Some Key Issues and Concepts:

Basic Rules for Survival:

When things are bad:
 -cover your arse and run for cover....

When things are good:
 -come out,  clear up the mess and try and prevent any such disasters from happening again....

 If things are more often bad than good, there may not be enough time for damage repair and prevention
 -things are likely to get worse....

But how does one prevent such disasters from happening again?

Modelling and the externalisation process as strategies for survival :
    -Self reflection and "mental processing"

i.  Life can be dangerous (and difficult)
          (depending on circumstances -climate, flora and fauna, plus various human factors)

ii.  lasse-faire vs understanding, control and planning
          (lasse-faire ok -if we accept death.... but if we wish to beat the system, then we need to understand the system)
          (bringing up children who survive requires understanding the conditons that are life threatening)

iii. we do (apparently) have simple "conditioned reflexes" but these imply "lasse-faire"
          (if we are to understand and survive -then we need "conceptual models" of how things work)

iv.  we cannot describe things without a system of concepts with which to analyse and describe that which we wish to understand
          (our "models" are limited by the concepts that we have available for use)

v.  the problem becomes even more complex because we (the observer) are constantly interacting with that which we observe (our environment)
          (it is difficult to observe ourselves observing ourselves)

vi. It is easier to see the splinter in another person's eye than the plank in our own
          (we need to "externalise" our "internal" processes -in order to understand how they operate)
          (-and to understand how they fit into the problems around the construction of our conceptual models)

Social Strategies:

Collective (Social) systems:

-Collective effort (colaboration) can help share the load -but introduces its own set of problems:
-Common aims need to be defined in terms of a common (meta-)language
-Information often needs to be explicit -and needs to reach the right people

 -Specialisation also allows the development of economic systems (of exchange)
 -Specialisations may encourage the possibility of social hierarchies based on the exploitation of knowledge (materials, resources, etc.)
 -There is a possibility of some people cheating

Individualistic (Social) systems:
-no Social Coherence
-no Collective Knowledge Base
-no Organised Solutions

Conceptual Strategies:


-Cognition,  Calculation and Prediction
     (Science and Magic)
     (The Computability Problem)
     (The Turing Machine)


-Concepts of Space and Language
     (Form and Content)
     (Definition, Organisation and Control)
     (Grammar and Articulation)

-Definition and Construction of Space
-Processing of Space (Einstein/Turing)
-Mapping between Spaces

A reincarnation of "Systems Theory"?

Perfect Practice:

Open and Closed:

Every "process" involves "change": The Turing Machine (which is concidered to be a model for all "computable" processes) is based on the idea of "substitution" of one symbol for another. In this context (if we are prepared to accept "infinite" processes and ignore systems of "proof") "computability" could be defined simply as the existance of a specified "substitution rule".

So as time passes and processes continue, they change things. However, there are perhaps (at least) two types of change -which define two different types of system:

Closed Systems: Basically continually (re)use the intitial repertoire (alphabet) of possible changes (substitutable elements). These systems are always changing but basically remain the same. Perhaps like a river which constantly flows with (new) water but reamins essentially unchanged). This is the kind of change that allowed European philisophers to solve the debate on change or constancy by claiming that constant change always remained the same -and so one didn't need to take account of change-or the effects of time.....

Cylcic and Chaotic Systems:

Clearly, the simplest way to (re)use the elements of a closed system is to repeatedly and repetively "cycle" through them (like watching a film, video tape or DVD).... However, some "closed" systems do not do this -they exhibit more "complex" behaviour and do not continually repeat the same chain of transitions -but keep generating "variations" within the changes.... i.e. the elements are the same -but they keep reapearing in different (and non-repetitive) order.....  Such systems are called "chaotic"  (because they appear to have no simple fixed "order").... It is important to realise that (in this context) "chaos" does not mean "random".

Open Systems: This type of system  is  constantly evolving. There is no fixed repertoir of states (symboles, elements, etc.)  which can be (re)used -but each transition "creates"something that did not (;ocally) exist before the transition. This kind of change is like baking a cake.... One starts with various ingredients, mixes them together and bakes them..... The result is something totally different drom that which one started with.... One then eats the cake and it is processed by one's body, producing energy and waste products  -both of which then can play important roles in other (generative) systems.

Interpreting "Difference":

The idea of "difference" may seem, at first glance, to be trivial -but in fact it may well be a trully fundamental concept in at least three important areas:

Apparently, our sensory system is very sensitive to changes in sensory stimulus -and that if there is no change in a stimulus then it simply fades out of our perception. This means, for example, that people who live in cities often don't hear the sound of the traffic any more but will be kept awake by the much quieter sound of sheep when visiting the country.

Thinking can be concidered to be the (symbolic) manipulation of things (ideas) that are (presumably) based on "reality" -but do themselves not have a direct physical existance outside the brain that is doing the "thinking". Fundamental to this process is the "interpetation" process -which basically is involved with "recognising" the various conceptual objects that are currently being manipulated by the brain during the "thinking" process. Personal experience suggests that a taxonomy of "differences" underlies the process of "interpretation" (i.e.  we "recognise" or "interpret" an orange, for example, because it is different from all the other fruits except oranges.... and that if it was "different" to all fruit it would be classified as "wierd fruit" -or "a wierd thing" depending on what level of description (within the thinker's personal taxonomy) a "similarity" was found.

"Infromation" has been defined as "the difference that makes a difference" -so the importance of the concept would seem difficult to deny....

Similarity and Difference:

So what is "different" and what is "the same"?

Is a green apple the same as a red apple -or is different? What about a purple apple? How does context affect the way we percieve and understand differences?

Do we have (or do we need) a convenient way to represent both differences and similarities -so that we can concider them in less absolute and more subtle (differentiated) terms?

The Evolving Dialogue:

In an organic universe, where things grow and interact to produce new things we are constantly faced with the questions such as:  How new is the new? How much do these "new" things affect the current situation? How much is old knowledge still valid -and how much do we need to rethink and reorganise ourselves?

How "different" are things when they change?

To Be or to Might Be.... Perchance to Dream!

Perhaps, as Candide believed, we treally do live in the best of all possible worlds.... On the other hand, such optimism presumably does also admit to the possibility of there being "other" potential worlds.... which for some reason or other have not been realised.... Perhaps the result of a wise ruler making a good choice, perhaps the assasin's bullet missing (or hitting) its target, maybe the vagarities of the battlefield at some point in time -or perhaps simple "good" or "bad" luck for somebody (depending on your point of view).

However, presumably, there is not only "What IS" but also "What might be",  "What could have been", "What was", "What will be" plus such worlds as  "What is desirable",  "What is undesirable", "What is preferable" or "What must be avoided at all costs".....

Perhaps some of these worlds are completely impossible... so our dreams are mere fantasies of  the unobtainable. However, perhaps some dreams do come true (but which ones?).....

If we wish to change thing -then surely we must undertand the viability of our dreams and have an undertanding of the present situation -plus some idea of how the present situation can be modified to become more like our ideal.....

Negative Pragmatism:

One easilly asumes that "pragmatism" is a sensible strategy for survival. Presumably there is little point in wasting valuable time on strategies that have no chance of success. However, how exactly are we to know beforehand, what is "real"and what strategies are likely to succeed?

Of course, past experience can be useful, but circumstances change -and prtevious strategies sometimes need changing or updating....  and at this point one is faced with a cognitive paradox -because how can we adopt a "new" strategy -if it does not exist?

In novel situations one needs to be "inventive"-and this implies exploring strategies that do not exist.... potential strategies, but perhaps also "ideal" strategies -that may not be realisable (at present) -but perhaps do help to define the parameters and limits which can be used (pragmatically) to test the various options that might be (now) available.

Being "creative" can involve a kind of "negative pragmatism" which explores the potential of things that currently lie outside the current situation or system....

Mind and Body:

For some reason, western philosophy makes a distinction between the (abstract) "mind" (which is seen as being superiour and in control) and the (concrete) "body" (which is physical and passively under the control of "mind")..... This is reflected in our political system (by the divisions between politicians and civil servants) in business (the division between management and labour) and even in our view of the computer (the division between "software"and "hardware").

But does this division actually exist (outside our imagination)?

Apparently, there is evidence to suggest that many forms of physical illness are closely related to mental processes.... Presumably, opur brain is also part of our body -and thefeore both affects and is affectred by bodily proceses (such as hunger, tiredness and disease).... However, perhaps the easiest way to question the split between mind and body is to look closely at the difference between "hardware" (form and structure) and "software" (content and control):

Hard and Software:

Superficially, there is a great difference. Harware hangs around -while software can be easilly changed by loading a new disk -or programme into the system.

However, supposing the system that reads the software stopped working for some reason. Lets say that one's DVD reader gets jammed and one can't change the current DVD. Surely, at that point -the DVD becomes a fixed part of the hardwere and is no longer "software".....

Perhaps the difference between "hardware" and "software"is simply a matter of time....

In some cases, perhaps the difference between "dream" and "reality" is also only a matter of time!

Keeping Up Appearences:

Some individuals and social systems prefer image over substance. Postmodernism makes a fetish out of "image" and apparently claims that it is equal to "the real thing"....

Presumably, such thinking is also a sign of social decay -when the substance is rotten then only the image is left.... In these cases, promoting "what should be" becomes more important than understanding "what is" is.  Within such systems, understanding "what is" often becomes to be  concidered highly subversive -because it destroys  the carefully preserved image and reveals the rotten structure underneath,

Such systems  may well be the result of social decay -however, they also promote it. These systems are dangerous if they are believed -because people subsequently act on "what should be" and not "what is".... and innapropriate solutions are applied -which cannot solve the real problems that need dealing with. This is why all propaganda systems are a danger to themselves (as well as to the people they destroy in order to preserve the image).

Of course, as long as everybody focusses on "image" and not on "substance" people often remain happy as the system collapses around them -untilthe illusion is no longer sustainable -and then they have no way to dealwith the sudden collapse of all that they (were told to) believe.

Perhaps this is a fundamental functional (and non-religious) reason for "iconaclasm"..... One may wonder if western society has not paid a high price for its trust in images and icons......

Towards a Generalised Model of Practical Conceptual Models:

The Needs and Dangers of a single language:

It seems that there are many related (and inter-related) complex issues which arise as soon as one tries to develop some kind of general model for (individual or social) "problem solving". Indeed, one would like to have such a system to "solve" the problem of its own creation.....

Presumably, it is impossible to create a system (or conceptual machine) that will be able to build itself (in an original form -the concept of "reproduction" is based on an existing system and so is slightly different).

However, perhaps some kind of "bootstrapping" process might be possible (indeed, such systems also appear in embryo development -where a few cells work together to construct the following "level" -which in turn, plays an important (active) role in developing the "next level" and so on...).

Possibly, the first step towards understanding a complex system with many different parts is to find some form of "common language" which enables us to conceptually relate the various components within a single structure. However, this is a difficult (and dangerous) task -because (as experience with computer programming clearly shows) the way we define things has a great effect on the way they function). Experience in daily life also suggests that people are the same: The way we think about others also influences the way we behave towards them and the way they behave towards us.

Concidering the importance (and danger) of "language" -it might be useful to plan into our original model some mechanism that will enable the integrated use of several different (specialised) languages within a single model (meta-language/system)......

            (from Einstein/Turing)


These are all processes: So the conceptual structure "folds" back (or maps) onto itself -with each (sub) activity reflecting the total system in all its parts.

"Articulation" is a linguistic concept, while the other  concepts are more  concerned with "procedures". This suggests (again) that  "language" might well be more profitably understood from a "procedural" than from a "communcation" perspective. This is not to deny "communication" -but merely to suggest that "Communication" may well be a secondary concept which was derived from a more primary "Procedural" (ritual?) function of language.

The entire model seems to involve (and integrate) the following (sub) concepts: "Space", "Language", "Procedure" (system?)

Underlying these individual concepts seems to be the problem of definition -which (on a practical and a theoretical level) decides the "similarity" and "difference" between "things".......

How can one change the system while it is still working?
...and how can systems change themselves?

Trevor Batten
<trevor at>
Manila, July/September/October 2006