Sunday, May 8, 2011

Steven Johnson - Emergence

Excerpts from Emergence: The Connected Lives of Ants, Brains, Cities, and Software by Steven Johnson.

Quote by Gerald Edelman:

"Can a selectional system be simulated? The answer must be split into two parts. If I take a particular animal that is the result of evolutionary and developmental selection, so that I already know its structure and the principles governing its selective processes, I can simulate the animal's structure in a computer. But a system undergoing selection has two parts: the animal or organ, and the environment or world. No instructions come from events of the world. No instructions come from events of the world to the system on which selection occurs. Moreover, events occuring in an environment or a world are unpredictable. How then do we simulate events and their effects on selection? One way is as follows:

1. Simulate the organ or the animal as described above, making provision for the fact that, as a selective system, it contains a generator of diversity - mutations, alterations in neural wiring, or synaptic changes that are unpredictable.
2. Independently simulate a world or environment constrained by known physical principles, but allow for the occurrence of unpredictable events.
3. Let the simulated organ or animal interact with the simulated world or the real world without prior information transfer, so that selection can take place.
4. See what happens."


How different is this, really, from the real world as we know it? First, start with the Tao, fullness, undifferentiated pure matter-consciousness and absolutely nothing else. This is beyond concepts, thoughts, time, space, the forces of nature, and organic life forms. Spontaneously, on the quantum level, it begins to vibrate, creating diversity and variation, evolving and changing unpredictably. In Hindu mythological terms, Shiva begins her dance, the drum of creation beats unrelentingly. As this process begins, soon certain characteristics emerge from the chaos, cosmological terms that are found to be the same everywhere we can look: the fundamental forces of gravity, the strong and weak nuclear forces, electromagnetism, the speed of light, et cetera. So we now have a set of constraints on the environment that emerged unpredictably from the chaos, and which continue to produce unpredictable events. We have learned that these characteristics are the way they are because all other possibilities fizzled out long ago, the universes that they created had a negligible lifetime, leaving only one universe that continued to evolve into one where living entities emerge. Given the set of constraints on the physical environment and the inherent unpredictability, the environment begins to interact with itself as life, it continues with the process of variation and diversity through genetic mutation and reproduction. Natural selection takes place by the continual process of the environment consuming itself as its multiplicity of temporary forms, in a constant feedback relationship to the ever-changing, unpredictable nature of the environment. Eventually, after eons of iterations, we are where we are now and when we are now, conscious human beings, free to stare at the stars and wonder about our origins, ask questions and pursue knowledge, learn, dance, and create. In other words, for better or worse, this is the Tao, this is Shiva in her dance of creation. Now, more than ever, we can "see what happens." The beautiful difference between us and the simulation is that not only can we see what happens, we can BE what happens.

This is summarized in the following quote from Jane Jacobs:

"Under the seeming disorder of the old city, wherever the old city is working successfully, is a marvelous order for maintaining the safety of the streets and the freedom of the city. It is a complex order. Its essence is intimacy of sidewalk use, bringing with it a constant succession of eyes. This order is all composed of movement and change, and although it is life, not art, we may fancifully call it the art form of the city and liken it to the dance - not to a simple-minded precision dance with everyone kicking up at the same time, twirling in unison and bowing off en masse, but to an intricate ballet in which the individual dancers and ensembles all have distinctive parts which miraculously reinforce each other and compose an orderly whole."

Remember always, strange as it may seem, it is our nature to be this way. The way is strange, the way is ever-changing, the way is infinitely complex. We all have a part to play in the way, and it is up to us how we play it.

"You are what your deep, driving desire is. As your desire is, so is your will. As your will is, so is your deed. As your deed is, so is your destiny." - Brihadaranyaka Upanishad

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