Monday, December 29, 2003

weird proto-consilience

In a strange convergence, both Steven Den Beste and Anticipatory Retaliation write profound posts that cover, in some measure, self-organizing systems. Both are worth a read. Check out BravoRomeoDelta's "Mate, Spawn, and Die" post here, and Den Beste's post on intelligence here.

The Maximum Leader, himself a Hobbesian, will be happy to read BRD's concluding paragraph:

It has been roughly 3 billion years or so since living creatures appeared in these precincts. 3 billion years is an awfully long time -- almost too large to contemplate. It is a number of years just about equivalent to the number of seconds in a century. And for every day that critters have been populating this globe, they have been engaged in a literally life-or-death Hobbsean struggle, searching for some minor edge or bit of leverage that would simply allow an instruction set to stay in the game for another round. Anything that has evolved from this long, difficult, and quite often violent process, is a stupendous badass, indeed.

Earlier on in this, the second chapter of the Mother of All Screeds, the Missile Man writes something I find fascinating-- a clever way to distinguish living systems from other systems:

The specific sense in which I'm interested in evolution deals with the notion that a defining characteristic of a living creature is that it is a spontaneously and continuously self-ordering system. Rather than simply breaking down and decaying in the traditional matter of all material things, or even ticking along as a complex, chaotic system, living creatures are, for at least a while, both self-healing and self-sustaining, and try to the best of their limited abilities to fend off the inexorable onslaught of entropy. To be absolutely fair, there are some sorts of non-living systems which are, in a limited sense, locally self-ordering, such as crystal growth. However, such systems do not heal, and as such are not continuously self-ordering and just plain don't make for good discussion in talks about breaking things and killing stuff.

Switch over to Den Beste, and you'll find this:

No one has any idea how neurons determine which inputs are important and which are not, and in turn which important inputs are very important and which are only somewhat important. But though we don't have any idea how they do it, we know that neurons do it. And it's a good thing, too, because intelligence would be impossible without it. The study of self-organizing systems is only beginning, but it will yield very exciting results when the time comes.

It turns out that a lot of kinds of systems are self-organizing. To some extent, markets are self-organizing, for instance. And self-organizing systems quite often have emergent properties, such as Adam Smith's "invisible hand".

And the Hominid once again benefits from his evening tour of the blogosphere.


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