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Thursday, September 2, 2010

The Big Arrow: What Matters and Why

  • hierarchy of influence
  • complexity handling capacity as evolutionary fitness metric
  • decentralized autonomous node computation topology
  • localized least energy optimization vs. topology range-finding and exploration for long range optimization
  • compression as computational grand-attractor
  • causally restricted abstraction space
  • causally calibrated abstraction space
  • self-optimized causal semantics
  • generalize and subsume schemes
  • self optimized stacked grammars
  • causally restricted language
  • universal simulation environment
  • context-optimized language generators
  • context-optimized language interpreters
  • entropy maximization schemes
  • balancing local vs. universal evolution schemes
  • processing economics
  • network nodes vs. software objects
  • networks vs. graphs…
  • generalize and subsume

These are the concepts that bubble up when I ask myself, What matters? and, What matters the most?".  I ask these questions over and over again.  Have for some 40 years.  You can get by not asking these questions, might even thrive, but only because others not so indifferent, have, do, and will ask.

What you are, what we all are, what we will become, and what will come after us, is more the result of the thoughts and actions taken by the few individuals, consciously or not, who have honored these questions, and honored them above all others.  To be sure, survival, at least in the present and local, is not dependent upon asking the big questions.  In fact, as far as the individual is concerned, asking big questions, almost certainly diminishes fitness and reduces the probability of survival.

Much print is devoted to the question of whether and how socially benevolent behavior evolves .  How can moral behavior spread through the gene or meme pool when, at the granularity of the individual, moral behavior frequently allows other individuals to take more than their fair share?

But the same issue is not so controversial or surprising if we shift our focus to competing motivations within a single individual.  How do we ever learn to think long-term or wide-focus thoughts when short-term, narrow-focus thoughts are more likely to increase the likelihood of immediate survival?

Weirder still, there is obviously plenty of evolutionary evidence that wide-focus problem solving has bridged routs to new domains.  Aquatic animals have become land animals and vice versa.  Single-celled animals have become multi-celled animals (presumably though less intuitively, multi-celled animals have evolved the other way, towards single celled animals).  Chemistry has become biology and biology catalyzes chemistry.  And unique to our temporal neighborhood, biology has sprouted culture that is well on its way towards sprouting non-biological life… the first "intentional" life!

But domain-jumping doesn't sit well with traditional views of evolution.  Evolutionists tend to study biology from the perspective of a particular environmental constraint or set of stable constraints.  Within the (self-imposed) bubble of these artificially bounded steady-state environments, evolution certainly seems to be a process of refinement seeking.  In thermodynamics we describe this class of behavior; "seeking the fall line".  In your prototypical energy topology, where peaks mean high energy and chaos and valleys equate equilibrium low energy stability, refinement evolution selects for processes that find their way to the nadir of the local-most valley.  When sliding down the (local) least-energy fall line, there is but this one possible result.

The problem with refinement (as an explanation of evolution) is that it describes a sub-type of change that is peculiarly adverse to the kinds of novelty and acceleration away from stasis that one actually sees in evolving systems.  Refinement in point of fact is the very reverse of sustainable change.  Refinement always seeks a limit.   Becoming, for instance, the best swimmer in the sea, sort of insures that you are so specialized that you will have a hard time changing into anything else but a swimmer.  Refinement sets you up to be stage, environment, ground (the past)… for other things, the things that are more directed towards the forms of evolutionary change that will define the foreground, the action, the object, (the future).

Limit seeking schemes are schemes in which change decelerates over time.  That doesn't sound like a formula that fits the upward accelerating curve of evolution.

This would be a good time to introduce a term I use all of the time, without which, I believe it is impossible to see evolution for what it really is.  The term is "hierarchy of influence".  A hierarchy of influence is a cline, a stack, a pyramid, that relates each of the factors effecting a system according to the degree to which each will effect the the behavior, output, eventual state, or direction of the system of which each is a part.

I know it isn't politically correct to suggest that some parts of a system are more important than others, so I will just say that some factors of a system will have a greater effect over the future than will others.  A hierarchy of influence is an ontology of sorts, or more accurately, a ranking.  On the bottom of the stack, you will have those sub-systems or parts or actors that have an effect on almost everything else in the system, and on top you will have those parts that are more the result of or subservient to the rest of the system.  If you aren't comfortable with that order, just flip it over!  Either way you map it, hierarchy of influence is a powerful tool for the understanding of systems and change.

So, let's look at evolutionary systems through the hierarchy of influence lens.  Here as before, we can apply this new lens locally or globally.  What leads towards success locally is different than what leads to success globally.  As the field of view narrows, a hierarchy of influence favors factors that support refinement.  Process at larger and longer scopes support influencers that reach out side of current domains, influencers that seek a universal understanding of all domains, of domain in general, of change itself, and finally, of the very reason for change, for and understanding of the end game and how best to get there.

Now lets apply the hierarchy of influence filter to the super-system we've just described, the system composed of both localized hierarchies of influence and universal hierarchies of influence.  In any such super-system it should be clear that the local refinement leaning hierarchies will be demoted to the realm of effectors in reference to deep and wide long-range oriented hierarchies of influence.

Ecologists and Population Biologists are keen to point to the fact that most of this earth's biomass comes in the form of single celled animals and plants.  Absolutely true.  It is also true that most of the mass and energy in our Solar System is rather unimpressively ordered hydrogen, helium and a smattering of lithium.  But the future of biology, of complexity, even of mass and energy is much more likely to be sensitive to complex systems than the simple ones upon which they feed.

But before we throw out "refinement" as a category, let me posit a kind of refinement that is a good candidate for the fitness function or filter we see in evolving systems, systems that get better and better and solving more and more diverse problems at a faster and faster rate.

What if we were to re-cast the concept of refinement to mean the refinement of refinement itself?  In stead of refining a particular solution space, we think of refinement in its most general and universal form, a refinement of the definition of refinement.  In doing so, we tip the traditional view of evolution on its head.  Animals, individuals, species, film of every sort become the environment, the conditions, the topology as background as tool as expendable media for the refinement of the ultimate fitness metric. 

I must step in now, interrupt my self, and state the obvious even if the obvious might throw a huge wrench in the logical works of this thesis.  

The distinction I have been outlining, between refinement and domain jumping suggests or could lead some readers to think that I am suggesting that domain jumping offers some form of escape from the laws of thermodynamics.  I have suggested that refinement evolution simply seeks the least energy fall line.  No problem here.  But by contrasting refinement against domain jumping, the reader might be lead to believe that I am suggesting a way around physics, a free lunch, some sort of evolutionary daemon that does what Maxwell's couldn't.  I am not!  Only the next action that takes the least energy can happen next.… no exceptions.  Period.  Domain jumping must therefore, at every moment and in every context, obey the laws of thermodynamics.

Now, it is relatively easy to see how refinement evolution meets these least-energy constraints, but how is it that domain jumping could ever happen?  How would any action ever allow ridge-climbing escape from any concave depression in any energy topology?

Before I continue along this vein of logic, I should probably jump back a pace and clarify what I mean when I say "energy topology".  An energy topology is a graphical depiction of the forces acting upon a region of space.  Some energy topologies are almost identical to real world space.  The undulating surface of the earth under our feet is, at least with regard to gravity, equivalent to the energy topology that restricts motion across its surface.  If I am standing on the side of a mountain and moving 1 foot to my left means I will have to haul my body up half a foot vertically, and traversing 1 foot to the right would allow me instead to fall half a foot, than to slope of the ground is a perfect analog of the energy topology with respect to gravity.  Left to the whims of time and chance, the energy topology I just described would make it far more likely that I would eventually end up more to my right (lower) than to my left (higher).  This is because I would have to use energy to move up the mountain and could actually access energy by moving down the mountain.

Of course there are less obvious energy topologies, energy topologies that do not map to actual terrain. With respect say to choosing a religious belief the energy topology heavily reflects the beliefs already held by one's emendate family, cultural heritage, and other factors.  Choice that differs radically from local norms will require lots more energy, than will conforming.  If one were to plot the energy topology necessary to choose to become Muslim for instance, a child in a museum family would stand on top of a steep hill, and a child born to a Christian family would stand at the bottom of a deep pit.  Energy topologies offer wonderfully obvious illustrations of the forces effecting evolving systems.

Each object or system to be examined acts according to the sum of many energy effectors.  Each of these effectors (physical terrain, social obstructions/accelerators, on-board energy reserves and conversion rates, environmentally accessible resources, etc.) can be plotted separately as an energy topology, but causality is the result of the sum of all energy topologies effecting an object of system.  To illustrate, lets now combine the above two examples.  Lets say that the person on the mountainside, is in the process of plotting their own religious future.  To the right the physical mountain rises, to the left it falls into a valley.  The person standing there is from the Christian village in the valley below.  That person is philosophically attracted to the Muslim faith.  But to learn more, they will have to travel up the mountain to a Muslim village a thousand feet higher.  In this case, the energy necessary to fulfill their philosophical desire will require them to haul their body up the mountain.  And because doing so will also incur the costs associated with going against cultural norms.  Obviously, both topologies must be summed in order to compute the likelihood of both possible choices.  As I am sure you are realizing, the philosophical leaning of our actor can also be represented by an energy topology.  This to must be summed to produce the aggregate energy topology in which our subject must act.

But none of these topologies explain hill climbing.  For that we need to compose yet another energy topology, a topology that expresses the energy held as reserve within the individual actor.

So why ask these questions?  If natural selection asks them down at the DNA level, and across the vast landscape that is evolutionary time, why should we bother asking them again?

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