The J Curve

Sunday, June 13, 2004

Will we comprehend supra-human emergence?

Thinking about complexity, emergence and ants, I went to a lecture by Deborah Gordon, and remain fascinated by the different time scales of learning at each layer of abstraction. For example, the hive will learn lessons (e.g., don’t attack the termites) over long periods of time – longer than the life span of the ants themselves. The hive itself is a locus of learning, not just individual ants.

Can an analogy be drawn to societal memes? Human communication sets the clock rate for the human hive (and the Interet expands the fanout and clock rate). Norms, beliefs, philosophy and various societal behaviors seem to change at a glacial pace, so that we don’t notice them day-to-day (slow clock rate). But when we look back, we think and act very differently as a society than we did in the 50’s.

As I look at the progression of:

Groups : Humans
Flocks : Birds
Hive : Ants
Brain : Neurons

I notice that as the number of nodes grows (as you go down the list), the “intelligence” and hierarchical complexity of the nodes drops, and the “emergent gap” between the node and the collective grows. There’s more value to the network with more nodes (grows ~ as n^2), so it makes sense that the gap is greater. At one end, humans have some understanding of emergent group phenomena and organizational value, and on the other end, a neuron has no model for brain activity.

One question I am wrestling with: does the minimally-sufficient critical mass of nodes needed to generate emergent behavior necessitate a certain incomprehensibility of the emergent properties by the nodal members? Does it follow that the more powerful the emergent properties, the more incomprehensible they must be to their members? So, I guess I am wondering about the "emergent gap" between layers of abstraction, and whether the incomprehensibility across layers is based on complexity (numbers of nodes and connections) AND/OR time scales of operation?

Wednesday, June 09, 2004

So, like, who are you?

and what do you want to talk about? I just was curious who would find this if I took no effort to promote it....

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