"A free energy principle for the brain". Friston, Kilner, Harrison (2006).
Figure 1: Schematic highlighting the difference between dissipative, self-organising systems like snowflakes and adaptive systems that can change their relationship to the environment.
Below is my rendition of the Figure, also inspired by the work of William Blake
Like any other scientific/artistic figure, a variety of interpretations and perspectives are possible & encouraged. Here is just one path through the “Winged Snowflake” drawing that highlights some core features of the Free Energy Principle and Active Inference.
Starting on the left side: The temperature arrow points down, pointing from lower temperatures (visually higher) to higher temperatures (visually lower). The phase boundary separates order from disorder; life from death. Above the phase boundary (below the critical temperature), crystalline and quasi-crystalline systems are able to persist, like a Snowflake in a freezing cloud. Below the phase boundary (above the critical temperature), to borrow a line from Hamlet, the Snowflake can do nothing but “melt, Thaw, and resolve itself into a dew” – it ceases to exist because it undergoes an irreversible phase transition. This dissipated system is symbolized by scattered raindrops, falling from a cloud.
On the top side of the phase boundary, a well-ordered Snowflake is represented as a Bayesian graph (nodes are statistical variables, edges are associations among node-variables). The Bayesian graph (map) of the Snowflake (territory) is a construction that represents the minimal Active Inference entity in terms of a partitioning with four kinds of nodes: Internal, External, Sense, and Action (see “Stochastic Chaos and Markov Blankets” and ActInf Livestream #032.0 for more information). External states influence Sense states, which influence the unfolding dynamics of Internal states (this is perception, or sentience). Internal states influence Action states, which Influence the unfolding dynamics of External states (this is action, or control). That's the perception-cognition-action cycle we know and love. The dots that were scattered widely below the phase boundary, are concentrated densely in the ActInf entity above the boundary.
Conditioned on the observation (map) and existence (territory) of the Snowflake, there are two options. First, the Snowflake can dissipate (the arrow pointing down to the raindrops). Or, the Snowflake can live (persist, persevere, survive, resist dissipation). Here, life is symbolized by a DNA double helix breaking out of the box (constrained open-endedness of development and evolution). Once the DNA is outside of the box, we see all the activities you'd expect a good lifeform to do: replication to make more DNA, transcription of DNA into RNA, and translation of that RNA into Protein. Together, the dynamic persistence of DNA, RNA, and Protein (and their colleagues such as carbohydrates, lipids, and vitamins) is symbolized by the eternal cosmic dance of the winged Ant Queen (Queens come from Queens and make more Queens). This Snowflake Queen has regular insect wings on her left side (your right) and an angel wing on her right side (your left). Also she has a tripartite Troika for an antennal set (this is like having a third eye, but for Ants).
As the top cursive caption suggests, in order to be persistAnt in an entropic world, the Snowflake Queen must carry out “dissipative exchange that precludes phase transition”. This vital exchange is not based upon merely intellectualized cognition. Rather it is predicated upon “action on the environment” – this is what distinguishes Active Inference from a host of other frameworks like Predictive Processing, and integrates it with areas like Ecological Psychology, Cybernetics, and Enactive/Embodied/Extended/Embedded/Encultured cognition.
All “things” do come to an end however, and the Ant Queen is no exception. When the particular Ant Queen loses her wings, she falls from grace and becomes worker-like. This phase transition for the Ant is like those raindrops falling from a frozen cloud – or not!
Because Critical Path is one of Bucky Fuller's last major works (1981), it draws together many of his deepest ideas in a format where disparate projects developed over his life are juxtaposed and contextualized. The book demonstrates an inspiring scope of thought (for example: all of history, the generalized physics of the action-outcome nexus, the role of humans on Spaceship Earth). The entire pragmatic and paradigmatic notion of the book -- CRITICAL PATH -- is that the path we are on, is CRITICAL (in the sense of essential, important, phase-transitioning, skeptical, perilous, life-and-death, required....). Critical Path was written with a collaborator (Kiyoshi Kuromiya, on the book cover listed as an "Adjuvant"), so it is comprehensible despite its comprehensiveness.
I find Critical Path to be a relatively accessible and endlessly re-readable on-ramp to Fuller's body of work. It is a book that first introduced me to many ideas which continue to be influential in my thinking many years after first exposure (Synergetics, Tensegrity, Dymaxion, Geodesics, World Game, etc.). When reading the book, both at first & now, there are cases where I rankle at Fuller's claims, or can't decipher what is being conveyed by a sentence, or think a word is being used imprecisely, or have an alternative way of thinking about some topic. In all these cases, by observing my own psychological & conceptual responses to Fuller's singular body of work, I develop as a person and as a scientist. This type of influence between the reader and Fuller (perhaps as is the case for any writer read with the appropriate respect) is the kind that transcends all description, so Fuller's impact on a particular reader or the world cannot be stated.
Whether we like it or not, Spaceship Earth set sail long, long ago. What we are left to do now as individuals/Scientists, according to Fuller, is perform omnidirectional sense-making and be the small change that steers Spaceship Earth along the Critical Path, toward an ever-better vision for the future. Steering us all along that Critical Path, and being humble along the way, is what Bucky Fuller did with his unconventionally-experimental syntax and life ("Guinea Pig B" was what he called himself). It is why the gravesite distillation of his life is not a list of ideas, patents, books, frameworks, students, or service to America and the World -- it is the simple ask: “Call me Trimtab”.
Through drawing and reinterpreting symbols, we can express and explore visions for America. In the drawing above, there are 4 zones of text, read from top to bottom:
“MDCCLXXVI ←→ MMXX”
“Novus Ordo Seclorum”
“The Great Promise”
The drawing is styled after the back (or is it the front?) of “The Great Seal”, which can be found on the back (or is it the front?) of the $1 USA dollar bill. To facilitate comparison, the reference image is shown here. We can start at the bottom of the drawing and build to the conclusion at the top.
“The Great Promise” is America’s foundational Promise to itself and the world. It isn’t always easy to follow the faint golden thread of this Promise amidst the red, white, and blue swirls; though I have learned that this thread can be traced, taught, and extended. The thin dotted thread of the Promise surrounds the entire known space of the drawing. This reflects the total scope, yet fragile nature, of the ongoing American experiment. I see that the Markov blanket of the American Promise is tattered but the circle remains unbroken. Maybe the hypothesis we are testing in the American experiment is something like: We hypothesize that within the manifest domain of this Promise (everywhere), we as Americans will always be vigilant, virtuous, and high-minded.
“Novus Ordo Seclorum” is a Latin phrase that has multiple different translations and senses in English (culturally-imbued terms can defy translation). We can take it word-by-word, and consider what each part of the phase might mean. “Novus” resonates with English words like New, Novel, and Nova. “Novus” invokes the explosive and exciting regeneration process that is the reality of the fight for American values. “Ordo” recalls two senses of “Order”. The first sense of Order here is something like, “How do we as America Order ourselves internally and also Order others external to our borders?”. The second sense of Order is akin to a sequential temporal ordering (blockchain, tapestry, choose your metaphor). In this second sense, the book that is America can always receive a new chapter and annotation, a new contribution, solution, perspective, or strategy. The events of the past can not be changed; they can be (and should be) reinterpreted and reanalyzed. We are empowered and have impact as citizens when we connect authentically to the multiple perspectives and events that contribute to American history. “Seclorum” sounds like Secular (as in, the legal separation of Church and State), but actually derives from the term “saeculum” meaning “length of time roughly equal to the potential lifetime of a person or, equivalently, of the complete renewal of a human population”. This term’s use here is interesting, since it hints at both the life-long internal alchemy that is patriotism, as well as the population-level dynamics of a political demos.
MDCCLXXVI is the number 1776 written in Roman numerals, MMXX is the number 2020 written in Roman numerals. America is built on the foundation of the past, which means that we stand on the shoulders of 1776 and every other year as well. Too much focus on 1776 can be misleading, it can lead to a tendency to downplay the relevance of other pre- and post-1776 events and people. In this drawing, the pyramid has a foundation that is anchored in the complete continuum of all the past and present, a fabric inclusive of all perspectives. Building on this multi-dimensional foundation, the steps of the pyramid reflect not the degrees of esoteric initiation, but the ways in which citizens can raise up America and the World. The pyramid is a flag, because American values guide us upwards, every step of the way. The shadowy side of the pyramid is infinite, since what America hides is truly enormous. The pyramid has wings like an eagle, or maybe like an angel, because this is how the American pyramid scheme escapes “turtles all the way down” – we are flying high and we are doing it live!
Atop the pyramid, instead of an illuminated capstone that exudes a dark symbology, we find an American flag (yes, another one). This reflects the notion that service to the country really is the highest possible vision for a citizen. Of course each person’s manifested behavior, and therefore their destiny, results from the interaction of value systems, constraints, influences,etc. – but for the purposes of improvised emblematic logos, suffice to say that no higher vision exists than that Grand Old Flag!
The top of the drawing reads “Annuit cœptis”, another Latin phrase. “Annuit” apparently derives from a term related to divine approval, and “cœptis” is a modified plural word that refers to an ensemble of undertakings. I leave it to the viewer to research the wildly-contrasting English translations of this phrase available, and consider what they might mean in the context of the American story. Suffice to say that if “Annuit cœptis” has to do with a divine or synchronistic approval of pluralism (pluralism sensu Aristotle, anti-Federalists, Tarski, Krishnamurti, Longino, and others), then I am onboard.
Above even the Grand Old Flag in the drawing, is an infinitely-graded equilateral triangle. This triangle is a placeholder for the true stuff of American Exceptionalism; that which animates the patriot’s yearning, the powerful visions and values that make our banner a symbol worth protecting. The layout of the visual parable is as such: After a citizen scales the steps of the American pyramid to reach the top, they must then jump upwards and pass through the veil of the flag. Remember that the American flag is not the territory of patriotism, it is the map. For so many missions, this map is needed dearly: to see once in a while as inspiration, and to carry inside always. The highest service to a symbol, always transcends the symbol itself. The American spirit is a politicized formalization of this metaphysical idea – and if that is not Exceptional, I do not know what is.
In 2019 I did 105 drawing livestreams (video #105 below). I am looking forward to 105 or more livestreams in 2020.
Click this link to subscribe to the channel on youtube.
A few days ago my collaborator Eirik Søvik and I published an article in the Philosophy journal Synthese, entitled "The ant colony as a test for scientific theories of consciousness". In the paper we discuss the confusing heterogeneity of "theories of consciousness", and reflect on how empirical behavioral ecological work on Ant colonies brings a new perspective to the question about consciousness in the universe. The abstract is below:
The appearance of consciousness in the universe remains one of the major mysteries unsolved by science or philosophy. Absent an agreed-upon definition of consciousness or even a convenient system to test theories of consciousness, a confusing heterogeneity of theories proliferate. In pursuit of clarifying this complicated discourse, we here interpret various frameworks for the scientific and philosophical study of consciousness through the lens of social insect evolutionary biology. To do so, we first discuss the notion of a forward test versus a reverse test, analogous to the normal and revolutionary phases of the scientific process. Contemporary theories of consciousness are forward tests for consciousness, in that they strive to become a means to classify the level of consciousness of arbitrary states and systems. Yet no such theory of consciousness has earned sufficient confidence such that it might be actually used as a forward test in ambiguous settings. What is needed now is thus a legitimate reverse test for theories of consciousness, to provide internal and external calibration of different frameworks. A reverse test for consciousness would ideally look like a method for referencing theories of consciousness to a tractable (and non-human) model system. We introduce the Ant Colony Test (ACT) as a rigorous reverse test for consciousness. We show that social insect colonies, though disaggregated collectives, fulfill many of the prerequisites for conscious awareness met by humans and honey bee workers. A long lineage of philosophically-neutral neurobehavioral, evolutionary, and ecological studies on social insect colonies can thus be redeployed for the study of consciousness in general. We suggest that the ACT can provide insight into the nature of consciousness, and highlight the ant colony as a model system for ethically performing clarifying experiments about consciousness.
Neurotypographical. [Neuro-typo-graphical], Adjective:
Describing a person who has Neurotypographia.
(in contrast with "Neurotypical" people).
Classical Diagnostic Symptoms:
- Bibliomania (love of reading & collecting books) and Graphomania (love of obsessive writing & drawing).
- Frequent production of automatic speech and automatic writing with distinctive style.
- Time dilation or contraction while producing and interpreting language.
- Strong sensitivity to certain sensory stimuli.
- Tendency to interpret meanings broadly (pan-semantica?) and produce artifacts with multiple interpretations.
- Choice of pen (or other media) alters thought dynamics.
- Manias and "conspiratorial thinking" are essentially always present, but can be productively channeled via discipline and education.
- Consistent cycling between introverted and extroverted phases.
- Acknowledgement, but not belief, of "New Age" ideation.
- Drive for integrative "big" ideas with universal scope.
- Individuals may be classified incorrectly under other DSM labels such as AD(H)D or otherwise.
Classical Prodromal Symptoms:
- Childhood fascination with stationary and office supplies, especially pen/pencil collecting. Sometimes excessive tape/glue/post-it use is also present.
- Delayed or poor handwriting as a child.
- Very early or late reading ability.
- Obsessions with Esoteric topics during childhood, such as: Alchemy, Egyptology, UFO's, alternative histories, famous mystics, the Occult, sex magick, NLP/persuasion, mind control, etc.
- Inexplicable Spiritual and/or Religious leanings.
- Passive roles in childhood trauma.
Note: the onset of Neurotypography can be catalyzed by consuming fontplays by other Neurotypographical thinkers such as: Marshall McLuhan, Rene Magritte, MC Escher, Buckminister Fuller, Ram Dass, etc.
If you or your child appear to be Neurotypographical, write on!
In the image, "Diversity of Thought" and "Diversity of Identity" are two complex vectors passing through a general "Diversity Space". We know from bio-social studies that each of these vectors are influenced by many factors and can be defined many ways. Ultimately all forms of diversity are manifested in a unique, embodied individual - an insight shared between Intersectionality and Liberalism (Individualism).
"Uni-versity" is the organizational structure that aims to prepare the naive, educate the ignorant, and research the barely-known. There is only one University - otherwise they would have called it something different.
"Di-versity" is the idea that differences exist among groups of objects that are similar enough to call a group, but dissimilar enough where differences can be seen. The "Di-" prefix reminds us that defining differences is always an act of bifurcation. The sooner we can realize that ideas and definitions exist as a consequence of opposition to one another, a more productive political discussion might emerge.
"Tri-versity" is a made-up word (aren't they all....), and seemed like the next logical step in the sequence. Perhaps a "tri-versity" is the group of people who are "tri-ing" to make things "better" (implying coordinated action that also includes a collective consensus on what "better" should be).
The first thought bubble emerging from the figure's mind is a loopy ring. A human child's first categories of the world are topological, not geometric (Jean Piaget *). This phase of evolutionary (species-level) and developmental (child-level) complexity is characterized by the inability to formalize topology beyond the immediate geometric forms found in nature.
The second thought bubble emerging from the figure's mind is the idea of a point. Defining a point implies defining the space the point exists within. Thus the innovation of the infinitesimal "point" relies upon the shadow-concept of a vast, or even infinite, "space". Think about it from the point of view of a RAM-limited verbally-combative chat bot: Without the "space" to make an argument (e.g. pass values into functions), how could it "make a point"?
The third thought bubble emerging from the figure's mind is a question: "Is the set of All points equidistant from some specified Point equivalent to a continuous 'Circle'?".
The fourth thought bubble is the following trilema: What is a Point? What is a Circle? What is a continuous line?
The fifth thought bubble is the obvious (to some) and esoteric (to most) next developmental stage of Geometry: Progressively more extreme abstractions to divine hypothesized or even merely possible types of relations among, for example, sets, categories, types, numbers, fields, networks, algebras, and grammars, and sentences and run on sentences and so on.
In the final panel, a compass traces out a circle (n.b. not a "Circle"). Experiments can reveal patterns that exist comfortably beyond the reach of theory. Seafarers we are, in this ocean of possible Geometries - the Compass is where we must find Direction. Each individual's compass is crafted by Evolution and tuned by local experience, leading to predictable temporal and spatial patterns of self-similarity of outcomes across idiosyncrasies. Chaotic systems, such as children, are apt to strongly diverge in their final logical stances when their axioms diverge only slightly (See: ZFC axiom of choice, or the Catholic "Great Schisms"). So how do we reconcile your compass and my compass, with your thought bubble and my thought bubbles? -- That so many humans can live together somewhat peacefully, is nothing short of a miracle.
Also see: Fuller, RB & Applewhite, EJ (1975). Synergetics; Explorations in the Geometry of Thinking.
When does text become art?
I think that there are two roads by which text can become art, sketched out below:
The first road by which text can become art is by containing beautiful content. For example, words from the dictionary could be used in a very specific order, with the outcome being a poem, a love letter, or "Ulysses". Here the focus is less on typography and more on the vaguely defined "content" of the text.
The second road by which text can become art is by emphasizing stylistic parameters, a science which I call "Fontplay". As any aspiring "fontplayer" will soon realize, aesthetic perturbations only make sense within an exceedingly limited portion of "content space", and vice-versa. Despite this seeming parity of mutual constraint between content and style, it is the exploration of "style space" that facilitates rapid exploration of "content space", and not the other way around. The implications of this are that the train of thought runs on (or through the country of?) style, not content. Rearranging post-it notes or making concept maps to generate new ideas are two good examples of how syntactic mutational processes can induce directed semantic evolutionary change.
Indeed, the Syntactic (style) road actually encompasses the Semantic (content) road. Here are some arguments why this might be the case.
1) All books can ultimately be restyled in a different font, but it doesn't even make sense to ask if a font could be rebooked into a different meaning. Thus books (content) represent only one possible generalization of font (style).
2) Borges's Library of Babel contained an infinity of texts, differing from one another in their symbolic content. So if the set of all possible rearranged books in a certain font set is infinite, shouldn't the set of all possible content-by-font combinations then be transfinite?
3) John 1:1.
So perhaps the relationship between Content and Style is less like two parallel roads and more like a bike lane going down the median divider of a communication freeway. The bike traffic (message content) is surrounded on all sides by the car traffic (message style). Despite Newton's Laws, crashes between cars and bikes are usually more painful for the bike rider. In other words, illegible font or off-putting style can destroy the content of a text, but no aberration of content may ever sully an artistic style.
Allow me to briefly explain a simple scheme for the optimal development, elaboration, and maintenance of a decentralized system. Such decentralized systems include, but are not limited to: cryptocurrencies, academic research groups, and ant colonies.
In this organizational model, there are 4 stages placed around a clock. The clock symbolizes the fact that all organization is explicitly temporal - no logistical plan occurs save for the passage of time. The points around the clock are also the cardinal directions of a compass, symbolizing the orientation and direction of the project. The big and little hands of the clock are always rotating through the 4 stages. The little hand moves rapidly and repeatedly overpasses the slowly-moving big hand. The little hand represents the focus of each individual worker or subunit, the big hand represents the focus of the organization as a whole. If I could have represented a second- or day-hand in this drawing, I would have done so. Thus the following 4 stages are meant to be followed as a spatio-temporal fractal, not a "road map" (ugh). The 4 stages are:
1. Explore Options.
2. Design a System.
3. Evaluate Progress.
4. Fine-tune Parameters.
In the first stage ("Explore Options"), the individual or collective undergoes a process to discover what is possible. Individuals might do this on paper, small groups sometimes use brainstorming. In this stage, larger groups have the advantage of diverse and heterogeneous membership, allowing improved exploration of option-space In the second stage ("Design a System"), a quantitative yet flexible plan is decided upon. This is a challenging phase that seeks to integrate personal and collective ethical stances with socio-economic constraints. The third stage ("Evaluate Progress") is an ongoing proactive observation of self-function. Ideally the mechanisms of evaluation will have been prominently enshrined in the plan in the second stage. The fourth stage ("Fine-tune Parameters") involves updating, not reconstructing, aspects of the previous plan. Think "Evolution is a tinker, not an inventor" -- if things are truly terrible and really require reconstruction, then you can bring it up the next time we are all at stage 2.
The little hand moves through all these stages quickly, perhaps over the course of the day. In the morning, what can I do today? At lunch, how will I do it? At dinner, how well did I do? At night time, what will I do differently tomorow?
The big hand sweeps a slower circle through the stages. In the case of a human organization, theses stages might look like: What is the niche in the market that we are best able to fill, How will we fill this niche in the next 3 years, How will we know how well we are doing, and What kind of updates should we apply to our system to improve success?
In summary, the four fractal stages of decentralized optimization:
1. Explore Options. -- Outrospection
2. Design a System -- Revolution.
3. Evaluate Progress -- Introspection
4. Fine-tune Parameters -- Evolution
p.s. This drawing is Ethereum-centric because cryptocurrencies are exciting areas to explore many of these ideas about distributed socio-economic systems. Especially Ethereum, no? Inquire within.