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Archive for January, 2007

This is a repost from my MySpace blog, but it really belongs here.

Why Political Parties Exist, Why they are Bad, and How to Eliminate Them

Voting blocs are an emergent property of representative democracies wherein each new voting issue carries with it an automatic right for each representative to vote. In other words, when votes are treated like a continually renewable resource, there becomes incentive for each representative to give away votes on issues they care less about in exchange from something of greater value. When that thing of greater value is money we call it corruption. When the thing of greater value is a promise of future support from an outside agency, we call it lobbying. And when groups of representatives agree on an ongoing basis to trade away votes in exchange for membership, we call it a party. (more…)

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Networks

One useful model of how information flows between elements of a level is the mathematical abstraction of a graph, more plainly known as a network. The internet is our current exemplar, but most levels of organization are amenable to network modelling of information flow: social networks, biochemical pathways, molecular latices (aka crystals), etc. The basic components of a network are nodes (i.e. the elements/agents of the level of choice in the previous post) and links from one node to another. The links in our abstract model define which nodes can pass messages to (aka share information with) which other nodes. If we wish to have a complete understanding of information flow using network modeling, there has to be a link between every pair of nodes/agents that might interact in some way.* (more…)

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Levels of Organization

One of the paradigms in complex adaptive systems thinking that has great explanatory power is the idea that there are distinct systems organized hierarchically in various levels of complexity. So, for instance, you can look at atoms as being a system at one level of organization, on top of which sits the next level of atomically bonded compounds (aka molecules), on top of which sits the next level of molecular reactions (e.g. chains of enzyme reactions), and so on. It’s well-understood that within a given level, the individual elements (i.e. atoms at the atomic level, molecules at the molecular level, etc.) interact with one another and can be thought of as passing messages or sharing information. At the atomic level the interactions (mainly) come in the form of atomic bonds: two hydrogen atoms bind to an oxygen atom in a particular configuration in a standard and repeatable way. Incidentally — from the standpoint of the atom — we come to recognize this pattern and classify such a configuration as a water molecule. Incidentally — from the standpoint of the molecule — we recognize that water molecules can configure in several ways to form what we call ice, water, and steam/gas. It’s hard for us to think of atoms and molecules as message passing or information sharing, but at higher levels of complexity (e.g. the brain, humans with language, even enzyme chains) we instinctively recognize that information is created, destroyed, blocked, and used in many different ways. Importantly, information within a given level can be passed in chains from one element to another, and from there form feedback loops in which the end of the chain connects back to the beginning of the chain. (more…)

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Combining the notions from the last two posts — we understand only through models, and our models are mainly metaphorical — we can shed light on some of the most profound and durable philosophical and scientific debates. One such debate, that of free will versus determinism, brings with it a host of other paradoxes, including personal identity, intentionality, and the existence of a God/god/gods. Without going into the details of these conundrums, it is safe to say that our models/metaphors of such sticky concepts as “free will” are fundamentally flawed. They are shortcuts that serve useful purposes when speaking plainly about everyday occurrences, but which belie a much subtler and more complex reality when pressed upon. The idea that there even exists something real called a “will” not only begs the question of whose will it is (personal identity), but also should make us question whether it is a useful and accurate concept to describe anything in the world. I would claim that long-standing paradoxes exist because we reify a concept by creating a phrase to describe something we care about (i.e. we create a new metaphor/model) and then we either never question the existence of the thing being described or we forget that our phrase is indeed a model/metaphor which should not be confused with the thing itself.

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Lakoff and Johnson make an incredibly convincing argument that the majority of human “understanding”, including most of conscious analytical thought, is achieved by a highly innate and irrevocably ingrained mechanism of metaphor. We understand one thing by treating it as if it were another thing that we understand better. We then use the calculus (i.e. facts, laws, conventional wisdom, etc.) from the well-understood realm to gain an analogous understanding of the new realm. An example of such metaphorical thinking can be seen in the Time as Money metaphor. In this metaphor, time can be spent, borrowed, wasted; and we can run out of time, gain more time, and save time. Not only do we use the terminology of monetary accounting, but we use their processes in a very real sense. To appreciate this, simply note the imagery that comes to mind as you read the Time as Money terminology above. It is important to note that we do not just employ a single metaphor for each area of understanding. Rather, we each individually employ a whole host of different metaphors for the same realm, some of which are complementary, some contradictory and some completely orthogonal. For instance, we often employ the Time as Arrow, Time as Wheel, and Time as an Infinite Line metaphors, to name only a few. (more…)

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As much as I strive to get at the “truth” in whatever I do, I hate the word. I prefer to acknowledge that everything we know about the universe is based on the models (aka theories) which are imperfect. As we study more about a system, we refine our models, we take models from other systems and try to apply them to the new realm, sometimes with surprising illumination. I’d rather talk about the predictive power of models than talk about truth. (more…)

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If you truly believe in God or if you are a staunch Atheist, you will not get anything out of reading further than this sentence. (more…)

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