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Started by droqen, November 19, 2022, 11:27:45 PM

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Regarding Steven Johnson's


Quote from: p19, emphasis mine[...] a system with multiple agents dynamically interacting in multiple ways, following local rules and oblivious to any higher-level instructions[...] wouldn't be truly considered emergent until those local interactions resulted in some kind of discernible macrobehaviour.

For my purposes I've certainly, in theory, been willing to cheat a bit. It might be enough to appear to the player as though the agents are interacting locally. But will I myself be satisfied with presenting the illusion of emergence, presenting an authored behaviour as though it were a 'macrobehavior', or am I after the genuine article?

~ SYNAPSE: Discernible macrobehaviours of a system.


Quote from: p21Self-organization became an object of study in its own right[...] at each scale, the laws of emergence hold true.

Alright. I've been suspicious of emergence but reading that there are larger patterns that govern 'emergent behaviour' across fields is promising to me. Excited to learn more.


Quote from: p51-52a vision of the city as [...] a living organism, capable of adaptive change.

This chapter has several great passages and references about the functioning and constructing of cities as emergent behaviour, but I thought this quote in particular was the most poignant.

I shall also make a note here to possibly read The Condition of the Working Class in England by Friedrich Engels, an account of Manchester which grapples with contradictory ideas of a city that has produced an order which appears aligned with certain interests, and yet had not been planned by anyone.


Pandemonium is full of shrieking demons. Lesser demons shrieking at greater demons. Selfridge is a poet.


Quote from: p77-78If you're building a system[..] where macrointelligence and adaptability derive from local knowledge, there are five fundamental principles you need to follow:[..]
More is different. [a critical mass is required for emergent complexity; individual ants pay attention to frequency of signals, e.g. how many foragers have i seen in the past hour? not just right now. memory.]
Ignorance is useful.
Encourage random encounters.
Look for patterns in the signs.
Pay attention to your neighbours.

Quote from: p100[..] cities, like ant colonies, possess a kind of emergent intelligence: an ability to store and retrieve information, to recognize and respond to patterns in human behavior. We contribute to that emergent intelligence, but it is almost impossible for us to perceive that contribution, because our lives unfold on the wrong scale. The next chapter is an attempt to see our way around that blind spot.

I suppose that I don't know what intelligence is. Of course a city is not human and does not possess human intelligence but I only understand that word in context of the human brain, of the brains of humans I know, of my brain. Our intelligence is also emergent.

I have yet to return to Being No One (to be linked), but that book describes the self as a perpetually maintained construct. We are ourselves because our emergent intelligence produces the concept. It seems to me that we are just as capable of assigning a wholeness to another body -- say, a city, an ant colony, an ant -- and describing that body's actions as that of some self. The self is arbitrary. The human self is arbitrary, but automatic, human, inherent to our factory default software. We are arbitrary but default.

Is any supposedly arbitrary decision made by a complex subjective entity really arbitrary, or is it personal, inherently subjective, whimsical? What does it mean for something to be arbitrary anyway?

Quotebased on random choice or personal whim, rather than any reason or system.



Quote from: Webster's 19131. Depending on will or discretion; not governed by any fixed rules; as, an arbitrary decision; an arbitrary punishment.

2. Exercised according to one's own will or caprice, and therefore conveying a notion of a tendency to abuse the possession of power.

3. Despotic; absolute in power; bound by no law; harsh and unforbearing; tyrannical; as, an arbitrary prince or government. Dryden.

I suppose I'm all for arbitrary decisions, except for those that cause harm to others, or are coercive (and reduce the ability of others to make arbitrary decisions). I'm for structures which support the absolute maximum number of arbitrary decisions per individual. What if we supposed arbitrary was good rather than bad? Where is the form of 'arbitrary' which bears positive connotations?


I'm starting to hit that point where the author's underlying philosophy and our differences seem too clear to ignore.

(my semi incoherent notes below)
Johnson forgets his own conclusions.
Page 103, "The body learns without consciousness, and so do cities.."
And yet, Page 128-129 he succumbs to magical computer AI thinking: "An emergent software program that tracks associations between Web sites or audio CDs doesn't listen to music; it filled purchase patterns or listening habits.."
What's the problem here? What part of the city is "listening" to the flow of people moving through it? The people themselves...

... (semi incoherent notes end here, resuming ordinary coherence)

I was reading the book on a packed subway and could feel my alignment sapping away in the pages about the Web. It was dated -- I felt like I was listening to an old man talk about something he didn't understand, but really it was just the book itself showing its age... it was talking about computers and the Web as they were when the book was written (when was that, anyway?) rather than now.


I feel dizzy about emergence and I want, again, to think of bodies and not their cells.


The 5th chapter, Control Artist, is about videogames and the ludic sublime.
Quote from: p177[..] almost looks like patience: [videogame kids] are more tolerant of being out of control, more tolerant of that exploratory phase where the rules don't all make sense, and where few goals have been clearly defined. [..] The hard work of tomorrow's interactive design will be exploring the tolerance—that suspension of control—in ways that enlighten us[.]

Is this unique to videogame players, really? If it's a generational, cultural thing, I suppose it would make sense that it is invisible to me. But it seems to me that it is one of those inherent traits of youth: the ability to be plastic, to be a sponge, to accept and absorb even things without apparent use or sense.



In the aftermath of reading this book I feel a deep nihilism returning. I am so intrigued by systems, by emergent systems, but they seem so... limited? I can't decide what to do, but it seems the right time to finally get back into The Beginning of Infinity. See you in that Close Reading thread! (Not linked)


Quote from: droqenI don't know whether Emergence failed to deliver, or whether it in fact delivered but I was not so interested in what it was delivering on after all.
. . .
What is it that I love about cities? I read Emergence because I thought it would tell me. It did not, not really.

[pingback: The Nature of Order, Book Two: The Process of Creating Life]