Strained Conversation

Opening Gambit

[Links being added]

[Q (21 Aug)]: “I understand that you have a professional engineering background and a strong interest in systems theory …  If you would like to discuss this very important topic one on one I would be interested.”

[A (22 Aug)]: “Sure, I most recently I summarised my interest here (18 Aug): [Opening para only] Cybernetics, like anything else, evolves, so I’m never talking about specific systems theory(ies). I’ve described my own journey every which way through systems engineering to systems thinking under the cybernetic umbrella. I have a nothing new under the sun attitude to any topic, whereby changing language may change the focus on details, but for the main part it’s really expressing a different view of the same underlying conception”

Trajectory Expected

I have some knowledge of systems theories, so, when you say cybernetics and systems thinking, but no particular systems theory(ies)- what do you mean by the same underlying conception(s)?

Me: Yes, cybernetics has just remained a broad umbrella term for my evolving thoughts. Cybernetics – simply meaning the processes of governance. Systems – meaning those things involved in those processes of doing and being. And that underlying conception of a system as any “thing” considered in terms of its functional relations with other internal or external, things (systems). For me Systems Thinking simply says pretty much anything and everything can be, and benefits from being, thought of that way.

So, where you go on to say … have you thought about … etc.

Actual Trajectory

[Tirade of angry expletives and personal insults – deleted.]

Breaking every rule of discourse with an added helping of whataboutery – name-dropping lots of additional historical sources without any apparent relevance given for any of the content of these to the content of the dialogue or anything I’ve said previously?

Me: bemused.

[Context – I’m only engaged with this person because I was impressed by some questions they’d asked about aspects of Iain McGilchrist’s work in a community channel about his work – and that their profile / introduction included this:

“I have been on a lifelong mission to convince scientists to abandon mechanistic materialism by fighting the battle from within […] I am abd [sic] on a PhD in mathematics. My intent was to be able to learn any area of science where there was a nascent awareness of the wrongness of reductionism and mechanistic materialism.”

Me too, essentially. Except in my case I’ve not (yet) embarked on a PhD, though my intent is that one of my writing projects is a PhD standard thesis, and rather than “learning the sciences” I’ve embarked on a broader focus including the philosophy of science and philosophy more generally from pragmatism to metaphysics.

The reference to “from the inside” is significant too. The “Church of Reason” being policed by academic organisations is one reason there is so much factional division – rivalry over resources and citations and who (doesn’t) cite who – between different schools of thought in science as well as philosophy. My focus is on building-bridges – a synthesis between the best of each.]

Live to Fight Another Day?

[6 to 10 Sept]

Independently, but in a small sub-group of the McGilchrist Channel, a conversation started on “computation” when someone posted a PBS Video on computation in the universe. Long story short, after I’d expressed some of my information-based metaphysics views in support of some key points in the presentation, primarily the point about scale – that a computation can describe something much larger (and more complex) than itself, and that given that it was possible to make the (possibly megalomaniac) claim that the whole world could be described in terms of information processing.

That drew one long response:

Leaving aside the issue of megalomania, there is a basic distinction between holism and reductionism. Friston and Solms published an article “How and why Consciousness arises” where they attempt to use the free energy principle to justify turning humans into fancy robots. The do have a disclaimer that what they are doing will almost certainly not answer the hard problem mentioned by Thomas Nagel and David Chalmers but full steam ahead anyhoo. Dr. McGilchrist is very clear on rejecting such ideas and openly advocates the pragmatism of William James in rejecting any notion of a final theory like Markov blankets. There is a BIG difference between Process philosophy of which pragmatism is an example. I use Google Scholar to find out who is doing work in unlikely areas. For instance if you do a search using the expression Solms + McGilchrist the are only about 80 hits and almost all of them are about clinical psychology. NONE on philosophy or consciousness. There is at this time very little about the use of mathematics in the study of process philosophy. I do NOT see Solms as doing Holistic science. I see him and Friston as trying to sneak materialism into the subject and saying don’t look to closely as we do our shell game with you. Daniel Dennet is an ultra cheap version of this song and dance. Don’t let them fool you. To say a process is a computation is just another way to say all processes are just fancy machines. Caveat emptor!!!!!


Also, a note, I did a search in TMWT for both Friston and Solms. The result? Neither were mentioned by name anywhere in the text proper and only a handful of articles in the very extensive bibliography where almost all the articles(less than 10) were about the neuroscience. It is a VERY safe bet that Dr. McGilchrist is very well aware of their alleged attempts to do philosophy. It’s kind of funny in that Friston is often touted as referenced more than any other scientist let alone neuroscientist and Dr. McGilchrist felt no need to mention him even once in the main text of TMWT. In my view a very wise choice!


So obviously, none of them are stupid, right? Do you believe you are so much smarter than them and you are going to show them why they are wrong to ignore each other? I am a nobody, so no one gives a damn what I say. I am sure none of them want to start a war by stating explicitly what they think of each other. I see the lack of publications which refer to both (Friston and/or Solms vs McGilchrist) of them as very clear evidence of seriously hostile camps. To me, Friston and Solms are clearly left brain dominant!

So, in the spirit of progress, let me address the content of the actual critical response. (I have a 3 strikes and you’re out rule in discourse where if people ignore the content of exchanges 3 times, I block and stop the discourse. This is our second exchange. Life’s too short.)

Firstly overall tone & style. I don’t want to spend any more time tone-policing, but it has to be said that overall it’s criticisms of people and their imputed motives. ie not related to the content of anything actually said – by me or them.

Let’s start with:

“Leaving aside the issue of megalomania,
… Caveat emptor!!!!!”

Ironically, it was I who’d already mentioned possible megalomania in making any fundamental metaphysical claims (or worse still “Theory of Everything”) as a caveat. And the more general caveat emptor? I’m a human individual in dialogue giving my good faith views, with the hope we all might learn from them being challenged in good faith in context, me included. My specific formal qualifications don’t bar me from holding opinions of what I’ve read and heard in good faith – in fact as I’ve often pointed out it’s an occupational hazard of multi-discipline research to bump up against limits to one’s formal and/or certified knowledge. (Ironically, systems thinking itself provides a solution to this problem of boundaries between disciplines – but I’m getting ahead of myself.)

I have bigger writing projects which this dialogue is distracting me from, but any new /  alternatives / corrections / inputs are always welcome. That’s the point of public dialogue.

“there is a basic distinction between holism and reductionism”

I’m not at all sure what point is being made in the context of this particular “computation” dialogue, but I’ll say (!) this is in fact what I’d hoped would be the content of the initial dialogue [21 Aug above]. Holism and reductionism are two sides of a coin / two ends of a spectrum. Systems, systems-theories, systems-science(s) and systems-thinking generally rose to prominence in the mid-20th C (eg Macy conferences) precisely because it brought to the sciences (and more) a solution to “wrongness of reductionism and mechanistic materialism”. Let’s talk about that?

“Friston and Solms published an article “How and why Consciousness arises” where they attempt to use the free energy principle to justify turning humans into fancy robots.”

So, these are relevant – to dialogue with me – because Solms is one of my recent sources exploiting both computation and systems-thinking views. The suggestion theirs is an “attempt to justify turning humans into fancy robots” is spurious and facetious – and irrelevant. They’ve written several papers together and Solms has written an excellent book since then. Anyway – I only came to know Friston through Solms but have subsequently taken an interest. I spent a whole day watching and writing-up some notes from watching a 4 hour (!) interview of Friston suggested by this interlocutor, though I’ve still seen no response to my efforts? I’ve also taken interest in Friston through my wider systems interests at INCOSE and ISSS, where systems-thinking is gaining wide traction across industry and human endeavours in the widest sense AND a whole school of “Active Inference” computation has grown out of Friston’s ideas in real time. As well as following his work, I also addressed a (now infamous) paper of criticisms of the “movement” created by his work. This is part of the process of progress in human knowledge.

“Dr. McGilchrist is very clear on rejecting
such [computing / machine] ideas”

He is, as I’ve noted several times. It’s the main cause for my integration project. It’s not that anything McGilchrist has claimed is “wrong” just that (imho) he’s missing a trick about where his work can be integrated into wider work on brain / mind knowledge. As I’ve said many times – this is partly a problem where the language of “computing machines” (and the geeks that use it) invokes that mechanist / reductionist impression in minds of hearers and experience of “users”, but where more recent (organismic) systems language is achieving traction not just in the physical / thermodynamic level but through biology, sociology and culture (see ISSS above).

Particularly baffling support for rejection of fundamental computation ideas from someone whose response to the original PBS video that started this second conversation was “I knew about parts of what he said but there was more that I did not know about and to see it all put together in one place was exhilarating!”

“[McGilchrist] openly advocates the pragmatism of William James in rejecting any notion of a final theory like Markov blankets.”

This is good. Me too. James’ pragmatism pretty fundamental to my journey, and I’ve acknowledged where McGilchrist shares many references with mine. James and Whitehead I’d add. I’m avoiding the idea of a final theory (of everything) too. See above. Science itself cannot be like that. It’s why the cybernetic language has morphed to “systems thinking” – a way of thinking about things – different systems of xxx – rather than a single system driven by one theory. The claims are actually metaphysical. I’ve not seen McGilchrist mention Markov-blankets specifically (?) – if I had to guess I’d say any rejection was in the context above – wider rejection of mechanistic-sounding ideas. (Solms is a must read.)

“There is a BIG difference between Process philosophy of which pragmatism is an example.”

Sure, but an interesting statement here. Not sure of the relevance? Depending exactly whose theories we’re talking about, they are different “systems of thought” that overlap both ways I’d say.

“if you do a search using the expression Solms + McGilchrist the are only about 80 hits and almost all of them are about clinical psychology.”

Not remotely surprising? Solms work in the area closest to McGilchrist’s is pretty recent. Neither references the other as we’ve already seen.

“There is at this time very little about the use of mathematics in the study of process philosophy.”

I know mathematics is a particular interest of yours, but can’t see the relevance of this statement here?

“I do NOT see Solms as doing Holistic science. I see him and Friston as trying to sneak materialism into the subject and saying don’t look to closely as we do our shell game with you.”

Apart from the spurious and facetious reference to motives again – which I’ll ignore – I very much see Solms using systems thinking to produce a holistic view of brain-mind processes. That’s almost exactly what he IS doing in his book. We can progress this only if we agree to discuss actual work of his and any words you or I have related to these.

“Daniel Dennet (sic) is an ultra cheap version of this song and dance. Don’t let them fool you.”

Ha, you obviously know Dennett is a “hero” of mine – but this is just a facetious jibe, again? We can talk turkey only if you want to relate it to specifics (relevant to my interest).

“To say a process is a computation is just another way to say all processes are just fancy machines.”

Not “fancy machines” – more of your pejorative rhetoric – but (many layered) organismic systems – complex adaptive systems, as you said yourself in an earlier exchange.

That’ll do for now. If you engage on the content of any of the discourse I will continue to engage in good faith.

OK, just one more (others are in the community platform already) relevant to McGilchrist’s main thread:

“Friston and Solms are clearly left brain dominant!”

Absolutely. Any “scientists” describing their science formally in symbolic or prosaic language is primarily using their left-brain tools, McGilchrist included – in fact it’s the main problem dominating discourse about McGilchrist’s work. You will only find the right-brained aspects in the specific content and embodied intent. Solms in fact, I can’t speak for Friston, is at great pains to make the same point – orthodox scientists need to make the leap to valuing the intuitive and subjective aspects of their work as well as the explicit and objective. He calls it “crossing the Rubicon” – he doesn’t use the language of “left & right brains” (obviously), but I think you’d find it fits very well with your own mission of correcting the reductive mechanistic errors of science generally?

If not, we’ve reached 3 strikes and you’re out 🙂

[Update added 12 Sep]

So, Round 3

Not quite given up yet.

Apparently I’m beyond contempt and there is no value discussing any of my words, so as I’ve already suggested several times, let’s discuss content which you have suggested:

From the above:

      • Let’s talk about your “there is a basic distinction between holism and reductionism” and where it fits with our systems subject and the “wrongness of reductionism and mechanistic materialism”?
      • Let’s talk about why you found the PBS cosmic computation video “exhilarating” and clarify why you nevertheless appear reject the idea of fundamental computation?
      • Let’s clarify your “difference between process philosophy [and] pragmatism” in our McGilchrist & systems context.
      • Let’s clarify in the context of this processes & systems dialogue what you intended by “There is at this time very little about the use of mathematics in the study of process philosophy.”

And from assorted community threads:

      • If you prefer let’s start with clarifying your “it’s about holism over reductionism” … where I said I agree in our systems context – in fact I responded “my systems thinking take … is absolutely is about holism over reductionism”. (Same as the first bullet above? already came up in earlier exchanges. The central point for me).
      • I liked your suggestion of “complex adaptive systems” as a good summary of my own interest. Let’s clarify where this fits in our McGilchrist context?
      • You said “I found a history of cybernetics paper published in 2020. I will send the url tomorrow.” An opportunity I missed amidst a longer para which I rejected – I was rejecting another longer piece of reading given all the other points we had already raised as discussion points and the fact you’d already ignored my responses to a full pdf book and a 4 hour interview you’d already shared. Anyway, you said you stopped studying Cybernetics in 1980 – I only started after that – so this might be interesting – You never did share the URL and I’m very much interested in the so-called first and second cybernetics?
      • You shared a “test” of your mathematics “bona-fides” and asked me to do the same. It felt like a pissing contest, but I complied with your request – apart from one word “promising” you never really followed that up. I guess I’m intrigued by the fourth bullet above, why you see mathematical prowess as so crucial to this systems dialogue?
      • At one point you said “you have refused to help me understand what you are saying”. For me this is the point of having the dialogue, to share mutual understanding, but I guess you were referring to my rejection of your very general earlier request to “define my terms”? Rather cryptically I said “eventually” (*). Happy to clarify specifics as they arise in the dialogue – I did suggest some – eg Cybernetics, Systems and Systems Thinking. Ask away, achieving shared understanding is the first phase of any dialogue in my book (of rules) 🙂 [(*) My take on definitions is quite specific to my systems thinking, so I prefer to think of definitions in terms of their usage, (a la Wittgenstein) rather than as detached objective statements – I have a long history in “definitions” which I have elaborated elsewhere.]
      • At one point you did say “I will reread that post [first link at the top] in light of our exchanges” but you never did respond to any of it, not even the first para. I’d be happy if you did.
      • I suggested a dialogue reset based on: an earlier conversation we spoke about Maslow’s Hierarchy and disagreed about “Self-Actualisation”. You wanted to take me back to the history of what he meant at the time and what people (who agreed or disagreed) said he meant during the past century. Systems thinking says – what I should be interested in is the best use of the gist of what he said – now, for the best future. [Part of what I call “deflation” – after Friston – a lot of the detail is deflated, discounted, embedded in layered structures that have evolved since.] I’m still happy to switch to that?
      • And many more … but pick any one (or more) you fancy?

Meantime – not holding my breath – back to the writing.

2 thoughts on “Strained Conversation”

  1. I just caught up on this — the last time I saw it, it ended after “Trajectory Expected.”

    Apparently you’ve run into someone who thinks your interest in the Friston-Solms / Dennett approach to consciousness represents a lapse into scientific materialism. They find this counterproductive, either to MGilchrist’s call for a more right-brain approach to the world, or to the adoption of process philosophy, or both (I’m not sure). Unfortunately this person also seems to think you must be informed of your mistake in no uncertain terms, in order to stop you in your tracks.

    I have to say that I’m sympathetic to the first thought — as you may have noticed (I’m never quite sure). But I have no sympathy for the subsequent attitude, or the abrasiveness you’ve apparently encountered. Your holistic “systems” approach is promising in its way, even if applying emergence to awareness does seem to run counter to the drift of process philosophy.

    Also I have no idea how this person proposes to avoid scientific materialism through mathematics, if that is their project.

  2. Yes, and you’ve not seen the worst of it, two more rounds of ever more personal rants / attacks which I may post here, depending on how they get moderated in that channel. The problem with the particular “unofficial” channel is that one of the two people that set it up departed pretty quickly for some reason – their own projects – and the one person left administering it hasn’t the experience of moderation. (Better news is there’s a new “official” McGilchrist channel, though even they too were pretty weak on curation and moderation at their first attempt.)

    On the holistic / systems / emergence running counter to “process” philosophy – I don’t see it as necessarily so, and I guess it’s where you and I need to pick-up again. As per my latest “writing progress” post it may be better once I have a more consolidated piece of writing to criticise, but always open to inputs, as you know 🙂

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