Culture and Mind: Surface, Depth, Continuum

Cultural systems are information processing systems which, like emergent complexity in naturally-occurring energy-processing systems, tend towards autonomously seeking the most efficient methods of encoding information and replicating themselves. Human beings are in this sense very similar to cultural systems and it is indeed through their inner psychological and external behavioural practices and methods that cultural systems manifest and seek the open-ended metamorphosis of systemic change.

A general irrationality, unpredictability and discontinuity of thought that we should all instantly recognise as the essential inner turbulence and cognitive asymmetry of human experience is itself that interior surface of an unbroken flow of information and energy. Interior experience and external information exist on a continuum with very similar topological properties to a Möbius strip. At any notional cross-section or nodal point in the psycho-cultural network/graph there appears to be duality and separation between interior and exterior which entirely vanishes when viewed from a higher-degree of perspective or conceptual abstraction. The twist in the loop is distributed across the entire surface of encoded information and this is the key to both disentangling dualism and to understanding holism.

The existence and experience of a semi-isolated nodal self in this kind of broader gestalt or field is enigmatic. An individuated self appears to be a precondition for the intelligibility and aspirational (yet endlessly circular and unanchored) meaning of the narrative communication by which the cultural system itself manifests as integrated, interdependent network of information, communication and material artefacts. Simultaneously, the cultural system is only ever plausibly real or manifest as and through the vast numbers of adaptive and collectively volatile nodes (persons in which it is stored; in part – relatively static encoding in (and as) artefacts, and otherwise – dynamically recorded or represented in (and as) distributed patterns of communication and adaptively self-propagation through the participatory individuation and usefully random discontinuity (i.e. entropy) and emergent complexity of human minds.

Culture is the logical inversion of the human mind, as is technology

Bread Crumbs

It was the Roman poet Juvenal who who coined the phrasepanem et circenses” (bread and circuses/games) to represent the superficial appeasement of a population by procurement of foundational corporeal needs and entertainment. Providing food, shelter, basic security and a periodic cultural effervescence of various forms of spectacle and novelty seems for the most part to tick the boxes of a “happy and healthy” social system. The “happy” part of this equation is generally happy in regards to not dwelling on some of the bitter and intractable, material facts of life that the “healthy” axiom represents a partial and necessarily incomplete solution to.

If I was so inclined as to serially misdirect a population into docile entrainment and passively vivacious moments of cyclical festivity and symbolic conflict (so as to depressurise the aggregation of systemic entropy which might threaten political stability), a procurement of basic welfare and narratives of self-identity would prove of great utility. The problem here is, of course, that the emergence of a method of notional “bread and circuses”, of superficial narrative or filtering of a predominant cultural lexicon and conceptual vocabulary and its associated features of distributed cognitive control, is an autonomous feature of social systems which occurs anyway and without centralised guidance.

Attempting to shape the form and flow of complex systems to meet ideological or otherwise selfish needs is a little like attempting to modify or restrain the natural course of a river: a river will autonomously (and as a consequence of the material logic of complex systems) seek a path that is the most efficient and economical in regards to the use of energy. The emergence of, and potential for, political biases and their associated narratives and methods of cultural continuity are themselves in many ways autonomous and only superficially under any individual or group’s control.

Attempts to work against the natural tendency of information and energy-processing systems to resolve themselves to the most efficient form and flow is a method of generating entropy and turbulence. People and political parties often (unwittingly) generate such turbulence as a technique of self-validation; notice how bureaucracies and entrenched organisational hierarchies (on all scales of magnitude) have an uncanny tendency to produce precisely the kinds of disorder that self-validate their own continuing existence. In this way – political, ideological and social systems which have long ago outlived their use-by date succeed in providing precisely the forms of entropy, confusion and disorder that can be used to validate their continued existence. I leave derivation of specific examples for your own intelligence and intuition to decrypt from the various and diverse geopolitical facts of the world as they current exist.

The central concern of politics (and politicians) should be on seeking methods to allow social and cultural systems to quite literally find their own, best, autonomously emergent and self-propagating solutions. Unfortunately, as we have all been entrained to expect the spectacle of belligerent personalities and partisan interests engaged in intransigently wasteful bickering and argument, we tend to believe that this is “the way it has always been” and that this messy human world of ours is necessarily so. Only by opening up information, borders, minds, economies and political systems to change and the emergent optimal information and energy-processing solutions endemic to natural complex systems will we ever be able to successfully, sustainably and continuously ensure the individual, collective and collaborative navigation of that entropy with which our own minds have, in seeking to define themselves, shrouded the world in darkness and death.

We endlessly redefine ourselves through the catastrophes that we ourselves create and to such an extent that we fail to acknowledge that this distressed, insecure and anxious state of being and existence in the world is by no means necessary or inevitable. The same kinds of problems and patterns reoccur across this beautiful, troubled world of ours but we seem to learn little from the commonalities and regularities shared between them all. When systems of governance and control continuously and self-evidently seek little more than the continuity of their own patterned mechanisms through the creation of a dissonance and entropy that they are already well-suited (by ideological and psychological orientation) to manage, it becomes clear that these systems no longer serve the best interests of the people, the nations or the aggregate humanity they might profess to benefit. It is really not all that difficult to understand.

Ultimately – there is no best way, there are only ever better ways and a constant open-ended seeking of the iterative, procedural refinement of mature intelligence and compassionate wisdom. Less ego, more cogito.

Cumulative Cultural Evolution

Context: Cumulative Cultural Evolution II

Cultures are self-propagating solitons that adapt to and reshape the internal systemic and external environmental conditions that select for their own most probable continuity. Information transfer is “sticky” and contagious, just as is entropy and (it’s qualitative corollary of) ignorance, so it becomes a delicate matter of filtering-out and allowing-in (both external and internal) novelty or surprise as new information.

Academic events are subject to this, in microcosm: a focus on cultivating the conditions which encourage novelty (as information) within a context of maximal conceptual, logical and social self-propagation while minimising entropy; all subject to grammars and conventions of self-validation and organisational coherence.

Observe: recombinatory inflection, distributed computation and recursive self-gravitation. What in one view is the autonomously emergent exploration of optimal paths of concise algorithmic complexity (as methods of cultural, conceptual self-propagation) is, simultaneously, the aggregation and (abstract) self-gravitation of material artefacts, organisational pattern (or symmetry) and cognitive practices in a hyper-inflating, accelerating logical or referential possibility-space.

There are no “Creative Types”

It is in the categorisation and projection of a taxonomy of types, of the identification and overlay of social or economic roles and hierarchically-ordered personality or cognitive kind, that we assert creativity as being a rare orchid not attainable by all, some strange nebula or artefact of uncommon insight and inductive intuition that is always “other”, “over there”, a property or possession of creative “types”. We are all creative, it is how intelligence, sentience and self-organising emergent complexity functions, at base.

Much might me made of the manifold ways that through our institutions, our organisations, our vocationally-oriented educational paradigms, the ways that in narrowing focus towards a precise mission or discrete constraint, we inhibit the endemic creative aptitude of material, biological, cognitive and cultural systems that flows through us, as us.

We are all creative already; it is the meat grinder of conventional wisdom and a blindly-repetitive, continuity-seeking uniformity which drains this innate, living, exploratory talent from us.

We are all, each and every one of us, “creative types”.

Consciousness: Beyond Opposites

Context: What If Consciousness Comes First?

Interesting article, but not any kind of ultimate solution to the associated enigmas. While it is true that consciousness has played second-fiddle to the lumbering mechanistic leviathans of reductionism and behaviourism for some time, this is not a fault with reductionist thought, per se, so much as a result of the limited conceptual vocabulary within which the associated theories were formulated.

That said, I am not an adherent of reductive functionalism which isolates our experience as a by-product of clockwork logic within the brain (or brains, as we have many identifiable functional components/sub-brains there between our ears). As it turns out, the axiomatic, algorithmic foundations of such a paradigm are as implicitly and endemically incomplete as are all other non-trivially sophisticated logical systems.

There is not time or space here to parse the author’s argument but I think they are wrong, but for the correct reason. The argument asserts a divide between two polar perspectives which are under analysis reducible to the same essence.

Discussion of these kinds of topics is invaluable (here as much as anywhere) because, not only does it provide substantive cognitive nutrition, but – many of the key epistemological and ontological questions of philosophy, biology, psychology and physics contain the key to reconceptualising organisations, individuals and social systems. We should all be looking to expand our conceptual vocabularies and from this derive a fertile cartography of thought, seek new configurations, solutions and paths through the forest of facts as we currently understand them to exist; to mix and monster metaphors, somewhat.

There are always new ways to understand, to explain and to design organisational (or for that matter – technological) systems. This is a consequence of physics as much as of logic or mathematics; it is in deluding ourselves that we have arrived at any kind of final endpoint or closure that we unwittingly generate endlessly turbulent and unproductive ideologies, frameworks, dogmas and contexts.

Consciousness will only ever be partially explained and even then, never in terms of a legacy dualism rendered as polar opposites of mind and matter.

Utopian Entropy

Reflections on Entropy: there exist more disordered than ordered configurations of components, entities and systems; subsequently, it is more *probable* (even) under procedural, axiomatic or algorithmic systems of governance or ideology that culture, cognition and technology end up in a disordered, dystopian state – but things do not, generally speaking, devolve in this way. There are (or must be) aspirationally utopian options which successfully negotiate and exploit this material informational and energetic bias towards disorder; however, negotiating entropy and it’s unknown information (towards a goal of cultivating self-organisational and exploratory emergence, optimal qualitative and quantitative experience) invokes a requirement for open systems, flattened hierarchies, decentralised control and creative intuition. Does an individual or collective psychological or cultural profile as currently (Globally) exists fundamentally inhibit or energise this as an admissible organisational systems state?

The entropy which incurs dystopian control or disorder is also the entropy which invokes emergent complexity. It is all about probabilities; nudging constitutively open systems towards effective and emergent self-organisation and away from the compound, convergent neuroses of authoritarian control or (a similarly unfortunate) chaotic dystopia. Navigating the extremes towards a plausibly better world is a matter of mature and intuitive, creative engagement with entropy management.

Self-organisation is emergent under sufficient circumstances and in well-tuned resonances. Utopian systems surely also exist in that region of possibility space.

Disassembling Sentience: Distributed Multidimensional Computation

Context: How can you tell if another person, animal or thing is conscious?

An unpopular philosophical intuition in this context might be that the essential self-propagating information and energy-processing patterns of (a) logical, material and organic necessity are only identifiably “sentient” or “conscious” because from within the epistemological coordinate system that they are measured from they are inevitably and circularly intelligible and self-validating. To put it another way – there are underlying symmetries of autonomously self-propagating recursive logic that we associate to, and identify as, individuation and (perhaps) subjectivity or interior experience; these patterns are not necessarily bound or parameterised by organic computation.

There exist distributed information computing systems such as communications networks or the systems, artefacts and disembodied entities of cultural representation within (and as) which we exist. It is probable that a distributed cultural (say political, ideological, narrative) information system displays many of the essential features of sentience – statistical or probabistically optimal computation, memory, adaptive selection and emergence – *without* necessary experience or awareness.

The imputation is that sentience is merely a specific instance of a ubiquitous bias towards optimally concise and autonomously self-propagating information and energy-processing systems in nature. A possible consequence of this – the “philosophically unpopular” part – is that there is nothing particularly special about consciousness, that complexity and biological selection for experience or cultural selection for identifiable subjectivity are only a narrow-band instance of a much broader-spectrum system and logical principle.

This invokes (or incurs, if poorly-received) that psychological systems are perhaps best understood as adaptive nodes in a vast information and energy-processing environment that could have many dimensional cross-sections, partitions or relational subsets. This also suggests that methods of narrative or material persuasion-for-effect are as diversely identifiable and applicable as are the information-processing or distributed computational entities they seek to influence.