Sunday 5 December 2010

A new type of analysis

The familiar form of analysis relies on content. That is to say, an event and/or an object is observed, its details are noted, comparisons are employed, and a conclusion based on identified relationships is reached. That type of analysis is essentially content-based.

What if there was another form, one derived from a similar approach but now focusing on functionality, the type of behaviour and/or characteristics rather than the behaviour itself?

In the context of cognitive dynamics the use of functionality would be particularly productive since it is virtually impossible to observe every thought and idea - never mind their details. Let's examine what this means.

Complex, dynamic systems (and the mind is one example par excellence) have gained those adjectives because their sub- and sub-subsystems etc are multifaceted and in constant flux in terms of their mutual relationships and their degree of significance to the wider system. For the current purpose we label their subsystems and so on thought structures (TSs) because they represent the phenomena produced by the neuronal activities which at a higher level of interpretation we perceive as thoughts. Clusters of such activities form thought patterns, the basis for what we can label concepts, derived from a pattern of thoughts. On a lower level of the conceptual scale concepts are derived from functional domains, defined by the affinities among their processes.

Hence complexity is a summary descriptor of the extent to which the multifacetedness, its interdependencies, and its cognitive manifestations have been allowed to develop. The term can be applied to the entire system of mind or to any one of its parts, where differences in degree can and do occur. For example, the present text is the result of relatively high-complexity cognitive dynamics, but ask me about cricket and I wouldn't have a clue.

The nature of complexity is such that any one of its manifestations can grow further from the general input because the contributing TSs' variance assures that most - if not all - can process some of the input. The extent of the development depends on the quality of input, the mutual relatedness of the TSs, and their inherent latency (see previous post) - all of which are describable in terms of their specific functionality, rather than content.

Let us now concentrate on the relationship between input (in this case the communicated result of somebody else's TSs) and its effect on the side of the recipient and the TSs there.

The source of the input may well consider it to be homogenous, but to the set of TSs in the recipient with their respective domains the input represents a multitude of sub-contexts. Yet if there is intent behind the source's output (ie, its TSs form an entire pattern) then the recipient's expectations regarding its effect may well be misplaced, although any TSs on the recipient's side would not possess the wider context to recognise this.

Similarly, if there are separate articulations coming from the respective target TSs then these articulations will reflect the expectations or confirmations resulting from their individual processes. This can be scaled up: substitute the TSs with humans and the patterns with groups of people and the degree of complexity rises further.

The same principles apply, but now the probability of variance among the domains has risen. Now there are TSs within the TSs, and domains can and do overlap. Whether the overlaps are recognised as such is another question, leading to the misunderstandings referred to earlier, although once again they are not necessarily apparent to their source.

Such misunderstandings can lead to unwanted transfers, where content representative of a relatively higher abstraction level can be directed to a domain at a lower level (for abstractions see previous post). Given the propensity for affinities between abstraction levels in any case there is a considerable chance the resultant TSs will be incongruent (for example, try explaining the concepts of higher ethics to a young child when it has done something wrong). Since the context in relation to the source is now dispersed across the target domains a re-tracing of how abstraction levels formed for the purpose of clarification is made that much more difficult.

Nevertheless, it is possible to establish the relational structures of the TSs, including their respective abstraction levels and their mutual differences. While not enabling a source -> target analysis they nevertheless provide a unique snapshot of the TSs' configuration at the time. Therefore they represent a unique 'fingerprint' of a person's and/or a group's or indeed a society's conceptual organisation. Still, it is only a snapshot. Any subsequent input (either from the outside of from among the subdomains) will modify the general structure.

Given the transient nature of the resultant framework, is a comparison between two such frameworks possible?

Since the precise source -> target relationships cannot be identified, it is impossible to trace previously established relationships in order to find the newer ones. On the other hand, although we don't have recourse to a time stamp, we do have affinity relationships and their abstraction levels, and they can be identified. Because both phenomena are in a state of constant flux they are therefore subject to the constraints of time-related dispersal across their domains. That is to say, if we compare the structures of sub-domains and observe their linkages, those that are dispersed to a higher degree (ie, had more time to create the linkages) will most likely be those that had occurred before the less dispersed ones. Setting a cut-off point along those lines for both of the sets (comparing set 1 with set 2) leads us to a useful normalisation.

This approach cannot be regarded as failsafe, since in the end we do not know to what extent each TS could have been able to relate to any other structure. Still, they give us a general picture of the results of the cognitive dynamics in existence and any marginal errors can be tested for by re-setting the cut-off points (while not telling us anything more about their history it allows us to disregard the more compact structures in favour of those that did form a more comprehensive network).

The question arises: can such an analysis be done via a simulation (eg, a version of the OtoomCM), sufficiently scaled-up to permit comparable input to be processed. Part of the answer lies in the definition of 'comparable'. No doubt an exact replica of the real set is impossible for obvious reasons. Whether a pared-down model will be informative and to what degree can only be ascertained through trials, using real-world data. Yet whatever the ultimate outcome, even simpler versions of the real should reveal cognitive imprints that tell us something about their origins.

Note: the above text is rather dense. A familiarity with how the mind works would certainly aid in its understanding, but I attempted to convey - however successfully or otherwise - how the concept of functional analysis can be applied to characterise thoughts, concepts, individuals, demographics and societies.

Saturday 13 November 2010

The secrets of latency

One of the most intriguing aspects of the system of mind is the matter of latency. It can be found in the wetware, the software simulation, indeed in nature as a whole.
In what follows I shall recapitulate via a brief summary, touch upon the ramifications and present some examples to show how useful an understanding of the issue would be.
Let's use the OtoomCM (a computer program that simulates cognitive dynamics) to see what happens. An input I1 is presented to the program, processed by the system and provides some output O1. Any output is treated in a formal manner which causes coloured discs to appear on the screen which in turn get blurred to make them look like coloured patches. The same formality is applied every time so that each end result is unique and can be compared with any other (see the web page for more detail).
Next a second input I2 is presented and we get its output O2, now different from O1, that is one or several of the patches (not all) have changed shape as well as their colour.
We take a third input I3. In most cases this will merely result in a repetition of the above, but some I3s generate an output O3 such that some particular patch has regained the qualities achieved through the initial input I1. The recurrence is not an exact copy of the latter, but the chances of a coincidental similarity are minimal (the manner in which the output is drawn on the screen sees to that).
Let's do the experiment again but this time we omit I2. Without I2 the output O3 is quite different from O3 in the previous experiment. Clearly, there is something about I3 which triggers the re-emergence of a certain state in a certain cluster of the matrix nodes so that the cluster has become functionally similar to what it was before.
We can say the cluster possesses a latency (ie, the non-manifested potential for entering a previous state) regarding O1 and I2 that gets triggered by a particular further input; other inputs won't have the same effect.
(Note that some patches do not change anyway, so presenting I3 without I2 would not the clusters responsible for those stable patches exhibit the latency as well? No - because no modification is not latency under the definition)
Before we go any further I need to point out that the state of each matrix node is defined through the collection of integers it holds and those integers get modified according to an algorithm which induces chaotic behaviour, turning each node into a stable, or periodic, or strange attractor (for more detail see the IPSI-2005 Venice paper). And yet we have latency, observable on many occasions.
Since the phenomenon exists in a specific cluster (we can tell because the patch occurs in the same location on the screen) it can be interpreted as a means of packing several layers of information within a particular domain; all it needs is for the right trigger to reveal the respective layer.
Needless to say, subsequent inputs (with and/or without the I2) cause different series of outputs, depending on whether or not there was an I2. For latency to manifest the cluster needs the right trigger, which is another way of saying that every cluster possesses latency which may or may not be triggered.
This is where it gets really interesting. We can say that ordinary inputs cause the system to come up with outputs that are a function of its cumulative states as well as its environment with its own type of inputs making the system appear ordinary in its behaviour, whereas only special inputs evoke its latent states and make the system enter an event trajectory that is now out of the ordinary.
It seems memory operates on the basis of latent cluster states among the brain's neurons being triggered by the appropriate input (for a discussion of memory see "On the origin of Mind", chapter 15). In a different context, ordinary weather relies on ordinary input to go through its common variety, but extraordinary input (eg, a combination of prolonged heat, moisture, updrafts) lead to cyclones, although the necessary functional ingredients exist throughout the air mass all the time provided by previous inputs (the causes for the temperature gradients, humidity, dew points, dust particles, etc). In another context still, dinosaurs existed on earth for a very long time, having settled in their environment in combination with all the other organisms including mammals. It took an extraordinary event to trigger the latency in the DNA structure of mammals to unfold into the complexity we find today. Note that without their respective latencies none of those extraordinary trajectories could have eventuated (ie, no memory recall, no cyclones, no humans).
Back to cognitive dynamics. An abstraction is a form of interpretation in which the principle aspects of an event and/or an object (generally termed 'system') are highlighted. For example, I can describe a pump in terms of pipes, valves and cylinder and piston, but I can abstract all this to a system consisting of a space acting as a receiver under one configuration and turning that same space into a supplier by changing the configuration. Defined in this manner I can use whatever comes in handy and, provided the functionality of the abstraction is adhered to, the resultant system will be a pump.
Cognitively speaking, an abstraction is represented by the intersection of various sets of relevant neuronal clusters; its output is the abstraction.
We can go one step further and consider the intersection of several intersections, leading to the next higher abstraction level; and so on.
For example, 'art nouveau tables' are level 1 abstractions of all the particular tables made according to that style (these particular tables could be termed level 0 abstractions); 'table' is a level 2 abstraction of 'art nouveau tables'; a 'flat surface held up by some support' is a level 3 abstraction of 'table'; 'mesa' being an example derived from a level 3 abstraction applied to terrain.
A series of outputs derived from their inputs represents the results of affinity relationships between the participating clusters, modified along their time lines by the oncoming inputs (and the affinity relationships exist within the context of chaotic systems). Affinity relationships are just that - relationships based on affinity. Therefore they occur among clusters representative of level 0 abstractions, or among clusters of a higher level. Since the creation of affinity relationships as such depends on the abilities of neurons to interact with each other and nothing more, it is - technically - possible to combine different abstraction levels with each other, but the result will be found wanting (imagine applying the criterion 'art nouveau' to a mesa).
What about latency? For a latent state to be manifest it needs a trigger, but is it feasible to have a trigger coming from a level 1 abstraction applied to a cluster representative of its level 0 counterpart? Technically yes, but what are the consequences - not only in terms of the sheer system but also in terms of the meaningfulness of the subsequent outputs as interpreted by us humans.
Remember that for latency to become manifest it needs extraordinary input. However, extraordinary input is not compatible with the ordinary inputs underpinning the entire range of clusters representative of level 0 -> n abstractions. Hence it is possible that the probability of affinities between the result of an instantiated latency and the result of ordinary states is diminished; it would be further diminished still by another manifested latency and so on - in other words, the meaningfulness of cognitive output would be sharply reduced, but there would come a point beyond which the accumulation of realised latencies has reached such a degree that meaningful affinities between them are possible once again. Within that particular context a quite different way of thinking has been achieved through the availability of extraordinary inputs, which would become less extraordinary once they have had the opportunity to establish a pattern.
At the moment the OtoomCM program cannot be run on a platform that allows for a sufficiently large-scale configuration in order to test such a scenario.
Nevertheless, this kind of investigation would reveal what it takes to literally change a person's mind - or society's for that matter. Not having to rely on ad-hoc events (our fate so far) has dramatic consequences. For that matter, unforeseen events and their effects could be mitigated, even reversed.
Here is an example from biology. Until the discovery of black swans in Western Australia Europeans firmly believed swans were always white. Imagine being able to analyse the cluster of swan DNA with respect to its feathers and their pigmentation. It would become obvious whether other colours were possible, given the availability of the necessary triggers.
Despite our knowledge in chemistry we still rely on nature to show us some particularly exotic protein formations and their qualities. Knowing how to interpret the latency along the chain of biochemical protein complexity we would be able to create those substances ourselves - provided of course they are possible but if they are not we would know that too.
The phenomenon of latency in complex, chaotic systems promises insights way beyond any investigation that relies on the availability of content-related instances of reality could furnish. It only needs an appropriately scaled simulation.

Wednesday 22 September 2010

In/tolerance without the ethics

One way or another the subject of tolerance - or the lack of it - always hovers around social and political issues. Whether it is the treatment of certain demographics, or immigration, or foreign policy in general, even if not articulated explicitly it remains the elephant in the room.

What effect tolerance and its opposite have can be examined away from the ethical and emotional by considering what these functionalities mean in terms of human activity systems.

Our current perspective is based on affinity relationships and how they come into being. As their name implies, they represent connections made possible by the content of representative states of the system's members such that a degree of synchronicity exists. The label 'member' can refer to neurons in the mind of an individual, they can equally stand for the citizens in a society. Right now we are dealing with the latter.

Any content, imported via the senses, turns into representative states. These states are unique to a given domain (a cluster of members) and, in a very real sense, define it. Any similarity between one domain and another in terms of their respective representative states produces an affinity between the two. Since any domain with its members is an importer of information as well as an exporter, not only do the internal states determine the quality of further information processing but so do any affinity relationships.

Processing means traversal across the members, and the greater the similarity between two or more domains the higher the probability the processes during the traversal will contain content from the entire set. Or, put another way, the higher the probability the traversal will include the set of domains and their members. All things being equal, the traversal will proceed along the path of similar content (higher degrees of similarity being favoured). However, representative states being merely representative, anything that modifies the states of some other domains can bring the latter within reach of the former, because both have become affinitive with each other.

For example, drugs that change the chemical metabolism among neurotransmitters can have the effect of producing associations that otherwise would have been unlikely if not impossible. Depressants modify the pathways such that negative connections, that is to say domains representative of what is perceived as negative by their host, possess a higher degree of probability of being traversed during processing and/or access than those being representative of more positive content. The converse is true in the case of stimulants.

Let us now focus more closely on our topic. A society that displays a certain measure of intolerance does so because within its sumtotal of perceptions, values and priorities it discriminates against manifestations that it sees as a sign of opposition to its nature. Since intolerance needs to be exercised for it to be recognised as such, that society will pro-actively seek out reasons to act out its attitude.

Note that affinity does not need something directly similar; it equally responds to the opposite (just as 'light' indirectly defines 'dark' and 'wet' indirectly defines 'dry').

Therefore, to understand what an intolerant society dislikes one only has to find out what it favours, and vice versa. In other words, what makes an intolerant society raise its opposition is as much part of its affinity envelope as are its values.

For that reason an intolerant society will interact - albeit antagonistically - with those sections it considers as, well, intolerable.

A tolerant society on the other hand sees no inherent reason to engage with different sections since the affinity relationships as described above do not hold. While there is no direct reason to engage, likewise there is no direct reason not to either.

If interaction engenders a certain familiarity and knowledge (due to the likelihood of traversals), we can expect an intolerant society to have more information about its disparate sections than a tolerant one. Note however that an antagonism does not preclude presumption, especially if driven by a need to distance oneself. How much that last factor influences the quality of information about the 'other' that is admitted into a domain is also a function of ideological intensity overall. (In this context it should be remembered that no society can be identified in terms of a single aspect only)

Examples of these relationships are not hard to find. Consider the reasons given for some intolerance towards a demographic or a custom by those who have come into contact with them, compared to the assumptions about the same held by those whose experience does not include a similar exposure. The difference can also be observed in arguments that arise when both sides seek to justify their opinions against each other, using their respective perception to bolster their positions.

In conclusion, having a diverse society does not in itself widen its intellectual scope; just as wisdom is not a direct result of the accumulation of data.

Saturday 4 September 2010

Should we be scared of aliens?

When discussing alien life forms science fiction writers either tend to delineate from existing circumstances and project into the future, or invent something completely new.

As to the first, since out of necessity only some aspects belonging to their starting point are used, the future represents an exaggeration of what is already. Hence it can't be a complete picture.

The other option is to leave the familiar altogether and construct a scenario without any reference to the known. What we get in this case is an idealised version of the writer's vision - not necessarily something positive in human terms, and it is a complete construct. So neither of them is helpful if we want to seriously consider the nature of intelligent aliens.

Yet there is a third option.

Since we are talking about alien life, we are considering complex, dynamic systems. CDSs follow certain rules and regardless of the content, in a functional sense they all are similar. On Earth human societies are and have been as varied as they come. Whether it was the ancient Phoenicians, the Mayas, the Russian Empire or the British, or whether some mountain community in Tyrol, certain features are shared by all of them. Even among relatively lower life forms we find traces of them.

Generally speaking, and focusing on intelligent life, they are -

1. Procreation: the most important of them all, it defines the life form's survival and its identity. The first forces any potential competition into the background, a degree of priority that subsumes anything else under its authority.

The second determines the value its owners place on any of its manifestations, and being the core value elevating it to what some of our languages label 'sacred'.

Not only is identity held important, it is the least likely to be subject to rational considerations;

2. Cooperation: any life form that creates a civilisation must have the capacity to form and favour the herd at whatever level of sophistication. Cooperation needs to be understood as a dynamic applied to the whole (ie, the tribe, society, culture, etc) such that it can be enforced if need be.

Adjacent to its usually positive connotation therefore sits its other side, the will and readiness to move against any usurper. Hence the greater the degree of cooperation overall, the more stringent the measures designed to protect it;

3. Aggression: considered in relation to the whole it serves to protect against anyone and anything perceived to be a threat.

The dynamics of identity and cooperation are combined to ensure a positive outcome for their host. Identity serves as the cause, cooperation as the reason, and together they supply the quality and quantity of defense nurtured by aggression.

The question then, "Should we be scared of aliens" can be answered by assuming there is a civilisation sufficiently evolved to make contact (note: they contact us). This means science and technology exist as a powerful product of the three basics described above, and the intellectual wherewithal to sustain them all.

Sustainability implies understanding, and understanding contains the potential for empathy. Rapacious, colonialising behaviour for its own sake is inherently unsustainable because in a growing system sooner or later the resources needed to control the conquered surpass the benefits.

Yet evolutionary growth also implies the willingness to assert oneself if no other option is left. Both, empathy and assertiveness, go hand in hand but a successful civilisation will still favour assertiveness over empathy in the end.

Should there be an alien race that has achieved the capability to make contact, we can expect them to be curious, firm, but fair overall. Since CDSs incorporate mutually opposing qualities which become apparent should the perceived need arise, we can also expect them to be intrusive, lenient, and capricious.

How that translates into the world view of an alien would be the most urgent task on our side.

Considering the above it would help being most careful when touching on anything having to do with the context of their procreation, respecting their team spirit when dealing with any representative, and honouring their aims. As to the last, we probably won't have much choice anyway.

Since we can expect them to be intelligent, one way to understand the values and priorities of their minds is to observe their kind of humour. To do that we need to have the opportunity, and this in itself is part of the challenge.

It should be an interesting exercise!

Friday 27 August 2010

Moat politics

The federal elections a week ago - and so far still undecided - inundated Australians with policies, plans and promises from all directions. To compare their material with the concerns raised by letter writers to the daily newspapers provided an interesting contrast. It led to the common complaint by many that voting was becoming increasingly frustrating. When once it used to be a matter of choosing the most attractive party it has now turned into voting for the least unattractive. Clearly, something is amiss. Which brings me to the following.

Suppose there are a number of trades people who make profound errors (say, connecting pipes so that they leak, or not knowing how to wire up a house). What would it take to point out the mistakes and have them fixed? Or, more precisely, what would it take for somebody to walk into a particular office and say, "There is something wrong here and that's what needs to be done"?

Surely, sooner or later that advice would be taken up - after all, its proof is there for all to see.

On the other hand -- when it comes to decisions that affect an entire country, our ruling class is impervious to any suggestion, advice, or warning, regardless how serious the situation. At the most, polite standard letters are sent thanking the concerned writer for their time - and that's it.

To go back to the previous example, suppose nothing is done about the problem. Pipes are left leaking, people continue to be electrocuted. It may be difficult to speculate about the exact shape the building pressure will take, but one can reasonably assume it would be considerable.

Why then do we allow other problems to grow until they reach calamitous proportions? How is it that we take it as given that a politician simply refuses to listen to a complaint of a serious nature, especially when the evidence for its existence can be established clearly and unambiguously? Issues such as the war in Afghanistan come to mind, or our drug laws - both examples draining hundreds of millions of dollars from our nation and causing so many useless deaths as a consequence.

Are our politicians of the opinion that the halls of government have bestowed upon them such unassailable wisdom nowhere else to be found among the width and length of the land, as a result of which every minute given over to us common ignoramuses is a minute wasted away from their profound musings?

(Question: when was the last time our political betters held forth on transhumanism, or discussed the decline and fall of the Roman Empire?)

Similar issues present when approaching some academics - not all, I hasten to add - who only rise from their intense focus on ordained matters when they can perceive an a priori relevance to their status.

It seems society's upper echelons have managed to surround themselves with a virtually impenetrable moat that keeps the multitude away from their towers.

I am reminded of Poe's "The Mask of the Red Death", in which the illustrious gathering was rudely brought to a halt by someone wearing the mask of Death.

Only it wasn't a mask.