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9 Sep 2012

If you are interested in Self-Organization, Dynamical Systems and Complexity you might have noticed that while there is a lot of solid brilliant work [1] there is also a lot of mysticism. It is the reason other than the difficulty of nonlinear math/modelling that despite its potential utility in AI, biology, economics and basically any system with non-point agents interacting in a possibly coupled manner, the field is not quite mainstream. The foundations were laid decades ago yet there have been as yet no real killer apps beyond the same tired stories of traffic, crowds etc.

However, thanks to the recent exponential growth in computers many of the concepts are finally becoming possible to study and the subject is picking up. And yet the number of mystic works in the area pretending to be science is growing far more rapidly.

A favorite topic of the mystics is known as Emergence. There are two notions of the word. Strong and Weak. There is weak emergence which involves global properties that emerge as a result of interactions of components. Although at times “chaotic” it is deterministic and traceable to the rules of the system’s constituents. True, not arguable, solid, makes it possible that Quantum Computers could dramatically improve chemistry, genomics and pharmacy.

But there is another common notion of emergence where new behaviours result due to the interactions that are ‘irreducible’. This is a break from the Materialist viewpoint and is essentially a kind of dualist view. As such, this view of emergence can only ever be cargo cult and mystical: ‘if you do this and that this way awesomeness magically appears. We don’t know why and can’t trace it to its constituent components but it’s just, well, magical!’.

Judging by my tone it should come as no surprise that I do not find that explanation of things to be acceptable. The view of strong emergence is often held by shall we say, more open minded individuals that feel the establishment has no imagination. It is okay to be very open minded but it is important to not sell your poetry and spiritualism short by trying to link it to science. There is a disconnect, a loss in determinism that makes Strong Emergence something impossible to ever speak precisely on (no quantum mechanics is not another example, the mystic and realist favourite, Many Worlds is a deterministic theory).

#Complexity #Dynamicalsytems #selforganization #emergence

[1] Self Organization in nonequilibrium systems


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