William James Sidis – again.

Sidis is a standard interest of Robert Pirsig fans, Pirsig makes significant reference to him, so he’s been mentioned here a couple of times. (1898-1944 basically a child prodigy of high intelligence pushed by his parents – through Harvard aged 11 (!) – that the general public / media meme is that he collapsed through some kinda breakdown into a ignominious life of trivia.)

He did publish some strange books under pen-names, but published one important book under his own name.

Fellow Pirsigian David Harding (@GoodMetaphysics) posted a new short video about Sidis:


I responded already, but just wanted to capture here:

I’d forgotten Sidis had published his “life as entropy reversal” idea back in 1920. And, I remember Mahoney as the man that “rediscovered” him in 1979, BUT hadn’t spotted the Bucky-Fuller connection – an old class mate(!) reviewing Sidis only publication. And Norbert Wiener of Cybernetics fame too. It was 1940 before Schrödinger did the same. Black holes too.

Here is that Buckminster-Fuller letter:

The Orthodoxy Softens on Determinism?

Good to see actual scientists being public about the limitations to reductionist determinism, and why emergent objects can and do have their own causality.

Noticed Philip Ball post a note to the effect that this really could be considered a given – “well established” and “not much left to debate” – now even though there were multiple explanatory theories as to why and how.


Today Kevin Mitchell posted the following as a Twitter Thread:

Re: reductionism

There is a big difference between saying that, for some system: “if we know what the little things do, we know what the big things do” (which is trivial) and claiming that the low-level forces between the smallest particles are the only things that do or can have any causal power in determining how a system evolves from moment to moment.

The latter is a metaphysical claim, not a scientific one. And it fails to answer the question of why the particles are organised the way they are which, in many cases (especially in living organisms) is because that organisation is functional at a macroscopic level and has been selected for.

Nothing about particle physics can account for, predict, or explain why living organisms are organised the way they are. Nor can the equations governing such particles predict how such systems will behave.

Especially because they only predict how particles themselves will behave in a statistical, probabilistic fashion, not deterministically. This leaves lots of room for higher-order, organisational causes to come into play, which they demonstrably do.

This Tweet has quite a few spin-off threads in response:


Of course the book in question is Sabine Hossenfelder’s – which I’m resisting buying to read. This thread is one good response (and the Philip Ball tweet above is in fact another):

And for “small world” completeness this Philip Ball piece is an interview with Michael Levin (see other recent “systems thinking” posts). And it’s Templeton.

Funny, I’d previously had Philip down as one of the defenders of “the orthodoxy” (mechanistic, reductive, objective materialism) but clearly no longer the case. Sabine on the other hand I was encouraged that she was taking philosophical questions about the limitations to orthodox science seriously, but I fear she is still behind the curve philosophically.

Pity that Sabine is dismissive of objections to her words on the grounds that “we can’t even agree what causation is”. I’ll say. It’s where I started two decades ago.

And, more systems thinking connections – Sara Amari and Jessica Flack are amongst the addressees in the original Tweet above. Both using systems thinking, and Jessica in particular as a means of identifying appropriate granularity. Here another recent Philip Ball tweet:


It’s all connected 🙂

Karl Friston and Good Fences

I’ve previously only mentioned Friston as the source of Friston’s Free Energy Principle as the backdrop to Mark Solms proper bio-psychological account of consciousness.

I listened to this discussion – hap tip to the Active Inference folks – and already made a few footnotes to the two previous posts.

It’s the first time I’ve listened to him directly. We’re on the same page in so much more. As a biologist / scientist, he’s actually into the politics – identity politics – of this, in exactly the way I am. In fact his whole piece in the last 5 or 10 minutes about globalisation destroying useful boundaries (Markov blankets) is EXACTLY my unwritten “Good Fences” thesis. Exactly!

There is a tendency of inclusion / fairness reasons to blur boundaries and minimise differences – but every boundary ignored is a thing lost.

(Need to pull together all the dispersed notes into something coherent here. I simply cannot write fast enough.)

Systems Functional Needs

As well as dallying about at conceptual / philosophical levels with cybernetics and systems thinking in recent decades, I’ve had several abortive attempts at getting some useful tools going. In fact in those decades I was also working with and for software developers / solution providers on “generic” tools mainly in the “capital facilities” business.

Could never get the right levels of abstraction taken seriously in any products, pragmatists are always very focussed on (apparent) immediate business needs … but now I may have the right systems thinking language …

And now, my needs have doubled – I have real selfish need of tools to develop and describe / document the models I’m developing, as well as toolsets I propose for generic wider value to humanity. So …

30 years ago before ontological (graphical) languages were fashionable I was a big fan of IDEF0 – and I still am. I know now the reason for its attraction are twofold.

One – it is process focussed, yes it represents things, but all the links are flows of information and stuff between functional objects. (My whole world ontology is a information process / computation metaphysics these days.) Not surprising  quite a few flowcharting tools – yes even Visio – include IDEF0 templates, but what NONE of them have is …

Two – it naturally nests levels of abstraction as sub-systems non-exclusively within super-systems – but NONE of the tools supports this functionality.

Related, but quite independently, diagramming languages have evolved for the information models and ontologies themselves. Express-G and UML – the latter dominating for a long while – but ultimately these are just networking graphics where rules determine what semantics are carried by nodes and edges, either or both. Unfortunately as people have been driven towards standardisation (a good thing), that semantic choice has been baked-in but not necessarily in the best way. So …

The new (ISO) standard for network graphics is ArchiMate and there are already many “Archi” tools, if not many good working examples. The Architectural root of Archi was very encouraging, but the results are disappointing. Unfortunately in the new standard all the semantics are in the edges – generally a good thing – but it means the sub-super-system abstraction (a feature of the nodes) is lost. As with previous ontologies, all the management structures have to be imposed by a meta-data overlay (aka eg “Templates” in ISO15926-p7) representing the “emergent” sub-super collections – but in the real world – not that of the modeller – these are the data that “matters”. We need to re-introduce the IDEF0 functionality to the ArchiMate language.

As well as generic tools for general use (with libraries of standard objects) I now have personal need for documenting the (process ontology) models I am now proposing and describing in my own writing.

Latest candidate tool in a systems thinking / active inference context is cadCAD – complex adaptive system diagrams (with dynamic “simulation” behaviour) … so, hopeful. And that “Active Inference / Markov Blanket” thought gives us a language for what is missing – if all semantics reside in the edges, the nodes have no thingness. See also footnote to previous post. It’s perfectly OK to capture semantics in relations involving the thing, but let’s not lose the thing itself.

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.

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[Post Notes:

Watching this Luis Razo & Karl Friston talk, extending the topological parallels – beyond Razo’s balloon – even the event horizon of a black hole is a Markov Blanket. Every “thing” to which you associate individual states has a Markov Blanket in “phase space” – whether there is a physical membrane or not. All you need to know about that thing is at (or projected onto) that surface. As he says this is about the definition of using the word thing in any sentence. (Hat tip Active Inference folks.

This theory of “things” fits well to my “distinguishing between A & B” diagram in this “Identity” post.

And Razo’s bio-electricity … significant in the Nick Lane presentation subject of this post! It’s perfectly OK to capture semantics in relations involving the thing, but let’s not lose the thing itself. Curiously – I note Nick Lane is referenced by Mark Solms but Mike Levin is not. Levin is however referenced by Dan Dennett – Tufts connection. Lots in here. Thing-ness is the key – see next post re modelling tools.

“The Everything Crisis” – Globalisation – yes. The problem is the destruction of Markov Blankets, every time we lose a boundary we lose some “thing”. We are definitely on the same page.]

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.

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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 😉

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