). They are inclined to patriotism, xenophobia and rejection of any central rule.

M9 (peasant): To become a mafiosi means to have honor, no manual labor, more wellfare. Become a mafioso.

2) Land owners: bourgeois and aristocrats as employers and lessors. They live elsewhere, not on the estate. They want an income and no trouble. They retain a manager to manege the estate for them. They broker some agreement between the mafia and the regional governments. Aristocracy and bourgeois had no interest in farming and a didain for manual work. They were interested, apart from the landed status, in power and presige: noble titles via marriage and purchase and local government.

M10 (landowner): A life away from the state in a city is further removed from the business, concrete work, it has more civiltà and so that is to be preferred over a life on the estate. Life in the city, have a manager manage the estate.

3) Managers of the estates as retainers of strong-arm people. They gain an income from the management of the estate as well as from the coercion of low-level workers to work for them at some wage.

M11 (managers, lessees) get a lease of a part of the land on an estate: make a profit while the peasants will do the physical work. Make profit. Squeeze out the sharecroppers for more profit.

4) Mafia consists of peasants retained to enforce the will of the managers on the laborers regarding the interests of the estate and keep others out of the community as retained for strong-arm work. It is born from the tension between the central government and the land owners and the latter and the peasants. Mafia helped manage these related tensions. They move up in the world from low-wage worker (at the wrong end of the stick) to someone with a higher status and a somewhat higher income and more security (the right end of the stick). In exchange for their services protecting the intrests of the state, they are at liberty to raise tributes from the laborers. They are protected by the land owners from outside influences because of their agreements with regional authorities. They developed as entrepreneurs monopolizing the information channels with the outside world so as to keep the population isolated and uninformed. In case of a conflict the enforcement by campieri (private police) is in favour of the party wielding power and influence and incentivizing the executor and so the mafia follows the vested interests [p61]. They earn respect by their application of violent force that inspires awe and their capability to gain access to resources mainly land to their followers; there is competitive pressure on these powerful (and in an awe inspiring way respectful) jobs. Mafia at a higher level of society lends support ot government that is interested to abstain from too much interference in local communities’ businesses. ‘.. the Mafia demanded cmplete subordination, absolute obedience and ‘rispetto’ (respect). This last was even required in exterior forms and was understood particularly as a concretee recognition of the prerogative of ‘immunity’ belonging to the mafioso, not only in his person, but also in everything he had to do with or that he was pleased to take under his protection. In fine, evildoers had to leave the mafioso severely alone, and all the persons or things to which , explicitly or impicitly, he had given a guarantee of security. That is the meaning of the word ‘rispetto’ in this connection‘ [Mori 1933: 69-70 in Blok 1988 p. 146-7]. Damage to the ‘rispetto’ was seen by the mafia as an act of insubordination, an insult, not of material damage.

The means used by mafiosi is violent force. The violence and homicide in mafia circles however wasn’t a sign of social disorder. ‘The use of violence was encouraged and justified, though people were never aimlessly harmed or killed: violence was prescribed in those situations where people sought to get their claims to honor and power ultimately recognized‘ [Blok 1988 p 174].

M12 (mafiosi) When coercing people to do what they want, they make use of their ‘rispetto’. Act rigourously and violently at any inkling of a damage to the rispetto.

5) Regional and national government kept in the loop by the land owners. Some representatives receive a retainer to stay away from the area.

M13 (government representatives) the mafia enforces the law in some locality too insignificant for us. If we allow them that then they do our work for us. They may also help us to collect votes for our political careers. Get aligned witht hem.

6) The group of the bandits includes people that are not a part of the sysem that encompasses the mafia. They are social and so they are tied to other people. Bandits had to rely on protection from above to survive at all. The protection can be from kinsmen up to politicians and if they were not protected then they were hunted down by landlord’s retainers, the police or the peasants. And the more successful as a bandit, the better his protection is. They are important in this context if they assume a retainership for a landlord. That suppresses the peasants resistance in two ways: the bandit opposes it directly and it shows an avenue upward to power and respectability.

M14 (bandits) If you are not protected then will not get old. Get protected: the higher up the more protection.

The peasant movement arose because of: 1) socialist influence in intellectual circles in cities, 2) the draft brought people back to their village with new experiences and perspectives, 3) suffrage for those who cold read and write increased as more people had those skills 4) high emigration rates reduced the chances of revolution and helped traditional resignation.

The approach of the mafia: once a cosco (mafia clique) gets a foothold on an estate as a campieri, a leaseholder or supervisor of herds, they start making attempts to increase their wealth with additional activities: apart from revenues and levies they tried to rustle cattle and sheep.

M15 (mafioso) Any foothold is a start of a larger entrepreneurship. Get a foothold somewhere. Then extend the business.

The mafiosi can then ‘protect’ the cattle from being stolen for a payment. This protection is forced on people through force and violence. At some point the mafiosi felt so strong that they imposed a tribute, not only to peasants but also to landowners.

Once they are in as a campieri, they keep out the petty theft and the cattle rustling but too they are a burden to the manager and to the owner of the estate. Over time, the balance of power between the landowners and the mafiosi tipped to the latter.

Friendship in Italy, as in other mediterranean societies is intrumental rather than emotional. Each member of a dyad (combination of two things) is a sponsor for the other and acts as a potenital connecting link to others outside of the dyad. When they exchange favors they call each other ‘friend’ and they rely on the connotations of intimacy, trust and affection to cover the practical usefulness and sometimes exploitative nature of their interactions. However, if the instrumental element takes the upper hand then the relation is in danger of disruption.The term ‘friendship’ can refer to a relation of patronage in a client supplier relationship and this way can cross class lines.

M16 (all) friendship is instrumental. Get friendly, be useful. Use.

The personal armies in feudal times were different from the mafiosi after that. Similar is the reputation of toughness and very personal connections. The main difference is the social context in which the mafiosi operated versus the institutional context of the feudal henchmen.

Their violence wasn’t formal and therefore illegal from the perspective of the formal authorities; they accepted it for practical reasons. The state failed to monopolize the use of violence.

The mafiosi operated as middle men: they assumed positions of management of the estates and in this way controlled the efforts of the peasants, dependent on the land for the livelihood. They bought estates if they came up for sale, sold the land to peasants at a profit, coerced tributes from them after that and forced them to vote for their candidates in elections, thus brokering political influence. The politicians themselves were often owners of the estates that were managed by the mafiosi striving for a regional or national political position; and in this position they could protect the mafiosi from the law. This is a patron-broker-client network. Now they controlled the environment of the village because they had a control of the people in authority. They were poised between the peasants (were they came from, the so called little tradition) and the State (the big tradition). The relations within and in between the cosci were based on kinship, and in its absence, other similar relations developed.

M17 (mafiosi) work the mafia at all sides to expand the business. Have the peasants pay tributes, have the landowners pay tributes, have the politicians pay for votes.

Within the system of the mafia the younger mafiosi strived to achieve a better position in the hierarchy at the expense of higher ranking and older members. The killing of rival was an important ingredient for that, because of the career opportunities as well as the establishment and reinforcement of the reputation of ‘rispetto’.

M18 (mafiosi) gain ‘rispetto’ by eliminating rivals and have access to more work in the process. Eliminate rivals.

At a village level a small number of families monopolized control over the means of violence, the means of production, and the means of orientation, namely religion, knowledge and ideology.

M19 (mafiosi) Have more control to leave less room for deviations. Control all aspects of village life: the means of religion, violence and production.


Important elements of the rise of the mafia are: the gradual and violent rise of a rural middle stratum, the growing proletarianisation of the peasantry, the obsolescence of certain sectors of the landowning aristocracy.

Omertà: recourse to the legal authorities with regards to private matters is seen as a sign of weakness. It is a strong version of the sentiment that personal insult should be settled by duel to recover lost honor. Maffii psychology indicates many offenses in this category and that should be avenged by personal action or that of relatives or friends.

M20 (mafiosi) guard omertà. Deze is al eerder geweest.

The reign ended or lost momentum when empoyment rose via infrastructure projects, the number of laborers decreased because of emigration overseas and migration to the industrial north of Italy, decrease in competition for local resources (land is less important as a source of power, because people are less attached to land as a source of income) requiring cotrol by violence, and so the bargaining power of the peasants strengthened. Also within the mafia the power shifted away from the local strongmen to influence in the political sphere. As a result violence pays less.

The mafia in Sicily is a ‘mental condition’ pervading everything and all sorts of people on every level. The mafia ended up in the blood, in the most hidden structures of society. Above all, it is to be found in the atavistic distrust of the law and, for that reason, in the disregard of the law, which among Sicilians assumesthe characteristics of an epidemic voluptuousness. It is a mentality harboring in proprietors, peasants, magistrates, local authorities, the police, everywehere. It is impossible to identify, to dissect, to separate the collusion with the mafia. Because, as I have said, it enters in all the houses, though the door as well as through the window. Hence, the omertà, which is fortunately suffering its first flaws, the first cracks…. Do you know that the apparatus of the public forces to maintain law and order in Sicily is the most complete and the most extensive in Italy? But for the mafia it is of no use. As I have said before, it is a mental condition that bewitches, enchants, contaminates – you may choose the appropriate term for yourself – it instills everywhere also in those strongholds, like the Magistracy, that should be unassailable and vaccinated against the mafia‘ [Senator Donato Pafundi President of the Anti-Mafia Commission 1966 in Blok 1988 p. 227-8]. One of the major conclusions of the report of the commission issued in 1972 was that: ‘mafia by its very nature defies any remedy‘. All public bodies are rendered ineffective because all of them to some degree are intertwined with the mafia and their protectors.

Corruption and mafia are inherent elements of societies in a relatively early stage of formation of a nation-state.

What changes should take place that enable people to encourage a positive approach in all public servants or to carry though sharp measures against deviations.’ Attitudes towards the government and involvement in tasks in society on the part of the people who form it will only change with the changes in the society at large. .. It (to see corruption as something which is morally bad DPB) suggests that there are evildoers who can be punished.

We must expect, however, that people who act in particularistic and corrupt ways in not making clear a distinction between public and private affairs have few other options. They are part of societies in which the distribution of power is far more uneven than in certain nation-State societies where people can, quite apart from personal merits, afford to be ‘honest [Blok 1988 p. 229].

Involution means the overdriving of an established form in such a way that it becomes rigid through an overelaboration of detail [Geertz 1963:82 in Blok 1988 p. 83]

alle Begriffe, in denen sich ein ganzer Prozeß semiotisch zusammenfaßt, entziehn sich der Definition; definieerbar ist nur das, was keine Geschichte hat‘ [Friedrich Nietzsche. Zut Genealogie der Moral – Werke, Vol. II. Ed. Karl Schlechta. München: Carl Hanser Verlag, 1966 p. 820]