Thursday, January 27, 2011

Videosphere: An audiovisual knowledge network

Not sure how to use this, but it's interesting. Let me know if you figure out an application.


Wednesday, January 26, 2011

President's State of the Union

A Wordle of the President's State of the Union address is given below.

I found this particular configuration of Wordle interesting because it put people at the top with everything else hanging from the people. When you get past the words like America, American, Americans and government, the next most frequently used words were new, years, make, jobs, work, know, future. There was a clear emphasis on new.

Innovation was mentioned frequently, nestled in this Wordle with nation, jobs, spending, workers, economy and hard, among others.

I've been working on innovation for 50 years, and it was nice to see in mentioned as often as it was.

Now, are we ready to actually work on being innovative, or are we going to argue about it?

Link to Official State of the Union web site with video, full text with interactive features..

Click the image below to see the Wordle.

Wordle: State of the Union 1-25-11

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

The History of Social Media

Joile O'Dell, Mashable

"From the first e-mail to the domination of Facebook, social media has come a long way, baby.

Here’s a visually organized look at the past 30 years or so of social media history, from Usenet to AIM to Friendster and beyond. This particular infographic comes with some fun facts; for example, did you know that the first version of MySpace was coded in just 10 days?

Whether this is a walk down memory lane or entirely new information for you, we hope you’ll enjoy this infographic, which was created by You can also check out our infographics on Facebook facts, online dating and our general obsession with social media."

See the graphic.

Monday, January 17, 2011

The Phenomenon of Man

(For a downloadable version, click here.)

I first became aware of de Chardin in the early 1960s. In 1960 I started to work for IBM in Poughkeepsie, NY in the fledgling semiconductor industry. Some time after that, I can’t remember when, I heard an IBM speaker talking about the future of the computer industry. He closed by introducing an idea from de Chardin, the noosphere(1) . He said that the earth had gone through two stages of evolution (geosphere and biosphere) and was now entering the third (noosphere). And what our (the computer industry) purpose was to facilitate the creation of the noosphere – global knowledge, universal knowledge, accessible knowledge, and global consciousness. That was exciting, and the vision has stayed with me ever since. I still feel that I’m on that same journey, only I can see it clearer now (although it’s still a long way off).

Surprisingly (to me), I never read any of the original works of de Chardin until now when I saw the connection to the complexity thread I am following. The Phenomenon of Man was written in 1930, but not published until 1955 after de Chardin’s death (because of a conflict with the Catholic Church). The original was in French. The first English translation was in 1959.

“Pierre Teilhard de Chardin (May 1, 1881 – April 10, 1955) was a French philosopher and Jesuit priest who trained as a paleontologist and geologist and took part in the discovery of both Piltdown Man and Peking Man. Teilhard conceived the idea of the Omega Point and developed Vladimir Vernadsky's concept of Noosphere. Some of his ideas came into conflict with the Magisterium of the Catholic Church, and several of his books were censured.

Teilhard's primary book, The Phenomenon of Man, set forth a sweeping account of the unfolding of the cosmos. He abandoned traditional interpretations of creation in the Book of Genesis in favor of a less strict interpretation. This displeased certain officials in the Roman Curia and in his own order who thought that it undermined the doctrine of original sin developed by Saint Augustine. Teilhard's position was opposed by his Church superiors, and some of his work was denied publication during his lifetime by the Roman Holy Office. The 1950 encyclical Humani generis condemned several of Teilhard's opinions, while leaving other questions open. More recently, Pope John Paul II indicated a positive attitude towards some of de Chardin's ideas. In 2009, Pope Benedict XVI praised Teilhard's idea of the universe as a "living host" although the ecclesiastical warnings attached to his works remain.” (2)

In “A Globe, Clothing Itself with a Brain (3) ”, Jennifer Cobb Kreisberg writes, “Teilhard felt that the spark of divine life he experienced in the Egyptian desert was a force present throughout the evolutionary process, guiding and shaping it every bit as much as the material forces described by physical science. Teilhard would later codify this force into two distinct, fundamental types of energy - "radial" and "tangential." Radial energy was the energy of Newtonian physics. This energy obeyed mechanistic laws, such as cause and effect, and could be quantified. Teilhard called radial energy the energy of "without." Tangential energy, on the other hand, was the energy of "within," in other words, the divine spark.

Teilhard described three types of tangential energy. In inanimate objects, he called it "pre-life." In beings that are not self-reflective, he called it "life." And in humans, he called it "consciousness." As Teilhard began to observe the world described by science, he noticed that in certain things, such as rocks, the radial energy was dominant, while the tangential energy was barely visible. Rocks, therefore, are best described by the laws that rule radial energy - physics. But in animals, in which tangential energy, or life, is present, the laws of physics are only a partial explanation. Teilhard concluded that where radial energy was dominant, the evolutionary process would be characterized by the traditional scientific laws of necessity and chance. But in those organisms in which the tangential energy was significant, the forces of life and consciousness would lead the laws of chance and natural selection.

Teilhard then moved this insight forward. As the balance of tangential energy in any given entity grew larger, he noticed that it developed naturally in the direction of consciousness. An increase in consciousness was accompanied by an increase in the overall complexity of the organism. Teilhard called this the "law of complexity consciousness," which stated that increasing complexity is accompanied by increased consciousness.”

Teilhard wrote, "The living world is constituted by consciousness clothed in flesh and bone." He argued that the primary vehicle for increasing complexity consciousness among living organisms was the nervous system. The informational wiring of a being, he argued - whether of neurons or electronics - gives birth to consciousness. As the diversification of nervous connections increases, evolution is led toward greater consciousness.”

In The Phenomenon of Man, de Chardin writes, “This work may be summed up as an attempt to see and to make others see what happens to man, and what conclusions are forced upon us, when he is placed fairly and squarely within the framework of phenomenon and appearance.

Why should we want to see, and why in particular should we single out man as our object?

Seeing. We might say that the whole of life lies in that verb-if not ultimately, at least essentially. Fuller being is closer union: such is the kernel and conclusion of this book. But let us emphasise the point: union increases only through an increase in consciousness, that is to say in vision. And that, doubtless, is why the history of the living world can be summarised as the elaboration of ever more perfect eyes within a cosmos in which there is always something more to be seen. After all, do we not judge the perfection of an animal, or the supremacy of a thinking being, by the penetration and synthetic power of their gaze? To try to see more and better is not a matter of whim or curiosity or self-indulgence. To see or to perish is the very condition laid upon everything that makes up the universe, by reason of the mysterious gift of existence. And this, in superior measure, is man's condition.”

Later in the book, he writes, “In fact I doubt whether there is a more decisive moment for a thinking being than when the scales fall from his eyes and he discovers that he is not an isolated unit lost in the cosmic solitudes, and realises that a universal will to live converges and is hominised in him.

In such a vision man is seen not as a static centre of the world-as he for long believed himself to be-but as the axis and leading shoot of evolution, which is something much finer.”

The Phenomenon of Man is organized into four books and many chapters:

  1. Before Life Came: The Stuff of the Universe, The Within of Things, The Earth in its Early Stages
  2. Life: The Advent of Life, The Expansion of Life, The Ramifications of the Living Mass, The Tree of Life, Demeter
  3. Thought: The Birth of Thought, The Deployment of the Noosphere, The Modern Earth
  4. Survival: The Collective Issue, Beyond the Collective: The Hyper Personal, The Ultimate Earth, The Christian Phenomenon, The Essence of the Phenomenon of Man
It was interesting to me to note, although not surprising, that the book books parallel the four causes of reality proposed by Aristotle (4) – Material Cause (Before Life Came), Formal Cause (Life), Efficient Cause (Thought) and Final Cause (or purpose) – Survival.

Key to de Chardin’s thought is the concept of the without and within of things. Physics deals with the without of things. He summarizes the two laws of energy in these words:

“First Principle. During changes of a physico-chemical type we do not detect any measurable emergence of new energy.

Every synthesis costs something. That is a fundamental condition of things which persists, as we know, even into the spiritual zones of being. In every domain, the achievement of progress requires an excess of effort and therefore of force. Now whence does this increase come ?

In the abstract, one might assume an internal growth of the world's resources, an absolute increase in mechanical wealth corresponding to the expanding needs of evolution ; but, in fact, things seem to happen otherwise. In no case does the energy required for synthesis appear to be provided by an influx of fresh capital, but by expenditure. What is gained on one side is lost on the other. Nothing is constructed except at the price of an equivalent destruction.

Experimentally and at first sight, when we consider the universe in its mechanical functions, it does not reveal itself to us as an open quantum capable of containing an ever greater reality within its embrace, but as a closed quantum, within which nothing progresses except by exchange of that which was given in the beginning.

That is a first appearance.

Second Principle. In every physico-chemical change, adds thermodynamics, a fraction of the available energy is irrecoverably entropised "lost, that is to say, in the form of heat. Doubtless it is possible to retain this degraded fraction symbolically in equations, so as to express that in the operations of matter nothing is lost any more than anything is created, but that is merely a mathematical trick. As a matter of fact, from the real evolutionary standpoint, something is finally burned in the course of every synthesis in order to pay for that synthesis. The more the energy-quantum of the world comes into play, the more it is consumed. Within the scope of our experience, the material concrete universe seems to be unable to continue on its way indefinitely in a closed cycle, but traces out irreversibly a curve of obviously limited development. And thus it is that this universe differentiates itself from purely abstract magnitudes and places itself among the realities which are born, which grow, and which die. From time it passes into duration; and finally escapes from geometry dramatically to become, in its totality as in its parts, an object of history.”

De Chardin was convinced that since consciousness was evident in man, it must obviously exist in all things. “It is impossible to deny that, deep within ourselves, an 'interior' appears at the heart of beings, as it were seen through a rent. This is enough to ensure that, in one degree or another, this 'interior' should obtrude itself as existing everywhere in nature from all time. Since the stuff of the universe has an inner aspect at one point of itself, there is necessarily a double aspect to its structure, that is to say in every region of space and time-in the same way, for instance, as it is granular: co-extensive with their Without, there is a Within to things.”

Later he writes, “The within, consciousness and then spontaneity-three expressions for the same thing. It is no more legitimate for us experimentally to fix an absolute beginning to these three expressions of one and the same thing than to any other lines of the universe.

In a coherent perspective of the world: life inevitably assumes a pre-life, for as far back before it as the eye can see.”

So how is consciousness related to complexity. Simple things have little consciousness, complex things have a greater consciousness. “The degree of consciousness varies in inverse ratio to the simplicity of the material compound lined by it.”

“Spiritual perfection (or conscious ‘centreity’ (5) ) and material synthesis (or complexity) are but two aspects or connected parts of one and same phenomenon.”
He sums up evolution as the movement from a very large number of simple things (low complexity and low consciousness) to less numerous but more complex things with consciousness.

“We are seeking a qualitative law of development that from sphere to sphere should be capable of explaining, first of all the invisibility, then the appearance, and then the gradual dominance of the within in comparison to the without of things. This law reveals itself once the universe is thought of as passing from State A, characterised by a very large number of very simple material elements (that is to say, with a very poor within), to State B defined by a smaller number of very complex groupings (that is to say, with a much richer within).

In State A, the centres of consciousness, because they are extremely numerous and extremely loose at the same time, only reveal themselves by overall effects which are subject to the laws of statistics. Collectively, that is, they obey the laws of mathematics. This is the proper field of physico-chemistry.

In State B; on the other hand, these less numerous and at the same time more highly individualised elements gradually escape from the slavery of large numbers. They allow their basic non-measurable spontaneity to break through and reveal itself. We can begin to see them and follow them one by one, and in so doing we have access to the world of biology.

In sum, all the rest of this essay will be nothing but the story of the struggle in the universe between the unified multiple and the unorganised multitude: the application throughout of the great Law if complexity and consciousness: a law that itself implies a psychically convergent structure and curvature of the world.”

De Chardin then discusses the concept of energy. He poses another simple statement: To think, we must eat. From this derives the concept of two energies, one for the without and one for the within.

“First of all, the dependence. This is depressingly and magnificently obvious. 'To think, we must eat.' That blunt statement expresses a whole economy, and reveals, according to the way we look at it, either the tyranny of matter or its spiritual power. The loftiest speculation, the most burning love are, as we know only too well, accompanied and paid for by an expenditure of physical energy. Sometimes we need bread, sometimes wine, sometimes a drug or a hormone injection, sometimes the stimulation of a colour, sometimes the magic of a sound which goes in at our ears as a vibration and reaches our brains in the form of inspiration.

Without the slightest doubt there is something through which material and spiritual energy hold together and are complementary. In last analysis, somehow or other, there must be a single energy operating in the world. And the first idea that occurs to us is that the 'soul' must be as it were a focal point of transformation at which, from all the points of nature, the forces of bodies converge, to become interiorised and sublimated in beauty and truth.”

Later he writes, “Once again: To think, we must eat: But what a variety of thoughts we get out of one slice of bread! Like the letters of the alphabet, which can equally well be assembled into nonsense as into the most beautiful poem, the same calories seem as indifferent as they are necessary to the spiritual values they nourish.

The two energies-of mind and matter-spread respectively through the two layers of the world (the within and the without) have, taken as a whole, much the same demeanour. They are constantly associated and in some way pass into each other. But it seems impossible to establish a simple correspondence between their curves. On the one hand, only a minute fraction of physical energy is used up in the highest exercise of spiritual energy; on the other, this minute fraction, once absorbed, results on the internal scale in the most extraordinary oscillations.

A quantitative disproportion of this kind is enough to make us reject the naive notion of' change of form (or direct trans-formation)-and hence all hope of discovering a 'mechanical equivalent' for will or thought. Between the within and the without of things, the interdependence of energy is incontestable. But it can in all probability only be expressed by a complex symbolism in which terms of a different order are employed.”

De Chardin proposes two types of energy – tangential and radial. “…this fundamental energy is divided into two distinct components; a tangential energy which links the element with all others of the same order (that is to say, of the same complexity and the same centricity) as itself in the universe; and a radial energy which draws it towards ever greater complexity and centricity-in other words forwards.

From this initial state, and supposing that it disposes of a certain free tangential energy, the particle thus constituted must obviously be in a position to increase its internal complexity in association with neighbouring particles, and thereupon (since its centricity is automatically increased) to augment its radial energy. The latter will then be able to react in its turn in the form of a new arrangement in the tangential field. And so on.”

De Chardin devotes several chapters to his ideas about the origins of life and evolution. That information is beyond the scope of this essay but has been nicely summarized in a graphic (6) .

And, it is also summarized on Wikipedia:

"Teilhard views evolution as a process that leads to increasing complexity. From the cell to the thinking animal, a process of psychical concentration leads to greater consciousness. The emergence of Homo sapiens marks the beginning of a new age, as the power acquired by consciousness to turn in upon itself raises humankind to a new sphere. Borrowing Julian Huxley’s expression, Teilhard describes humankind as evolution becoming conscious of itself.

In Teilhard's conception of the evolution of the species, a collective identity begins to develop as trade and the transmission of ideas increases. Knowledge accumulates and is transmitted in increasing levels of depth and complexity. This leads to a further augmentation of consciousness and the emergence of a thinking layer that envelops the earth. Teilhard calls the new membrane the “noosphere” (from the Greek “nous,” meaning mind), a term first coined by Vladimir Vernadsky. The noosphere is the collective consciousness of humanity, the networks of thought and emotion in which all are immersed.

The development of science and technology causes an expansion of the human sphere of influence, allowing a person to be simultaneously present in every corner of the world. Teilhart argues that humanity has thus become cosmopolitan, stretching a single organized membrane over the Earth. Teilhard describes the process by which this happens as a “gigantic psychobiological operation, a sort of mega-synthesis, the “super-arrangement” to which all the thinking elements of the earth find themselves today individually and collectively subject.” The rapid expansion of the noosphere requires a new domain of psychical expansion, which “is staring us in the face if we would only raise our heads to look at it.”

In Teilhard’s view, evolution will culminate in the Omega Point, a sort of supreme consciousness. Layers of consciousness will converge in Omega, fusing and consuming them in itself. The concentration of a conscious universe will reassemble in itself all consciousnesses as well as all that we are conscious of. Teilhard emphasizes that each individual facet of consciousness will remain conscious of itself at the end of the process." (7)

"What Teilhard was saying here can easily be summed up in a few words," says John Perry Barlow. "The point of all evolution up to this stage is the creation of a collective organism of Mind."

Here are a few of his observations relative to evolution:

  • “The initial quantum of consciousness contained in our terrestrial world is not formed merely of an aggregate of particles caught fortuitously in the same net. It represents a correlated mass of infinitesimal centres structurally bound together by the conditions of their origins and development.” This idea is central to what we know about many complex systems – history matters but the future is unpredictable.
  • “In every domain, when anything exceeds a certain measurement, it suddenly changes its aspect, condition or nature. The curve doubles back, the surface contracts to a point, the solid disintegrates, the liquid boils, the germ cell divides, intuition suddenly bursts on the piled up facts ... Critical points have been reached, rungs on the ladder, involving a change of state-jumps of all sorts in the course of development.”
  • “This law of controlled complication, the mature stage of the process in we which we first get the micro-molecule then the mega-molecule and finally the first cells, is known to biologists as orthogenesis (8) . Orthogenesis is the dynamic and only complete form of heredity. The word conceals deep and real springs of cosmic extent.”
  • “These attitudes or ways of proceeding can be reduced to three: profusion, ingenuity and (judged from our individual point of view) indifference
  • Profusion is born of unlimited multiplication. “Once more, this time on the plane of animate particles, we find the fundamental technique of groping, the specific and invincible weapon of all expanding multitudes. This groping strangely combines the blind fantasy of large numbers with the precise orientation of a specific target. It would be a mistake to see it as mere chance. Groping is directed chance. It means pervading everything so as to try everything, and trying everything so as to find everything. Surely in the last resort it is precisely to develop this procedure (always increasing in size and cost in proportion as it spreads) that nature has had recourse to profusion.”
  • Ingenuity is the indispensible condition, or precisely the constructive facet, of additivity. “To accumulate characters in stable and coherent aggregates, life has to be very clever indeed. Not only has it to invent the machine but, like an engineer, so design it that it occupies the minimum space and is simple and resilient. And this implies and involves, as regards the structure of organisms (particularly the higher ones), a property which must never be forgotten. What can be put together can be taken apart. At an early stage of their discoveries biologists were surprised and fascinated by the fact that living beings, however perfect (or even more perfect) their spontaneity, were always decomposable into an endless chain of closed mechanisms. From this they thought they could deduce universal materialism. But they overlooked the essential difference between a natural whole and the elements into which it is analysed. By its very construction, it is true, every organism is always and inevitably reducible into its component parts. But it by no means follows that the sum of the parts is the same as the whole, or that, in the whole, some specifically new value may not emerge. That what is 'free', even in man, can be broken down into determinisms, is no proof that the world is not based on freedom-as indeed I maintain that it is. It is simply the result of ingenuity-a triumph of ingenuity-on the part of life.” This is also a concept integral to understanding complex systems. (9)
  • Indifference is transformed into solicitude. “By the phenomenon of association, the living particle is wrenched from itself. Caught up in an aggregate greater than itself, it becomes to some extent its slave. It no longer belongs to itself. And what organic or social incorporation does to extend it in space, its accession to a line of descent achieves no less inexorably in time. By the force of orthogenesis the individual unit becomes part of a chain. From being a centre it is changed into being an intermediary, a link-no longer existing, but transmitting; and, as it has been put, life is more real than lives. On the one hand the individual unit is lost in number, on the other it is torn apart in the collectivity, and in yet a third direction it stretches out in becoming. This dramatic and perpetual opposition between the one born of the many and the many constantly being born of the one runs right through evolution. As the general movement of life becomes regular, the conflict, despite occasional counter-attacks, tends to resolve itself. Yet it remains painfully noticeable to the end. The antinomy (10) only clears up with the appearance of mind where it attains its paroxysm (11) in feeling, and the indifference of the world for its constituents is transformed into an immense solicitude (12) . This is the sphere of the person.”
  • “Groping profusion; constructive ingenuity; indifference towards whatever is not future and totality-these are the three headings under which life rises up by virtue of its elementary mechanisms. There is also a fourth heading which embraces them all-that of global unity. This we have come across already-first in primordial matter, then on the early earth, then in the genesis of the first cells. Here it reappears in a still more emphatic way. Though the proliferations of living matter are vast and manifold, they never lose their solidarity. A continuous adjustment co-adapts them from without. A profound equilibrium gives them balance within. Taken in its totality, the living substance spread over the earth-from the very first stages of its evolution-traces the lineaments of one single and gigantic organism. I repeat this same thing like a refrain on every rung of the ladder that leads to man; for, if this thing is forgotten, nothing can be understood. To see life properly we must never lose sight of the unity of the biosphere that lies beyond the plurality and essential rivalry of individual beings. This unity was still diffuse in the early stages -a unity in origin, framework and dispersed impetus rather than in ordered grouping; yet a unity which, together with life's ascent, was to grow ever sharper in outline, to fold in upon itself, and, finally, to centre itself under our eyes.”
  • The arrow of evolution points towards increased complexity and consciousness. “…I think we had better go back to what I said above about the mutual relations between the without and the within of things. The essence of the real, I said, could well be represented by the 'interiority' contained by the universe at a given moment. In that case evolution would fundamentally be nothing else than the continual growth of this 'psychic' or 'radial' energy, in the course of duration, beneath and within the mechanical energy I called 'tangential', which is practically constant on the scale of our observations. And what, I asked, is the particular co-efficient which empirically expresses the relationship between the radial and tangential energies of the world in the course of their respective developments? Obviously arrangement, the arrangement whose successive advances are inwardly reinforced, as we can see, by a continual expansion and deepening of consciousness.” Later de Chardin writes, “Life seems to play as cleverly with collectivities and events as with atoms. But what could this ingeniousness and these stimulants do if applied to a fundamental inertia? And what, moreover, as we have pointed out, would the mechanical energies themselves be without some within to feed them? Beneath the 'tangential' we find the ‘radial'. The impetus of the world, glimpsed in the great drive of consciousness, can only have its ultimate source in some inner principle, which alone could explain its irreversible advance towards higher psychisms (13) .”
  • At this time evolution is faster outside of our bodies than inside them. “In the Upper Quaternary (14) period it is indeed and in the fullest sense present-day man at whom we are looking, not yet adult, admittedly, but having nevertheless reached the 'age of reason'. And when we compare him to ourselves, his brain is already perfect, so perfect that since that time there seems to have been no measurable variation or increased perfection in the organic instrument of our thought. Are we to say, then, that the evolution in man ceased with the end of the Quaternary era? Not at all. But, without prejudice to what may still be developing slowly and secretly in the depths of the nervous system, evolution has since that date overtly overflowed its anatomical modalities to spread, or perhaps even to transplant its main thrust into the zones of psychic spontaneity both individual and collective.”
  • “One after the other all the fields of human knowledge have been shaken and carried away by the same under-water current in the direction of the study of some development. Is evolution a theory, a system or a hypothesis? It is much more: it is a general condition to which all theories, all hypotheses, all systems must bow and which they must satisfy henceforward if they are to be thinkable and true. Evolution is a light illuminating all facts, a curve that all lines must follow.”
  • “Thus we see not only thought as participating in evolution as an anomaly or as an epiphenomenon; but evolution as so reducible to and identifiable with a progress towards thought that the movement of our souls expresses and measures the very stages of progress of evolution itself Man discovers that he is nothing else than evolution become conscious of itself, to borrow Julian Huxley's striking expression. It seems to me that our modern minds (because and inasmuch as they are modern) will never find rest until they settle down to this view. On this summit and on this summit alone are repose and illumination waiting for us.”
  • “…the stuff of the universe, by becoming thinking, has not yet completed its evolutionary cycle, and that we are therefore moving forward towards some new critical point that lies ahead. In spite of its organic links, whose existence has everywhere become apparent to us, the biosphere has so far been no more than a network of divergent lines, free at their extremities. By effect of reflection and the recoils it involves, the loose ends have been tied up; and the noosphere tends to constitute a single closed system in which each element sees, feels, desires and suffers for itself the same things as all the others at the same time.”
Accoding to de Chardin, the noosphere was beginning to emerge in 1930 when he wrote this book. Now, 80 years later is it not more obvious? We have now spanned the earth and interconnected almost all humans on earth through electronics (Internet, TV and radio). But we don’t yet know how to have conversations (15) . Our social network tools of today will look primitive compared to what they will become in the future. Facebook and Twitter are the play toys of our childhood of this new age. We are playing in order to learn how to become.

The author wrote, “We are, at this very moment, passing through a change of age, The age of industry; the age of oil, electricity and the atom; the age of the machine, of huge collectivities and of science -the future will decide what is the best name to describe the era we are entering. The word matters little. What does matter is that we should be told that, at the cost of what we are enduring, life is taking a step, and a decisive step, in us and in our environment. After the long maturation that has been steadily going on during the apparent immobility of the agricultural centuries, the hour has come at last, characterised by the birth pangs inevitable in another change of state. There were the first men-those who witnessed our origin. There are others who will witness the great scenes of the end. To us, in our brief span of life, falls the honour and good fortune of coinciding with a critical change of the noosphere.”

Later he writes, “In the last century and a half the most prodigious event, perhaps, ever recorded by history since the threshold of reflection has been taking place in our minds: the definitive access of consciousness to a scale of new dimensions; and in consequence the birth of an entirely renewed universe, without any change of line or feature by the simple transformation of its intimate substance.”

De Chardin saw this emergence, not as inevitable, but desirable, because the alternative is destruction, instead of survival. He saw all the problems of his day as part of the earthly human sphere searching for a soul.

“Our earth of factory chimneys and offices, seething with work and business, our earth with a hundred new radiations-this great organism lives, in final analysis, only because of, and for the sake of, a new soul. Beneath a change of age lies a change of thought. Where are we to look for it, where are we to situate this renovating and subtle alteration which, without appreciably changing our bodies, has made new creatures of us? In one place and one only-in a new intuition involving a total change in the physiognomy of the universe in which we move-in other words, in an awakening.”

This is a transformation available to everyone. “The outcome of the world, the gates of the future, the entry into the super-human-these are not thrown open to a few of the privileged nor to one chosen people to the exclusion of all others. They will open only to an advance of all together, in a direction in which all together can join and find completion in a spiritual renovation of the earth…”

And later he writes, “Noogenesis rises upwards in us and through us unceasingly.

We have pointed to the principal characteristics of that movement: the closer association of the grains of thought; the synthesis of individuals and of nations or races; the need of an autonomous and supreme personal focus to bind elementary personalities together, without deforming them, in an atmosphere of active sympathy. And, once again: all this results from the combined action of two curvatures-the roundness of the earth and the cosmic convergence of mind-in conformity with the law of complexity and consciousness.” (complexification)

De Chardin warns against impatience and isolationism. The process he visualized is slow with the end point far into the future. People must not be discouraged by all the forces pulling in different directions. These are but the normal human reactions to oppose transformative change. Another tendency is for people to isolate themselves from the process, becoming self centered, because they fear the loss of themselves into the collective. The noosphere is not a traditional type of collective, but one in which each individual retains identity and centeredness.

The Phenomenon of Man, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, Harper Perennial Modern Thought, 2008, 319pp. Originally published in 1955. Also, a downloadable version is available on the Internet Archive.

  1. Noosphere, according to the thought of Vladimir Vernadsky and Teilhard de Chardin, denotes the "sphere of human thought" Wikipedia
  2. Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, Wikipedia
  3. A Globe, Clothing Itself in a Brain, Jennifer Cobb Kreisberg, Wired
  4. Four Causes, Wikipedia
  5. Centreity: The state of being a center, as of attraction or action, or of being situated in a center; centrality., Jana Gana Mana; Power of attraction towards a center. The Imperial Dictionary of the English Language; Each part of the essence, its centreity; Keeps to itself; it shrinks not to a nullity., Dr. H. More
  6. Teilhard de Chardin’s Evolutionary Philosophy, Kheper
  7. The Phenomenon of Man, Wikipedia
  8. Orthogenesis, Wikipedia
  9. For additional concepts on ingenuity, read Ingenuity: Humans and their Organizations at a Crossroads
  10. Antinomy literally means the mutual incompatibility, real or apparent, of two laws. It is a term used in logic and epistemology. Wikipedia
  11. A sudden outburst of emotion or action. The Free Dictionary
  12. The state of being solicitous; care or concern, as for the well-being of another. The Free Dictionary
  13. Psychism: The doctrine of Quesne, that there is a fluid universally diffused, end equally animating all living beings, the difference in their actions being due to the difference of the individual organizations. Webster Dictionary
  14. The Quaternary Period is the most recent of the three periods of the Cenozoic Era in the geologic time scale of the ICS. It follows the Tertiary Period, spanning 2.588 ± 0.005 million years ago to the present. The Quaternary includes two geologic epochs: the Pleistocene and the Holocene. The Upper or Tarantian stage was 0.0117 to 0.126 million years ago.
  15. Conversation: turning around together. See Conversation and Creativity

Friday, January 7, 2011

Restoring the American Dream

Fareed Zakaria, GPS, CNN

This is an excellent video.

Restoring the American Dream (entire video of program)

Is the American Dream dead? And what can be done to revive it? You can see a special edition of "Fareed Zakaria GPS" dedicated to restoring the dream and building the American middle class back up.

For a glimpse on what the four CEOs think about how to restore the American dream check out their video excerpts below:

- To watch former IBM CEO Lou Gerstner on the state of the U.S. worker click HERE Video.
- To watch Alcoa CEO Klaus Kleinfeld on why Alcoa had to learn to do more with fewer workers click HERE Video.
- To watch Coca-Cola CEO Muhtar Kent on whether jobs will come back to America click HERE Video.
- To watch Google CEO Eric Schmidt on the innovation war being fought with other nations click HERE Video.

And don't forget that this was also the topic of Fareed's first TIME Magazine cover story which you can read HERE.

Watch the podcast HERE Video.

And you can find the transcript for the entire show HERE.

Chaos, Complexity and Entropy

A physics talk for non-physicists by Michael Baranger

“The twenty-first century is starting with a huge bang. For the person in the street, the bang is about a technical revolution that may eventually dwarf the industrial revolution of the 18th and 19th centuries, having already produced a drastic change in the rules of economics. For the scientifically minded, one aspect of this bang is the complexity revolution, which is changing the focus of research in all scientific disciplines, for instance human biology and medicine. What role does physics, the oldest and simplest science, have to play in this? Being a theoretical physicist to the core, I want to focus on theoretical physics. Is it going to change also?

Twentieth-century theoretical physics came out of the relativistic revolution and the quantum mechanical revolution. It was all about simplicity and continuity (in spite of quantum jumps). Its principal tool was calculus. Its final expression was field theory.

Twenty-first-century theoretical physics is coming out of the chaos revolution. It will be about complexity and its principal tool will be the computer. Its final expression remains to be found. Thermodynamics, as a vital part of theoretical physics, will partake in the transformation.”

The author describes calculus as being limited to smooth functions that can be approximated by a series of straight lines. “For at least 200 years, theoretical science fed on this calculus idea. The mathematicians invented concepts like continuity and analyticity to describe smoothness more precisely. And the discovery of Calculus led to an explosion of further discoveries. The branch of mathematics so constituted, known as Analysis, is not only the richest of all the branches, but also by far the most useful for applications to quantitative science, from physics to engineering, from astronomy to hydrodynamics, from materials science to oceanography. Theoretical scientists became applied mathematicians, and applied mathematicians are people for whom analysis is second nature. Integrals, differential equations, series expansions, integral representations of special functions, etc . . . . , these are the tools that calculus has provided and that are capable of solving an amazing variety of problems in all areas of quantitative knowledge.”

Scientists and engineers accepted this assumption so long that they forgot completely about it. “Yes, the enormous success of calculus is in large part responsible for the decidedly reductionist attitude of most twentieth century science, the belief in absolute control arising from detailed knowledge. Yes, the mathematicians were telling us all along that smooth curves were the exception, not the rule: we did not listen!”

Chaos is the exception that finally broke through. “Chaos is the rediscovery that calculus does not have infinite power. In its widest possible meaning, chaos is the collection of those mathematical truths that have nothing to do with calculus. And this is why it is distasteful to twentieth century physicists.”

Chaos can exist in both time and space. Chaos is space is called a fractal. “There are many possible definitions of the word fractal. A very loose and general definition is this: a fractal is a geometric figure that does not become simpler when you analyze it into smaller and smaller parts. Which implies, of course, that it is not smooth.”

Fractals exist in mathematics, geometry and almost everywhere in nature.

Chaos in time is the result of dynamical systems, a system that is capable of changing its configuration over time. “The signature of time-chaos is something called “sensitivity to initial conditions”.”

“Sensitivity to initial conditions is the death of reductionism. It says that any small uncertainty that may exist in the initial conditions will grow exponentially with time, and eventually (very soon, in most cases) it will become so large that we will lose all useful knowledge of the state of the system. Even if we know the state of the system very precisely now, we cannot predict the future trajectory forever. We can do it for a little while, but the error grows exponentially and we have to give up at some point.”

Time and space chaos are closely related. “Every chaotic dynamical system is a fractal-manufacturing machine. Conversely, every fractal can be seen as the possible result of the prolonged action of time-chaos.”

Chaos can exist for very simple systems and is always nonlinear.

“At the present time, the notion of complex system is not precisely delineated yet. This is normal. As people work on complex systems more and more, they will gain better understanding of their defining properties. Now, however, the idea is somewhat fuzzy and it differs from author to author. But there is fairly complete agreement that the “ideal” complex systems, those which we would like most to understand, are the biological ones, and especially the systems having to do with people: our bodies, our groupings, our society, our culture. Lacking a precise definition, we can try to convey the meaning of complexity by enumerating what seem to be the most typical properties. Some of these properties are shared by many non-biological systems as well.”

  • Complex systems contain many constituents interacting nonlinearly.
  • The constituents of a complex system are interdependent.
  • A complex system possesses a structure spanning several scales. At every scale we find a structure.
  • A complex system is capable of emerging behavior. “Emergence happens when you switch the focus of attention from one scale to the coarser scale above it. A certain behavior, observed at a certain scale, is said to be emergent if it cannot be understood when you study, separately and one by one, every constituent of this scale, each of which may also be a complex system made up of finer scales. Thus the emerging behavior is a new phenomenon special to the scale considered, and it results from global interactions between the scale’s constituents.”
  • A complex system is capable of self organization. “The combination of structure and emergence leads to self-organization, which is what happens when an emerging behavior has the effect of changing the structure or creating a new structure.”
  • A complex adaptive system can exhibit self reproduction. “There is a special category of complex systems which was created especially to accommodate living beings. They are the complex adaptive systems. As their name indicates, they are capable of changing themselves to adapt to a changing environment. They can also change the environment to suit themselves. Among these, an even narrower category are self-reproducing: they know birth, growth, and death.”
  • Complexity involves an interplay between chaos and non-chaos.
  • Complexity involves an interplay between cooperation and competition. “Once again this is an interplay between scales. The usual situation is that competition on scale n is nourished by cooperation on the finer scale below it (scale n+1).”

I find the author’s discussion on entropy unsatisfactory and unconvincing. After several pages of proof and discussion, he writes, “The conclusion is that our dimensionless entropy, which measures our lack of knowledge, is a purely subjective quantity. It has nothing to do with the fundamental laws of particles and their interactions. It has to do with the fact that chaos messes up things; that situations that were initially simple and easy to know in detail, will become eventually so complicated, thanks to chaos, that we are forced to give up trying to know them.”

Having learned about entropy from thermodynamics and being able to derive the concept of entropy from simple considerations of the Carnot Cycle, it’s a real property to me. One implication of thermodynamic entropy is the impossibility of perpetual motion. Energy gets dissipated in the form of heat. Perhaps I’m not knowledgeable enough to see the difference between thermodynamic entropy and information entropy. Perhaps I still have more to learn, or unlearn…

Chaos, Complexity and Entropy: A physics talk for non-physicists, Michael Baranger, MIT and NECSI, MIT-CTP-3112

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Hill readers: How weird are you?

By Mark Mellman, The Hill

We each like to believe we are pretty normal, pretty much like everyone else. Other people know what we know; we see things the way most other people do.

However, the simple truth is that if you are reading this paper, you are most likely a bit of a freak. And if you are not at the freakish edge of the public at-large, you are certainly out of step with fellow Hill readers, because the rest of us are quite different from most of America.

It’s evident in what we pay attention to. Whatever our partisan affiliation, we watched with rapt attention as Scott Brown took Ted Kennedy’s Senate seat last year. Pew research revealed that only 36 percent of our fellow Americans joined us in paying attention to that stunning turnaround. By December, we were engrossed in every twist and turn of the debate over the Bush tax cuts. Just 37 percent of the public paid attention to that. The midterms were all-consuming for us, but fewer than half the public focused even on the results of our biennial exercise in democracy while, at the height of the election season itself, a mere 29 percent were paying close attention to news about the elections.

Of course, Americans do not tune out all news, all the time. Sixty percent followed the earthquake in Haiti, 49 percent were fixated on the trapped miners in Chile. Speaking of Chile, there was about as much interest in news about December’s cold snap as in November’s election results.

Face it — we concentrate on a different set of issues than does the public.

Those differences in attention generate differences in knowledge. I will wager that every single person reading this column knows that John Boehner will become Speaker of the House, knowledge shared by just 38 percent of our fellow citizens. Indeed, 40 percent do not even realize that Republicans will have a majority in the new House. Pew also informs us that nearly one in five Americans believe the much reviled, former BP CEO Tony Hayward is actually the Prime Minister of Great Britain — more than can correctly identify David Cameron as the true incumbent.

Having more information gives us more opinions than typical voters. Again, I’d bet all of us had a view about START. However, only 16 percent of Americans heard a lot about the nuclear arms treaty with Russia, and nearly a third heard nothing at all. Even among those who claimed some knowledge before the Senate vote, Pew tells us almost a quarter had no opinion on whether the treaty should be ratified. Some one in six had no preference on the fate of the Bush tax cuts or on whether gays should be permitted to serve in the military. Heading into the election, a CBS/New York Times poll found nearly half the electorate holding no opinion whatsoever about the Tea Party. How many Hill readers fell into that category?

Sometimes the unique knowledge of the cognoscenti translates into very different perspectives on issues than those of the voters. While Republicans and Democrats disagree on the relative priorities implicated in the trade-off, partisans would tend to agree that balancing the budget requires either raising taxes or cutting programs. Three-quarters of the electorate starts the debate in a very different place, denying the need for trade-offs, asserting that if politicians only made smarter decisions we could eliminate the deficit without either cutting important programs or raising taxes.

We are weird, though we often wear our strangeness as a smug superiority, seeing our knowledge as a blessing. In many ways it is. However, when it comes to communicating with the public, knowledge can be a curse — a curse we will examine in a forthcoming column.

Mellman is president of The Mellman Group and has worked for Democratic candidates and causes since 1982. Current clients include the majority leaders of both the House and Senate.

Making Things Work: Solving Complex Problems in a Complex World

Yaneer Bar-Yam writes in the book’s Preface: “In recent years the rapidly changing world around us has been raising concerns about the ability of people to cope with change. Future Shock, The Ingenuity Gap, and other books describe the difficulty of people living in our complex world. Complexity may seem overwhelming but it is not a bad thing. The complexity of the world is a mirror reflection of ourselves working together to make the world work. We, together, are becoming increasingly complex. The reason we can do this is that we work together in increasingly effective ways. We are connected to each other in ways that allow us to respond as teams and organizations. This enables us to do things we would not be able to do by ourselves, not just in terms of amount of effort but in terms of complexity. Complex tasks require complex organizations. When we are part of a complex team we find the world a remarkably comfortable place, because we can act effectively while being protected from the complexity of the world. This feeling is like the experience of a cell in a body, protected from the environment, and contributing to the organism function. Today civilization is the organism we are part of. We are in the midst of a remarkable transition from the individual to the group, organization, and even to global civilization as a functioning unit. While this is a mind bending transition, it is a transition of opportunity for creating a world that works for everybody, on the global level and on the level of each individual.”

Later, he continues this train of thought: “Today we often describe the world around us as highly complex. Complexity manifests in everything from individual relationships to corporate challenges to concerns about the human condition and global welfare. As a global community, we are in the middle of a transition from the industrial to the information age, and this transformation is reflected and rereflected in everything around us. The amount of information that is flowing and the rate of change of society are both aspects of the growing complexity of our existence. As individuals, we have a hard time coping with all the information and change. In some sense more importantly, our society is also having difficulty coping with its own changes.

Our economic and social institutions, that we rely upon at critical times of our lives, including the health and education systems, are changing, not always gracefully, to meet the new challenges. Professional activities, from corporate management to systems engineering, require new approaches, insights and skills. Global concerns, such as environmental destruction and poverty - in developed and undeveloped nations - are becoming more pressing as these changes take place.

Despite major efforts to identify the solutions to these problems, they are often obscure and hidden from us. Even when we think we are making progress, the solutions we think of today may cause us more problems tomorrow. This is because complex problems do not lend themselves to easy solutions. Any action may have hidden effects that cause matters to become worse and the whole strategy we are using may be moving things in the wrong direction. Complex problems are the problems that persist-the problems that bounce back and continue to haunt us. People often go through a series of stages in dealing with such problems-from believing they are beyond hope, to galvanizing collective efforts of many people and dollars to address the problem, to despair, retreat, and rationalization. The progress made seems miniscule compared to the effort and resources expended. Even with all of the modern technological advances, it is easy to become pessimistic about the world today. There is hope, however, in the recognition that people can solve very complex problems when they work together effectively. Unfortunately, this is generally not how we respond when there are problems. We don't always realize the ability that we have when we work together. We tend to assign blame or responsibility to one individual.”

The author summarizes book: “Developing the ability to use a complex systems perspective requires new patterns of thinking. In the first section of this book some of the key complex systems ideas are described. These ideas -like emergence and interdependence-have to do with relationships between parts of a system and how these relationships lead to the behavior of the system. After all, society works because of how people interact with and relate to each other, not how each person acts separately. The results of the interactions between people are patterns of behavior. We will look at how patterns can arise from interactions without someone putting the parts of the pattern in place by telling each person what to do. Using our understanding of how neurons interact in the brain, we will show how the pattern of behavior can be made to serve a purpose. We will find that the type of pattern that arises can be related to how the system is organized - who can interact with whom. We will look more generally at the set of things a system can do, and how this set of actions is related to how it is organized. Some organizations are good at doing complex tasks, and some are not. Perhaps not surprisingly, centrally controlled or hierarchical organizations are not capable of highly complex tasks. This means that we have to figure out how to make distributed/networked organizations if we want to solve complex problems. Finally, we learn about evolution, how really complex systems (including distributed/networked organizations) can form and be effective without being planned (which is crucial because planning them doesn't work!). Counter to how evolution is usually discussed, it is not just about competition, it is always about both competition and cooperation. Competition and cooperation work together at different levels of organization, just as in team sports where players learn to cooperate because of team competition. Making an effective organization is making a successful team.”

He applies these principles to the following systems as examples:

  • Health care/medical system
  • Education system
  • Corporate management
  • International development
  • Military
  • Engineering
  • International terrorism

My understanding of his work, acquired only from reading this book, leads me to believe that what he is talking about are complicated or unorganized complex systems. I don’t believe that his approaches will work well for many structured complex systems. He mentions these only once and seems to dismiss their difficulties without explaining how. “Before we can explain how system problems arise and can be fixed, we have to understand something about how systems work. This is where science can help. For many years there has been a sense that chaos and complexity, promising new areas of scientific inquiry, have something fundamental to tell us about the world in which we live. James Gleick's classic book Chaos: Making a New Science (1987) and many other books in later years have raised popular awareness of these directions of research. Much of the focus has been on recognizing the intrinsic unpredictability of nature, and-by extension-of society. However, beyond the fascinating applications to turbulence, meteorology, and other complex problems in the natural world, complex systems science has more to tell us about the world-including human beings and their interactions-than just that it is unpredictable.”

There are two concepts in this book that I have found very helpful to my thinking:

  1. You need a complex system to solve a complex problem. I had intuited this earlier (Simple, Complicated or Complex), but he draws the implications out even more than I have. Humans are complex systems. Groups of humans and technology working together are an even more complex system. Therefore you can’t use a simple or a complex system to solve the problems of these types of systems. Even a single human as complex as he or she is, can’t grasp these types of systems. The only way we can solve the problems of these types of systems are with collaborative, creative groups of humans and technology. (See 1, 2 a Few and Many for descriptions of the types of complexity)
  2. Systems can appear simple, complicated or complex at different scales.

Bar-Yam summarizes his book this way: “To solve complex problems we must create effective complex organizations. The underlying challenge of this book is the question: How do we create organizations that are capable of being more complex than a single individual? Living with complexity is challenging, but we can and should clearly understand the nature of how it can be done, both for individuals and organizations. The complexity of each individual or organization must match the complexity of the task each is to perform. When we think about a highly complex problem, we are generally thinking about tasks that are more complex than a single individual can understand. Otherwise, complexity is not the main issue in solving it. If a problem is more complex than a single individual, the only way to solve it is to have a group of people-organized appropriately - solve it together. When an organization is highly complex it can only function by making sure that each individual does not have to face the complexity of the task of the organization as a whole. Otherwise failure will occur most of the time. This statement follows quite logically from the recognition of complexity in problems we are facing.

Our experience with organizing people is for large-scale problems that are not very complex. In this case the need for many people arises because many individuals must do the same thing to achieve a large impact. In this old reason for organizing people, a hierarchy works because it is designed to amplify what a single person knows and wants to do. However, hierarchies (and many modifications of them) cannot perform complex tasks or solve complex problems. Breaking up (subdividing) a complex task is not like breaking up a large scale task.

The challenge of solving complex problems thus requires us to understand how to organize people for collective and complex behavior. First, however, we have to give up the idea of centralizing, controlling, coordinating and planning in a conventional way. Such efforts are the first response of almost everybody today because of the effectiveness of this approach in the past. Instead, we need to be able to characterize the problem in order to identify the structure of the organization that can solve it, and then allow the processes of that organization to act. The internal processes of that organization can use the best of our planning and analysis tools. Still, ultimately, we must allow experimentation and evolutionary processes to guide us. By establishing a rapid learning process that affects individuals, teams and organizations, we can extend the reach of organizations, allowing them to solve highly complex problems.

I appreciate that I am only one human being and my understanding of the world is consequently quite bounded. Still, it is reasonable to hope that some of the concepts discussed here may be of use to you. Others will complement or contradict me as necessary.

The basic concepts that I hope to have contributed an appreciation for are as follows:

  • The functional importance of independence, separation and boundaries as counterpoints to the importance of interdependence, communication and integration;
  • The trade-offs in scale and complexity, where increasing the set of behaviors possible at one scale (complexity at that scale) requires a reduction in complexity at other scales;
  • The need for matching the complexity of the system at each scale to the complexity of the environment (task) at the same scale for the system to be successful;
  • The diverse nature of distributed networked systems that are not all the same thing (contrast, for example, the immune system and the nervous system), but can be understood from the same general principles;
  • he essential complementarity of competition and cooperation at different levels of organization;
  • The constructive nature of both competition and cooperation in forming complex systems;
  • The limitations of conventional planning in creating and managing complex systems and the essential importance of planned environments for evolutionary processes;
  • The practical utility of fundamental complex systems ideas;

Slightly less apparent but no less important are the recognition and appreciation of:

  • the profound paradoxical importance of individual and group differences as a universal property of complex systems;
  • the significance of specialization in effective collective behavior, including specialization of individuals and specialization of large subsystems;
  • the remarkable emergent behaviors that combine simple capabilities to allow dramatic system capabilities;
  • the universal nature of patterns of collective behavior, which serve as elementary building blocks of complex systems just as atoms do;
  • the ubiquity of pattern forming processes, differentiation, and particularly local-activation long-range inhibition mechanisms for such patterns.

Finally, along with the recognition of complex problems that we continue to face in this world, we have also pointed out the increasing complexity of society. This increasing complexity implies great capabilities. Indeed, it suggests that we, together, are becoming remarkably effective at solving complex problems in a complex world.”

Making Things Work: Solving Complex Problems in a Complex World, Yaneer Bar-Yam, NECSI Knowledge Press, 2004, 306pp