Fundamental Information & Computation

I’ve often noted that I hold an information monism – its processing & communication – to be underlying both the physical and the mental. In fact as recently as my previous post, I include it in a summary of my position linking information & entropy with systems & cybernetics. My “What, Why and How do we Know?” epistemological journey started in Sept 2001, and I made my first explicit reference to the fundamental nature of information and (quantum) computation in Jan 2002Dr Brian Josephson, Dr David Deutsch and BCS Cybernetics in one post.

The rest, as they say, is history.

Particularly fascinating this week is a new 2023 edition of “Complexity, Entropy & the Physics of Information” published by Santa Fe as the proceedings of the May/June 1989 workshop of that name, itself part of that history. The original foreword by editor Wojciech Zurek and new preface by original participant Seth Lloyd also provide a history of the subject.

Beautifully produced and indexed, some of the 32 individual papers have been available elsewhere, the collection includes Wheeler and Kaufmann as well as Zurek and Lloyd. And we find Boltzmann, Shannon & Wiener in the opening para of the historical preface.

Herman Melville presaging Gödel in the opening disclaimer “I promise nothing complete; because any human thing supposed to be complete, must for that very reason infallibly be faulty.” Gödel is one of Zurek’s references too, not to mention Melville and Gödel in my recent Goldstein and Spinoza post.

And also announced this week, starting in May, a six-part course “Physics as Information Processing” by Chris Fields” at the Active Inference Institute.

It’s all connected.

What Am I Thinking?

Thinking about an upcoming dialogue, I thought I’d compose a brief outline of what I’m about in 2023. A conversation starter.

I’m doing “Systems Thinking”.

For 20+ years, I would have called it “Cybernetics” by which I mean the original sense of the term – how humans as living things decide and govern ourselves for the best, individually and collectively – (Cybernetes = Governance = Gubernatorial). Of course in the second half of the 20th century systems and cybernetics became more and more associated with engineered systems – information systems, digital computers, automation & control, robotics, “cyberspace” and the like. Even organisational management systems becoming embodied in the information technology.

So much so that many today, even high-quality thinkers about the eco-socio-cultural processes of humanity, the ills and potential solutions that face us, baulk at cybernetic / systems language, even basic terms like information, algorithms, computation and systems. It’s understandable. These things are now so closely associated with “tech” and with programmable, deterministic – objectifying & de-humanising – applications in every corner of everyday life. But it needn’t be that way. Social engineering too has a bad name, as if it’s something technocrats do to other humans, but engineering (ie ingenuity) is simply something we humans do. We make things happen, creatively.

So, rather than systems engineering, think systems thinking and think soft systems.  Systems of governance, whether individual / group / organisational or state / political, whether hierarchical or democratic or any heterarchical mix of these.

I’m using systems thinking simply to say, it’s better to think of things in terms of their functional relations, internal with component parts and processes, and external with their environmental systems and structures, their ecosystem. And in saying that I’m making absolutely no presumptions about those things being physical, biological, social/cultural or intellectual/conceptual. They’re better treated in terms of functional relations as opposed to objects – in terms of the architecture of many such relationships. Such relational thinking predates the “western” intellectual history of either philosophy or science – including systems science – and was embodied in any number of pre-historical / indigenous / aboriginal ways of life.


With such broad thinking, we quickly bump into all aspects of life, the universe and everything. My own areas of interest probably best illustrated by these three examples:

    • Relational Philosophy
      As I say above, relational thinking is prehistoric – embodied in human traditions long before being intellectually documented in our philosophies and/or sciences. A very recent example from Matt Segall referred to the percept<>concept distinction being an issue underlying so many of philosophy’s enduring problems. Percepts being the things we perceive by direct participation the world, as opposed to the concepts we attempt to capture, name and define intellectually – to get a grip, get a handle on them. Recognising the former as more fundamental than the latter, Segall takes the radical empiricist position (after William James) and takes a dynamic process view of the participatory interaction (after A.N. Whitehead). The English language has sadly lost the knowledge distinction between (say) Savoir / Connaitre (in French) or Kennen / Wissen (in German).
    • Brain-Mind & Consciousness
      Whole libraries have been – and continue to be – written about these topics. Modern approaches range from panpsychist philosophies to neuro-physiological and psychological sciences. All bets appear to stumble on the so-called hard-problem of first-person experience. Two recent thinkers and writers interest me most, seeming to be closest to explanations of these. Iain McGilchrist would reject my use of systems thinking language but he nevertheless takes a wholly architectural position in how our best view of the world comes from integration of left and right brain perspectives – our divided brains architected that way by evolution for good reasons. Mark Solms embraces systems language but focusses on the functional integration of the upper (more recently evolved) and lower (more ancient) brain components in explaining not just how consciousness works but how our first-person perspective is supported.
    • Free Energy Principles and Active Inference
      Free Energy and the complementarity of Entropy and Information are as old as Boltzmann and the formalisation of thermodynamics as a science. They have been increasingly exploited in two directions, inwardly towards the fundamental elements of physics itself and outwardly into the completely generic behaviour of systems as described above. Karl Friston has done most recently to elaborate these in systems thinking terms. Solms has used Friston’s work in his explanation of the evolution and functioning of first-person consciousness (above). Furthermore Friston’s work is being used by a growing community to describe and create an evolutionary ecosystem for human and environmental flourishing.

Active Inference Entrepreneurship

The hype around the Free Energy Principle and Active Inference is mushrooming at an amazing rate. This paper … :

Designing Ecosystems of Intelligence from First Principles
Karl J Friston, Maxwell J D Ramstead, et al (2 Dec 2022)

… has several co-authors associates with VERSES as well as AII and (Wellcome Foundation & UCL). The plan is an ecosystem (a network operating system) for distributed intelligence, both artificial and human.

The vision for that comes from the paper, which Friston (Chief Scientific Office of VERSES, now) says was a response to Ramstead’s idea. But this feels like the “evolutionary interoperability” using a “hyperspatial modelling language” some of us have been banging-on about for more than two decades.

Only skimmed that video so far, but the hype is breathless. Karl being interviewed … again!

Getting hard to keep up. I’ve had two goes at engaging with AII, but it’s moving, and the language evolving, so fast … and I have other personal priorities to capture my own writing. Aaagghh!!!

(Really need to pick-up on the formal schematic n-dimensional modelling language and tools ASAP. Ditto my other drafted post on softening machine expectations.)


PS – a bit left field, but tonight – right about now, so I’m missing it – is a Pari Center (Alex Gomex-Marin) talk with Sheldrake reflecting on his “banned TED talk” about his Science Delusion.

Right about the time I was hearing him talk a couple of times in London.
(Love the fact it was Myers and Coyne that got it banned.)


The McGilchrist Manoeuvre

Introductory dialogue in a series (of 6?)
Series title: “Attention as a Moral Act”
(Upcoming 2nd one on “Valueception”.)

McGilchrist Objective? – the opening para of the Intro to TMWT says it.
[Quote to be added]

Polymathic? – Trivium – interest from childhood and Winchester school.

Sacred connection? – from a godless household discovered theological interest in the arts and classics as an undergraduate – before his Oxford PPE / philosophy / history / literature / classics post-graduate trajectory – so not just a conclusion of his later research work.

Trajectory? Oliver Sacks was one of his first contacts with the mind-body “lesion literature” and moving into medicine, neurology, psychology and psychiatry.

John Cutting at the Bethlem & Maudsley – introduced to split-brain fascination, before Baltimore abnormal / lesion / split-brain research associated with mental / medical conditions.

Louis Sass – Madness and Modernism – extraordinary influential read.

Schizoid / deluded, individual and society lost touch with right-brain capability – hence the books TMAHE & TMWT over 20 years, originally whilst working (in Baltimore).

Vanessa Dylyn documentary – The Divided Brain and many household names.

The McGilchrist Manoeuvre – Jonathan Rowson’s term. Chapter 20 of TMWT is the “door” assuming you already have a general idea of Iain’s hypothesis. The Coincidence of Opposites “Coincidentia Oppositorum“. Not just reductionism, but the law of non-contradiction, are the barriers. Need both thing (left) and opposite (right) and their integration, both are “good” and important. (Is that all JR is dubbing the manoeuvre? Yes it is – he quotes his own definition later. In terms of opposite brain hemispheres, already clear from TMAHE.)

Important – little used – concepts in this chapter are:

    • Hormesis  – poisons in small quantities can be beneficial. We (and trees) need adversity, headwinds real and metaphorical. Just right amounts / concentrations of stuff – eg water in whisky, cocoa in chocolate
    • Syllapsis – (to be added)
    • Enantiodromia – Jungian term for the idea that things include their opposites and one can morph into the other over time. The road up is the road down, depending how you look at it.

Definitely a Taoist, could be a Christian. They’re not incompatible.

So why “attention”? – simply that left and right attention are of different nature, and therefore how we attend gives us different knowledge of the world. It’s a moral act – we are not simply observers, we are decisive creators in our choice of attention to the world.

Migraine Symptoms

Migraine is not something I’ve suffered from in 67 years of life, but two family members have, so I am aware of symptoms as described.

About a month ago and for the third time in total, today I am suffering the “jagged vision” symptom – still no head pain or nausea on any occasion. And so far not felt the need to take any aspirin or paracetemol.

This post is just to capture a description of the visual symptom.

Fixed area peripheral top and left, with one branch towards the centre from the left. One edge of that branch fixed and highly defined jagged line. The fill below and outside that edge is the classic twinkling jagged shards of glass or ice. Essentially shades of grey, black and white but with the refraction rainbow fringe colours of thin films, overlapping and of variable thickness. I say “fixed” in the sense that whilst the pattern of jagged shards is in constant motion, on a half to one second period, that jagged edge sticks relative to my field of view. If I fix view on a focal point on the wall in front of me the jagged line is absolutely fixed. I get the feeling it’s more associated with the left eye, but it’s clearly in the mental / cortical representation of the field of view.

Subsiding now after about 20 minutes after a few minutes where the intensity directly interfered with my ability to see what reality was in the affected area in front of me. All absolutely classic I see now as I Google the symptoms.

(Where’s a pen when you need one, I could draw what I’m describing, for future reference.)

This is just a libary pic. Same idea, different geometry / distribution, more peripheral except for one jagged line from left to centre in my case, and much mor intense colours than my experience:

I know what you're thinking... what the heck did I eat? No, you aren't having a psychedelic trip, this is an example of an ocular migraine. Everyone experiences them differently though so if yours doesn't look exactly like this don't panic.


Oh, oh. Following day 13th March 2023 symptoms again. Different geometry, and smaller size, but exactly the same pattern. Small hard, fixed, jagged curlicue, lower, mid-right – with the jangly shards hanging off it.

Time for a stroll on the beach. Done. Gone.


Goldstein on Literary Spinoza

Robbie bought me Michael Della Rocca’s “Oxford Handbook of Spinoza” as a birthday gift. It was one of those on the book list, but which was a little pricey primarily for my interest in the one chapter mentioned previously, so it is great to have the full text of Rebecca Goldstein’s 40 page contribution on “Literary Spinoza” not just the discussion of it in that linked post.

My interest is quite specific, as with the previous post reviewing Rushdie’s “Victory City”, in narrative inspiration for my own writing project. In this case the philosophical content of Melville’s “Moby Dick” is directly relevant to my own 200 year narrative, but of course Goldstein covers many more Spinoza inspired literary sources. Win, win.

As well as Herman Melville, we have George Eliot, Gotthold Ephraim Lessing, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Frederich Holderlin, William Wordsworth, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Novalis (von Hardenberg), Heinrich Heine, Berthold Auerbach, Matthew Arnold, Erwin Kolbenheyer, Jorge Luis Borges, Bashevis Singer, Bernard Malamud, Zbigniew Herbert, David Ives, Eugene Ostashevsky and Goce Smilevski.

Everything I want is in my words.

I mentioned Salman Rushdie’s latest “Victory City” a couple of times. First impressions here, and again once I’d got into reading it here.

I noted in that last post that there were already lots of real-life philosophical applications and that the clever narrative tricks in the trajectory of the 250 year first-person story were providing an inspiration to my own story writing.

Well, I’ve completed it.

Although it is essentially fantasy fiction, there are an intriguing number of historical and literary acknowledgements in the end papers (*) – so god only knows how much actual reality is in there?  Pretty tough going for this anglophone – so many “foreign” names and multiple familial / patronymic / gendered / local variations of these, but the style is unmistakable. Flowery classical – ancient & mediaeval Indian – poetry, punctuated with 21st C Anglo-Saxon punchlines and laugh-out-loud wit. Plenty of birth, death and marriage too, especially death and disfiguration as one might expect from 250 years of imperial dynastic family saga, but mostly humanity seasoned with love and wisdom, not to mention more than a little magic and the gods in their rightful places

I never did make notes of the early philosophical gems and it may be some time before I can give it the attention of a full re-read, but I did note a later passage that nicely illustrates the style I had in mind:

[After PK having been banished by the king from visiting her own statue and forbidden from ever publishing her own words and with MA having claimed he had committed a copy to memory anyway.]

‘That’s fine,’ said [PK] ‘My history will not be written in stone.’

Once the king had gone, she turned to [MA]. ‘What you said wasn’t true,’ she said. ‘You risked your life for a lie.’

‘There are times when a lie matters more than a life,’ he replied. ‘This was such a time.’


‘Sometimes I hate men,’ [TD] said when [MA] had gone.

‘I had a daughter that thought that way,’ [PK] told her. ‘She preferred the company of women and was happiest in [the] enchanted forest. And if by “men” you mean our recent royal visitor, that is understandable. But [MA] is a good man surely. And what about your husband?’

‘[He] is all plots and conspiracies,’ [TD] answered. ‘He’s all secrets and schemes. The court is full of factions and he knows how to set one group against another to balance [his interests].’


‘Tell me this,’ [PK] said.’I know princesses are imprisoned by their crowns and find it hard to choose their own path, but in your heart, what do you want from life?’

‘Nobody ever asked me that,’ [TD] said. ‘Not even my mother. Duty, duty, et cetera. Writing down your verses is the only thing that fills my heart.’

‘But for yourself, what?’

[TD] took a breath. ‘In the street of foreigners,’ she said, ‘I get envious. They just come and go, no ties, no duties, no limits. They have stories from everywhere and I’m sure that when they go somewhere else we become the stories they tell people there. They even tell us stories about ourselves and we believe them even if they get everything upside down. It’s like they have the right to tell the whole world the story of the whole world, and then just … move on. So. Here’s my stupid idea. I want to be a foreigner. I’m sorry to be so foolish,’

‘I had a daughter like that too,’ [PK] said. ‘And you know what? She became a foreigner and I think she was happy.’


‘Can I ask you the same question you asked me?’ [TD] said. [-]

[PK] smiled. ‘Thank you,’ she said. ‘But my time of desiring is over. Now everything I want is in my words, and the words are all I need.’


“There are times when
a lie matters more than a life.
This was such a time.”



(*) Fascinating coincidence the day after finishing the book, BBC aired an In Our Time episode on the Sanskrit epic the “Ramayana. Fascinating because the “Ramayana” arose in the axial age, 500-400 BCE whereas Rushdie’s “Viyanagar” empire sources are writings and retellings from 1000-1500 AD/CE and yet so many of the same elements. Human governance, individual and social morality in the wider cosmos. Divine monkeys in the forest. ‘Twas ever thus.

How do Baggini, Churchland and Flanagan Think?

Baggini, Churchland, Flanagan in dialogue around the topic of Julian’s latest book  “How to Think Like a Philosopher” – or as he preferred it “How NOT to think like a philosopher” >>> rough notes:

All positive about Dennett, McIntyre, Wittgenstein, Descartes, Hume, etc. More than wondering in vacuo – adjacent sciences matter.

Glad to hear it’s Chalmers who’s nuts according to Churchland, I think they’re both nuts. Sure, thought experiments are useful exercises to clarify thinking but they’re not intuitively privileged pipelines to the truth. (Same with metaphors and understanding.)

Hard problem 2500 years old before Chalmers gave it a memetically catchy name ensnaring a whole generation of contemporary young philosophers in what will turn out to be a mere “itch” along the way. (Debunked idea already IMHO)

Sciences have neighbouring sciences and philosophy is no different. The boundaries, extensions and overlaps need to be understood. (Open systems, complex adaptive systems.)

I actually think in her criticisms of neuro-philosophers Pat is out of touch with 21st C reality in this field – criticising outdated caricatures, strawmen. Pity.

Apart from open-mindedness, avoiding misleading hunches / confirmation-biases, not personalising ad-hominem positions (see Churchland / Chalmers), valuing empiricism in general, but questioning meaning of (seemingly objective / empirical) facts, no dumb questions etc- unarguable really – nothing too mind-blowing. Thinking 101 – philosophical or otherwise.


Pat Churchland – “Touching a Nerve (The Self as Brain).”
Owen Flanagan – “The Geography of Morals”

Both added to book list.


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