Those Darn Ants

[From Fred Nickols (990422.1832)] --

The comments below turned up in another list where I play. I seem to
recall a reference to this by Bill P at some point a while back. In any
event, do any bona fide PCTers care to comment on the description below?

Herbert Simon, in his monograph "Sciences of the Artificial," uses the
example of the path taken by an ant attempting to get back to its home.
Its path -- an erratic, almost random-looking one -- cannot be understood
from looking within the ant (assuming one could do so.) Within the ant
are simply a goal (to get home) and some capabilities (leg strength,
etc.), none of which help us much in understanding why the ant is taking
this particular path. No, to understand this particular path one must
look primarily at the environment outside the ant -- what terrain, what
obstructions lie in the ant's straight-line path toward home? Put
together an understanding of the "task environment" and the ant's few
relevant capabilities, then you'll understand why it turned left here
(obstruction too steep to crawl over), went right there (downhill slope),
etc.

Regards,

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

[From Bill Powers (990423.0248 MDT)]

Fred Nickols (990422.1832)--

The comments below turned up in another list where I play. I seem to
recall a reference to this by Bill P at some point a while back. In any
event, do any bona fide PCTers care to comment on the description below?

What Simon was talking about, as I would see it now, was the basic PCT
concept of achieving constant ends by variable means. But when Simon wrote
that piece there was no way to say this, because the accepted wisdom was
still that the environment, in the final analysis, controlled behavior.
Remember that this was the same Simon who wrote that the organism is just
one huge complex input-output function. Knowing what we know now, it's easy
to read an understanding of control processes into descriptions that
actually came from an entirely different concept of organisms.

Best,

Bill P.

[From Bruce Gregory (990423.0925 EDT)]

Bill Powers (990423.0248 MDT)]

What Simon was talking about, as I would see it now, was the basic PCT
concept of achieving constant ends by variable means. But
when Simon wrote
that piece there was no way to say this, because the accepted
wisdom was
still that the environment, in the final analysis, controlled
behavior.
Remember that this was the same Simon who wrote that the
organism is just
one huge complex input-output function. Knowing what we know
now, it's easy
to read an understanding of control processes into descriptions that
actually came from an entirely different concept of organisms.

This is a lovely example of the change that takes place when you shift
(or fail to shift in Simon's case) to the viewpoint of the organism.
Simon and Powers are talking about the events but Simon's perspective
leads nowhere in particular and Powers' leads to an elegant and powerful
model of living systems.

Bruce Gregory

[From Bruce Abbott (990423.1235 EST)]

Bill Powers (990423.0248 MDT) --

What Simon was talking about, as I would see it now, was the basic PCT
concept of achieving constant ends by variable means. But when Simon wrote
that piece there was no way to say this, because the accepted wisdom was
still that the environment, in the final analysis, controlled behavior.
Remember that this was the same Simon who wrote that the organism is just
one huge complex input-output function. Knowing what we know now, it's easy
to read an understanding of control processes into descriptions that
actually came from an entirely different concept of organisms.

Well, that's one way to spin it: Pooh pooh pooh pooh. I have a different
opinion.

Unlike most, I have actually _read_ Simon's "Sciences of the Artificial."
What Simon was talking about was that the ant, as a behaving organism in
this situation, is basically simple. The complexity seen in its behavior is
due, not to the complexity of the ant, but to the complexity of the environment.

Given that the ant's behavior in the situation described (returning to its
nest over rough, obstacle-filled terrain) can be elegantly described by the
few simple equations that specify a particular control system, I find
Simon's observation right on the money. The complexity of the ant's
behavior is due not to the complexity of the ant but to the many
disturbances which must be countered, that threaten to deviate the ant's
path from its reference direction.

Bruce A.

[From Bruce Gregory (990423.1400 EDT)]

Bruce Abbott (990423.1235 EST)

Given that the ant's behavior in the situation described
(returning to its
nest over rough, obstacle-filled terrain) can be elegantly
described by the
few simple equations that specify a particular control system, I find
Simon's observation right on the money. The complexity of the ant's
behavior is due not to the complexity of the ant but to the many
disturbances which must be countered, that threaten to
deviate the ant's
path from its reference direction.

Granting that Simon's observation was correct, did he understand how the
ant's behavior "can be elegantly described by a few simple equations
that specify a particular control system"?

Bruce Gregory

[From Bruce Abbott (990423.1340 EST)]

Bruce Gregory (990423.1400 EDT) --

Granting that Simon's observation was correct, did he understand how the
ant's behavior "can be elegantly described by a few simple equations
that specify a particular control system"?

I don't know -- does it matter whether he did? I certainly wasn't making
that claim for him. What was important for _me_ about it was that Simon's
insight made perfect sense once I understood that the ant was behaving as a
control system does.

Bruce A.

[From Bruce Gregory (990423.1528 EDT)]

Bruce Abbott (990423.1340 EST)

>Bruce Gregory (990423.1400 EDT) --

>Granting that Simon's observation was correct, did he
understand how the
>ant's behavior "can be elegantly described by a few simple equations
>that specify a particular control system"?

I don't know -- does it matter whether he did? I certainly
wasn't making
that claim for him. What was important for _me_ about it was
that Simon's
insight made perfect sense once I understood that the ant was
behaving as a
control system does.

Great. I thought you were differing with Bill. I now see you were
agreeing with him.

Bruce Gregory