Fun and sand piles

Posted to [FRIAM] 1/13/07



On thing worth adding is the reason it’s useful to consider the maze of instrumental behaviors that constitute systems in the context of the whole envelope of their developments (¸¸¸.·´ ¯ `·.¸¸¸)from beginning to end. It turns the mystery of complex developmental systems into the puzzle of when and how they’ll go through the classic switches and display the key landmarks of doing so.

The growth to climax switch is one of the most interesting of them, and of particular concern to systems designed not to allow it, for example. Of course, a major preliminary question once the model is understood, is whether the switches that completely reorient the developmental processes originate from inside or out.

Phil Henshaw ¸¸¸¸.·´ ¯ `·.¸¸¸¸


—– Original Message —–


Sure, there’s definitely a point to make that the inactive presence of potential least energy patterns is frequently ‘the reason’ that patterns form. That might make it seem that offering ‘fun’ as an alternative (for the system exploring the options), is well, like it was said for fun… I also see a much more difficult issue involved.

There’s the significant question to raise about the difference between abstract causation (which has the end effect as the cause) and instrumental causation (which has the process leading there as the cause). The former is a lot easier, and arguably much more useful since it lets you give a causal value to abstractions like statistics for other situations than the one you’re actually considering.

The latter is a horrible nuisance by comparison, because it requires extensive particular understanding of situations that will occur only once. Because it’s how nature does it, however (you can watch and see), the latter still seems interesting.

In tracing instrumental causation there certainly are some common mistakes to be made, and there’s not much of a developed tradition for guidance, either. What seems the worst of it is that trying to read instrumental causes sometimes seems to largely lead modern minds to conspiracy theory and magical thinking.

Still, it gives one to wonder why people are so very bad at it, and about the examples of natural system steering where it’s navigating the instrumental causes that clearly seems to be the center of the fun.

Phil Henshaw ¸¸¸¸.·´ ¯ `·.¸¸¸¸


—– Original Message —–

From: Hugh Trenchard

Sent: Friday, January 12, 2007 1:55 AM

To: The Friday Morning Applied Complexity Coffee Group

Subject: [FRIAM] fun and sandpiles

Thanks, Phil, and I definitely agree that sandpile phenomena and play phenomena are not mutually exclusive in the domain of complexity.

I think I was only trying to emphasize the point that I started my thread with a view to specific pattern formations of frigatebirds which result from some specific rules of interaction. At the risk of misinterpretation here (and no disrespect intended, if I am misinterpreting), an argument was presented, it seemed, that there are no reasons for certain behaviours other than that they are the result of having fun, but the argument was made in the context of animals that were not necessarily in the pattern formations I was looking at.

It may very well be that it is fun for frigatebirds to be in these formations, but there are, I think, still physical reasons why they choose those formations – and not other ones – related to the way in which they couple due to the energy savings that certain formations allow (I hypothesize).

Coming back to cyclists who interact, it is certainly satisfying when a drafting cyclist finds the “sweetspot” in the draft zone, where maximal drafting benefit is experienced. It also fun and satisfying to be part of the peloton experience, to have engaged in a series of interactions with other cyclists that result in emergent pattern formation. Even so, the pattern formations can be traced primarily to physical coupling between cyclists, namely the drafting benefit, collision avoidance and forward motion.

Bicycle racing, is of course, a sport, so it also involves strategies and directives from leaders, but you can remove those and there will still be certain types of patterns which will arise by the basic rules I’ve noted (I’ve simulated some by computer, although the results are still a bit controversial).

In any event, I certainly agree that there is a broad scale of complexity, since most types of interactions result in some sort of emergent phenomena. I think, though, that it becomes increasingly difficult to identify even what the emergent phenomena are when looking at complex interactions that involve a multitude of factors and rules of interaction, let alone isolate what the principles of interaction are that lead to the emergent phenomena. What is the emergent phenomena of birds that are playing, in apparently random configurations? I’m not suggesting there are any, they’re just difficult to see, that’s all.

—– Original Message —–

From: “Phil Henshaw”

To: “‘The Friday Morning Applied Complexity Coffee Group’”

Sent: Thursday, January 11, 2007 6:34 PM

Subject: Re: [FRIAM] Will Rogers and Animal Behavior

I for one don’t think emergent systems study requires choosing between ’sand piles’ and animals having ‘fun’. Playful experimentation is one of the all time best natural systems for discovering natural structures it seems to me, just a higher level version of jumping potential wells like some grain of sand seems bound to have done at a critical point to get a slide going. The range of complex system phenomena is tremendous.

One thing that helps me is that there seem to be various scales you can arrange the entire spectrum on, complexity of self-regulation for example. Thermostats and sand piles are on the simple side and animal acrobatics on the high side. You don’t necessarily have to assign a number to things to have a useful scale, of course, just have a way to order things and make note of uncertainties.

That’s what the paleontologists do with all their species branching diagrams (clad notation). For those who like numbers, though, there’s the rudimentary numerical development scale, the number of doublings a system performs in its development. Humans and the world economy thus far are about 30 doublings, for example. Yep, kind of an interestingly compressed scale!

Phil Henshaw ¸¸¸¸.·´ ¯ `·.¸¸¸¸


—–Original Message—–

From: Hugh Trenchard

Sent: Wednesday, January 10, 2007 8:05 PM

To: The Friday Morning Applied Complexity Coffee Group

Subject: Re: [FRIAM] Will Rogers and Animal Behavior

I for one am rarely afraid to ask questions, stupid or otherwise, when my curiosity is piqued.

Do the ravens in Santa Fe align in vee formations when they roll off chandelles? If they do, then regardless of whether they are having fun, it is an interesting pattern formation which causes one to ask reasonably why they choose such a formation. Do they do it for the sheer pleasure of the esthetics of the vee formation? This would, it seems, entail some “fun” of the formation, although I doubt I would find many people who would argue that is the fun they derive. So then why is it fun that they should align in those formations?

I myself wouldn’t claim to subscribe to a behaviourist school, unless you can generalize the term to include analysis of the emergence of physical patterns among collectives. Pattern formation within sandpiles is more akin to my specific interests than the behaviour of individual animals. That is always interesting too, but it isn’t the focus of my inquiry here.

Hugh Trenchard

—–Original Message—–

From: “Peter Lissaman”

Sent: Wednesday, January 10, 2007 1:05 PM

Subject: [FRIAM] Will Rogers and Animal Behavior

When he was given a brief description of the learned theories of Dr. Freud, and told that they accounted for all human behavior, Will Rogers stated that: “he found it real interesting, but reckoned that in Oklahoma, folks mainly did things jes’ acause they felt like it”. I gave a paper at AIAA annual meeting in Reno earlier this week on birds extracting energy from turbulence.

There’s a lot in it for the birdies, with their low flight speeds, superb sensing and rapid response. Ravens in Santa Fe are marvellous aerobats in the turbulence rolling off the Sangres. But why? When you see them rolling off perfect chandelles, as with dolphins surfing and gamboling in the bow wave, you have to admit that they’re “jes’ havin’ fun”, contrary to these gloomy animal “behavioristos” who claim animals do everything for a reason.

Peter Lissaman, Da Vinci Ventures

Expertise is not knowing everything, but knowing what to look for.


FRIAM Applied Complexity Group listserv

Meets Fridays 9a-11:30 at cafe at St. John’s College lectures


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.