Markov Blankets vs Lipid Membranes

Watching this wonderful “Krebs Cycle” RI lecture by Nick Lane – last mentioned him here – and just wanted to note two things for now.

One, there is an obvious topological parallel (*) between (System) Markov Blankets and (Mitochondria) Lipid Membranes at two quite different levels of abstraction – information processes and biochemical processes.

And two, early on he makes quite a few remarks against the informational-computational view and yet highlights the information element when we get to the nucleotide processes.

Fascinating for the metaphysical aspects of which came first – which is of course what his talk is about, the primacy and universality of Krebs Cycles in anything we’d recognise as biological life – from the simplest physio-chemical precursors to the most complex multi-celled creatures.

AND the inevitability aspect that once the simplest “chemistry” exists evolution of the complex follows.

(Lots to unpick on further detailed review – but fascinating to note the above on first pass. Also lots of good acknowledgments of the women involved in the research processes.)

(*) He even mentions the topological parallel at the whole earth level!!!

Q&A here too:

Oooh! and a Jeremy England question mid-way through the Q&A.

LUCA – Last Universal Common Ancestor of both the archaea / bacteria / mitochondria and the eukaryote cells – not unlikely coincidence – everything to so with structure not info – yes, yes, yes system architecture level info, not individual bits.

Wow! It’s all there.

Workington AFC

Saw Workington at the weekend, from the 8th tier of English football (Northern Premier League, Division One North West) against our local team Marske United now in the 7th tier (Northern Premier League, Premier Division) in the last pre-season friendly before the new season. (Workington won 2:1, and looked significantly stronger. We just didn’t seem up for it, but that’s not the point of this post.)

All the while I was looking at Workington I was thinking they were a Football League club until “quite recently”.  In fact what I hadn’t remembered is that Workington were the team relegated (and voted out) of the league (4th tier / Division) way back in 1977, the year Wimbledon were admitted (promoted from the Southern League) – the team we then followed home and away for 8 seasons – basically until we won the FA Cup and made to the First (now Premiership) Division and things got a lot less fun.

More recently, having been working over in Cumbria for a couple of years, I drove past their ground many times. Small world.

Synergy – Nature’s Magic?

Mentioned in a recent “systems sciences” post being recommended to read Peter Corning’s “Nature’s Magic”.

Well I’ve had it a couple of days now and like what I read. As a result of the original “see inside” skim I’d already discovered that Corning’s idea of nature’s magic is SYNERGY, essentially that the whole is more than – something other than -the sum of the parts. (The sum of the parts will also exist at some level, subject to conservation laws, free-energy principles, etc, but …) No argument there. As we’ve all been doing since Aristotle coined that thought – nothing new under the sun – is trying to establish an orthodox scientific justification and explanatory model for why that is the case or else shifting the scientific orthodoxy so that it can be accepted.

Interestingly Corning was writing this (published 2003) at almost exactly the point I was setting off on my own research. Great news he’s not dismissive of Dennett – in fact in passing he uses both his intentional stance on the reality of free-will and his memetic analogy for genetic Darwinian natural selection at the social / cultural / intellectual level. (He references “Darwin’s Dangerous Idea” as well as the much misunderstood and ancient (1991) “Consciousness (Not) Explained“. Like mine, Dennett’s thinking has continued to evolve through “From Bacteria to Bach and Back” (2017) and beyond. Lots of the same reading in his reference bibliography Jablonka, Maslow, Margulis, Penrose, Sperry, Schrödinger, Schumpeter, as well as all the evolutionary biologists Maynard-Smith, Mayr, Szathmáry and more justifying group effects and that still haven’t really been accepted as the orthodoxy at even the genetic biological level, let alone memetic culturally. Interestingly, in 2003, he already includes Laland (now part of the Extended Evolutionary Synthesis) Also, obviously given the context, a strong systems and complexity representation. (Philosophically very light, no James, Whitehead, Wittgenstein … anyone really. Haldane (JBS), Koestler and Kuhn in there.)

So what does Corning say that’s new and future-proof?

Good news. As well as the simplest Aristotelian statement of his synergy position, he also – like myself – makes his own statement of non-originality. There is nothing new to be discovered under the sun, quoting both Proust and Dawkins, and all that any of us are doing is finding new words and word-order in order to see differently – share a different view of – what the ancients and aboriginals have always seen in nature in their own ways, with or without words.

Lots of good and wide-ranging examples in his early chapters on the reality and potency of synergies working together. From alloys and amalgams to organisms at every level from the smallest biological to the largest human collaborations and civilisations. As I say – no argument here. So what is his hypothesis for synergy as the engine of evolutionary innovation? Where are the causal mechanisms?

He calls it a Holistic Darwinism. As already noted with Koestler’s “beyond reductionism” – and Dennett’s warning to beware “greedy reductionism” – it’s holistic because it posits the reality and causality of the wholes not being reducible to their parts. Not just the selfish gene, but the selfish (or intentional) genome. He notes the general rejection of such ideas in science, but signs of acceptance of “group selection effects” and “Lamarckian effects” – yet, a stalking horse actually seen as a pariah by the mainstream orthodoxy.

Although he doesn’t mention ergodicity – see previous post – he does clearly see history as part of the holistic mechanism. One argument against reductive determinism (the end state of every part determining the state of a whole) is that their process / path through time and space is also “part of” the whole. We’d get no argument over the idea that both means and ends matter in a socio-cultural context (as I’ve said many times) but orthodox science really doesn’t accept this possibility. (Also – as per the Woodstock reference in the previous post – he’s prepared to cite the likes of Stewart Brand / Kevin Kelly  “Whole Earth Catalogue” in support of his case. Alternative / Eastern worldviews against the western orthodoxy.)

I have to say, Corning’s whole case – in his tying up loose ends & conjuring the future concluding chapter – reads more like a plea than an actual hypothesis – that we must accept the masses of evidence of “group effects” and “system effects” even though the orthodoxy rejects them (for their very lack of reductive objective determinism). And it’s a plea reinforced – like so many other writers – with a warning about how much we’re getting wrong in the world because of this ignorance. It’s where I started.

I see now that Kevin Laland may have gotten the inspiration for his book title from Corning who refers to “Darwin’s Unfinished Symphony” – though Laland makes no reference to Corning – maybe there’s was a common source?

We’re all on the same page – but what’s missing so far is that the scientific orthodoxy has no place for the holism – the causal intentionality of wholes as complex adaptive systems. Fortunately more recent systems thinkers do now have “computational” mechanisms for how this emerges – but it involves both metaphysics and subjectivity.

A metaphysics that says the fundamentals to which the entire cosmos may be reduced does not stop at the physical (spacetime, material and energy, their properties and laws) but that physics itself emerges from information – the stuff of computational processes. And, a subjectivity that says the causal intentionality of wholes emerges systematically from that same stuff.

Science can either continue the denial, defending and living within its orthodoxy, or accept the changes above. Given the massive 21st C investment in science-led objectivity in everything human, science and its STEM sponsors may find it too big a risk to be seen to contemplate such change? If it won’t there needs to be a new naturalism beyond science. Something has to give or we continue down that path to hell in a handcart.

Corning’s book is a great contribution to the argument that the current orthodoxy is missing something massively important – synergy as holistic Darwinism – in the progress of humanity in the natural world. This remains true, even if I don’t see any solution here beyond his plea. If you’re not on that page yet Nature’s Magic will be worth a read.

Women’s Football

I’m a big football fan and a big feminist.
(Written at length about both over the years.)

Been keeping my thoughts to myself, but for the record, I’m not particularly a fan of The Lionesses and didn’t follow their Euro campaign, though obviously I support the equality benefits their success might bring. But, already fearing all the talk of growth, financial growth of the women’s sport. If ever a sport needed levelling-down, it’s football.

It’s nothing to do with them being women. I stopped following “elite” football – premiership (clubs) and international (club & national teams) – around the time England appointed Eriksson and Chelsea were funded by Abramovic – despite our originally investing in the Sky Sports TV franchise. (We maintain a Sky subscription solely for the Golf, since elite football is over many more channels these days, though with the LIV disruption, I fear the golf will now also lapse.)

The level of hype created by the over-funded TV and press coverage means the human sporting/club/team element gets pushed out. I sincerely hope The Lionesses maintain what they obviously have in that department, but already the signs are there. They all play for the same elite clubs as the men, already talk of their legacy, sell multiple replica kits, and already display the same lack of respect for referees and the spirit of the rules as the rest of elite football. The saving grace may be that the younger and female fan-base gives them a less tribal starting point than the men’s game, but they’re already well and truly under the pressure of the elite sport hype. (Same is true for all elite sports, even the world athletics and commonwealth sports.)

I wish them well, but fear the worst.


Post Notes:

Here we go – 2 days later and the England keeper interviewed on BBC R4 Today news: Great benefit is the level of TV production – many different cameras, multiple angles views, ultra-slo-mo, graphics – keep people talking about contentious incidents for weeks, years (!). Did I mention VAR earlier? Another disaster. Sport is in the moment – legendary “I was there” moments and talking points come from personal experience, not invented by pre-planned repeat TV scheduling. Jeez – this is not about football, women’s or otherwise, not even about sport. It’s about buying & selling media attention.

Yeah, I know. Jumpers for goal posts, not 😉

International Society for the Systems Sciences (ISSS)

I’ve been mentioning Systems and Systems Thinking increasingly as I explicitly formalise the metaphysics underlying my world-view and my various writing projects, technical synthesis and creative fictional narrative.

And I’m in “just write something” mode after 20+ years of intense reading and research trying to minimise distractions from what is now effectively my post-retirement day-job – still adding to an enormous reading  list (115 unread book entries), but rarely obtaining new reading material at the moment. However, several dialogues around the work – often whilst physically sitting in the pub – have thrown up some interesting stuff I just want to capture for now.

Comparing notes with Ant McWatt about reading and writing when sitting in the pub, we found we’d both had both experiences – interruptions that were essentially distractions and/or those that provided creative dialogue. In fact it was his own distraction (by me) from multiple writing projects we were originally talking about and Robert Pirsig’s version of the “just write something” advice his therapist gave him.

“Reading is a distraction from writing.”
– Robert Pirsig

Coincidentally – and I like coincidental connections – comparing those notes with Nick Summerhayes, he pointed me at a 2014 essay “Ant” had written on “Philosophy in Pubs” I’d not seen before?

As well as the first (general) link above, I had also mentioned my current local – (where live “Rock and Reel” – popular rock in the Celtic folk style, by Fat Medicine – is a regular attraction) – that I had experienced specific positive pub interruptions (as well as the basic “why are you reading that?”). In fact I have continued those discussions with the band-members on their nights off. So, well, then what?

It turns out, when I’d mentioned my topic of Cybernetics, that another regular, retiree Dennis Finlayson – retired from leading roles in international development – pointed out he too had a long-standing interest in Systems. After a bit of Stafford Beer and W Ross Ashby, turns out he’s a long-standing active member and past president of the ISSS (International Society for the Systems Sciences).

Given all the recent “God Talk” dialogue following the book-length chapter “The Sense of the Sacred” in Iain McGilchrist’s “The Matter With Things” and my adoption of “Sacred Naturalism” as the best handle for direct experience of nature beyond objective science orthodoxy, it was interesting to hear Dennis give this brief clarification on any negative perception of the place of the “spiritual” in this “would-be-scientific” context.

Well that is Sacred Naturalism if ever I heard it. Dennis’ “synergy” is a complex emergence beyond immediately reductive objective science. It even includes a recommendation for Karen Armstrong’s “Sacred Nature. (I too have followed Armstrong over the years, but I hadn’t noticed those words in her latest title – also intriguing that the subtitle in that piece is “back to the garden” – Woodstock again. Fascinating when a plan comes together.)

I’ve mentioned before contacts with INCOSE (International Council on Systems Engineering) being the smartest people I’ve ever met. Anyway, ISSS I hadn’t interacted with directly before, but they were well represented at the 2021 Bogdanov conference and annual Mike Jackson Lecture at the Hull Centre for Systems Studies, Örsan Şenalp amongst others.

Minimal contact so far, intending to sign-up, but my “Systems Thinking 2020” post on the work of Anatoly Levenchuk is already shared on their ISSS blog.

Onward and upward.


Post Notes:

Spotted a tweet from the Guardian overnight advertising their recent “Dine Across the Divide” sessions, including:

Billy Bragg <> Tim Martin
Diane Abbott <> Katharine Birbalsingh
Rufus Hound <> Geoff Norcott
Rev Richard Coles <> Richard Dawkins

Lo and behold, this morning Dennis shared the Coles <> Dawkins session, which I had resisted since I have little time for either these days. Much more sophisticated thinkers on both science and theology. However, it has the sub-headline:

[Dawkins] “The problem is [Coles] is
not swayed by evidence but by feeling”

Which neatly reflects where we’ve already got to many times before.

That statement hinges on what we mean by evidence, and said that way (by Dawkins) it means the orthodox – objective, repeatable – kind. ie the rules as set by science (*). The very sentence discounts “feeling” (or any subjective affect – “spiritual” direct experience of nature) from scientific consideration. And obviously it does so because the orthodoxy still has great difficulty agreeing “scientific” explanations of these, because it excludes their consideration, because … and so on – a strange loop.

The problem IS exclusion of the subjective by orthodox science and at best its reduction to the identifiable objects that lie behind subjective experience.

Reductionism is fine to analyse all the objective components from which the subjective arises, in logical causal chains from the most primitive observables. But greedy reductionism does more than that. It excludes any higher evolved, emergent systems as having their own causal influence (or will) independent of these primitives. Simple is good, most elegant generally (although even Occam has his pitfalls) but, with Systems Thinking, simplest doesn’t mean most primitive, it means simplicity at the most appropriate systems architectural level (John C Doyle etc.)

Anyway – Dennis describes his holistic / synergy view of the direct “spiritual” experience of nature – that sacred naturalism – in the spoken piece above. I think we agree already, but Dennis suggests I read Peter Corning (ISSS) “Nature’s Magic” for his holistic / synergy view. (Ordered naturally, despite the distraction. I hope to find something I’ve missed but I’m sceptical. Be great if someone could point me at a summary of Corning’s thesis.)

Interestingly – in Corning’s prologue (courtesy of Amazon’s “see inside”), he opens with Koestler’s “beyond reductionism” and goes on to use that formulation – essentially the synergy that the whole is more than the sum of the parts – or in my words, emergent objects (and subjects) have their own existence and causality in nature, beyond the reductively limited orthodoxy of science. There is more than reductionism. (Be interested to see if Corning succeeds in a scientifically accepted explanation for HOW that synergy creates more than the assembly of parts, that the emergent patterns / systems have their own reality and natural causality without appealing to the same “crossing the Rubicon” arguments as Friston / Solms? Don’t see Ergodicity in his index – one reason things are more than the sum of their parts is that their functional / process history affects the end result, not just the state of their physical components.  Anyway – Synergy or Emergence – the word doesn’t matter, it’s the “how” explanatory argument that matters, how the “assembly” – a process – creates stuff that didn’t previously exist.)

[(*) Dennett – “if you agree to argue only on your opponent’s basis, you’ve already lost” – lost the opportunity for agreement – the basis of the dialogue itself has to evolve through that “strange loop”. Dennett is significant here because, like Dawkins, he was one of the four horsemen in the polarising God vs Science wars, he’s just so much more sophisticated philosophically when he’s not at war.]

Beginning of the End for Trans Activism?

Over a period of years I’ve posted a fair bit on the “TERF Wars” (*) not because I have any skin in that game, but because (a) it’s a perfect example of divisive “identity politics” polarising a should-be-caring set of technical and human issues and values under sloganising ideologies and (b) that as well as lesbians, gays and trans, the most massive group of people undermined by it are over half the population – women.

Rebalancing feminine structures in the epistemology and ontology of human systems in the world – dominated by the male heritage and power structures in (say) science and philosophy – is one of my daily drivers, and identity politics of all kinds is clearly a strong ideological corruption of human understanding of such complex real-world systems, corrupting key institutions like the university and the media. I may not have skin in that particular game but I am passionate about how we resist and reverse the damage it causes more generally.

Today judgement was passed on Allison Bailey’s case of being discriminated against by her employer on the advice of Stonewall, that she could not hold and express “gender critical” views (like mine above) against Stonewall’s advice. She had no case directly against Stonewall, of course, but the judgement was clear that:

“gender identity theory as proselytised by Stonewall is severely detrimental” to women, and to lesbians [and gays, and trans, and humanity generally]” (**)

“Proselytised” notice – pure ideology. Well done Allison. Her employer was found liable and on the wrong side of human rights law for following Stonewall’s ideological advice. Enough, onward and upward.

#StonewallOut is lighting-up Twitter today.


Post Notes:

(*) TERF War =
“Transwomen are women” vs “Women are a biological sex”
That is Trans Rights Activist / Gender Identity Theory (TRA / GIT)
vs Gender Critical (GC) positions. Personally I’m for using both sex and gender as intended, and against ideological positions. Activists necessarily blur facts to their ends. Some “Gender Crits” are too vocal the other way, even if motivated by defence. As Alice Dreger put it in her 2008 to 2015 experience:

[A] system in which scientists
and social justice advocates
are fighting in ways that poison
the soil on which both depend.

(**) These are Allison’s own words quoted in the summary judgement.  Obviously, Allison had no claim directly against Stonewall, it was her employer who failed her by – like so many other organisations – following Stonewall’s advice. The value in funding the case – suing Stonewall – was to get all of that out in a court. The full judgement is worth reading. The winner is caring common sense.

And two days later all media still glowing with activity against TRA Ideology.

Lots of good stuff in The Times piece.

A thoughtful thread that includes

“the story is very complex,
tainted by activist groups,
such as [fill in the blanks]”


And the most succinct summary:

the end for ideological “affirmation” approaches

I’ve predicted the demise of this ideological travesty once or twice before, but there is a sense in which it is really happening this time:

Piecemeal Mindfulness

After Beery and Buzzy Mindfulness, this thought of Piecemeal Mindfulness comes from the god-talk around Iain McGilchrist. How to capture the sense of the divine or sacred in the real, natural world beyond any left-brained intellectual model of it. It continues to be the main and knottiest topic readers are left grappling with, even in the Discord discussion forum set up around the writer’s work. Any discussion inevitably involves the left-brain manipulating symbolic language, even when the active, embodied participation of the right-brain is the matter at hand and even where the language requires rhetorical or poetic interpretation beyond objects and logic. Some “things” are inexpressible, or only obliquely expressible, in language.

[And incidentally, it entirely parallels behaviour in the (now defunct) Robert Pirsig MoQ-Discuss forum – where ongoing use of a subject-object model in language remained a stumbling block to progressing the topic of dynamically experienced – radical-empirical – qualitative aspects reality, in the group discussion. As I said in my own sign-off, there’s only so far you can go with recycling discussions and eventually you just have to life the life.]

McGilchrist makes a point about a lesson learned in this discussion with Christian theologian Jonathan Pageau. There’s a lot of discussion on religious symbology and McGilchrist’s panentheist version of pantheism, but towards the end (~54.44) Pageau (not even having read McGilchrist’s book!) asks a direct question. “So, what advice would he give – to do, or to attend to – to bring about a change for the better to the problem of this western-left-brain dominated world?”

One thing that he is NOT advising is a piecemeal addition – decoration – of one’s life with (say) 30 minutes of mindful practice each day – or any other “just do this or that ” advice. Very much the reason he wrote the book that it is – and therefore the reason to recommend reading it – is to take on board the whole of it into the whole of life. A whole change of consciousness, a new vision of who we are – values, purpose and direction. And it is a rational, logical (left-brained) argument – using inspired language – for why it is not simple minded to pursue it, to attend to it, to be receptively open to it. That attention is a moral act. Seeing the world through the different lens – a left-right integrated view – provided by reading the book.



Original rough notes:

(Lots on Christian religious symbology & metaphor …)
(More on Scheler again – hierarchy of levels of value and virtues – seems well reflected in Pirsig, Maslow etc.)
(And the need for religious view – signalled in the introductory clip – with purpose as the “pull” to higher things.)
(Panentheism again – and the Apophatic view – in his final chapter.)
(Something like consciousness as an ontological primary – consciousness and matter as manifestations – phases – of the same primary)
(Whitehead again – the divine as “processual” – things as merely “nominal”.)
( TMWT – precisely to lead people by logical steps to the open position – active receptivity / attention – that it is NOT simple minded to see the sacred beyond the reductive materialism. Attention as a moral act – Simone Weil and … Getting people to this state is more than / better than a recommendation (say) to take up mindful practice. Mission-accomplished in people writing to him about the life-changing effect.)

Buzzy Mindfulness

Quick thought:

On a relatively short walk (~5m) over the moors the other day, bright and warm with very little wind, starting by 9am to beat the worst of the heat and other people …

… faint but very noticeable was the continuous sound of zillions of bees going about their buzzyness across the miles of heather. Even whilst on the move it was possible to focus attention on that – and one’s footsteps – alone.

(Quite different to the “buzzing booming confusion of paradox“.)

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