Complexity, Chaos, Creativity and Open Systems

The natural world around us is creative, complex, chaotic, dynamic and fundamentally self-organising. Any response to the world which hopes to successfully manage human beings and our many little worlds into anything resembling a sane organisational structure requires us to whole-heartedly embrace this complexity and chaos. Repetition and rote-learned, blindly regurgitative behaviours lead largely to stagnancy and demise. Systems which are notionally closed, regardless of the logical and ontological impossibility of such systemic “closure”, tend to rot internally from the inevitable self-destruction borne of decay and proliferating entropy. Systems which are intrinsically open and dynamic can creatively harness the physical properties of entropy and much like life itself, successfully surf the wave-front chaotically defined through the inevitability of change and time. An open system thrives on the change, complexity and creativity that chaos and entropy can bring. A closed system, eventually, dies.

Everything in space and time is subject to the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics: Entropy in a closed system tends to increase. Dust accumulates, wrinkles develop, engines rust, mountains erode, galaxies slowly fade; all systems are subject to this dissolution. A truly closed system does not exist in nature in this a creative secret dwells. Entropy is inevitable but death and decay is not.

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Decay can also be regenerative.

A relevant quote from a book I recently read:

The overripe hierarchies of the world, from corporations to nation states, are in trouble and are calling, however reluctantly, on their people for more creativity, commitment, and innovation. But this all comes at the same time that the closed, hierarchical, competitively organized and linearly planned structure of organizations are hell-bent on preventing those creative qualities from ever self-organizing within corporate walls.”

Source: “Seven Life Lessons of Chaos”, John Briggs and F. David Peat, HarperPerennial, 1999, p. 70

Ray Kurzweil: Electric Dreams

The documentary “Transcendent Man” is an interesting reflection on Ray Kurzweil and his intriguing instantiation of a technological evangelism which envisions a Rapture-like technological singularity in which humanity will attain pseudo-omniscience and near-immortal longevity. The documentary itself is well balanced and also portrays a number of intellectual antagonists to Kurzweil’s utopian prophesies of a Genetic, Nano-technological and Artificial Intelligence driven human future. Kurzweil has admittedly been correct about many things in the past and has a track record of innovation and technological creativity which have made him a very wealthy man.

It was perhaps the intention of the documentary film maker but the lasting impression of this particular documentary was that Kurzweil’s predictions smack of his own desire to outwit death and perhaps also a deep emotional desire to in some manner “bring back” his deceased father. While Kurzweil has achieved great things and of these some have assisted people overcome their physical limitations and I can intellectually accept many of his assertions, I feel that his desire to master death drives him to prophesy technological outcomes which, realistic or not, are thoroughly narcissistic. Personally – I don’t particularly ever want to die but the cold and steely electric void of cybernetic self-perpetuation composed by Kurzweil opens up far more potentially intractable philosophical problems than concrete solutions to mortality and self-limitation.

Memory: Juxtaposition and Relativity

I can remember a print hung on a wall in my father’s house when I was a child. I puzzled and fretted and stared and wondered about this image and it’s impossible, unsettling reality. The print was of M.C. Escher’s 1953 lithograph “Relativity” and I was probably only 9 or 10 years old at the time. I can vaguely remember being obsessed with tracking the paths of the manikins and of the stairways, of never being quite able to see the whole image because one plane of sensible reality would incessantly slide into another, where one logic was constantly subverted by another in an unending sequence of mental doubt and the perpetual hunt for a certainty and a solid ground from which to perceive the whole reality. This kind of perceptual trickery was of course Escher’s goal. I do not know whether Escher was making artistic comments about reality, mathematics, physics or psychology but I do remember in a quite foggy way that I was always a little perturbed by this image and also simultaneously fascinated by its impossibilities.

Memory functions in similar ways as did my playful struggle to visually understand Escher’s image as a whole so many years ago. Kierkegaard’s reflection that Life “…can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards” captures a part of this, in as much as memory is the trail we leave behind us which through retrospection has some capacity to explain both who and what and how we have come to be where we are at the current (ever-moving) moment. I can quite easily state that the places I have been, the people I have known or even the thoughts I have conceived are all exactly as I remember them, grounded solidly in the unerring reality of space, time and shared human experience; however – memory, under closer inspection, at first appears like a solid and impressive architecture of certainty and organised structure but upon deeper reflection quickly reveals itself to be an incessantly unravelling and tangled ball of experiential threads, impressions or retrospective projections.

My attempts to decipher the perspectival matrix of Escher’s Relativity as a child were very likely constrained by the level of cognitive complexity I had achieved by that age, my nascent abilities to perceive wholes and totalities was likely constrained as much by developmental neurobiology as by Escher’s graphic chicanery. Looking back at any point in my past, my first experiences with this lithograph as a point in case here, it is perhaps inevitable that I overlay memory with my current subjective states, my impressions of who I believe I am now, as much as whatever subjective and intellectual states I possessed at that time.

I am aware of an event, or a series of events, but I find that the further back in time from the current moment I mentally travel, the more indistinct and fuzzy my memories become, the more requisite this memory is of personal fictional narrative overlays and addendums to even begin to conceive and understand. In relation to memory of distant events I find myself in a place where I have difficulty perceiving or conceiving the whole mental image, where one plane of sensible reality quite easily slides into another and my imagination combined with faded memory of events quite easily distorts them, potentially deviating significantly from what may have actually happened or have been experienced at the time.

People deal with their inability to remember their pasts with perfect fidelity in many ways: with photographs; audio and video recordings; diaries, memoirs and autobiographies; through shared stories and myths of events and people or places; in an ongoing mental narrative of self and self-justification. Some people hand over their own re-creative self-definitions to pre-existing narratives and through this find that a shared reality and cultural memory (even of events not connected directly to their own corporeal or experiential world) shores up their psychology, bolsters their self against dissolution and the incessant fabrications that time and temporal distance demand. Some people voluntarily enslave themselves in narratives and fundamentalisms, conservatisms of solid and unchanging (yet contingent) truths despite the fact that the world is just not like this and is not really intelligible this way. The past does not reshape itself to a projective certainty grasping for continuity and resolution any more than it does to an imaginative fiction of constantly re-woven narratives of self and world.

The past and the present are, just like the entities which populate them, improbably coupled but related realities.

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Information Tsunami: Too Much Information

This is no great revelation: we are positively drowning in information. Awash in billions of words and sounds, squawks and squeaks, bits and bytes of marketing, ideas, symbols and ideology: we can all hear the information pandemonium in which we are embedded but we are switched (or switching) off to it. We can all hear the noise but are we really, truly listening ? Every now and then something of value or interest catches our attention; perhaps – like an intriguing melody we might notice briefly drifting upon a warm city breeze above the acoustic chaos of a traffic jam, or a particularly vivid image which seen even once still strikes us14479685_10208211182891435_3731473097796894085_n.jpg and resonates deeply. Everything else washes away along with… everything else. Even the few brief moments of genuine interest soon dissolve rapidly into the constant and powerful tides of media, imagery and communication. We might feel justifiably overwhelmed by this information onslaught.

Living in a large city often causes individuals to adapt to the noise and chaos by learning to filter out the almost constant noise and sensory overload around them – it is a coping mechanism. The danger of this is of course that once someone becomes desensitised to their environment, they may not notice something of importance or something (even someone) in need of attention. Conversely, the effort required to block out all of this useless noise and junk information means that the only messages which might actually get through the acquired psychological filters might be the outrageous or otherwise controversial and shocking semiotics of pure political spectacle or entertainment, tragedy and violence.  15219631_10208682415711961_267303332978791078_nSomeone might pay too much attention to a message due to its veracity or intensity, regardless of any intrinsic value or actual worth to what is being propagated.  I think we can see this happening already – the arrival and non-trivial influence of fake media stories and the potential for any half-wit with network access to manufacture a false truth is symptomatic of the sheer volume of information making its way into the consensus reality and digital culture.

Another emergent feature of all this semiotic cacophony is that the spectacularly brief half-life of social media posts, news articles and advertising campaigns appears to be due to their construction of (and dependence upon) two parts information over-saturation, one part entrained short attention (or memory) span, and at least one part techno-cultural acceleration.  Perhaps all of this information overload is symptomatic of the beginning of the technological singularity ?  I find myself wondering what emergent properties are likely to arise from all this information cacophony.  It is certainly true that without some well-cultivated Artificial General Intelligence deployed to assist us filter out all the garbage, we are at genuine risk of drowning under the weight of all the superficiality, triviality, misinformation and lies.

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The Internet of Things ?  Surf’s up.

Rationalising the Temporal

Context (blog): Rationalising the Universe
Does the Present Really Exist ?
Saving the Present

The Existential Pivot

A philosophical problem is: for all of the beauty and explanatory power of the block-time model and the plane-of-simultaneity-pivot of General Relativity, what is it that existentially, experientially privileges the current moment ?  The existential experience of “Now” may be relative, as an experience it may be spectacularly insignificant on a cosmological spatial or temporal scale, but it does appear to be moving forward in a unified sense that we can all agree on any specific consensus experience as in some sense “moving” from past into future.  I am impressed by physics and relativity (both Special and General) but I feel that for it’s profound predictive and theoretical implications, it still fails to account for the lived, conscious experience of the moving now.

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Block spacetime appears to invalidate the privileged observer and yet the human experience does appear to be as of an indefinitely (procedurally) collapsing wave function, of a rolling phase transition, or of some other distinctive “difference” represented by the current, experienced moment or Now.  A problem with the all-at-once existence of time in the spacetime model is that there is no privileged place, no specification of a rolling node or nexus of now.

If “Now” is only a local concept which is defined by human-scale living beings which are dependent on very specific energy and information flows, causality and thermodynamics for their material existence and thought processes, what is it that privileges the current (moving) moment and experience of Now ?

I began writing this around 09:21 on the 17 December 2017, the Battle of Hastings was fought on 14 October 1066, the formation of planet Earth occurred some 4.6 billion years ago, and these are all events occurring on a spacetime continuum of sequential and logical causality.  Any individual event in the continuum happens at its own Now which is not in any sense privileged other than its appearance in a specific place in the past or future of other Nows in the temporal “stack”.  My great-grandfather was born, lived and died and during his life experienced the Now, the rolling moment of existential awareness that precisely is time on a human scale.  I am similarly experiencing this Now but the moment is a different one to the one my great-grandfather experienced.  I am curious as to why any specific moment appears to possess an identity, a more or less “concrete” reality – what is it that defines or distinguishes the current, lived moment from all the other moments and Nows in the stack ?

If there is no privileged temporal location in a four-dimensional spacetime continuum, why can we all agree that there is a (or some) process going on here and that we are moving forward in (what is at least, cosmologically-speaking, locally) a logically sensible progression through time ?

Is the experience of time merely a biological curiosity or psychological artefact, a happy accident of life as an aggregate of structural coincidences at a particular nexus and scale of physics and chemistry ?  Event then – the mystery of the apparent current moment, inexorably rolling forwards as it at least appears to; this remains a deep enigma.

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