All posts for the month August, 2006

Nice article linked by Johnnie Moore. A New Yorker article by James Surowiecki, via Rob May (Business Pundit) whose subscription newsletter I really must read more closely and often.

You can see my comment on Johhnie’s post, but this is another cause vs explanation confusion, where attributing cause looks like reason, but is really just culturally evolved short-hand for more contextual, complex (emergent) reality

Terry Bristol, Director of ISEPP (University of Oregon) introduced the concept of reality as Engineering into the Friends of Wisdom environment, which caught my imagination, because I’m an engineer and came to this space through engineering. (Notice, Linus Pauling and Bob Ulanowizc connections BTW.) And, having been inflicted by Pirsigian Metaphysics of Quality before noticing Dennett’s engineering view of evolution as nature’s problem solving ingenuity imagine my surprise when this turned up. [Hat tip to Anon for now, thanks by the way.]

Spookier still because I was just using Authur C Clarke / Stanley Kubrick’s 2010 fantasy to illustrate on MoQ-Discuss how the future of the cosmos really is in the hands of intelligent life – the intelligence behind the TMA replicates itself and turns Jupiter into a second star in our solar system.

And spookier still, because the first comment refers to Atlas Shrugged !?! Given recent threads on that subject.

The alternative to coincidence is paranoia, surely ?

Interesting also that Terry makes some interesting East v West comparisons of the engineering profession on Friends of Wisdom.

My god it’s full of engineers !

Ben Goldacre, over at the Grauniad-based “Bad Science Blog” does a good job exposing pseudo-scientific tosh.

Anyone who cites Deleuze and Guattari as their main references and uses “fascist” as an adjective to describe ” evidence-based [science]” is on a hiding to nothing, though to be fair Dr David Holmes et al (Ottawa and Toronto) opens with “We can already hear the objections …”

Ben rises to that “challenge”. All I hear (in the comments supporting Ben’s put down) is closed minds with blind-faith in “evidence-based” objectivity – hyper-rationalists. If you’re looking for something more down-to-earth and less “PoMo” against a narrow scientific view of “medicine” try Dr James Willis. Fortunately, those practitioners with good bedside manners, recognise that there is far more to medicine than “science”. (Ironically “House” is playing on the TV in the background.)

The example of the “myxobacter” species of bacteria was used in a presentation I saw a couple of years ago at David Gurteen’s 3rd Knowledge Management Conference, at which David Snowden’s management of complexity was a main theme. [Blogged earlier]. I couldn’t be sure who’s presentation it was and I was unable to track down the original slides, so I did a bit of web research myself. Someone over on MoQ-Discuss wanted a real life example of “emergence” …. this is what I posted a few days ago …

Is it a bacterium, is it a worm, is it a mushroom ?

In an earlier thread when I was trying to explain emergence, I made a passing reference to a particular bacterial lifecycle that produces some very strange emergent effects from many “atomic” individuals, that look very much a higher form of purposeful life. Those bacteria are a group called Myxobacter, and there are several different species that all exhibit variations on this lifecycle.

(1) As bacteria, their normal single-celled life is to sit around in their nutrient medium and multiply individually (vegetatively) by cell division. Drop a few specimens on an agar Petri-dish, and they grow into a spreading slimy mass on the surface. Situation normal.

(2) When they hit limits to nutrients (ie they “sense” starvation) “they” do some funny things collectively.

(3) They start to “collaborate” – they start to “move” in blobs en-mass – sometimes the motion is wavelike – like a flat caterpillar – sometimes sliding like a slimy worm or slug – as if looking to find more nutrients.

(4) If they continue to starve, they (collectively) try a different strategy. They stop travelling and form fruiting bodies and lift them up on stalks – like a mushroom made of zillions of collaborating individuals – they individually start to specialize in their roles in the collective whole. When ready, the fruiting bodies burst and release spore-like individuals into the environment.

(5) Some lucky individuals land somewhere moist and nutritious, and the cycle starts over again from (1)

The question that seems to raise itself is … Clearly the single celled-bacteria are already alive in our biological sense, but as individuals have have no complex structures like brains, nervous systems, or even primitive limbs for locomoton, such as we might find in higher order living things.

Is that purposeful quest for nutrition, and the strategies for moving and dispersing to find it, inherent in each individual, or is it emergent from the complex arrangement and interaction of the collection ?

As one commenter pointed out that behaviour is very close to that of the developing human zygote, rather than that of single-celled individuals.