Zience and John C Doyle

Further to the previous post, let’s try and elaborate some specifics of what John C Doyle has to say. What is clear, after the throwaway “scientists will hate this” remarks, is that this is the reason he is unpublished in more popular journals and publishing formats. Because he is pointing out “a problem with science” he is experiencing resistance to getting published.

[It’s interesting in Gazzaniga, where I first came across Doyle, the most interesting read was the more autobiographical “Tales from Both Sides” which I originally understood to be a reference to the two sides of our bicameral-mind / divided-brain, but which was in fact a reference to the politics between researchers with unpopular findings and the story of whose work got published with which content, and Sperry who eventually won the Nobel Prize. I’m not, never have been, a conspiracy theorist. The institutional defence mechanism is a bug in scientific thinking, not some nefarious active conspiracy of secret interests. Essentially the bug is ignorance of the multi-layered architecture of “systems thinking” which is artificially flattened into one-dimensional logical objective “rationale”.]

It is a seriously degenerate problem, which is winning, because it’s self-reinforcing and we humans are poorly evolved to resist it. The bug is like a virus exploiting rational human weakness. Multiple timescales are part of the problem too – from speed of light global comms, to the pace of biological evolution, and the enormous range of calendar-based individual and collective human activities in between.

This is a disaster bigger than Anthropogenic Climate Change, not least because Zombie science, Zombie law and Zombie politics compromise our chances of successfully addressing it.

In this October 2021 presentation, Doyle gives us his take:

Ironically, Dan Dennett was one of those who used real virus-driven behaviour to illustrate issues the “Four Horsemen” had with religion in the early 21st C religion vs science wars. The classic example being a parasitic fungus that behaves virally, its spores infecting the primitive nervous system of a particular species of wasp, so that it not only effectively kills the insect, but changes its behaviour to ensure it is eaten by large mammalian hosts when it does die – a massive resource to multiply the virus numbers and spread them through the host population. A neat viral trick. (See Cordyceps if that’s not already familiar). Doyle uses exactly this example, and more classic variations – like the virus infecting mice which reduces their fear of predators like cats. Same propagation trick.

Zombies were a popular meme in philosophy – a thought experiment – about whether organisms’ (like humans’) behaviour reflected internal knowledge of what they were doing and why. How would we know if they had any internal sense of self? These virally compromised insects and mice also became known as Zombies for their so obviously self-disinterested behaviours.

Doyle’s contribution is Zombie Science or “Zience”
(Rough paraphrase 15 mins from ~28:30 to ~43.00 in this presentation.)

Vaccines – in the biological and social sense – are an example of a “Diversity Enabled Sweet Spot” in the enormous stack of human systems. As we have seen with Covid, the medical science is only one small part of the stack from Policy setting and enforcement, the medical processes and procedures, virus mutations, to the levels of individual and social psychology and behaviours. Many layered and massively complex, massively distributed asynchronously around the globe.

But that’s just the warm-up. Here’s the big thing.

Things are going wrong. And things are going to get worse. And almost everything we are doing with IT/Comms networks – like “Digital Transformation” – are actively making our problems worse.

We really need to understand fundamentally what is happening, not just anecdotally, individual examples.

Viruses exploit the universality of operating system architectures. And viruses rule – they kill HALF of their hosts everyday (most of those hosts are bacteria and other single-celled creatures).

As well as Viruses, we also have more active predators in our systems – Malware. Social Media is itself the most important Malware.

The awful thing about our most recent viral experience across all these levels is that it reinforces existing inequalities (race, wealth etc.)

Language itself is hijackable – it’s an important part of our operating system – we have many issues around the globe where exactly that is happening. Zombie memes. Contagious misinformation – false, unhealthy and dangerous. Previously ‘solved’ human rights and freedoms problems are coming back as well as new ones.

And science is not immune. Zombie Science.
It’s own self-correcting processes are not protection against the problem. Science will in fact reject all these multi-layer / diversity arguments. We are losing this battle. Good science is NOT winning the war against “Zience”.

Legal systems too. Laws and enforcement.
Zombie Law too. Unintended consequences. Zombie corporations, Zombie capitalism … endless.

It’s the architecture, NOT the individual viruses or humans.

I feel I’m fighting in the same trenches as John Doyle.

(Also note the significance of “Diversity” in the “Systems Level Synthesis”.
“Vive la Difference” as I so often say. Our systems will always have layers to be practically functional – fast and accurate enough – a single layer system can never work. But such a system will always have a “diversity enabled sweet spot” and many layers will be virtualised relative to the explicit layer in which “we” operate. These are vulnerable to viral attack, and we need to ensure we don’t lose sight of what matters in each layer so we can protect & manage them, not allow them to become Zombies.)

We need systems thinking – about the right things in the right layers in the architecture – not about all the “objects” (individuals) in the system and their direct logical / causal relations in the explicit layer. We need to consider and protect against viral fragility in the virtualised layers.

As in the preamble note above, the “bug” in science – and the reason Zombie Science is not helping us solve this problem – is that it rejects independent causality in multiple layers – flattens everything into one layer of explicit objects.

Good science
is NOT winning the war
against “Zience”.

Following the science can be dangerous.



3 thoughts on “Zience and John C Doyle”

  1. You probably already know, but just in case, I’ll mention Thomas Kuhn’s work on science and paradigm shifts. Understood in his terms, the “bug” in science is a very old one, and its roots are epistemological. All scientific research is conducted within a paradigm, but the paradigm influences what counts as “evidence.” Phenomena contrary to the reigning theory are at first not even noticed or recognized as important “facts.” If they become more persistent obstacles to current theory, they are explained away, dismissed as anomalies, or otherwise resisted. Eventually the reigning theory becomes so riddled with inconsistencies and beset with contrary observations that its very paradigm is overturned, and a new one is adopted which can accommodate the new evidence.

    I believe we are in the middle of such a paradigm shift, and the work of people like McGilchrist and Solms and Doyle are part of it. So is the work of Sally Weintrobe (Psychological Roots of the Climate Crisis) and Charles Eisenstein (The More Beautiful World Our Hearts Know Is Possible) and Robin Wall Kimmerer (Braiding Sweetgrass). The paradigm shift involves a more existential, personal way of knowing; or in other terms, restoring subjective experience as the heart of reality.

    In many ways beneficial, this shift is also not without its problems and dangers.

  2. I forgot to include in that list Lynn Margulis, whose groundbreaking work in biology was also resisted for decades by scientific orthodoxy, as you can read at Wikipedia.

  3. Ah yes, Kuhn’s work I use later derivations – waves or cycles of change after Freeman & Perez and Kondratiev / Kondratieff primarily (~80 years) but screwed-up by the speed of the the current ICT cycle. (Quite a large part of what I’ve researched.)

    What I don’t see though, in these generic cycles of change is any specific idea of a “bug” in science? Although as you say – any “problem” with the existing paradigm is typically denied until the weight of change creates the eventual shift. Being “revolutionary” the changes carry risks too, as you say.
    Of course what I’m forgetting is that Kuhnian paradigms were specifically “scientific revolutions” – I’ve always tended to focus on the industrial / economic consequences.

    Lynn Margulis I’ve also used – in fact one of my regular correspondents knew the Margulis and Sagan families.

    I like “restoring subjective experience as the heart of reality” – I’ll take a look at those references new to me. Thanks AJ.

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