The natural history of knowledge

Natural History

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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Inquiry Driven Systems : Are There Apps For That?

In which Jon Awbrey raises the subject of the “Relationship between emergent-evolved systems and engineered systems.”

That points toward what I like to call the “natural history” of cognition, inquiry, logic, mathematics, language, etc. We might learn things from the natural, sequential development of such faculties and systems that could be either prescriptive or proscriptive for modern engineering practice.

I like looking for the earliest and simplest instances of things. Unfortunately the early natural history of most things is largely unknown. Take the evolution of the triangle or the number three in human cognition, for example. But even in the absence of historical data we might gain something from thought experiments or inferences about what the evolutionary sequence might have been in the light of things we do know about the human bio-computer.

Incidentally, thinking about threes and triangles, the basic transistor (perhaps a fairly close man-made analogue of a primitive neuron or a even a bit of DNA) that we now “print” with exotic nano-particle ink is a thing with a tripartite configuration. I guess such three-part structure actually applies to most switches, many instances of which greatly predate biology.

Animation of the structure of a section of DNA...

Structure of a section of DNA. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

And commenting on a related post on Jon’s blog, Inquiry into Inquiry, Definition and Determination : 10 :

“Suffice it to say that a sign endeavors to represent, in part at least, an Object, which is therefore in a sense the cause, or determinant, of the sign even if the sign represents its object falsely.” — Charles S. Peirce

Typically symbols or signs are objects of higher compression (or lower resolution or complexity) than the objects they represent, but in some cases the reverse may be true.

I think of knowledge as consisting of networks of associations. If each association has a probability and each network has a geometry, then the structure of knowledge isn’t much different from the structure of physical stuff. Perhaps we will find a sort of quantum mechanics or geometrodynamics of knowledge.

Presumably the brain uses a wide variety of relatively specialized algorithms and heuristics (evolved and learned) depending on the kinds of signs, objects or data types and structures involved in a task.

fractal Von_Koch_curve

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

How useful Is fractal geometry for representing recursive networks of objects-associations?

A mirror of silver and glass makes no critical analysis of what it reflects, but we think that few (if any) reflections are perfect. When light reflected from objects in our field of vision enters the eye a series of additional reflections are created by our optical and visual systems. The eye and brain apply adaptive-corrective algorithms all along the way. Among these are associations with previously recorded and computed objects, signs, rules, etc.that provide context and some critical analysis — a comprehensive (in some degree) grasp. Many “leaps and grasps” have occurred before we are consciously aware of an image at all.

What we know or comprehend about something is largely (wholly?) based on comparisons and contrasts (positive and negative associations) with other stuff we already know. Following the development of knowledge backwards to its origins, the original vestige of prior knowledge presumably comes somehow from the DNA and possibly other materials of the fertilized embryonic germ cell and this is inherited by the first neuroblasts that go on to form the brain.

Contrasts and comparisons (associations) are fundamental operations of the biochemical machines that run up and down the DNA chains making DNA repairs, copying it, building proteins based on it, etc. At the biochemical level reflections (associations) typically come in the form of positively or negatively matching shapes and electromagnetic charges.

I think we agree that the geometry of the basic unit of association is triadic. I tend to think of it most often in terms of two nodes and a connecting line, the basic unit of a network; rather than as a triangle. A triangle, it seems, has more than three parts (3 sides + 3 vertices + 3 angles + an enclosed area = 10 parts — at least!).

Poor Richard

A World With No One In Control « how to save the world

A World With No One In Control « how to save the world.

Filed under: How the World Really Works — Dave Pollard

“There’s an implicit presumption, in everything the media reports on, in our whining about governments and elites and bosses, that as civilization culture has grown ever larger and more global, the power and control of those at the top of the pyramid has grown correspondingly larger, and that they’re still in control, still worthy of praise and re-election and multimillion dollar bonuses when things go right, and still worthy of blame and overthrow and opprobrium when things go wrong.

“But there’s plenty of evidence that if that ever was the case, it isn’t the case now. One of the key attributes of complex systems is that, unlike merely complicated ones, because of the huge number of variables and moving parts and interactions and effects between and among them, we can never hope to understand what’s really going on in them, or predict or significantly influence what happens in them. They become larger and larger black boxes, ever more mysterious, until suddenly they produce great depressions, peak oil and runaway climate change, and no one knows how, or why, or how to mitigate or change them. Like Charles Barsotti’s cartoon above says, in complex systems nobody knows anything. And no one is in control.”  Read the rest…

[I agree with most of Dave’s epiphany about complexity, but another aspect of reality is proximity–we do know a little about a little, and we can predict or control a little about a little. So there is a place for small hopes and puny efforts, even in the context of the grand complexity and absurdity which Dave Pollard portrays most eloquently. The ego that wants to control or save the whole world is the same one that wants to renounce the world and absolve itself of all duty and responsibility. –PR]

:: Pema Chodron – On Shenpa :: (being “hooked”)

Learning: from parts to wholes

Coffee Shop, Learning Resource Centre, Edge Hi...

Learning Resource Centre, Edge Hill University (Photo credit: jisc_infonet)

The questions of universals (as in Plato’s forms) and wholeness (as in mereology, holism, synergy, etc.) are unsolvable by logic or reason, but second-nature to physical brains.

Philosophers still struggle to say what makes a table a table, and how or why a whole is greater than the sum of its parts. But a brain knows a thing’s type or a part from a whole when it sees it. The so-called universal or whole is entirely the prerogative of each individual brain based on its history of associations.

My hypothesis about learning may not square with biosemiotics, but it could be called bioinformatics if that term were not already taken by computer science. (My definition would be information processing  BY biology rather than about it.) But anyway, I think the learning process is straightforward. Meno’s Paradox does not apply. The organism doesn’t need a model of what it is searching for–it searches for everything it is physically capable of searching for. This is like Google’s web bots that crawl the entire web building a condensed symbolic representation of the digital “environment”.  The unconscious side of the brain (the bulk of it) does something like that all the time.

Image representing Google as depicted in Crunc...

Image via CrunchBase

Another part of the unconscious brain does something else like Google — it looks at all the collected data and discovers all the possible patterns (and patterns of patterns) that can be found there. No model is required in advance other than some basic start-up algorithm that defines what a pattern is, and this is genetically encoded in all neurons. It is from the strength and relations of these identified patterns that the brain gradually and progressively builds a knowledge base.

Learning is a combination of data mining and progressive pattern detection without the necessity of pre-existing data models or “objects”. The interesting thing is that this same process is currently turning the scientific method on its head, and machines are beginning to learn the way the brain has been learning all along. Thousands if not millions of scientific discoveries are waiting to be found among the hundreds of exabytes of machine-readable data already online.

IMO the simple concepts of association, correlation, and pattern-detection will prove to be the ultimate foundations of epistemology, a subject that has perplexed philosophers and scientists alike for millennia.

(The above “synapsis” obviously leaves out a lot of intermediate steps from simple associations to neural cooperation and division of labor to increasingly sophisticated pattern-detection capabilities on the assumption that a word to the wise is sufficient…and because we haven’t learned all that stuff yet.)

Poor Richard

Related PRA 2.0 Posts

goop-think

Proof Positive?

Classical Definition of Kno

Image via Wikipedia

“All the proof of a pudding is in the eating.”*

Is it?

That may be one point of view (the pudding eater’s), but what about the cook’s point of view? What about the server’s , the restaurant owner’s, or the health inspector’s points of view?

Wikipedia: “Perspectivism rejects objective metaphysics as impossible, and claims that there are no objective evaluations which transcend cultural formations or subjective designations. This means that there are no objective facts, and that there can be no knowledge of a thing in itself. This separates truth from a particular (or single) vantage point [or perspective], and means that there are no ethical or epistemological absolutes. This leads to constant reassessment of rules (i.e., those of philosophy, the scientific method, etc.) according to the circumstances of individual perspectives. ‘Truth’ is thus formalized as a whole that is created by integrating different vantage points together.” [my emphasis]

I differ with that definition of perspectivism a little: I’m agnostic about the actual existence of ethical and epistemological absolutes and about the possibility of proof positive. For example, a given point of view might (coincidentally) be perfectly objective even if no one could prove it with 100% certainty.

Its one of my favorite epistemological recipes none the less.

In contrast to moral relativism or cultural relativism, the recipe for perspectivism calls for wisely selecting, weighing, measuring, and combining diverse subjective, cultural, and empirical points of view and blending them all together to a creamy-smooth consistency. Top-quality ingredients (vantage points or perspectives), carefully chosen and thoroughly mixed together (integrated), will produce a fine, well-rounded pudding of noble character (approaching reality as closely as possible).

There is one important caveat, however: not all individual points of view are equally savory. Each must be carefully inspected for soundness and virtue before going into the pudding– or you can end up with a load of crap.

I always say, “A cup of sugar salvages a sour porridge, but a pound of poo makes a  piss-poor pudding.”

Poor Richard

————-

* Proof of the pudding (answers.com): Related to: appearance; reality and illusion

Jt is ywrite that euery thing Hymself sheweth in the tastyng.
[c 1300 King Alisaunder (EETS) l. 4038]

All the proofe of a pudding, is in the eating.
[1623 W. Camden Remains concerning Britain (ed. 3) 266]

As they say at the winding up, or the proof of the pudding is in the eating.
[1666 G. Torriano Italian Proverbs 100 (note)]

The Proof of the Pudden is in the Eating.
[1738 Swift Polite Conversation ii. 132]

Related:

Pretty Good Truth (PRA 2.0)

Now for a perspective that’s completely different:

When the truth is found….to be….lies
And all of the joy within you dies…

The Inner Hunchback

12:34 AM 1/21/2010

The first fully rational brain will be an artificial one. Ray Kurzwiel thinks it will begin operation in 2050 or so. Of far greater importance, however, is the race to create the first fully rational human brain, which will take longer. The current status of human brain evolution is the predictably irrational brain.

Rationality, or the capacity for consistent logical reasoning or critical thinking, is only a newly emerging function of the brain. The rational thinking engine is still incomplete. It only runs in short bursts, between which it operates in very predictably irrational ways. Its operation is hindered by millions of glitches and bugs created by innumerable accidents of automatic, unconscious learning (also known as cognitive biases, logical fallaciesimplicit associations, bad algorithms, spaghetti code, corrupt memory, null pointers, bad wiring, programming bugs, etc.

Now that humanity has the power to destroy the world without even meaning to, we can no longer afford the leisurely pace of biological evolution for completing and perfecting our rational thinking machinery. We must somehow seize the day and re-engineer the brain with our own hands–no matter how gooey the going may get.

12:45 AM 1/21/2010

Imaginary Psychology Doctoral Thesis: “The Big Picture, or Epistemology, Cognitive Dissonance, and the Hunchback of Notre Dame

In Victor Hugo’s story, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, each character was embedded in (or inhabited) his or her own particular point of view (POV) or psycho-social frame of reference. (see also: reality, world view, gestalt, paradigm, culture, “The Matrix“, etc.). For each different character, some portion of the POV was an accurate match with actual facts and circumstances (i.e. reality) and some portion was inaccurate, containing errors, distortions, delusions, false beliefs, imaginary fantasies, wishful thinking, glittering generalities, etc.

(ASIDE: Wherever the true parts of the POV and the false parts of the POV come into contact, the stress of cognitive dissonance (i.e. clashes, contradictions, dilemmas, paradoxes, non sequiturs, etc) might develop like heat produced by friction. To reduce the discomfort of cognitive dissonance a waxy, rubbery, sticky, slippery substance (akin to “psychological mucus”) will form between all incongruent, conflicting, contradictory, disconsonant, discordant, discrepant, disparate, dissonant,  and divergent joints, gaps, and fractures. Over time, this mucus-like mental substance might accumulate to such a degree as to make up a substantial portion of the overall weight or volume of the POV.)

Returning to Hugo, each of his characters had its own set of insights and delusions and each had times when its POV helped it to adapt or solve problems and times when the POV failed to do so. Each character attempted in its own way to incorporate knowledge of the world from trusted sources such as religion, academic or political authority, kinship, popular culture or traditions, subcultures, etc.

Hugo gradually leads the reader through each character’s reality,  giving us vantage points from which to glimpse the insights and  errors of each and the opportunity to gather up a “big picture” of our own.

In Hugo’s story, the cathedral was perhaps symbolic of this big picture, and perhaps it was also a proxy inside the story for the author himself.

( BTW in the self-development theory of G.I. Gurdjieff, each human being is like that–a composite of semi-autonomous personalities or identities ranging from hunchbacks to princes.)

And perhaps Hugo’s cathedral is (like the proverbial elephant which a group of unsuspecting blind men are asked to feel and then describe) also a proxy for the real world, (or at least its mental representation within the rational brain). Perhaps Hugo’s characters, like the legendary blind men, are “seeing” only the parts of that world that fall within the limited physical and mental “reach” of each. Of course the natural inclination is for each person to defend “the evidence of his own senses”, so to speak, and to dispute anything contrary.

The difficulty of repeatedly transcending one’s personal world-view to piece together the best “big picture” of reality is one of the greatest ongoing cognitive, emotional, and social challenges of every human being.

Poor Richard

——————-

There is no answer. There is no solution. There is only practice. (Anon.)

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