Abbott & Ants

[From Fred Nickols (990429.1730) ET)] --

One of the more important learnings in my life is something I learned in
the Navy when I was being trained as an organization development (OD)
consultant. The something I learned is that the measure of an intervention
is what happens afterward. From my perspective, the posting of the
ant/Herbert Simon bit from another list qualifies as a lousy intervention
because I haven't seen much productive come of it. In coarse old Navy man
terms, about all it's led to is everyone pissing in everyone else's soup.
Be that as it may, I've stayed out of the discussion/debate/diatribes but I
am prompted to make this comment:

following remark:

I don't care what Simon may
have thought the mechanism was. I've only been defending Simon's insight
that complex actions may reflect complexity in the environment rather than a
complex internal organization. You haven't convinced me that this insight
is wrong.

Instead of responding to this remark, the discussions seem to have gone
down the path of reading Simon's mind and, worse, interpreting what has
been read (said interpretations, of course, being performed by those who've
done the reading that they're interpreting). I find that a little bizarre.

It seems to me that the only reasonable responses to the remark above are
as follows:

   1) Simon's insight, as stated by Bruce, is not evident in the Simon
snippet I posted or it is.

       1.1) Simon's insight, if not evident, offers no ground for further
discussion.
        1.2) Simon's insight, if evident, is valid or it isn't.

              In either case, the ensuing discussion should focus on why that
insight is valid or not.

              Instead, it's been an "in your face" argument.

Bruce Abbott claims to be one of the few who's actually read "Sciences of
the Artificial." Well, so have I, although it was a long, long time ago.
I still have my copy but I'm not inclined to go dig it out and read it
through to determine just what Simon did or didn't say the mechanism was
that accounts for the ant's erratic/complex actions. I don't know what
Simon thought; I doubt Simon knows what he thought back then (recollections
are notoriously unreliable). I don't know that what Simon thought back
then is even relevant to the point above. So, allow me to plagiarize it
and pose it as Nickols' first theorem or postulate (or whatever it is you
scientific folks call such a thing):

        "Complex actions can reflect complexity in the acting entity's environment
and do not necessarily
        reflect a corresponding complexity in the acting entity's internal
organization."

Now, in PCT terms, is that assertion (which is what I call it)
reasonable/unreasonable, true/false, valid/invalid, or whatever?

Thanks for any light you can shed...

Regards,

Fred Nickols
Distance Consulting "Assistance at A Distance"
http://home.att.net/~nickols/distance.htm
nickols@worldnet.att.net
(609) 490-0095

···

from my perspective, Bruce Abbott is not getting a fair shake regarding the

[From Rick Marken (990429.1540)]

Fred Nickols (990429.1730) ET)--

From my perspective, the posting of the ant/Herbert Simon bit
from another list qualifies as a lousy intervention because I
haven't seen much productive come of it.

That's just from _your_ perspective (ie. relative to your own
references). From my perspective your posting of the ant/Simon
bit has been wonderfully productive; Bill's posts have been
very lucid and informative; and I think mine have been pretty
good too. So from the perspective of these reference signals
over here in my brain you don't have to worry; it was an
_excellent_ "intervention".

Best

Rick

···

--
Richard S. Marken Phone or Fax: 310 474-0313
Life Learning Associates e-mail: rmarken@earthlink.net
http://home.earthlink.net/~rmarken

[From Bill Powers (990430.1353 MDT)]

Fred Nickols (990429.1730) ET)] --

"Complex actions can reflect complexity in the acting entity's environment
and do not necessarily reflect a corresponding complexity in the acting
entity's internal organization."

Now, in PCT terms, is that assertion (which is what I call it)
reasonable/unreasonable, true/false, valid/invalid, or whatever?

The assertion is so stated ("can reflect", "do not neccessarily reflect")
that it is true no matter what the facts are. If complex actions, in a
given case, happen NOT to reflect environmental complexities, the statement
is true because it doesn't say they DO reflect environmental complexities,
only that they _can_ do so. If the actions DO reflect corresponding
complexities inside the acting organism, the statement is true because it
says only that the actions don't _necessarily_ reflect internal
complexities, rather than declaring flatly that they don't. So the
statement remains true even in cases where the complexities of actions
reflect mainly complexities inside the active system and scarcely at all
those in the environment.

When we ask a person to do a tracking task, we ask that person to establish
a fixed goal (cursor aligned with target) for the duration of the
experiment. If the person does this, it follows that the only reason for
actions to vary is to oppose disturbances of the cursor-target
relationship. Thus we guarantee that complexities in the actions of the
person will reflect primarily complexities in the disturbances we apply.

However, when we release the person from that agreement, the complexities
in his or her actions will reflect both complexities in disturbances and
complexities in the ways higher systems vary the reference signals in the
same sysems we were studying. If the person stays in the tracking
situation, but no longer has to keep the reference signal constant, we
might see the person creating systematic departures of the cursor from the
target-- even patterns of departures that amount to Morse code messages, or
riffs like a taradiddle or shave-and-a-haircut-six-bits, and all while
still, on the average, tracking the target. If the person leaves the
tracking situation altogether, and starts doing something else like
conducting an orchestra, the complexities of motor behavior involving the
same limbs and muscles are now influenced only to a minor degree by
environmental disturbances; they are far more influenced by the intention
of the conductor to lead the orchestra into producing a satisfying
rendition of the work being played.

So your rendition of Simon's statement allows for all cases from a perfect
relationship between environmental and behavioral complexity to no
relationship at all. The only thing that makes Simon's statement at all
surprising is the implication that ALL complexities of behavior are due to
environmental complexities, with NONE being produced spontaneously by the
organism (he was certainly not trying to make the opposite point). We know,
however, that this extreme conclusion applies only in cases where the
organism has somehow been persuaded to keep specific reference signals
constant. In the wild, it is not likely to be true at all.

Best,

Bill P.