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New Book: Strategy, Evolution and War

Sunday, May 6th, 2018

[mark safranski / “zen“]

Strategy, Evolution and War: From Apes to Artificial Intelligence by Kenneth Payne

This book by Kenneth Payne of King’s College  is newly released by Georgetown Press. I saw it mainly by chance while perusing my twitter feed and ordered a copy. At first glance, it looks very promising, albeit I have a bias toward cultural evolutionary frameworks. Perhaps it will get me more up to speed on the implications of Ai for emerging warfare.

Just thumbing through, Payne has a solid bibliography and some intriguing chapter and section headings. For example:

The Hoplite Revolution:Warriors, Weapons and Society
Passionate Statesmen and Rational Bands
The Ai Renaissance ad Deep Learning
Chimps are Rational Strategists, Contra Humans

Enough to whet the appetite. May discuss Strategy, Evolution and War further after I finish it.

What have you been reading in the realm of strategy or war lately?

Kayfabe is an analog for war and love maybe, not a model

Sunday, February 11th, 2018

[ by Charles Cameron — hat-tip to Ferdinando Buscema, magician and therefore cognitive science specialist extraordinaire ]
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**

Occasionally one reads a truly stunning article — stunning, I mean stunnng.

Eric R. Weinstein‘s 2011 Edge answer, WHAT SCIENTIFIC CONCEPT WOULD IMPROVE EVERYBODY’S COGNITIVE TOOLKIT? is one such article, and as such I have retained the full caps in its title.

The theoretical background is :

Evolutionary biologists Richard Alexander and Robert Trivers have recently emphasized that it is deception rather than information that often plays the decisive role in systems of selective pressures. Yet most of our thinking continues to treat deception as something of a perturbation on the exchange of pure information, leaving us unprepared to contemplate a world in which fakery may reliably crowd out the genuine. In particular, humanity’s future selective pressures appear likely to remain tied to economic theory which currently uses as its central construct a market model based on assumptions of perfect information.

If we are to take selection more seriously within humans, we may fairly ask what rigorous system would be capable of tying together an altered reality of layered falsehoods in which absolutely nothing can be assumed to be as it appears. Such a system, in continuous development for more than a century, is known to exist and now supports an intricate multi-billion dollar business empire of pure hokum. It is known to wrestling’s insiders as “Kayfabe”.

Evolutionary biology, okay — I have other preferences for go-to model theory, but this one seems popular among non-magical realists on the cutting edge.. and the analog proposed in this article is kayfabe.

**

Which is?

What can be seen as “tying together an altered reality of layered falsehoods in which absolutely nothing can be assumed to be as it appears”? What, in other words, can model all these altered realities? And kayfabe cannot be the answer, since it is one of those altered realities itself. No — for sure, it may provide a superb analog for professional wrestling and those others — “war, finance, love, politics and science” — mentioned later in the piece:

Kayfabrication (the process of transition from reality towards Kayfabe) arises out of attempts to deliver a dependably engaging product for a mass audience while removing the unpredictable upheavals that imperil participants. As such Kayfabrication is a dependable feature of many of our most important systems which share the above two characteristics such as war, finance, love, politics and science.

— but it cannot model them.

**

Let’s take a closer look at the analogy, though:

What makes Kayfabe remarkable is that it gives us potentially the most complete example of the general process by which a wide class of important endeavors transition from failed reality to successful fakery.

That’s skirting the “model” concept again, but:

While most modern sports enthusiasts are aware of wrestling’s status as a pseudo sport, what few alive today remember is that it evolved out of a failed real sport (known as “catch” wrestling) which held its last honest title match early in the 20th century. Typical matches could last hours with no satisfying action, or end suddenly with crippling injuries to a promising athlete in whom much had been invested.

**

The idea was to avoid two “paradoxical risks”:

  • Occasional but Extreme Peril for the participants
  • General: Monotony for both audience and participants
  • Think about that in the context of war — extensive boredom punctuated by episodes of extreme risk? Try these descriptions from WWI:

    Since then we have been doing infantry work in the trenches. We have been out of work on our trenches; only shrapnel and snipers. Some one described this war as “Months of boredom punctuated by moments of terror.” It is sad that it is such a bad country for cavalry.

    and:

    “Months of boredom punctuated by moments of terror” : such is a description of life in the Navy which a naval lieutenant quotes as exactly fitting the facts.

    That covers army and navy, both from Where does the phrase of “boredom punctuated by moments of terror” come from? — but what about the air? It’s not from WWI, but anyway:

    In Barry Lopez’s essay “Flight” (published in About This Life and originally in Harper’s October 1995) he quotes pilots describing flying as “hours of boredom punctuated by minutes of terror.

    And what of love — after, as they say, the honeymoon is over?

    **

    For that matter, and at an entirely different scale, what about the heartbeat?

    That’s “boredome punctuated by excitement” in a nutshell, iterated, and becoming a (mostly) relable rhythm..

    Iterated. Rhythm.

    **

    I’m unconvinced that the heartbeat is an example of “the general process by which a wide class of important endeavors transition from failed reality to successful fakery”.. And that’s a crucial element of the general process, eh? It has to do with the way in which “important endeavors transition from failed reality to successful fakery.”

    I’d read that as potentially covering the transition from failed Mueller to successful Fox, if things go that way. YMMV:

    But “general process” — again, what’s the mnodel? And more preciseluy, what would the model look like in “stocks and flows” system dynamic form, say in STELLA? See Donella Meadows, Leverage Points: Places to Intervene in a System?

    **

    Or HipBone?

    I’m not convinced Mueller / Fox is a “boredom then excitement” example, much less that Mueller and Fox are allied in producing their result, whatever this may turn out to be — but Democrat and Republican, perhaps..

    And my search for the abstraction, the underlying model of the general process proposed continues..

    **

    KAYFABE in Professional Wrestling tells us more:

    To lift the veil on the world of professional wrestling, we need to take a look at the term ‘kayfabe‘. Kayfabe is a wrestling word coming from the early carnival days of wrestling for the word “keep”, originally used as “keep quiet”, or “keep secret”. Kayfabe is often seen as the suspension of disbelief that is used to create the non-wrestling aspects of the business, such as feuds, angles and wrestling gimmicks (or in layman terms, a wrestler’s on-screen persona from their personality down to their attire). In relative terms, a wrestler breaking kayfabe during a show would be likened to an actor breaking character on camera.

    In the past, it was common for wrestlers to adhere to maintaining kayfabe in public, even when outside the ring and off-camera, in order to preserve the illusion that the competition in pro wrestling was not staged.

    Kayfabe breaking as analogous to “an actor breaking character on camera”? And kayfabe transitioning from “virtual” to “real” — another of our favorite themes? Here we are again, from our first source:

    Importantly, Kayfabe also seems to have discovered the limits of how much disbelief the human mind is capable of successfully suspending before fantasy and reality become fully conflated. Wrestling’s system of lies has recently become so intricate that wrestlers have occasionally found themselves engaging in real life adultery following exactly behind the introduction of a fictitious adulterous plot twist in a Kayfabe back-story.

    So “wrestlers have occasionally found themselves” — wrestlers, plural, found themselves engaging, plural — in adultery? Our model needs to accomodatee this plurality along with all the rest.

    Adultery?

Review: The Rule of the Clan

Wednesday, April 20th, 2016

[by Mark Safranski / “zen“]

Rule of the Clan by Mark Weiner

I often review good books. Sometimes I review great ones. The Rule of the Clan: What an Ancient Form of Social Organization Reveals about the Future of Individual Freedom  by Mark S. Weiner gets the highest compliment of all: it is an academic book that is clearly and engagingly written so as to be broadly useful.

Weiner is Professor of Law and Sidney I. Reitman Scholar at Rutgers University whose research interests gravitate to societal evolution of constitutional orders and legal anthropology. Weiner has put his talents to use in examining the constitutional nature of a global phenomena that has plagued IR scholars, COIN theorists, diplomats, counterterrorism experts, unconventional warfare officers, strategists, politicians and judges. The problem they wrestle with goes by many names that capture some aspect of its nature – black globalization, failed states, rogue states, 4GW, hybrid war, non-state actors, criminal insurgency, terrorism and many other terms. What Weiner does in The Rule of the Clan is lay out a historical hypothesis of tension between the models of Societies of Contract – that is Western, liberal democratic, states based upon the rule of law – and the ancient Societies of Status based upon kinship networks from which the modern world emerged and now in places has begun to regress.

Weiner deftly weaves the practical problems of intervention in Libya or counterterrorism against al Qaida with political philosophy, intellectual and legal history, anthropology, sociology and economics. In smooth prose, Weiner illustrates the commonalities and endurance of the values of clan and kinship network lineage systems in societies as diverse as Iceland, Saudi Arabia, Kenya, India and the Scottish highlands, even as the modern state arose around them. The problem of personal security and the dynamic of the feud/vendetta as a social regulator of conduct is examined along with the political difficulties of shifting from systems of socially sanctioned collective vengeance to individual rights based justice systems. Weiner implores liberals (broadly, Westerners) not to underestimate (and ultimately undermine) the degree of delicacy and strategic patience required for non-western states transitioning between Societies of Status to Societies of Contract. The relationship between the state and individualism is complicated because it is inherently paradoxical, argues Weiner: only a state with strong, if limited, powers creates the security and legal structure for individualism and contract to flourish free of the threat of organized private violence and the tyranny of collectivistic identities.

Weiner’s argument is elegant, well supported and concise (258 pages inc. endnotes and index) and he bends over backwards in The Rule of the Clan to stress the universal nature of clannism in the evolution of human societies, however distant that memory may be for a Frenchman, American or Norwegian. If the mores of clan life are still very real and present for a Palestinian supporter (or enemy) of HAMAS in Gaza, they were once equally real to Saxons, Scots and Franks. This posture can also take the rough edges off the crueler aspects of, say, life for a widow and her children in a Pushtun village by glossing over the negative cultural behaviors that Westerners find antagonizing and so difficult to ignore on humanitarian grounds. This is not to argue that Weiner is wrong, I think he is largely correct, but this approach minimizes the friction involved in the domestic politics of foreign policy-making in Western societies which contain elite constituencies for the spread of liberal values by the force of arms.

Strongest recommendation.

John Holland, RIP

Sunday, August 30th, 2015

[ by Charles Cameron — a Magister has departed ]
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John Holland

**

I am saddened to hear that John Holland — the “father of genetic algorithms” — is no longer among us. Happily, I understand his passing was peaceful.

Obits:

  • Santa Fe Institute, Complexity science giant John Holland passes away at 86
  • Boston Globe, John H. Holland, 86; advanced study of complex adaptive systems
  • Washington Post, Goodbye to the genius who changed the way we think
  • New York Times, John Henry Holland, Who Computerized Evolution, Dies at 86
  • **

    I corresponded very briefly with John Holland, because of his interest in the Glass Bead Game — which he discussed in his Omni interview in connection with his own life’s work:

    I’ve been working toward it all my life, this Das Glasperlenspiel. It was a very scholarly game, starting with an abacus, where people set up musical themes, then do variations on it, like a fugue. Then they’d expand it to where it could include other artistic forms, and eventually cultural symbols. It became a very sophisticated game for setting up themes, almost as a poet would, and building variations as a composer. It was a way of symbolizing music and of building broad insights into the world.

    If I could get at all close to producing something like the glass bead game I can’t think of anything that would delight me more.

    See also:

  • Omni, And then there was A-Life
  • Wikipedia, John Henry Holland
  • h/t Mike Sellers

    Ronfeldt’s In-Depth Review of America 3.0

    Monday, September 23rd, 2013

     

     David Ronfeldt, RAND strategist and theorist has done a deep two-part  review of America 3.0 over at his Visions from Two Theories blog. Ronfeldt has been spending the last few years developing his TIMN analytic framework (Tribes, Institutions [hierarchical], Markets and Networks) which you can get a taste from here  and here or a full reading with this RAND paper.

    David regards the familial structure thesis put forward by James Bennett and Michael Lotus in America 3.0 as “captivating”  and “compelling” for  “illuminating the importance of the nuclear family for America’s evolution in ways that, in my view, help validate and reinforce TIMN”. Both reviews are detailed and should be read in their entirety, but I will have some excerpts below:

    America 3.0 illuminates significance of nuclear families — in line with TIMN (Part 1 of 2) 

    ….Bennett and Lotus show at length (Chapter 2, pp. 29-45) that the nuclear family explains a lot about our distinctive culture and society:

    “It has caused Americans to have a uniquely strong concept of each person as an individual self, with an identity that is not bound by family or tribal or social ties. … Our distinctive type [of] American nuclear family has made us what we are.” (p. 29)And “what we are” as a result is individualistic, liberty-loving, nonegalitarian (without being inegalitarian), competitive, enterprising, mobile, and voluntaristic. In addition, Americans tend to have middle-class values, an instrumental view of government, and a preference for suburban lifestyles. 

    As the authors carefully note, these are generally positive traits, but they have both bright and dark sides, noticeable for example in the ways they make America a “high-risk, high-return culture” (p. 38) — much to the bane of some individuals. The traits also interact in interesting ways, such that Americans tend to be loners as individuals and families, but also joiners “who form an incomprehensibly dense network of voluntary associations” — much to the benefit of civil society (p. 39). 

    In sum, the American-style nuclear family is the major cause of “American exceptionalism” — the basis of our freedom and prosperity, our “amazing powers of assimilation” (p. 53), and our unique institutions:

    “It was the deepest basis for the development of freedom and prosperity in England, and then in America. Further, the underlying Anglo-American family type was the foundation for all of the institutions, laws, and cultural practices that gave rise to our freedom and prosperity over the centuries.” (p. 52)The authors go on to show this for America 1.0 and 2.0 in detail. They also reiterate that Americans have long taken the nuclear family for granted. Yet, very different marriage and family practices are the norm in most societies around the world. And the difference is profoundly significant for the kinds of cultural, social, economic, and political evolution that ensue. Indeed, the pull of the nuclear model in the American context is so strong that it has a liberating effect on immigrants who come from societies that are organized around extended families and clans (p. 55) — an important point, since America is a land of immigrants from all over, not just from Anglo-Saxon nuclear-family cultures.

    ….As for foreign policy, the authors commend “an emerging phenomenon we call “Network Commonwealth,” which is an alignment of nations … who share common ties that may include language, culture and common legal systems.” (p. 260) Above all, they’d like to see the “Anglosphere” take shape. And as the world coalesces into various “global networks of affinity” engaged in shifting coalitions (p. 265), America 3.0 would cease emphasizing democracy-promotion abroad, and “reorient its national strategy to a primary emphasis on maintaining the freedom of the global commons of air, sea, and space.” (p. 263) [UPDATE: For more about the Network Commonwealth and Anglosphere concepts, see Bennett’s 2007 paper here.]

    Read the whole thing here.

    America 3.0 illuminates significance of nuclear families — in line with TIMN (Part 2 of 2)  

    ….Overlaps with TIMN themes and propositions

    Part 1 discussed America 3.0’s key overlap with TIMN: the prevalence and significance of the nuclear family in the American case. This leads to questions about family matters elsewhere. Furthermore, it should be pointed out that there is more to TIMN’s tribal form than the nature of the family. I also spotted several additional thematic overlaps between America 3.0 and TIMN, and I want to highlight those as well. Thus, in outline form, this post addresses:

    • Seeking a fuller understanding of family matters beyond the American case.
    • Gaining a fuller understanding of the tribal/T form.
    • Anticipating the rise of the network/+N form.
    • Recognizing that every form has bright and dark sides.
    • Recognizing the importance of separation among the forms/realms.
    • Recognizing that balance among them is important too.
    • Cautioning against the exportability of the American model.

    After these points, the post ends by summarily noting that America 3.0 is more triformist than quadriformist in conception — but a worthy kind of triformist plus, well worth reading.

    My discussion emphasizes the T and +N forms. Bennett and Lotus also have lots to say about +I and +M matters — government and business — and I’ll squeeze in a few remarks along the way. But this post mostly skips +I and +M matters. For I’m more interested in how America 3.0 focuses on T (quite sharply) and +N (too diffusely). 

    By the way, America 3.0 contains lots of interesting observations that I do not discuss — e.g., that treating land as a commodity was a feature of nuclear-family society (p. 105), and so was creating trusts (p. 112). Readers are advised to harvest the book’s contents for themselves.

    ….Caution about the exportability of the American model: TIMN sharpens — at least it is supposed to sharpen — our understanding that how societies work depends on how they use four cardinal forms of organization. This simplification leaves room for great complexity, for it is open to great variation in how those forms may be applied in particular societies. Analysts, strategists, and policymakers should be careful about assuming that what works in one society can be made to work in another. 

    ….In retrospect it seems I pulled my punch there. I left out what might/should have come next: TIMN-based counsel to be wary about assuming that the American model, especially its liberal democracy, can be exported into dramatically different cultures. I recall thinking that at the time; but I was also trying to shape a study of just the tribal form, without getting into more sweeping matters. So I must have pulled that punch, and I can’t find anywhere else I used it. Even so, my view of TIMN is that it does indeed caution against presuming that the American model is exportable, or that foreign societies can be forced into becoming liberal democracies of their own design.

    Meanwhile, America 3.0 clearly insists that Americans should be wary of trying to export the American model of democracy. Since so much about the American model depends on the nature of the nuclear family, policies that work well in the United States may not work well in other societies with different cultures — and vice-versa. Accordingly, the authors warn,

    “American politicians are likely to be wrong when they tell us that we can successfully export democracy, or make other countries look and act more like the United States.” (p. 24)

    “A foreign-policy based primarily on “democracy-promotion” and “nation-building” is one that will fail more times than not, … .” (p. 254)TIMN is not a framework about foreign policy. But as a framework about social evolution, it may have foreign-policy implications that overlap with those of America 3.0. In my nascent view (notably herehere, and here), the two winningest systems of the last half-century or so are liberal democracy and patrimonial corporatism. The former is prominent among the more-advanced societies, the latter among the less-developed (e.g., see here). As Bennett and Lotus point out, liberal democracy is most suitable where nuclear families hold sway. And as I’ve pointed out, patrimonial corporatism is more attractive in societies where clannish tribalism holds sway. 

    Read the rest here.

    This discussion about America 3.0 and TIMN seems particularly appropriate in light of the need to process, digest and distill the lessons of more than a decade of COIN and counter-terrorism warfare in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen and – increasingly- Africa. One of the more difficult aspects of COIN operations has been for American military and diplomatic to decipher the layered relationships and interplay of family honor, tribe, political institution, emerging market and networks in a nation shattered by dictatorship and war like Iraq or to import modern institutions and  a democratic political system in Afghanistan where they had never existed.

    Many of these aspects were opaque and were understood only through hard-won experience (frequently lost with new unit rotation) or still remain elusive to Americans even after ten years of fighting among alien cultures which were also permeated by the sectarian nuances and conflicts of Islam. A religion to which relatively few Americans adhere or know sufficiently about, yet is a critical psychological driver for many of our adversaries as well as our allies.

    Arguably, the eye-opening response of people to America 3.0 indicates we do not even understand ourselves, much less others


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