Skip to main content

The question in the title is especially meaningful if we learn over and over again that the simple models don't answer some of the most important questions we want to answer.  In this fifth diary  in the series I will construct a good bit of the answer to that question.  The first four diaries (linked through the last one at the end of this one)  laid the groundwork for this important statement of why our old methods were lacking and what we need to do to remedy that.  We are working from two imortant books by the late Robert Rosen, Anticipatory systems: philosophical, mathematical, and methodological foundations (AS)  and Life Itself: A Comprehensive Inquiry into the Nature, Origin, and Fabrication of Life (LI).  In the last diary installment we looked at the way we make models of the world as Rosen analyzes the process in AS.  Now we will make use of some of the material in LI to study complexity and the use of the Modeling Relation by reductionist science to substitute a surrogate, simplified world for the complex real world.  This process began hundreds of years ago with Plato and then Descartes and has been our world model ever since.  Clearly the model has evolved since then, yet it was never freed from some very limiting initial constraints.  The Message we want to get from this diary is twofold:  First there can be no one "largest model" for a complex system.  And second that science has ignored this and replaced the real complex world with a surrogate world.  This largest model has to have been defended in numerous ways over the years by declaring other valid ways of looking at the world to be "unscientific".  This has been successful in the large and it is time to come to grips with its consequences for the state of the world today, and, in particular, the state of science in the world today, are a direct result of it.  Read on below as we tell this story.

I'm going to supply some power point diagrams form my University Home Page.  This particular batch was for a talk I gave at the University Of Alaska some years back.  The title of the talk was IF THE WHOLE WORLD IS COMPLEX,  WHY BOTHER?  I am particularly interested in having you view the d=iagram of the Modeling Relation  I apologize for not putting the diagram here but my attempts to follow the directions for doing that failed.  I spent a lot of time trying.  To describe the diagram in words we have a Natural System encoded into a Formal System  which is then manipulated in some way to produce a change in the Formal System.  The change is then decoded for comparison with the observed change in the Natural System. If we get a match, the modeling relation is said to "commute" and we have a model.  

The reason this is so very important is, among other things, a way of seeing how we have operated for the past few hundred years in science (and elsewhere).  The picture we have been led to accept from reductionist science is that there is only one model and that the encoding and decoding are not necessary.  In place of the diagram of the modeling relation we get the well known direct cause explanation for everything:

AGENT   ----Cause--->  Effect.
This is the picture of what Rosen called the reactive paradigm as I explained in the previous diary. Note also that George Lakoff has used this to explain the reactionary political mindset.  The nature of the direct cause explanation as compared with the Modeling Relation leads us directly to the definition of complexity  that rosen has used to make this distinction as clear as possible:
Complexity is the property of a real world system that is manifest in the inability of any one formalism being adequate to capture all its properties. It requires that we find distinctly different ways of interacting with systems. Distinctly different in the sense that when we make successful models, the formal systems needed to describe each distinct aspect are NOT derivable from each other
 That statement is loaded with meaning and we will be spending a lot of words to get to most of that meaning.  In the context of the previous diaries, the reason we went back to Hutchins and then explored the conflict between hard and soft science was to get you ready for the clear necessity of the existence of many ways of interacting with systems in the real world and then creating appropriate models for each type of interaction.

Let us go directly to Rosen for more on this:(From AS)

It mut be recognized that we are speaking here entirely of complexity as an attribute of natural systems; the same word (complexity) may, and often is, used to describe some attribute of a formal system.  
 The usual confusion here mixes the complicated nature of the formal system needed to model a natural system with the very different notion of complexity, which is a general attribute of all real systems even those that we are able to model with relatively simple formal systems.  I will be very surprised if this does not happen as we discuss these matters here.

The plot thickens when we realize that what we take for granted to be formal systems are really natural systems that we have modeled with a formalism.  To drive this point home Rosen goes back (in LI) to the Rutherford vs Hutchins pictures of science and says this:

I am now going to do do something that would bother both Rutherford and Hutchins, though in different ways.  I am going to illuminate the duality they personify by looking at a cognate situation in an entirely different realm, the realm of mathematics....The mathematical world is emodied in percepts but exists independent of them.  "Truth" in the mathematical world is likewise manifest in , but independent of, any material embodiment and is thus outside of conventional perceptual categories like space and time.
 In other words we learn about mathematics using our senses and our brains, yet we seem to also believe we create mathematics.  Rosen is a very good mathematician and he sees beyond this.  
To motivate our discussion, it is enough to observe that both science, the study of phenomena,  and mathematics are in their different ways concerned with systems of entailment, causal entailment in the phenomenal world, inferential entailment in the mathematical.
 This identification is the key to where we are headed.  We have the modeling relation which rests on the statement above.  How this unfolds will be a revolutionary breakthrough in our thinking.

The use of mathematics as both a formal and natural system is an interesting ploy for it takes us quickly to the concept of complexity and what it is all about.  It also quickly demonstrates the shaky nature of the paradigm we allowed to obscure the need for a modeling relation to understand the complex natural world.    Rosen speaks of two great shocks in the world of mathematics in the past century or so.  

the overthrow of Euclid and the discovery of inconsistencies in set theory.
 Some of you probably already see where this is going.  For the idea that we can have a largest model and explain everything by direct cause will now be reduced to a belief and a shaky one at that.  Let us see how:
The tewo great shocks of which I spoke above have coalesced, geginning in the early years of the present (20th) century, into a frantic concern with consistency, with a demand that a system of inferential entailment (e. g., a set of axioms or production rules, operating on a set of given propositions or postulates) be free of internal or logical contradictions.  
 This scenareo sets the stage for the famous work of Goedel  who effectively showed that any formal system can not simultaneously be consistent as required above and complete.  Why discuss mathematics?  It was Number Theory that was the battle ground where the attempts to show that there can be a largest system (complete) that was also consistent was impossible.

So we have laid the basis for the new paradigm.  It must be built on the acknowledgement that the efforts of the Cartesian Reductionists with their duality and mechanism is built on a false premise.  There can be no largest model and the world, even as it includes things like numbers, is complex.  Hence we are now ready to look more closely at the inadequacies of the direct cause view of the world, which, unfortunately is the science we have come to know and love, has fallen short of the mark in spite of its many successes in helping us understand the mworld in part, and thereby transform it to what looks like our eventual peril.

If you have come this far your rewards will be forthcoming for we will be enjoying the efforts of Robert Rosen to deal with complex causality and a picture of how things happen in a world that has no largest model.  The sixth installment will introduce complex causality and also refresh our memories about what George Lakoff has had to say about the central role of causal differences and models in understanding the major political differences in the way people view the same world today.

This diary will provide links to the others in the series:Reading Ramblings:Do we understand how we go about making decisions?We use models,consciously or not

Originally posted to Readers and Book Lovers on Tue Mar 13, 2012 at 08:59 PM PDT.

Also republished by Systems Thinking.


The real word

17%3 votes
5%1 votes
5%1 votes
47%8 votes
11%2 votes
11%2 votes

| 17 votes | Vote | Results

Your Email has been sent.
You must add at least one tag to this diary before publishing it.

Add keywords that describe this diary. Separate multiple keywords with commas.
Tagging tips - Search For Tags - Browse For Tags


More Tagging tips:

A tag is a way to search for this diary. If someone is searching for "Barack Obama," is this a diary they'd be trying to find?

Use a person's full name, without any title. Senator Obama may become President Obama, and Michelle Obama might run for office.

If your diary covers an election or elected official, use election tags, which are generally the state abbreviation followed by the office. CA-01 is the first district House seat. CA-Sen covers both senate races. NY-GOV covers the New York governor's race.

Tags do not compound: that is, "education reform" is a completely different tag from "education". A tag like "reform" alone is probably not meaningful.

Consider if one or more of these tags fits your diary: Civil Rights, Community, Congress, Culture, Economy, Education, Elections, Energy, Environment, Health Care, International, Labor, Law, Media, Meta, National Security, Science, Transportation, or White House. If your diary is specific to a state, consider adding the state (California, Texas, etc). Keep in mind, though, that there are many wonderful and important diaries that don't fit in any of these tags. Don't worry if yours doesn't.

You can add a private note to this diary when hotlisting it:
Are you sure you want to remove this diary from your hotlist?
Are you sure you want to remove your recommendation? You can only recommend a diary once, so you will not be able to re-recommend it afterwards.
Rescue this diary, and add a note:
Are you sure you want to remove this diary from Rescue?
Choose where to republish this diary. The diary will be added to the queue for that group. Publish it from the queue to make it appear.

You must be a member of a group to use this feature.

Add a quick update to your diary without changing the diary itself:
Are you sure you want to remove this diary?
(The diary will be removed from the site and returned to your drafts for further editing.)
(The diary will be removed.)
Are you sure you want to save these changes to the published diary?

Comment Preferences

  •  Tip Jar (7+ / 0-)

    An idea is not responsible for who happens to be carrying it at the moment. It stands or falls on its own merits.

    by don mikulecky on Tue Mar 13, 2012 at 08:59:03 PM PDT

  •  Man makes a simple world complex and (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    The all the above should below them all
    with some more caveats


    the real wor[l]d
    is a test of humanity

    that it is failing.....

    Make a difference in the world; do something good for someone else today. And, by all means possible, THINK for yourself - PLEASE?

    by laserhaas on Tue Mar 13, 2012 at 11:12:34 PM PDT

  •  Thanks for this highly intelligent review of these (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    laserhaas, don mikulecky, linkage

    important books, don.

    Very thought provoking, I think I will read them.

    The means is the ends in the process of becoming. - Mahatma Gandhi

    by HoundDog on Tue Mar 13, 2012 at 11:20:30 PM PDT

  •  This is a really great diary. (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    laserhaas, don mikulecky, linkage

    Sometimes I muse on these things.  For self-aware people, this material is very enlightening and interesting.

    I love reasoning tools, models, perspectives, etc...

    It has been my life experience there is no one universal model --the net doesn't always connect, in other words.

    Look forward to more of this, in particular your treatment of internal models.

    My thought on this, in advance is divided:

    1.  I do use models for decisions where deduction is a strong path, one can model to reduce, refactor, and conclude.  There is risk in this, but said risk can be managed by experience.

    2.  Where there are unknowns, I'll also model, but for a different reason entirely.  It's to know what might be unknown!  Make the model, invoke things, then observe, test, align, infer.  That model might be tossed and another invoked, or an established model may actually fit, leading to parallel insights where none would be obvious otherwise.

    Inference has brought me many insights I cannot always reconcile with "the net" of otherwise deductive understanding I can link back to basic rational truths.  There are suggestive paths though...

    Great stuff.  Thanks again!

    ***Be Excellent To One Another***

    by potatohead on Tue Mar 13, 2012 at 11:24:26 PM PDT

    •  Why simplify the world? (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      laserhaas, don mikulecky

      This is, IMHO, a very hard one for a lot of people, and forgive a lark on my part:

      Religion, for example, is there to fill a gap.  People have a hard time with unknowns, and rather than just operate with them, they put SOMETHING there, so they can operate in a basic, rational way.

      IMHO, that's why people do it.

      On the other hand, if one takes the time to actually just operate with the unknowns in place, the idea of there not always being "a right way", or "the answer" makes a lot of sense!  There are possibilities and resonances...

      My own personal mode is to let the unknowns be there, and seek resonance.  Where I find it, then I can proceed to reason further.  Where I don't find it, the unknown is just there, suggesting other connections at a later time.

      So then, what to do?

      Life experience, and some "faith" then trumps "the right way" or "the answer", and we only move forward, hoping to share some of what we see with others, in the hopes they don't have to take the journey we did, or in the hopes they can see what we do and advance themselves that much more.

      ***Be Excellent To One Another***

      by potatohead on Tue Mar 13, 2012 at 11:28:39 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Crap... Meant this as two threads. (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        laserhaas, don mikulecky

        Sorry, it's late.

        ***Be Excellent To One Another***

        by potatohead on Tue Mar 13, 2012 at 11:29:07 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

      •  Religion "fills a gap" created by an incomplete (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        potatohead, linkage

        version of science.  Stay with this and you will see that the new paradigm exposes and corrects this.  There is no gap and religion is now only an option.  It does nothing to explain the world of complex systems.

        An idea is not responsible for who happens to be carrying it at the moment. It stands or falls on its own merits.

        by don mikulecky on Wed Mar 14, 2012 at 07:33:27 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  I look forward to that. (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          don mikulecky, linkage

          And I didn't mean it that way to replace incomplete science, nor did I mean the science needs to be complete either.

          What I was trying to get at is people often need "the story" and where that's incomplete, they will often plug something in there to operate with.  

          Another variation on that is "the dummy version" being used as a crutch or boot strap into a more complex mode.

          These things don't explain complex systems.  I was getting at the "Why?" question, more than anything else.  My own life experience is filled with instances where I asked that "Why?" question after observing people simplify important things away rather than come to understand them, or just deal with them.

          It was a short lark after all, just a point of intrigue sparked by your main thrust.


          Hence we are now ready to look more closely at the inadequacies of the direct cause view of the world, which, unfortunately is the science we have come to know and love, has fallen short of the mark in spite of its many successes in helping us understand the mworld in part, and thereby transform it to what looks like our eventual peril.
          I look forward to.  For me personally, I've not given it any serious thought, and I am intrigued.  

          ***Be Excellent To One Another***

          by potatohead on Wed Mar 14, 2012 at 08:02:25 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

  •  "The Myth of Simplicity", Mario Bunge (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    don mikulecky

    is a favorite of mine:

    Where are we, now that we need us most?

    by Frank Knarf on Wed Mar 14, 2012 at 07:19:05 PM PDT

  •  Thank You - N/T (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    don mikulecky

    "Upward, not Northward" - Flatland, by EA Abbott

    by linkage on Wed Mar 14, 2012 at 07:35:06 PM PDT

Subscribe or Donate to support Daily Kos.

Click here for the mobile view of the site