Information, Theory and Complexity in Technological and Organisational Systems

The greatest act of misdirection that any single one of us ever experiences or buys in to is that of the single, particulate and isolated self; the commercial and cultural self-propagation of complex and integrated, interdependent entities, processes, systems, technologies and worldviews are radically dependent upon this existential half-truth and its associated usefully-entropic insecurities or existential vacuums. The effective impossibility of ever reducing, distilling or disentangling our various and multi-threaded vectors of mental, material and cognitively-extended technological self-production is also (and simultaneously) that valuable commodity and incomplete functional entity through which cultural self-propagation manifests; from which limitations and weaknesses in theoretical or technological practice might be identified; and, through which opportunities and . A continuous, propagating wave-form through complex-vectored information-spaces, measurements, observations and their associated, retrospective theoretical definition in formal or institutional communications is akin to classically cybernetic model of organism or system: form is continuous, content is variable. When reducing systemic or technological extensions of cognition to their primary components, it becomes critical to acknowledge that foundational flows of information, energy and entropy are the most effective system-primitives upon which to construct knowledge and organisational structure.

It seems exquisitely peripheral at first take to consider that the roles of culturally-acquired subjectivity or psychological individuation are in any way deeply representative of the ways in which cognitive-extension-as-technology process information and energy or generates (both) useful and irredeemable entropy within organisational systems but this is precisely what happens. The simultaneous recombinatory symbolic convergence and decompression of concepts, artefacts, methods, processes and persons is a rich and complex possibility-space. That the elementary ontological container and reflexively self-encapsulating definition of any system – of self, of thought, of ideology or of theory – is derivative of essential human existential relationships and dependencies is an arguable fact; all political systems (for instance) are really just extensions, caricatures, aspirations or variations-on-a-theme of fairly poorly-defined categories, classes or sets of Self and Other, of Particular and Generalised.

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Explaining complex topics can itself be quite complicated, which reduces their plausible audience to some extent.  Concise explanations are preferable.

There exists a mysterious (and mischievous) arc of induction from philosophical or systems-theoretical analysis of psychological states and on into the aggregated, convergent technological factors with which we are all quite liberally seeking self-application in, through and as technology or organisationally-useful methods and practices. The field and configuration or possibility space of all active threads of information-processing (in brains or multiprocessors or as emergently self-propagating social and economic systems) endlessly provides taxonomies of choice and self-definition which under any specific bifurcation or selection mechanism, then go on to further generate fields of possibility and choice in a constitutively and holistically recursive manner. That there exists a certain probabilistic causality to such a process is clear, what may not be immediately apparent is that the articulation, development, and procedurally-iterative process of theory development, falsification and supercession is also subject to the contingencies and vicissitudes of probability, culture, behavioural or tribal conventionalism and normative psychological expectations.

In seeking a most concise or explicit description, representation or explanation of a specific state of affairs we might ascribe to Algorithmic Information Theory and issues of Kolmogorov Complexity. This latter wrapper for complex representations of bit strings represents an extreme edge-case for concise theory-or-description-formulation; the kernel of the idea being that the most rudimentary and concise description of a sequence of binary digits (“bits”) is the shortest program by which that sequence might be reproduced. The extraction of patterns or regularities within sequences allows for the distilling and compression of those sequences to relatively simple bit-strings which can be generated by various mathematical methods. This is very closely-related to the ways in which images, audio and video are compressed for accelerated network transmission and in fundamental ways depends on probability and the concept of “information” as initially elaborated by Claude Shannon.

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Reducing a system to the simplest possible representation may also make it unintelligible.  Interpretations of theory are also often problematic.

The intended theme here is not intended to evolve a discussion of mathematical or philosophical foundations in computer science or theories of computer networking so much as it is to cast a light upon a particular problem of information, logic and that teleological assumptions which bias our theories, our selves and our philosophies. To think in terms of linear, procedural and algorithm-like projects and processes sounds great at workshops and in budgetary committees but has little ultimate reality beyond very contingent, very human biases towards institutional, organisational and (individual) organism self-propagation. A compelling argument can be made for the analysis of organisational systems and the extended-cognition of technological artefacts and processes as being precisely the inversely distributed representation of this aspirational concision and compressed-form of representation, structure and system.

The problem is – there is no way of proving that you have obtained the most concise, accurate or irreducibly essential pattern or theory from which any sufficiently (i.e. non-trivially) complex sequence of bits might be reproduced; there might always be a shorter or otherwise more accurate representation of the symbol sequence that you are analysing. This was demonstrated by Gregory Chaitin to possess correlations to Kurt Godel’s Incompleteness Theorem(s) but without feeling it necessary to abseil down that particular rabbit hole it is perhaps enough to consider that if for the most idealised and abstracted representations of information it is demonstrably impossible to identify foundational and irreducible end-points, what of the much more complex data-sets or symbol-matrices of which human minds, social organisations, institutional practices or historical, normatively “scientific” and technological processes are composed ?

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Representational systems are irrevocably influenced by (and reflexively generative of) our psychological, biological and sociological contexts.

It may (or may not) be clear by now that the initial act of misdirection referenced in the opening sentence of this informal essay is not intended to purely indicate psychological or subjective self-hood and the possibility of personal individuation, although these are certainly facets of the abstraction to which I am gesturing. The key, critical assumption of isolated (even of isolatable) nodes or focal points within complex cognitive, social or organisational systems and technological artefacts has a place and a rationale within logic and theory but as an extension of various biologically-acquired and culturally-amplified phenomenological intuitions, the model and mapping of individual selves and (their corollary, perhaps commutative) terminal-endpoints within complex systems generates intractable difficulties.

The concept of whole systems or holistic models seems never to have quite been able to escape the gravitational-well of psychological and ideological pseudo-certainties and historically-sited social contexts of institutional and hierarchical discourse from, or perhaps in orbit around, which it emerged. The incessant attribution of teleologies, final and complete organisational systems and the celebration of the technical, managerial, technological and bureaucratic means of obtaining these end-states has somewhat missed the point. If we are to investigate or seek to cultivate new and novel scientific, organisational or technological concepts and systems, my assertion is that we have to seriously consider the rank irreducibility of systems and theories to final or concise end-points, not as a burden or troublesome and trivial limitation but as an opportunity for recasting fundamental concepts and processes of rational thought in ways which creatively and constructively converge with existing paradigms and institutional, organisational and technological formal or normatively-continuous practice.

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Reducing non-linear systems to linear mappings is bound to exclude or lose important information in the translation.  Displacing entropy is a perennial organisational issue.

All of this might be little more that hyperbole and abstract rumination were it not for the very real, very current and imminent individual, organisational and technological metamorphosis within which we are all inextricably encapsulated. I have witnessed both large and small-scale organisational practices which are almost completely failing to keep tenable pace with accelerating rates of social and technological change. Various media spectacles of institutional ineptitude and incompetency across Federal Government in regards to navigating and negotiating solutions to the unfurling consequences of the information and communications technology revolution are among salient recent examples. Most organisations are still attempting to hammer the square peg of linear, mechanistic practice into the round hole of digital transformation. While a non-trivial proportion of this confusion and turbulence derives from the not-entirely-avoidable anachronistic and variously inertial or parochial conventions somewhat endemic of cooperative human endeavours at scale, there still exist concrete opportunities for improvement and useful recombinatory axiomatic metamorphosis.

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There are always new, novel and unexplored ways to represent information, to construct theory and to practice or conceptualise cognitive and organisational method.

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