Understanding Innovation

Context: Mathematical Model Reveals the Patterns of How Innovations Arise

The reference above is to a fascinating article from MIT Technology Review on the topic of mathematically modelling aspects of the processes underlying the emergence of innovation. Conspicuous by its absence is a measure of the “usefulness” or significance of an innovation, suggesting rich complexity and contextual semantics for further exploration. If innovation is the combination of previously unassociated concepts, entities, patterns, etc. – some combinations are clearly more useful (and more probable) than others. Shoes + wheels = roller skates. Shoes + pickles = a bad sandwich.

The model presented indicates a “walk” in a local possibility space. Each path taken and each node arrived at then reflexively transforms the “dancing landscape” of the overall possibility space. The system is recursively self-gravitating – local paths or solutions redefine the shape of a global possibility-space which then provides the menu of possible (i.e. most probable, causal) local paths for future exploration.

An analysis of innovation as reasoning probabilistically-weighted towards a general or directed solution may suggest ways in which cognition generates novelty. The most significant conceptual innovations or developmental inflection points arise where non-local (or less probable) recombinatory paths are followed – as a matter of insight, intuition or axiomatic reformulation.

What is a significant innovation? What are the most algorithmically concise paths in any recombinatory possibility-space between significant innovations?

Logical Insight into Living Systems

We should probably not be entirely transfixed by the individuated, particulate nature of our own bodies to assume that all entities, artefacts or integrated (bio)logical systems need necessarily exist in ways which mimic our own materially (and relatively) isolated forms. An effloresence of discovery in the complexity sciences in recent years seems to quite clearly identify underlying convergence across a diversity of physical, chemical, organic and logical processes. While this convergence in many ways foregrounds the rich mathematical and physical foundations and unity of an organisational grammar that is distributed and universal within and across both organic and inorganic systems, it does not in any essential way provide answers to questions of what exactly it is that, in Stephen Hawking’s words, “breathes fire into the equations and makes a universe for them to describe?”

Some of the most intimate and directly accessible self-propagating dynamical systems of information and energy are those cognitive, cultural and technological patterns within (and through) which we exist and, curiously, from whose vantage point we come to reflexively structure our comprehension of this rich emergent participatory tapestry of experience and world. It may be unlikely that an introspective analysis of cognition, culture or technology will provide us with an unambiguous explanation for the self-inflating logical rationale implicit to the self-propagating material systems of which we, our cognition, culture and technology are causal consequences. It is, however, quite plausible that a self-conscious inspection of the conditions and parameters supporting the continuous manifestation of a diversity of self-propagating organic, cognitive, cultural and technological artefacts will reveal useful methods and models through which to translate the complex grammar of reality into intelligible components and regularities.

In analysis of any part of an integrated global system (of any kind) it should be possible to identify universal characteristics and tendencies in ways which provide further insight into the global functions and key axioms of logic which (in biological instances of emergent complexity) inflate the plausible continuous self-expression of that system, even of ourselves and our own aspirations to substantive continuity, influence and a sense of meaning or purpose in our lives. Subjecting our concepts of self and world to radical reconfiguration and a creative recombinatory metamorphosis is a certain path to cultivating insight, innovation and discovery.

The Utility of Ambiguity

Old-school browser tabs. Finding functional solutions to information or knowledge management and seeking optimised user interfaces is nothing new. This particular device and engineering solution (pictured above) was designed to allow researchers to “rapidly” switch between pre-selected texts.

Most of the innovations and creative engineering solutions we currently deploy are really only refinements and recombinatory conceptual iterations of existing heuristics and their related problem spaces. The word “Innovation” and its bundled suite of associations and assumptions finds itself in our shared information culture as a word so ubiquitous, so widely over-used and yet also and simultaneously so diversely or poorly-defined and misunderstood.

It appears that a degree of ambiguity may be an inverse function of the generalised utility of any concept.

Creativity and Innovation versus Institutional Intransigence

Radically divergent (or convergent !) approaches face uphill battles against an entrenched, if understandable and for this reason – forgivable, intellectual intransigence and institutional conservatism. It is difficult to cultivate, communicate or articulate developmental systems entities and properties for which new languages, logics and organisational or cognitive grammars do not currently exist in any consensus or shared information and communication space. It becomes a difficult problem of creative representation to *not* be interpreted as uselessly iconclastic when seeking to usefully invert and reconfigure key organisational, developmental or systems-theoretical axioms. I have been rolling a rock up this hill for years now, the “inside-out” of dramatically restructured logical assumptions is a concise definition of a whole class of possible (and probable) structural, dynamical and systemic entities which in my experience sit, rather unceremoniously, in an institutional blindspot of logical unintelligibility.

Will Technology make us Stupid ?

Context: DR MICHAEL MOSLEY: I’m worried Artificial Intelligence could make us stupid

An interpretation of technology (as considered on a very broad spectrum) as being the effective and disembodied extension of cognition suggests that the recombinatory conceptual vocabularies of cognitive method (and recursively – of technology itself) provides as much promise as problems. We no longer need to remember a large number of things so much as memorise the heuristics of locating the information via our cognitively-extended technological tools. As much as this provides discontinuity and disruption to the gainful exercise of mental faculties, it also provides new opportunities for developing novelty of (and innovation through) cognitive methods.

While I respect the good Doctor (Mosley), futures forecasting is invariably and over the longer term about as reliable as Tarot Cards, Meyers-Briggs or weather prediction. The gravitational and informational compression in one problem-space (of accelerated technological uptake and medical, social or cultural consequences) is simultaneously the decompression and unfurling in synchronous, overlaid, alternate slices of the same possibility-space. Discontinuity and disruption is also opportunity: technology will only make us stupid if we allow it to do so – and there’s the rub.

Caveat: I found this article on LinkedIn.  I will not be making a habit of posting references to articles sourced from the Daily Mail as I doubt very much whether all of our best intellectual interests are well-served by their usual fare.

Rage 2.0: Leveling Up


Yesterday I wrote a long piece on how Doom Eternal as a video game, while being visually impressive, was really just more of the same old relatively pointless run-and-slaughter gaming-franchise paradigm. Here is another one: Rage 2. My main reason for sharing these things is not so much any latent boyish fascination with things that go bang, cars that go fast or sultry and seductive female promotional voice-overs which are very likely not spoken by exotically-proportioned and scantily denim-clad sports-models with long, dark fake eyelashes and ruby lips (hrmm, ok, maybe that was just my mental image, then).

What is fascinating about all of these gaming systems and their concomitant attempts to cultivate and promote that Next Big Thing in rapid investment returns and pop-cultural immortality is that they actually reveal interesting, if indirect, facts about culture and psychology. If what is being produced, exploited and commercially celebrated in these games does not at base or in any fundamental sense change or evolve into something new this is because that elementary competitive logic and adversarial algebra of conflict does not, really, ever change.


A shocking example of poor mutant hygiene: wearing boots as gloves.  Tsk, tsk, tsk.

The various motifs, stylistic elements and details of representation and other such superficial layers are under constant metamorphosis but the essential logic and goals or rules-sets hardly ever change in anything more than to the most trivial extent. The details are amplified, intricately modelled and rendered at higher and higher degrees of resolution but the binary switches of living and dying, of the peculiar tribal celebration and participatory recreational engagement with graphically-violent symbolic carnage, this is all a something of a cultural constant. I do not think I should really have to spell it out (but will anyway) that the actual real-world violence and carnage of war and organised violence follows precisely this same digitised arc into higher resolution, accuracy and extremities of conflict while similarly, at base, remains fundamentally and (perhaps) irreducibly the same logic of mayhem and madness that it always has been.


I don’t think they do trade-ins for store credit with used PS4 games at this shopfront.

Is there any hook or closing narrative-barb, sting in the tail or hypothetical revelation to be asserted here ? Yes, there is. If shallow innovation represents the reproduction and (in whichever context or narrative theatrette that may be most appropriate or relevant) the reconfiguration, reshuffling or resequencing of elements, entities and components within a logical rules-system or notional game-theoretic framework, then deep innovation represents the recombinatory metamorphosis of at an axiomatic level. Breakthrough mega-hit popular games franchises, for instance, are those which remake the rules, not just the presentation-layers of appearances and superficialities. Similarly, foundationally “game-changing” technologies or ideological, political or geostrategic stratagems are those that do more than just repaint the walls, they rethink the structures at a preemptive, architectural level.


A clear example of what happens when people drive while texting on their mobile phones.

If conflict, or at the very least competition, is in some regards innate or inevitable in cultural systems at both representational and material/physical levels of manifestation or implementation, might it be possible that the endless self-propagation of internecine warfare and conflict within and between nations is itself a logical template or identifiable, reproducible and alterable pattern of some foundationally simple sort and that this, like all logical frameworks or axiomatic systems is also indefinitely extensible in uncountably-many ways ? We may, culturally and symbolically, be collectively imprisoned by an adherence to a narrative of conflict, difference and aggressive conquest but the fact remains that if a logical or patterned and axiomatic foundation can be identified, it can also be usefully, gainfully, creatively and (who knows, maybe peacefully) extended in fundamentally new ways.

Wars might in this way be “fought” at levels of abstraction far beyond conflict and violence. I call this “leveling up”.


Big Larry had an embarrassing drinking problem, pictured above.

The Problem With Culture Wars

Context: More Devoted to Order Than to Justice

I think that a focus on either end of the causal-ontological spectrum is actually a failure of intelligence, understandable as it may be. Causation in complex systems is not reducible to overarching structural forces of governance and policy and nor is it reducible to individuals’ biases. The subtle interplay between part and whole is a recurring ontological or hierarchical and heuristic hurdle which has never (to my mind) been addressed with sufficient intelligence or conceptual sophistication in public policy debates or authentic attempts at progressive social, cultural and political remediation or systemic improvement.

Granted, these discussions and public policy dialogues are critically important. However, I can’t get past a feeling that the dichotomy of part/whole (which is at base the conceptual assumption and axiomatic “container” of this debate) as an explanatory strategy is always already shaped, contoured or unwittingly biased to supporting the kinds of discrimination logic and taxonomy of difference, inequity and historical injustice which are under analysis. It is as though with best intentions we are seeking to restructure our strategies within a pre-existing rules-set and game which can only ever in one way or another reproduce the algorithmic inevitabilities inherent to its logical topology.

Shallow innovation is a reshuffling of the configurations and sequences of elements and entities within a system of thought. Deep innovation encapsulates shallow entity and relationship identification, configuration, recombination but also dives deep into the basic conceptual assumptions and ontological containers through which we understand, explain and progressively remake our world.

A culture war always already privileges a standing systemic-order (and all of its implicit biases) because that standing order is already the successfully self-propagating consequence of many thousands of years of selection and rarification through just such culture wars. This is precisely why sophistication, intelligence and authentic systemic innovation is necessary at an axiomatic and foundational level of analysis and activity. I acknowledge that there are proliferating complexities and enigmas intrinsic to my assertion but this is perhaps representative of the deeply complex and non-linear systems that we have to this point been primarily rendering with crayons and clockwork. The profoundly reflexive symmetries underlying individual beliefs and formalised methods of governance are likely not remediable through the same mechanistic and reductionist conceptual frameworks which birthed these complex problems.