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Salvador Dalí with anteater Paris 1969

I don’t do drugs. I am drugs” ~ Salvador Dalí.

The photo, which dates from 1969, depicts the 65-year-old Catalan surrealist Salvador Dalí emerging from a Paris subway station led by his trusty giant anteater. Surrealism‘s aim was to “resolve the previously contradictory conditions of dream and reality.” Artists painted unnerving, illogical scenes with photographic precision, created strange creatures from everyday objects and developed painting techniques that allowed the unconscious to express itself. [from Wikipedia, link above].

Baudrillard Simulacra and Simulation 1981 book

According to Baudrillard, Simulacra are copies that depict things that either had no reality to begin with, or that no longer have an original. While, Simulation is the imitation of the operation of a real-world process or system over time. “Simulacres et Simulation” is a 1981 philosophical treatise by Jean Baudrillard seeking to interrogate the relationship among reality, symbols, and society:

[…] Simulacra and Simulation is most known for its discussion of symbols, signs, and how they relate to contemporaneity (simultaneous existences). Baudrillard claims that our current society has replaced all reality and meaning with symbols and signs, and that human experience is of a simulation of reality. Moreover, these simulacra are not merely mediations of reality, nor even deceptive mediations of reality; they are not based in a reality nor do they hide a reality, they simply hide that anything like reality is relevant to our current understanding of our lives. The simulacra that Baudrillard refers to are the significations and symbolism of culture and media that construct perceived reality, the acquired understanding by which our lives and shared existence is and are rendered legible; Baudrillard believed that society has become so saturated with these simulacra and our lives so saturated with the constructs of society that all meaning was being rendered meaningless by being infinitely mutable. Baudrillard called this phenomenon the “precession of simulacra”. […] (from Wikipedia)

Simulacra and Simulation” is definitely one of my best summer holiday readings I had this year. There are several connections to areas like Collective Intelligence and Perception, even Self-Organization as the dynamic and entangled use of symbols and signals, are recurrent on all these areas. Questions like the territory (cultural habitats) and metamorphose are also aborded. The book is an interesting source of new questions and thinking about our digital society, for people working on related areas such as Digital Media, Computer Simulation, Information Theory, Information and Entropy, Augmented Reality, Social Computation and related paradigms. I have read it in English for free [PDF] from a Georgetown Univ. link, here.

Figure – A classic example of emergence: The exact shape of a termite mound is not reducible to the actions of individual termites. Even if, there are already computer models who could achieve it (Check for more on “Stigmergic construction” or the full current blog Stigmergy tag)

The world can no longer be understood like a chessboard… It’s a Jackson Pollack painting” ~ Carne Ross, 2012.

[…] As pointed by Langton, there is more to life than mechanics – there is also dynamics. Life depends critically on principles of dynamical self-organization that have remained largely untouched by traditional analytic methods. There is a simple explanation for this – these self-organized dynamics are fundamentally non-linear phenomena, and non-linear phenomena in general depend critically on the interactions between parts: they necessarily disappear when parts are treated in isolation from one another, which is the basis for any analytic method. Rather, non-linear phenomena are most appropriately treated by a synthetic approach, where synthesis means “the combining of separate elements or substances to form a coherent whole”. In non-linear systems, the parts must be treated in each other’s presence, rather than independently from one another, because they behave very differently in each other’s presence than we would expect from a study of the parts in isolation. […] in Vitorino Ramos, 2002, http://arxiv.org/abs/cs /0412077.

What follows are passages from an important article on the consequences for Science at the moment of the recent discovery of the Higgs boson. Written by Ashutosh Jogalekar, “The Higgs boson and the future of science” (link) the article appeared at the Scientific American blog section (July 2012). And it starts discussing reductionism or how the Higgs boson points us to the culmination of reductionist thinking:

[…] And I say this with a suspicion that the Higgs boson may be the most fitting tribute to the limitations of what has been the most potent philosophical instrument of scientific discovery – reductionism. […]

[…] Yet as we enter the second decade of the twenty-first century, it is clear that reductionism as a principal weapon in our arsenal of discovery tools is no longer sufficient. Consider some of the most important questions facing modern science, almost all of which deal with complex, multi factorial systems. How did life on earth begin? How does biological matter evolve consciousness? What are dark matter and dark energy? How do societies cooperate to solve their most pressing problems? What are the properties of the global climate system? It is interesting to note at least one common feature among many of these problems; they result from the build-up rather than the breakdown of their operational entities. Their signature is collective emergence, the creation of attributes which are greater than the sum of their constituent parts. Whatever consciousness is for instance, it is definitely a result of neurons acting together in ways that are not obvious from their individual structures. Similarly, the origin of life can be traced back to molecular entities undergoing self-assembly and then replication and metabolism, a process that supersedes the chemical behaviour of the isolated components. The puzzle of dark matter and dark energy also have as their salient feature the behaviour of matter at large length and time scales. Studying cooperation in societies essentially involves studying group dynamics and evolutionary conflict. The key processes that operate in the existence of all these problems seem to almost intuitively involve the opposite of reduction; they all result from the agglomeration of molecules, matter, cells, bodies and human beings across a hierarchy of unique levels. In addition, and this is key, they involve the manifestation of unique principles emerging at every level that cannot be merely reduced to those at the underlying level. […]

[…] While emergence had been implicitly appreciated by scientists for a long time, its modern salvo was undoubtedly a 1972 paper in Science by the Nobel Prize winning physicist Philip Anderson (link) titled “More is Different” (PDF), a title that has turned into a kind of clarion call for emergence enthusiasts. In his paper Anderson (who incidentally first came up with the so-called Higgs mechanism) argued that emergence was nothing exotic; for instance, a lump of salt has properties very different from those of its highly reactive components sodium and chlorine. A lump of gold evidences properties like color that don’t exist at the level of individual atoms. Anderson also appealed to the process of broken symmetry, invoked in all kinds of fundamental events – including the existence of the Higgs boson – as being instrumental for emergence. Since then, emergent phenomena have been invoked in hundreds of diverse cases, ranging from the construction of termite hills to the flight of birds. The development of chaos theory beginning in the 60s further illustrated how very simple systems could give rise to very complicated and counter-intuitive patterns and behaviour that are not obvious from the identities of the individual components. […]

[…] Many scientists and philosophers have contributed to considered critiques of reductionism and an appreciation of emergence since Anderson wrote his paper. (…) These thinkers make the point that not only does reductionism fail in practice (because of the sheer complexity of the systems it purports to explain), but it also fails in principle on a deeper level. […]

[…] An even more forceful proponent of this contingency-based critique of reductionism is the complexity theorist Stuart Kauffman who has laid out his thoughts in two books. Just like Anderson, Kauffman does not deny the great value of reductionism in illuminating our world, but he also points out the factors that greatly limit its application. One of his favourite examples is the role of contingency in evolution and the object of his attention is the mammalian heart. Kauffman makes the case that no amount of reductionist analysis could explain tell you that the main function of the heart is to pump blood. Even in the unlikely case that you could predict the structure of hearts and the bodies that house them starting from the Higgs boson, such a deductive process could never tell you that of all the possible functions of the heart, the most important one is to pump blood. This is because the blood-pumping action of the heart is as much a result of historical contingency and the countless chance events that led to the evolution of the biosphere as it is of its bottom-up construction from atoms, molecules, cells and tissues. […]

[…] Reductionism then falls woefully short when trying to explain two things; origins and purpose. And one can see that if it has problems even when dealing with left-handed amino acids and human hearts, it would be in much more dire straits when attempting to account for say kin selection or geopolitical conflict. The fact is that each of these phenomena are better explained by fundamental principles operating at their own levels. […]

[…] Every time the end of science has been announced, science itself proved that claims of its demise were vastly exaggerated. Firstly, reductionism will always be alive and kicking since the general approach of studying anything by breaking it down into its constituents will continue to be enormously fruitful. But more importantly, it’s not so much the end of reductionism as the beginning of a more general paradigm that combines reductionism with new ways of thinking. The limitations of reductionism should be seen as a cause not for despair but for celebration since it means that we are now entering new, uncharted territory. […]

(…) The Four Mists of Chaos, the North, the East, the West, and the South, went to visit Chaos himself. He treated them all very kindly and when they were thinking of leaving, they consulted among themselves how they might repay his hospitality. Since they had noticed that he had no holes in his body, as they each had (eyes, nose, mouth, ears, etc.), they decided each day to provide him with an opening. At the end of seven days, Kwang-tse tells us, Chaos died. (…)  in Indeterminacy – Ninety Stories by John Cage (Transcript of story number 27), With Music, ca. 26’00” to 27’00”, From John Cage’s [1958] Lecture ‘Indeterminacy’, 26’00” to 27’00”, in Die Reihe No. 5, English edition on p.120.

Drawing (page 5) – Riccardo Manzotti – A Process View of Reality – April 2008.

To destroy variety at a scale, we need variety at another scale“, Yavni Bar-Yam, ICCS’11 – Int. Conference on Complex Systems, Boston, June 2011.

In “a process oriented externalist solution to the hard problem” (A Process View of Reality, 2008), an 8 page comic series (pdf link) about the Mind-Body problem, or David Chalmers Hard Problem, Riccardo Manzotti asks: […]  How can the conscious mind emerge out of physical stuff like the brain? Apparently, Science faces an unsolvable problem:  The hard problem states that there is an unbridgeable gap between our conscious experience and the scientific description of the world. The modern version of the mind-body problem arose when the scholars of the XVII century suggested that reality is divided in the mental domain and in the physical domain […]. In the next 7 pages, Manzotti comes up with a possible solution, not far from what Science nowadays is doing, starting in the 1950’s: avoiding reductionism.

[…] >Chomsky says humans can make more output than they take in as input. There’s a gap he calls creativity […]

Language is meaningless, thought is pointless, and we’re all gonna die. Hello, hi there!” […] New York director Annie Dorsen takes the famous television debate between the philosopher Michel Foucault and linguist and activist Noam Chomsky from the Seventies as inspiration and material for a dialogue between two specially developed chatbots: every evening, these computer programs designed to mimic human conversations perform a new – as it were, improvised – live text. “Hello Hi There” is a performance without people – a literal expression of post-humanism, and simultaneously an examination of what it means to be human. The piece goes inside the question of human nature and intelligence, both the organic and the artificial […] (from Annie Dorsen “Hello Hi There“, PS122, New York, NY, Jan. 2011)

(video) An excerpt from the Chomsky-Foucault debate which was aired on Dutch television in 1971. For more check, Noam Chomsky and Michel Foucault, “The Chomsky-Foucault Debate: On Human Nature” (New York: The New Press, 2006). [a full transcript is available here].

Photo – David Hockney “my Mother” polaroid composition photo collage (UK, 1982).

[…] The intense world of differences, in which we find the reason behind qualities and the being of the sensible, is precisely the object of a superior empiricism. This empiricism teaches us a strange ‘reason’, that of the multiple, chaos and difference (nomadic distributions, crowned anarchies). It is always differences which resemble one another, which are analogous, opposed or identical: difference is behind everything, but behind difference there is nothing. Every object, every thing, must see its own identity swallowed up in difference, each being no more than a difference between differences. We know that modern art tends to realise these conditions: in this sense it becomes a veritable theatre of metamorphoses and permutations. A theatre where nothing is fixed, a labyrinth without a thread (Ariadne has hung herself). The work of art leaves the domain of representation in order to become ‘experience’, transcendental empiricism or science of the sensible. […], Gilles Deleuze in “Différence et répétition” 1968 (“Difference and Repetition” translated by Paul Patton, New York: Columbia University Press, 1994).

[...] People should learn how to play Lego with their minds. Concepts are building bricks [...] V. Ramos, 2002.

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