The Humanity in Curation

 Dave Snowden of Cynefin posted a piece on “Curation”.

Machine learning (it isn’t artificial intelligence) curates based on its training data sets and they in turn come from the dominant ideology of the time unless careful work is put into their construction.

Note “careful” work. That doesn’t mean detailed, precise, comprehensive, thorough – it means with the human value / virtue of care. Curation isn’t about storing or preserving content for future access, it’s about careful management of transactions that create and use it.

So, we need to be careful not to leave humanity out of the loop in our efficiency drive for “automation”. Mistaking artificial stupidity for any kind of intelligence is humanity’s biggest so-called-AI risk.

Me, Psybertron and Pirsig

I maintain the “Psybertron Pirsig Page” (PPPage) as an online static (occasionally updated) resource simply to provide fixed public links and updates to other resources related to the life and work of Robert Pirsig including his two books ZMM (Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance – An Inquiry into Values) and Lila (Lila – An Inquiry into Morals).

[The best dynamic (social-media) page to keep in touch with all things Pirsig-related (people, places and artefacts, beyond the books and philosophy) is ZMM-Quality on Facebook. I interviewed the people who run that site – Henry Gurr and David Matos – here.]

Although my PPPage includes a “More” section on my own content related to his work, it only ever concerned my contributions to that public resource, and was originally never intended to be about me and my work. Almost invariably however, contacts via the PPPage ask about how and where Pirsig’s work fits within my own? The answer is of course scattered throughout my work in the blog.

This new page summarises what Pirsig means to
me (Ian Glendinning) and my work (Psybertron)


[It’s part of some wider housekeeping I’m doing to my Pirsig-related content. Watch these spaces.]



Vervaeke and Henriques

Picking up from the previous post, where I’d picked-up an apparent mapping between Pirsig and a model combining Vervaeke and Henriques, I’ve been looking at some specific recommended sources – what is it they specifically bring to the party?

Vervaeke I know in so far as he has a whole Patreon-sponsored YouTube series called “Awakening from the Meaning Crisis” – A Psychology and Cognitive Science Professor, Integrating Science and Spirituality to Solve the #MeaningCrisis. (I’ve not watched all of it.) His title is a good characterisation of the “thing” we all seem to be struggling with in the 21st C, our loss of “Wisdom” – and I’ve seen him in dialogue with others – eg McGilchrist and Peterson. What’s not to like?

I have a long-standing thread I refer to as #NothingNewUnderTheSun – essentially it’s impossible to read and give credit to every source. Let’s face it, our topic here is life, the universe and everything – all the libraries in all the world – and anyway almost all of us acknowledge “ancient” sources that pre-date “modern” intellectual history. Ways of knowing that seem to have been left behind in the victory which orthodox science has scored over all walks of modern life. So when I get a new source recommended, I’m not so interested in whether they’re good or right – they probably are given the authority of those I take recommendations from – but what is their thesis specifically?

When asked for that kernel @Kubbaj recommended this little summary put together by Kaleb Peters – a mash-up edited from several other Vervaeke talks:

“Lost Ways of Knowing”

[Ironic given my recent “Ways of Knowing” post – which also majored on Pirsig relationships?]

He seems to have a thing about 4’s – the 4-P’s of types of Knowledge (Participatory, Perspectival, Procedural, Propositional) and the 4E’s of Cog Sci (Embodied, Embedded, Enactive, Extended). Clearly one of his reasons for the 4P’s is his focus on types of memory storage of knowledge, not just the act of knowing – Types of Knowledge, not just Ways of Knowing.

Anyway with my usual binary #GoodFences view, I see:

A clear distinction between the obvious “Propositional” (conceptual) knowledge – the recordable WHAT of belief and knowledge – and the other forms. Things that can be represented symbolically and evaluated on a truth axis as opposed to knowledge that doesn’t necessarily fit that model and is therefore easily forgotten in our analyses.

A clear distinction between “Participatory” (perceptual) knowledge and the other forms. His elaboration, into “affordances” etc, is because he’s modelling not just the act of participation, but the architecture of the different types of “memory” needed to hold them as knowledge thereafter, not just in intellectualised symbolic propositional forms. (Affordances after Gibson, and in my case, Dennett.)

The two extremes are indeed binary, but there is a spectrum, an architecture of different representations. I’d still group Propositional and Procedural as symbolic representations, even if procedural benefits from graphical and video formats beyond textual language. Ditto I’d group Participatory and Perspectival, the former being the event the latter the remembered situation.

What is interesting is, as a result of his affordances model, he also elaborates a model of types of things knowable in the world beyond the knower. None other than Physical, Biological, Cultural – (where in Pirsig terms the latter is bifurcated into individual-intellectual and collective-social). Which brings us to what does Henriques bring to the table with his “Tree of Knowledge” system: (system, notice)

Also shared by @Kubbaj

Where we see instantly that Henriques brings in the individual Minds (actually Brains) into the M-B-L-C stack. Like Pirsig, it’s the history of the cosmic evolution of stuff in the world. I think this “system” over-reaches in simplistic ways “a unifying solution to the problem of psychology” (?) but it has some good elements. Skinner’s “behavioural investment” sounds good for the individual brain/mind “governing” the individual animal – like Solms (?) systems and cybernetics, and Freud’s “justification hypothesis” (collective decision-making as I’ve referred to it) for the socio-cultural level – governance (cybernetics) at the group government level – where scientific knowledge is that which achieves cultural concensus. (That said – a very strong “science” focus running through the whole here?) McGilchrist and Solms both have a strong thread that Freud was close, but no cigar, to solving this already.

Good stuff, even on a brief investigation, even if there’s lots of overlap that can be usefully consolidated / integrated.

[Post Note: suggestion from Karen Wong – this piece of longer dialogue with Jordan Peterson as an intro to John Vervaeke @ 1h51m. Certainly it makes the focus on the first P – the participation – and the “affordances” take on the fit between the world and the participant – immediate and in (non-intellectual / sub-conscious / “muscle”) memory. Spinozan “conatus” too, previously here. Making room for distinctions – many binary #GoodFences. Jordan’s Christian religious angle recurring in interruptions.]

Mapping Vervaeke to Pirsig in Active Inference?

A post from @Kubbaj on The Active Inference Discord Server described as “a combo of Vervaeke, Henriques and Friston”

In that “C-B-L-M” axis I couldn’t fail to see a version of Pirsig’s levels of static patterns (of value or quality) – not to mention the participatory / perceptual starting point “into” the system at its “MB” Boundary.

(C-B-L-M mapping to Pirsigian Physical-Biological-Social-Intellectual – where the latter two are maybe better expressed as “individual-mental” and “socio-cultural” IMHO – orthogonal to the “physio-biological”?)

As the first AII response indicated, there’s a wealth of detail to be elaborated behind the many arrows and relationships in that diagram. But, for me the interest is pretty clear:

    • Friston – (via Solms, Fields and Levenchuk) is my original route into this Active Inference space.
    • Henriques – I’m not sure I’m even aware of?
    • Vervaeke – is someone I keep getting pointers to, but have so far failed to pick-up what it is he’s adding to the story?

However, recent discussion in “this little corner” of the web with Sevilla King and Karen Wong keep suggesting I need to understand the Vervaeke – Pirsig relevance.

[Holding post for that research 🙂 ]

[Post Note: Thanks to @Kubbaj on the AII Discord again – I did some immediate follow-up in the next post.]

Shedding the Shackles of Determinism

This is a science-journalism article in Quanta Magazine by Philip Ball that covers many of the people and thoughts I’ve been pursuing here in recent years.

A New Idea for How to Assemble Life

As soon as I saw the title, I asked myself is “assemble” being used here in the same way as “construct” in constructor theory (Deutsch & Marletto). At that point I used a retweet to file it away for later, but was prompted to read it today thanks to an excellent post from A J Owens over at Staggering Implications blog.

Although I’ve been a little sceptical – probably misunderstanding – of Lee Cronin’s “Chemputation” work, I see instantly he and Sara Walker are the focus of the piece and that Sara is the link here to Chiara Marletto and David Deutsch. In fact as well as these names we have several references to Arizona State and Santa Fe. Paul Davies as PhD Supervisor to Jessica Flack. It’s all connected, but how much does it mean?

(Strangely, having asked AJ the check question that the piece linked Assembly and Constructor theories? – I notice I had already noted the explicit connection back here, though I hadn’t spotted the Walker connection when I asked.)

The “driving” (or guiding) forces in nature, patterns built into layers of complexity, and ergodicity, the history of paths through combinatorial “phase” space, spell the end of (reductive) determinism.

“Information is in the path,
not (just) in the initial conditions”
Sara Walker.

Loving the 4 layers of actuality:

    • Assembly Universe (all unconstrained combinatorial possibilities)
    • Assembly Possible (possibilities constrained by physical laws)
    • Assembly Contingent (additionally constrained by viable pathways)
    • Assembly Observed (as actually observed/observable)

Also loving the fact that “AI” as an acronym is being spread at just the same time AI as “ChatGPT” style “Artificial (Stupidity) Intelligence” is exploding into public consciousness. Now as well as “Active Inference”, we have “Assembly Index”.

Shall have to take a closer look at AJ’s more critical review. Exciting stuff either way.

James R Simms – A Measure of Knowledge

It’s a book I borrowed from Dennis Finlayson, so I scanned the summary pages before returning:

James R Simms “A Measure of Knowledge- Ch8 Epilogue”

I’d not heard of Simms or his work before (Copyright 1968) but it contains lots of the stuff I’ve been using these last 20 years. The references include Bohr, Ashby, Shannon, Minsky and Schrödinger, which themselves include the Boltzmann and Gibbs references.

Entropy (and Negentropy) are naturally fundamental to the story – Boltzmann, Shannon and Schrödinger in the Foundational Concepts chapter – though I can’t for the life of me find any mention in that summary. He recasts the whole story in terms of “knowledge” and “energy that may usefully be directed” – total energy minus entropy, presumably, the energetic complement of entropy, negentropy – basically suggesting that Boltzmann’s thermodynamics will be too alien to biologists.

As well as quantifying such knowledge (per Joule) he provides bases of classification – a method of classifying all substances – amounts of knowledge and type, organisational, exchange and environmental.

He’s using “systems” language, and the organisation of available energy, internally and externally (environmentally). So far so good.

This is he:

This is also his

In 1978, when the book Living Systems was published, it contained the prediction that the sciences that were concerned with the biological and social sciences would, in the future, be stated as rigorously as the “hard sciences” that study such non-living phenomena as temperature, distance, and the interaction of chemical elements. Principles of Quantitative Living Systems Science, the first of a planned series of three books, begins an attempt to fulfil that prediction.

The view that living things are similar to other parts of the physical world, differing only in their complexity, was explicitly stated in the early years of the twentieth century by the biologist Ludwig von Bertalanffy. His ideas could not be published until the end of the war in Europe in the 1940s. Von Bertalanffy was strongly opposed to vitalism, the theory current among biologists at the time that life could only be explained by recourse to a “vital principle” or God. He considered living things to be a part of the natural order, “systems” like atoms and molecules and planetary systems. Systems were described as being made up of a number of interrelated and interdependent parts, but because of the interrelations, the total system became more than the sum of those parts. These ideas led to the development of systems movements, in both Europe and the United States, that included not only biologists but scientists in other fields as well. Systems societies were formed on both continents.

Although I didn’t know him, he was well known to Dennis and other members of the ISSS (and wider) Systems Community.

Anyway, continuing the Measure of Knowledge, he makes only the one mistake – or leaves one gap – that I can see. In that epilogue, he summarises what he calls “The Semantic Problem”. Strangely, he doesn’t use the word “meaning” at all, but makes his distinction between “directing” and “willing”. Noting that not just most actions caused in the natural world, but even many human actions, are caused (directed) without being willed. Willed or otherwise he does point out the massive scale of knowledge and direction open to humans, beyond any other natural or living thing, and yet he doesn’t attempt to elaborate the “willed” element. The idea of purposeful intent arising from our conscious will. He concludes:

I feel that the greatest potential for [my “measure of knowledge” theory] lies in the field of behavioural and social sciences.

Given that he is so obviously right, it’s sad that he doesn’t get beyond the basic “resource economy” of human life – Malthus plus mathematically processable, quantifiable, objective knowledge – cybernetics as a set of algorithmic objectives. He omits – effectively denies – the conscious will of subjective human intent individual and / or collective. Intended meaning.

Like all orthodox scientists, he fails to cross Solms’ subjectivity Rubicon. Not surprising since his primary goal was to make human affairs scientific – “rigorous hard science” in his own words. It was Mike Jackson I last noted expressing this scepticism, that social sciences and human behaviour, within our cultural as well as natural environment, could be reduced to the mechanistic causal models of orthodox science?

Dipping into and out of Parmenides

I need to stop reading, and one of the open books on the nightstand is Richard Geldard’s translation and commentary on “Parmenides and the Way of Truth“.

I have quite a few notes on the Pythagorean influenced mysticism of unity in the one, and the Eleatic geography – pre-Socratic Greece in Veila, SW Italy – that seems to run through it, but I don’t really have the bandwidth to do it justice, so I’m quitting while I’m ahead. I see Geldard’s subject is Dramatic Literature and Classics and he’s an (Ralph Waldo) Emerson scholar. I loved the weary resignation in his intro, his colours are nailed to the same mast as mine:

“[Our purpose] is to learn from centuries of dead ends and blunted attempts just how and why the philosophic enterprise has argued itself into paralysis and gnostic dissatisfaction. It is as if today (2007) philosophy sits quietly in a wheelchair in a nursing home run by science, looking out at the scudding clouds, with its memories of great achievements. Meanwhile, out on the lawn and in basement laboratories, the physicists and biologists appear in ruddy health, enjoying the dance of particles and the advances in technology. For the moment, at any rate, they are firmly in charge.”

Quitting to make space for a little Kant. Just taken possession (in Kindle form) the three Critiques – Pure Reason, Practical Reason and Judgement.

The Eyes in Kant’s Head

Hat tip to Anita Leirfall – who, we discovered quite randomly, lived just a few doors away from where Sylvia and I lived in Oslo – quite randomly posting a link to a 2021 edition of BBC Radio 4 “In Our Time” on Kant.

Where I couldn’t help but see myself in Mark’s words:

“crippled by academic over-systematisation
and a deadeningly leaden style”

Because of his “notoriously difficult” reputation, I’ve been avoiding Kant for over two decades, despite many intriguing second-hand readings dating as far back as my initial dalliances with Pirsigian philosophers. And since for the past couple of years I’ve been transitioning to the “stop reading and just write something” mode, I’d resigned myself to never having to tackle him, even though I’ve had the sneaking suspicion his ideas probably tally pretty well with mine own. Possibly arrogantly believing I had already made the necessary “Copernican Turn” in my own thinking.

It’s actually an IOT edition I’ve heard before – I listen to practically all of them the day they’re broadcast – but clearly I wasn’t paying attention first time around. See resignation and arrogance 😉

Well, well.

I’ve still not read Kant, but I have properly listened to that podcast.

Right from the off, the simple, clear introduction by John Callanan, I’m hooked. Bang goes another month’s writing whilst I catch-up.

Suffice to say for now, following directly on from my previous “Ways of Knowing” post (which Eddo’s not responded to yet) we get an enormous irony. An irony I realise I probably already had a subconscious impression of, as a fortunately well-travelled person myself, which contributed to my continued ignorance of him. That is: how can a person without experience – never being curious about gaining empirical evidence of the world beyond his home town, for his entire life – critique “pure reason” – to distinguish those parts of knowledge reasonably reasoned (in the mind) and their integration with those necessarily experienced (by participation in the world).

Well some things can be reasoned a priori. Understanding how to integrate these with those that can’t is indeed the trick. Obviously, I’m even more convinced I will find his ideas supporting mine.

And talking of that previous dialogue with Eddo, I discover

“(The fool on the hill) sees the sun going down,
And the eyes in his head see the world spinning round”

Comes straight from Kant.

I may be some time!


(Only a single passing reference to Kant in McGilchrist?)

(James’ “blooming, buzzing confusion” – too much empirical data.
A much used quote around these parts.
Devil in the details, angels in the abstractions.
Less is more.

(All his language familiar through second-hand readings.
Analytic / Synthetic, “Ding an sich” and so on

(The non-empirically-grounded weirdness of causation.)

(More subtle “detached” ideas on “objectivity” in science, and “political” pressures. Essentially pragmatic.)

(Post Note: I’ve not been ignorant of Kant, just not previously felt the urge to read his Magnum Opus. Here a previous encounter – “Kantian Enlightenment”. And following the comment thread below – I’ve made a passing reference to my continuing with Kant in the closing para of this recent Parmenides post.)


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