It’s a book I borrowed from Dennis Finlayson, so I scanned the summary pages before returning:
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 His ideas could not be published until the end of the war in Europe in the 1940s.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?