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Parable of the soft-touch chiropractor

Sunday, December 15th, 2013

[raked by Lynn C. Rees]

Driving Mom around during her last years in this life, I sat in on one of her soft-touch chiropractic sessions. Her soft-touch chiropractor was out of the office so one of his disciples stood in.

As he worked, the sub-soft-touch chiropractor said, “Let me explain how this helps your mom.” As he’d done since the session started, he made a fist with his right hand and bent his arm back until the fist reached shoulder height. He flexed the muscles in his arm.

“First, I build up potential energy in my arm.”. The shake in his upper arm intensified.

“Then I concentrate the potential energy in my finger.” He whipped his arm forward and pointed. His arm and finger shook.

“Then I transfer that energy to your mom.”, he said, softly touching Mom’s shoulder. “It’s the perfect translation of potential energy to kinetic energy. Kinetic energy restores balance and balance restores health.”

“Hnn.”, I said.

Who can judge?

  1. Now these are the words which Jesus taught his disciples that they should say unto the people.
  2. Judge not unrighteously, that ye be not judged; but judge righteous judgment.
  3. For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again.
  4. And again, ye shall say unto them, Why is it that thou beholdest the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye?
  5. Or how wilt thou say to thy brother, Let me pull out the mote out of thine eye; and canst not behold a beam in thine own eye?

— Matthew 7: 1-5  (JST)

For parables,  soft-touch chiropracty’s guilt or innocence is a noop: parablizing does not imply judgement, righteous or not. For show and tell purposes, mote or beam are equally useful. As the Thomas theorem claims:

If men define situations as real, they are real in their consequences.

This is true, though the outer limits on its truth are set by the Graham assertion:

In the short run, the market is a voting machine but in the long run it is a weighing machine.

If tactics is voting, strategy is weighing: strategy is the creation of asymmetry. To mangle Conrad C. Crane, there are two kinds of strategy: asymmetric and stupid: proper strategy puts a finger on the scale. It restores balance through weight of deliberate asymmetry and then balance restores health.

If the cycle of strategy is:

drive → reach → grip

Up the slope of:

certain → hazyuncertain

With the goal of summiting at:

certain → certain → certain

The parable of the soft-touch chiropractor demonstrates:

  1. There will be drive.
  2. Drive motivates a build up of strength. Fist clenching and muscle flexing, metaphoric or not, is involved.
  3. Strength creates potential reach.
  4. The ideal strength would banish uncertainty from reach and grip, making them indistinguishable from drive. This would be the perfect translation of potential reach to kinetic grip.
  5. The leap of faith is the frantic whipping between reach and grip. Pull my finger.
  6. Though potential reach will generally always fall short of translation into certain grip, sometimes the touch of its less than kinetic sway on its targets’ mind will compensate for its kinetic shortfall.

 

The sway of soft-touch chiropracty comforted as cancer spread. This is reach and soft power. Its force did nothing to hurt cancer. This is soft grip and hollow power. As reach exceeds grip, so cancer exceeds soft-touch chiropracty. Then comes the inevitable: no balance, no health.

Elites at Cross Purposes

Monday, July 15th, 2013

[recycled by Lynn C. Rees]

Vertical conflict, where non-elite rises against elite, is a strong, ancient, and obsessive current of fear that flows through political thought. Only elite had surplus time to craft political thought. Hence their antagonism toward vertical conflict saturated political thought for most of written history. The opposing vein of political thought, while less well-represented in history, had an equally ancient past: non-elite fear of elite oppression.

Both variations have good and bad.

Those above and those below have good reasons to fear each other. Elite were outnumbered ~95 to 1. They controlled the vast majority of a political community’s wealth. They were often scattered throughout the population, isolated in a sea of non-elite.

Moreover, elite was somewhat aware that non-elite had concrete reasons to eat them raw. Elite wealth was extracted from the sweat of non-elite brows. The means used to extract this wealth leaned toward the unpleasant or unfair. This rude leaning bred resentment among its non-elite targets. Fortunate elite: the power that let them live off non-elite also guaranteed they normally had little to fear from non-elite: elite become elite through their effective predominance over violence and threat.

Elite should fear another form of conflict, one far more deadly than vertical conflict to them: horizontal conflict. The real threat is conflict within elites between elites. Few vertical conflicts succeed without having their way paved by horizontal conflicts breaking out first.

Unified elite? Non-elite have little chance.

Divided elite? Non-elite opportunity beckons.

Escalation of internecine horizontal conflict frequently tempts one elite faction to appeal directly to non-elite for backing against competing factions. Elite factions often race to outbid each other as they attempt to win non-elite allies against their elite rivals. This has been known to open the way for successful non-elite vertical conflict. Even if vertical conflict is averted, intra-elite horizontal conflict may decimate elite ranks, leaving a vacuum at the top.

Horizontal conflict is a major theme of the cliodynamics of Peter Turchin, an attempt to shape the study of history into “analytical, predictive science”. The mere thought is enough to make neo-Seleucid Nassim Nicholas Taleb foam, wildly gesticulate in dangerously pointy ways, and rant about ice cubes, naive models, charlatans, and infidels. Turchin, in Taleb’s construction, is pushing the “narrative fallacy” to dangerous extremes.

Imagine the dangerous Taleb gesticulations Hari Seldon would produce.

Turchin faces an uphill battle in creating his psychohistory. That said, some of his initial thoughts have interest.

Focusing on pre-industrial agricultural societies, Turchin argues that the primary reason for the rise of empires is a notion of Ibn Khaldun‘s called asabiyah. Asabiyah is the “strong force” that gives a human group its ability to cooperate. Turchin extends Ibn Khaldun’s notion by arguing that it’s specifically along “metaethnic frontiers” that empires rise. Along metaethnic frontiers, not only are societies diametrically opposed in means of production (e.g. pastoralist vs. agriculturalist) but diametrically opposed in cultural norms as well. They are true borders with the Other.

Some examples of metaethnic frontiers that Turchin offers are those between his native Russia and the Crimean Tatars, European Americans and American Indians, Han Chinese and Huns/Turks/Mongols/Manchus, Christian Spain and Muslim al-Andalus, Republican Rome and the Gauls, and Imperial Rome and the German tribes. The vast cultural differences between cultures bestride a frontier produce asabiyah by their clashes more effectively than frontiers between peoples with similar cultures (e.g. the Franco-German frontier). Such asabiyah is often strong enough to drive a political community along a metaethnic frontier to aspire and even ascend to empire.

For the forces that maintain asabiyah, Turchin points to studies based on the ultimatum game:

The ultimatum game is a game  often played in economic experiments in which two players interact to decide how to divide a sum of money that is given to them. The first player proposes how to divide the sum between the two players, and the second player can either accept or reject this proposal. If the second player rejects, neither player receives anything. If the second player accepts, the money is split according to the proposal. The game is played only once so that reciprocation is not an issue.

Results of some of these experiments seem to reveal the presence of three classes of people within any human group: knaves, saints, and moralists. Turchin writes in War and Peace and War:

During the 1990s, several economists, most notably Ernst Fehr at the University of Zurich and his colleagues, decided to test the assumptions of rational choice theory experimentally…[and] what these experiments, and many others like them, reveal is that society consists of several types of people. Some of them – perhaps a quarter in experiments with American college students – are self-interested, rational agents – ‘the knaves’. These will never contribute to the common good, and will choose free-riding unless forced to [contribute] by fines imposed upon them. The opposite type, also about a quarter, are the unconditional cooperators, or ‘the saints’. The saints continue to contribute to the common pool and lose money, even when it is obvious to everybody that cooperation has failed (although most of them reduce the amount of their contribution). The largest group (40 to 60 percent in most experiments) are the conditional cooperators, or ‘the moralists’. The preference of the moralists is to contribute to the pot, so that everyone would be better off. However, in the absence of the mechanism to punish noncontributors, free-riding proliferates, the moralists become disgusted by this opportunistic behavior, and withdraw their cooperation. On the other hand, when the punishment option is available, they use it to fine the knaves [even though imposing a fine comes at a cost to them…and] the group [eventually] achieves the cooperative equilibrium at which, paradoxically, the moralists do almost as well as the knaves, because they now rarely (if ever) need to spend money on fining the free-riders.

Moralists maintain asabiyah:

The  experiments also point to the key role of the moralists…. Self-righteous moralists are not necessarily nice people, and their motivation for the ‘moralistic punishment’ is not necessarily prosocial in intent. They might not be trying to get everyone to cooperate. Instead, they get mad at people who violate social norms. They retaliate against the norm breakers, and feel a kind of grim satisfaction from depriving them of their ill-gotten gains. It’s emotional, and it’s not pretty, but it does ensure group cooperation…. [Moreover,] that capacity for trust and moralistic punishment are wired into our brains. At some level, they are as basic as our abilities for finding food, or finding mates. It does not mean all humans will always behave in a cooperative manner. People are different…[and] societies differ in their ability to sustain collective action. But the capacity for cooperation (even if it is never exercised by many people) is part of what makes us human….[In addition,] as a result of our ability to use symbols, the idea of a social group (‘us’) has a peculiar grip on human imagination. Because of our psychological makeup, we tend to think of social groups, such as nations, as more ‘real’ than they are ‘in reality.’ And, because people treat nations as real, they behave accordingly and, paradoxically, make them real…Two key adaptations enabled the evolution of [human] ultrasociality. The first one was the moralist strategy: cooperate when enough members in the group are also cooperating, and punish those who do not cooperate. A band that had enough moralists to tip its collective behavior to the cooperative equilibrium outcompeted, or even exterminated, bands that failed to cooperate. The second adaptation, the human ability to use symbolic markers to define cooperating groups, allowed the evolution of sociality to break through the limits of face-to-face interaction, [and] the scale of human societies increased in a series of leaps.

Turchin argues that empires decline when asabiyah-driven imperial conquest brings wealth, security, and power. High asabiyah societies have strong vertical and horizontal cohesion and cooperation between elite and non-elite and within elite and non-elite, reenforced by moralists among elite and non-elite. Much of this asabiyah formation is driven by pressure from external attack. Imperial conquest removes the immediate threat of external attacks. This lack of immediate external threat saps asabiyah as elite and non-elite pursue increasingly divergent agendas. This further saps the influence of moralists. This leads to elites divide that opens opportunities for internal non-elite and external actors. This frequently pushes elite over the edge into atomized oblivion.

But losing your elite doesn’t have to be a net loss. Rotating elites is usually required to reinvigorate a society. However, getting there is frequently unpleasant for elite and non-elite alike and unpleasantness is a powerful source of asabiyah cultivation.

E.O. Wilson on the Evolutionary Origin of Creativity and Art

Thursday, April 4th, 2013

E.O. Wilson 

Last summer, eminent sociobiologist E.O. Wilson published an article in Harvard Magazine:

On the Origins of the Arts 

….By using this power in addition to examine human history, we can gain insights into the origin and nature of aesthetic judgment. For example, neurobiological monitoring, in particular measurements of the damping of alpha waves during perceptions of abstract designs, have shown that the brain is most aroused by patterns in which there is about a 20 percent redundancy of elements or, put roughly, the amount of complexity found in a simple maze, or two turns of a logarithmic spiral, or an asymmetric cross. It may be coincidence (although I think not) that about the same degree of complexity is shared by a great deal of the art in friezes, grillwork, colophons, logographs, and flag designs. It crops up again in the glyphs of the ancient Middle East and Mesoamerica, as well in the pictographs and letters of modern Asian languages. The same level of complexity characterizes part of what is considered attractive in primitive art and modern abstract art and design. The source of the principle may be that this amount of complexity is the most that the brain can process in a single glance, in the same way that seven is the highest number of objects that can be counted at a single glance. When a picture is more complex, the eye grasps its content by the eye’s saccade or consciously reflective travel from one sector to the next. A quality of great art is its ability to guide attention from one of its parts to another in a manner that pleases, informs, and provokes

This is fascinating.  My first question would be how we could determine if the pattern of degree of complexity is the result of cognitive structural limits (a cap on our thinking) or if it represents a sufficient visual sensory catalyst in terms of numbers of elements to cause an excitory response (neurons firing, release of dopamine, acetylcholine etc. ) and a subsequent feedback loop. Great art, or just sometimes interesting designs exhibiting novelty can hold us with a mysterious, absorbing fascination

Later, Wilson writes:

….If ever there was a reason for bringing the humanities and science closer together, it is the need to understand the true nature of the human sensory world, as contrasted with that seen by the rest of life. But there is another, even more important reason to move toward consilience among the great branches of learning. Substantial evidence now exists that human social behavior arose genetically by multilevel evolution. If this interpretation is correct, and a growing number of evolutionary biologists and anthropologists believe it is, we can expect a continuing conflict between components of behavior favored by individual selection and those favored by group selection. Selection at the individual level tends to create competitiveness and selfish behavior among group members—in status, mating, and the securing of resources. In opposition, selection between groups tends to create selfless behavior, expressed in
greater generosity and altruism, which in turn promote stronger cohesion and strength of the group as a whole 

Very interesting.

First, while I am in no way qualified to argue evolution with E.O. Wilson, I am dimly aware that some biological scientists might be apt to take issue with Wilson’s primacy of multilevel evolution. As a matter of common sense, it seems likely to me that biological systems might have a point where they experience emergent evolutionary effects – the system itself has to be able to adapt to the larger environmental context – how do we know what level of “multilevel” will be the significant driver of natural selection and under what conditions? Or does one level have a rough sort of “hegemony” over the evolutionary process with the rest as “tweaking” influences? Or is there more randomness here than process?

That part is way beyond my ken and readers are welcome to weigh in here.

The second part, given Wilson’s assumptions are more graspable. Creativity often is a matter of individual insights becoming elaborated and exploited, but also has strong collaborative and social aspects. That kind of cooperation may not even be purposeful or ends-driven by both parties, it may simply be behaviors that incidentally  help create an environment or social space where creative innovation becomes more likely to flourish – such as the advent of writing and the spread of literacy giving birth to a literary cultural explosion of ideas and invention – and battles over credit and more tangible rewards.

Need to ponder this some more.

Book Mini-Review: Makers: the New Industrial Revolution by Chris Anderson

Wednesday, February 13th, 2013

Makers: The New Industrial Revolution by Chris Anderson 

This is a fun book  by the former editor-in-chief of WIRED , author of The Long Tail and the co-founder of 3D Robotics, Chris Anderson. Part pop culture, part tech-optimist futurism and all DIY business book, Anderson is preaching a revolution, one brought about by the intersection of 3D printing and open source “Maker movement” culture, that he believes will be bigger and more transformative to society than was the Web. One with the potential to change the “race to the bottom” economic logic of globalization by allowing manufacturing entrepreneurs to be smart, small, nimble and global by sharing bits and selling atoms.

Anderson writes:

Here’s the history of two decades of innovation in two sentences: The past ten years have been about discovering new ways to create, invent, and work together on the Web. The next ten years will be about applying those lessons to the real world.

This book is about the next ten years.

….Why? Because making things has gone digital: physical objects now begin as designs on screens, and those designs can be shared online as files…..once an industry goes digital in changes in profound ways, as we’ve seen in everything from retail to publishing. The biggest transformation, but in who’s doing it. Once things can be done on regular computers, they can be done by anyone. And that’s exactly what we’re seeing happening in manufacturing.

…..In short, the Maker Movement shares three characteristics,  all of which I’d argue are transformative:

1. People using digital desktop tools to create designs for new products and prototype them (“digital DIY”)

2. A cultural norm to share those designs and collaborate with others in online communities.

3. The use of common design file standards that allow anyone, if they desire, to send their designs to commercial manufacturing services to be produced in any number, just as easily as they can fabricate them on their desktop. This radically foreshortens the path from idea to entrepreneurship, just as the Web did in software, information, and content.

Nations whose entire strategy rests upon being the provider of cheapest labor per unit cost on all scales are going to be in jeopardy if local can innovate, customize and manufacture in near-real time response to customer demand. Creativity of designers and stigmergic /stochastic collaboration of communities rise in economic value relative to top-down, hierarchical production systems with long development lags and capital tied up betting on having large production runs.

Interesting, with potentially profound implications.

Obscurely Related but Interesting Nonetheless

Friday, December 12th, 2008

Time to juxtapose.

Dr. John Nagl at Democracy Journal - Intellectual Firepower New threats require new think tanks

….He proposes, instead, creating a Federally Funded Research and Development Corporation, or FFRDC, dedicated to thinking about the Islamic terror threat in the same way that RAND thought about the Soviet nuclear threat. Stevenson suggests the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) as a model. It is undeniably a good and long-overdue idea, with likely payoffs hugely exceeding the few hundred million dollars such an organization would cost the taxpayer every year. But beyond the basics, Stevenson is working from the wrong mould. RAND was so influential not least because it was the brains behind an enormously large and powerful set of muscles called the Strategic Air Command, where peace was a profession and war just a hobby; DARPA provides thinking that feeds the mammoth U.S. defense industry. Stevenson’s proposed think tank would need similar need bone and muscle. But unlike the Strategic Air Command or the Department of Defense, the muscle we need today would motivate soft power, rather than hard steel.

It is not for me, a scribbler in a think tank, to denigrate the idea of creating another one. In fact, an underreported cause of the recent turnaround in Iraq has been General David Petraeus’ creation of his own brain trust consisting of many of the military’s brightest strategic thinkers on the challenges of insurgency [See Rachel Kleinfeld, “Petraeus the Progressive,” on page 107 of this issue]. If Petraeus could do so much on his own, just with thinkers he knew personally, imagine what the nation could do with a call to service by a president who valued thinking hard about problems?

I’m certainly in favor of a foreign policy DARPA - glad the wonks are catching up to my early, amateurish, efforts at blogging – and I also agree that a “new kind of think tank” is in order too. Hopefully these ideas that originated in the blogosphere will gain currency and become a reality before 2016  or 2020. :)

Rialtas.Net -Government 2.0Stigmergic Collaboration

I have just finished reading Mark Elliot’s PHD dissertation entitled “Stigmergic Collaboration- A Theoretical Framework for Mass Collaboration” and I found it to be inspiring and profound.

This is one of the most scientific and rigorous examinations of mass collaboration and social networking technologies and their interactions that I have come across, and I highly recommend reading it. In fact reading this paper has reinforced my interest in 2.0 technologies and my view that they are just the beginning of a new mode of working and of communicating. In fact I am now totally fascinated by research in the area of stigmergy and emergence, thank you Mark.

One element covered by Elliot (and I hope he will correct me if I am misinterpreting him) is that the whole web 2.0 collaborative technology framework is an human emergent (stigmergic) structure, emerging spontaneously through the simple actions and interactions of many individuals self-organising and evolving more complex structures as the social and technological conditions necessary for these types of structure to emerge become more prevalent (just as termite mounds and ant hills arise out of the simple behaviour of individual insects). This is essential reading for anyone interested in the future of the web and collaborative work (and of course collaborative art, and entertainment, and play…)

Dr. Mark Elliot’s blog is here, just FYI. Seems to be on hiatus.

Collaborative learning and organizational/collective learning are going to be the “next big thing” on the horizon, leaping off of the Web 2.0 tech community, epitomized by figures like Clay Shirky, Jason Calcanis, Scobleizer and Howard Rheingold ( who has a book on the works on this very subject or related to this subject). I’ve previously linked to “Minds on Fire” by John Seely Brown and Richard P. Adler; if you have not read it, you should. They are on target.

The obscure tie in here is that Dr. Nagl had  issued a strong, even passionate, call to rebuild the military as “learning organizations” at the the end of his excellent book Learning to Eat Soup with a Knife: Counterinsurgency Lessons from Malaya and Vietnam. Becoming a “learning organization” (sometimes called a “Professional Learning Community” by educational wonks or a “Community of Practice” by techies and thought leader types) is dependent on organizational philosophy, not Web 2.0 technology but the tech is what gives social/collaborative/organizational learning the high octane of asynchronicity and the lowering of barriers to entry, distance and cost.

wikinomic , “medici effect“world is coming.


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