Feedback and Crowding
|Feedback and crowding is one in a series of documents showing how to reason clearly, and so to function more effectively in society.|
|why Aristotelian logic does not work||The logic of ethics|
||the confusions of Gödel (in four parts)||Feedback and crowding|
|Decision processes||For related psycho-logical documents, start with Intelligence: misuse and abuse of statistics|
|Feedback and iteration|
|Relative points of view|
|Balance and judgement|
|Caution and paranoia, a story from the past|
|Consciousness, part 2|
|A head full of words|
|A head that never knows words|
|A head that learns|
|Actions and reactions|
|Stability and instability|
|Conditionally stable systems|
|Instincts and the natural state|
|The herd and the individual|
|Changes of state|
|‘Evolutionarily stable strategies’|
|Digitisation and continuity|
It is wrong to imagine that because you attempt to teach something to another, they will learn what you intend to transfer to their mind. You can never fully know what is in the mind of another. The best you may do is seek feedback from another person and compare that feedback with your own intentions.
“Please place the spoon upon the table.”
Each time the person is following your instructions.
Every time you issue another instruction, it moves the situation closer to the situation that you intend. If the person who is following the instructions is a small child, it is highly likely that an instructing adult will become frustrated and then angry with the child. It is very likely that the child is attempting to cooperate and to please. The child is following the instructions with some precision, in the manner of a computer. It is common for inexperienced computer programmers to become frustrated and angry when a computer, likewise, follows their instructions precisely. It is common to hear the programmer swear that the computer has ‘gone wrong’ or that it is broken, whereas the problem is with a lack of precision in the instructions.
The process of constant correction of instructions is called ‘feedback’ or ‘iteration’
This process is at the heart of communication. We cannot communicate anything to another with ‘complete’ clarity or precision, we can only iterate until we are satisfied that the communication is sufficient for our particular, current, purpose. There is no such thing as ‘perfection’ or ‘precision’, only sufficient precision relative to a particular circumstance.
The sane purpose of human communication is mutual cooperation
In the case above, the purpose is that of arranging a table preparatory for a meal. The young child may be ‘literal’, that is, attempt to follow instructions with the precision of a computer. In time, the ‘knowledge’ of the child will grow; it will compare your instructions with its own database of past experiences. It will anticipate and it will guess. In time, if those guesses prove correct much of the time, the young person is liable to rely upon those guesses in the belief that it does not need to check. It will then start to make errors. Such habits can, on occasion, be dangerous.
While it is useful for humans to learn to guess, for sanity it is vital that ‘belief’ in those guesses does not become a form of rigidity and ‘laziness’, sometimes called ‘arrogance’. It is important to teach people how to guess; it is also important to teach them not to rely over much upon those guesses and to maintain awareness of when they are guessing. Guesses must be checked against reality if actions are to be effective. The original child-like ‘literalness’ or precision should remain consciously accessible to the growing mind.
It is insufficient to give another person, especially a child, an instruction. For feedback, you must follow the instruction by asking the person to explain what they are going to do. For example, “please go to the shop and buy an elephant”, followed by “how will you carry out this task?”. Then a series of questions: does the child know what an elephant is, is the child strong enough to carry the elephant home, will the child need to take a bag with it, which shop sells elephants, where is the shop located, and so on. You do not know what information is or is not in the mind of another.
You can never ‘fully’ rely on another person to understand your meaning for your instructions. It is incredible how many parents and supervisors lose their rag over instructions inadequately carried out because the parent/supervisor did not check for feedback before sending the messenger out the door. There is no way you can expect every last one of your instructions to be fully understood. There are more possible ways of misunderstanding instructions than there are sands upon the seashore. No use raising your blood pressure or that of others. Adjust to the real world and be calm. Even develop a sense of humour!
As Lehrer sings, sharks gotta swim, bats gotta fly . The smallpox germ doesn’t regard itself as a nuisance, I doubt it even regards itself as a germ, it thinks of humans as we think of the planet: as a place to live. It is common for humans to suggest that others ‘ought’ or ‘should’ act this or thusly. What is really meant, most of the time, is that the human speaker would rather others acted in a manner more in accord with their wishes and interests, and, just sometimes; “if you act thus, the outcomes will, in my perception, be better for you; in as far as I understand what you would prefer”!
The ‘criminal’ would much prefer you did not lock your doors, while the majority would much prefer that the idiot would find a different trade. Of course, that would tend to reduce the employment opportunities for police, lawyers, jailors, prison builders, insurance companies and many others.
The object that is thrown across a room can be measured relative to the limits of the room, or relative to the movements of the moon or the tides. The ‘speed’ at which the object ‘moves’ can be matched against a regular oscillator designated as a ‘clock’. Likewise, the room ‘itself can be measured relative to the movements of the sun, and the movements of the sun can be measured against the point of view of the room or a human occupant of that ‘room’.
When ‘objects’ ‘interact’ they change the state of ‘one’ another. What we continuously ‘observe’ as entities are the constantly changing world around us; if there were no ‘inter-action’ there would be no change, the ‘universe’ would be very different from what we do find. In ‘quantum physics’ we have come to recognise that when we observe very small particles, that in order to observe them we have to bounce other small particles off them; this action disturbs the current ‘state’ of the ‘small’ particles (‘objects’).
When we ‘experiment’. we also prod and poke reality, or else watch its ‘natural’ turmoil. What we are observing, I am calling feedback. We are the feedback for other objects, including other people. Their actions are our feedback or their ‘reactions’ to us and to the world outside themselves. It is this feedback that we ‘observe’ and upon which we choose our actions.
Taking a ‘paranoid’ approach to the world or some subset of the
world may be seen as being ‘extremely’ careful, whereas a ‘psychopathic’
response can be seen as lazy unconcern.
Driving a car is much more dangerous than sitting reading at home. A specialist in any area must apply much more care than a non-specialist. In order to apply greater care a person requires greater knowledge, a surgeon who is cutting people open requires to know far more anatomy than a grocer or, for that matter, a butcher.
Among the most dangerous things that many people do is driving a car on the road; here, mistakes can be fatal. Buridan’s ass  was placed half-way between two attractive bales of hay but the unfortunate animal, being rather simple, starved to death because it could not decide in which direction to go and which bale of hay to eat. There comes a point when approaching traffic lights, where it is very difficult to decide whether to go on or whether to brake when the lights decide to change; if you choose incorrectly you may rather quickly share the fate of Buridan’s ass. See also MetalogicB1 – Decision processes.
When driving it is necessary to attend to the road at various distances ahead: the near, the far distance and much in between. To achieve this it is necessary to continually switch attention from position to position. Attend to the near distance for a person who may easily step into your path, and the far distance to plan your next actions. Again lack of attention can easily result in annoying consequences.
Balance of attention and necessity of decision are central to learning judgement in any real world task. The young child, or less able adult, does not have the necessary accumulated experience and information to know where to attend and when to decide. Anger is foolish and a counter-productive response. That does not mean that loud noises are not sometimes required to gain attention of wandering minds. A training method I sometimes use is to shout ‘that is very good’ or to whisper ‘that won’t work’ as a means to teach attention to the message of the words, rather than the volume of the input.
Giving a high place to consequences, rather than to error, may build in more caution in appropriate circumstances, but is not entirely rational. Very small, apparently inconsequential, errors may have considerable consequences as Benjamin Franklin  put it, A little neglect may breed mischief, for want of a nail, the shoe was lost; for want of a shoe the horse was lost; and for want of a horse the rider was lost. Many lives were lost of recent years in an aeroplane crash because of a grain of sand in an impellor casting. Mathematicians now refer to the butterfly effect in chaos theory. Learning where errors matter is a continuing human project, and a lifetime problem. To punish errors is understandable, but can be foolish if it conditions the individual to ‘excessive’ fear or caution, likewise to ignore error leads to inattention and poor performance (see also iteration in Why Aristotelian logic does not work).
All is balance All is judgement
The level of control that a person seeks may not be realistic to the task in hand. The person who seeks to chase down every last speck of dust in a house may well be assigned the label ‘neurotic’; but a similar behaviour in a computer-chip assembly plant, or to a lesser extent in an operating theatre, may be ‘fully’ appropriate. A person traumatised by constant fear in childhood may well become cautious in the extreme as an adult; extreme caution may be appropriate to some delicate or dangerous tasks. There are no simple or easy answers to imbuing individuals with the judgement to decide what level of attention to apply to various tasks and when to apply closer or looser attention. Continual attention, while it may lead to high performance, can easily become damaging stress.
To label actions as ‘over’-specialisation or neurotic depends upon individual choices and individual capacity. It is as foolish to accept standards that are less than an individual can manage, as it is to push an individual beyond the level at which they can maintain equilibrium, health and happiness. Once again it comes down to judgement and doing what works to the best of one’s ability. No more can rationally be demanded of any person. A culture of blame and excuse is fundamentally irrational and helps no-one.
Always reserve judgement until faced with an imperative to act, then check and review the results and learn. It is common for people to act in panic or when there is no pressing need, the drive ‘to do something’ wastes endless time and is often intrusive. The medical profession has a sane maxim, ‘first, do no harm’. A good teacher must learn not only when to act, but when not to act. Not acting, very often takes restraint and greater judgement. The inclination to ‘help’ people can well undermine confidence, and the action of ‘helping’ is very often inefficient or counter productive.
Adapted from Judges 7:4 to 7.7, Bible (King James Version):
So Gideon took them to the water’s edge and watched their actions as they drank from a stream. Those that bent down and lapped the water with his tongue, as a dog drank, Gideon eliminated from the selection. Gideon also did likewise with those that went down upon their knees, cupping their hands to drink.
The remaining three hundred followers, who crouched and drank from one hand, Gideon selected for the battle, for they acted with caution in that they could look around and move away quickly at the approach of danger.
And the lord said unto Gideon, ‘By the three hundred men that [crouched down and drank from one hand] will I save you, and deliver the Midianites into thine hand: and let all the [other] people go every man unto his place.’
It isn’t what you don’t know that screws you up; it is what you know that ain’t so.
While people are often very resistant to the breaking of habits, the intelligence required to break a habit is far less than that required learning a new skill. To break a habit merely requires will, not skill. People believe all manner of strange things and they act upon those illusions. The illusions of other people are your reality. If confused and silly people imagine that you are strange or that you are a dragon, they tend to act in accord with their delusions. Their idiocy becomes the reality with which you are constrained to deal.
It is clear with reasonable analysis, that the idea of human ‘races’ is without cogent meaning, yet many millions have been slaughtered because of such an illusion. Many more millions have perished in the service of one meaningless theological dispute or another. Humans are widely not impressively rational. It has been said that humans are rationalising animals, not rational animals. Only if humans may be persuaded to more reason, will society advance to a calmer and more comfortable state. In the long run, I can see no good reason why people cannot be taught to believe sane things in place of believing nonsense.
Teaching a new skill cannot sensibly be imposed by force; as folk wisdom has it, you may lead a horse to water, but you cannot make it drink. It is necessary, if we are to effectively teach productive habits, that we encourage and show the learner the personal advantages that will accrue to them when they learn or take up a behaviour, not to harry people into conformity by badgering and force. A habit that is not subscribed to by the individual will inevitably attenuate, just as soon as the pressure is removed (compare with kindness).
People tend to attempt to get the greatest return from the least output of effort. Just what an individual sees as advantage or disadvantage is mediated by the manner in which that particular individual relates to the world. Each person seeks to maximise advantage, but it is necessary to negotiate with each individual in order to understand what that person regards as advantage or disadvantage. Lazy generalisations  do not work effectively in human relationships. Do unto others is ineffective psychology and leads to poor relationships. Always seek to relate to the individual.
You cannot relate to more than a few people: perhaps, two hundred loose acquaintances and, maybe, twelve closer friends. It is quite impossible to relate meaningfully to a town or to a country. Concepts such as ‘nationality’ depend upon the fostering of myth, not on the functioning of reason. Impersonal ‘relationships’ with a ‘church’ or a ‘state’ are said in the jargon to be ‘alienated’. Wider human society functions like an anthill or a beehive, each person does not interact directly with all other, but they do interact and have effects upon each other at a distance. Those indirect relationships are mediated through the use of money and other trade, whereas direct or close relationships are mediated through words. Thus, words and money serve similar communicative functions. Despite illusions to the contrary, neither money  nor words have fixed values or meanings: the pound or dollar or franc in my purse or pocket is not of the ‘same’ ‘value’ as a similar token in yours.
I have no idea what is in the mind of another. All I know is what is in my own mind and the words and actions of others. I cannot know to what extent others are conscious, nor what they ‘feel’. However, I do have much data from what people say and do, which I may attempt to match with my own experience. From this I intend to make a few dodgy guesses.
When people tell me that they ‘think’, by and large, all I see is repetition of what they have been told and of the current popular fashions, cultural assumptions and patterns. The common meaning of ‘think’ seems to be the running of programs, conditioned into people from birth by a given culture, and the swirling of word patterns around their heads. A constant internal chatter seems to be a very widespread experience.
My own perception is that this head chatter is malfunctional, often to the edge of unsanity. This chatter has nothing to do with serious awareness and the chatter makes the individual as unconscious as a bee in a hive. The locking to culture inherent in the chatter blocks any hope of any serious reflection or creativity. The chatter locks the ‘individual’ firmly to whatever is currently accepted, acceptable, or received ‘truth’.
The patterns of ‘thinking’ have been accumulated through history upon the basis of what ‘worked’ at some point in the past. That the paradigms no longer work tends to go unnoticed, or at best leads to frustration and resentment that ‘obeying the rules’ is not paying off. The common reaction when the rules do not achieve effect is to blindly attempt to apply them with greater energy, rather than to question whether the rules make any sense. Looking outside and learning from reality does not seem to occur to most people. It is in this sense that my observations lead me to regard the overwhelming part of society as effectively unconscious and generally rather strange.
The accumulated ‘rules’ and preponderance of useful algorithms  lead to general survival success and social acceptability. This state appears to be so sufficiently acceptable to the average Jo that rebellion, reassessment and reorientation usually do not seem to figure. These standard habits have been immensely successful in the running of modern society within its rather sleazy ‘standards. But they also tend increasingly to block progress, and even ‘happiness’ and ‘satisfaction’.
Of course, the serious elements of the current conformity have, in the past, been developed through the efforts of those rather few people who have seriously questioned the actions of their customary practices, and ‘invented’ or ‘discovered’ more effective processes or descriptions for behaviour. These improved practices have then propagated through culture by virtue of their greater returns upon effort. I label these benefactors as more (>) conscious, ‘creative’ or effective.
The dog or the sponge live a satisfactory enough life. Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin: And yet I say unto you, That even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these . The lily and the giraffe, the human baby and the stone live in contact and interaction with the real world.
The ‘sophisticated’ adult very often relates primarily to an internal mesh of words, a model of the world much detached from the external world. As Jesus is reported as teaching, ‘Except you be converted, and become as little children, you shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven .’
To learn from the world/reality it is necessary to have a silent mind, to let the stars and the trees talk to you. What is said is already, in some part, known. Outside your mind is a great and simple complex wonderland. What is known is just a beginning. The ridiculous and arrogant immaturity that thinks to grasp some ‘theory of everything’ is entirely out of touch with reality.
To add to human knowledge it is necessary to collect a very great deal of experience/fact and to allow your brain to integrate and organise that data. If you attempt to collect the data according to some list predetermined by the standard paradigms of your culture, you will end up with someone else’s list. You must trust your own instincts and follow your own stars. Any teacher who does not comprehend this will incline to condition people, in place of enabling others to develop and produce an ever-widening culture.
Advanced human consciousness is neither the lilies of the field nor the addicted word-trap. Consciousness is a silent and attentive mind that watches and listens to the waves and to the beach. Satori is, as with all wisdom, a middle way. The lilies of the fields are our friends and companions, they are part of us and we are part of them.
Teaching to rules and formulae will eventually produce thoughtless technicians without judgement, who will be without direction or rudder when faced with any problem that varies in the least from the mundane. Such ‘teaching’ is in fact encouraging people to learn methods of ‘how not to think’, but merely to learn, to follow rules, to obey. People taught in such a manner will follow any fashion or demagogue who flashes sufficient light and noise in their direction.
To learn, you must listen to the trees and learn to talk to them. To denigrate such an approach supplants receptive awe and humble questioning of this strange wonderland with mindless arrogance and foolishness. Yet such is often proposed as ‘scientific’ or fashionable. The child plays pooh-sticks and watches the world and learns from it. It is the very height of poor teaching to attempt to lock the young into a straight-jacket of formulae and acceptable myth, in place of observation and experiment. Formulae are used both as the means of ordering what we have found out through the generations, and as a way of communicating the little that we do know to those that come after us.
Always keep well in mind that, within a generation you will seem like some primitive in knowledge, as our gains continue to spiral onward. While you may wish to warn your young of dangers in order to ‘protect’ them from the dragons, remember that cotton wool does not build an explorative and brave culture. Your sane purpose is to teach the young to explore and to solve problems; it is not to condition them to repeat your life and your mistakes. It is the place of the young to learn from your mistakes and, upon that knowledge, to build an ever better world. Among the greatest of wisdoms is to know when to let go. The attempt to control others is a great human unsanity. It is good for the young to take responsibility for those who nurture them; it is good for the young to make mistakes while you are still around to coach them in recovery.
The human is a frightened fawn and a raging tiger that lives on the cusp of chaos and stasis. Historically, humans have survived by taking effective actions at useful times. Without the correct acts, they simply died. Humans are still faced with such issues, especially when driving on our roads. The point of necessity to act is the point of maximum danger; at this point people may become indecisive, to their cost. To achieve in the real world it is necessary to act. There is a cost-benefit issue with over-caution or over-impetuosity. The human has the ability to run potential scenarios through their head prior to action, thus lowering risk by simulating outcomes; this allows a higher probability of profitable ‘results’.
In a society with very much lower risks than in the past, the human with a riskostat set to conform to historic risk environments may have a tendency to seek unnecessary risks in order to ‘feel right’. To extend our knowledge we must experiment. When experimenting with high explosives or humans, we are wise to think things through in advance of acting as much as we can, then take precautions against foreseen dangers and potential errors in our thinking.
If the young are inclined to learn to roller-blade among the traffic, it is wise that they be ‘persuaded’ to train in safer and quieter areas and that they are persuaded to wear protective gear. The supervised swimming pool is a more appropriate learning environment for training rescue techniques than starting in the open sea. A sane society that hopes to apply its resources effectively does not waste its greatest resource: the education already settled in its citizenry. A duty of self-care and an awareness of self-worth are necessary foundations for responsible behaviour.
Usually in life we are in a situation where we would prefer more information; however in real life we are constantly required to make decisions as we go. If ‘too’ great a caution is engendered, the human can become neurotic to the extent of never taking any ‘risk’. A pattern can set in where the individual keeps on seeking more information prior to the taking of decisions, but no decision ever gets taken, for always still more information can be sought. It is not enough to be ‘intelligent’ in order to be effective, an ability to take the risks involved in actually acting is also necessary.
‘Experimenting’ is a word that means ‘poke the world, and see what happens’. Put another way, experimenting is a systematic way of seeking feedback from our surroundings. We seek feedback when we converse with others. The growing individual seeks feedback as they ‘play’ and as they learn to roller-blade in the traffic. Seeking feedback is natural and fundamental to our state of being. It is essential that the process is trained and refined, not that it is squashed by the authoritarian conditioning of rule following.
As usual, finally, one is faced with judgement, which in turn is founded upon ever-growing knowledge and the experiences of what worked in ‘similar’ previous situations. Never is there certainty that one’s acts will be safe and effective ‘this time’. We must tolerate ‘errors’ in ourselves and in others, if we are to live together with reasonable comfort and realism. Anger generated by the natural fear of ‘error’ is understandable, but highly irrational and socially disruptive.
Cyberneticists think in terms of three conditions of stability:
A common house thermostat or the cistern in a flush toilet illustrate stable systems. As the temperature in a room lowers, the thermostat switches the heating; as the heat rises, the thermostat cuts out the heating. This cycle continues, thus keeping the temperature within a pre-determined range. Likewise with the cistern: as water is emptied, the tap is opened; when the cistern is refilled, the tap is turned off.
This kind of system is called a negative feedback system because it is set up to reverse the situation, in our examples – in the room or cistern. As the heat rises or the water fills, the action to put in more heat or water is cut off. As the heat level or water level falls, the thermostat or tap cuts back in and tops up the system. Likewise, human body temperature is a negative feedback system; such systems are also referred to as homeostatic systems.
Consider a loudspeaker address system or a pop group amplification rig. Such arrangements take the relatively weak human voice, or instruments such as guitar or keyboard, and increase the power to fill much larger spaces than the voice or instruments could manage unaided.
A performer may sing in front of a microphone, which picks up the sound of the voice, the signal is then amplified by electronic machinery, and then broadcast via loud-speaker devices.
Consider an experiment, but don’t do it! Bring the microphone in front of the speaker – had you done this, you would be awarded by the most unholy shriek and if you have not quickly desisted, some part of the system will break. This kind of system is called a positive feedback system, because each change aggravates the situation further.
Consider what has occurred. In any room there are always small sounds, the microphone picks up these sounds. The amplifier then increases the signal and pumps it out through the speakers. The sound coming from the speakers is then picked up by the microphone, and in its turn amplified and once more pumped out with greater loudness by the speakers. This greater sound is, of course, once more picked up by the microphone. This process happens with considerable rapidity, hence the screech. The process puts so much strain and increasing strain on the physical system that something has to give, so the system breaks down.
A cone may be used to demonstrate examples of all three of the above situations:
These ideas of ‘stability’ are useful ways in which to think about human situations and human behaviour. Humans are highly adaptable to changes in their circumstances in the real world. Living systems are conditionally stable; individuals absorb and adjust to changes. Villages are rebuilt after floods. People adjust to a shortage of food at a different level in times of famine or in times of plenty.
The body attempts to maintain an approximate temperature and level of nutrition, these are negative feedback systems; this process is often referred to as homeostasis. The maintenanceof these stabilities is essential to survival.
A word of caution here, no system is ‘ completely’ ‘stable’, thus the term ‘stable’ applies in fact to a conditionally stable situation, that is a situation where we are at currently unconcerned about the (level of) real instability that does exist. Another related way of thinking of such systems comes from the ‘chaos’ model, which introduces the idea of (‘sudden’ state changes) often called ‘emergent phenomena’.
Most relevant to my purposes is human behaviour. Human interaction requires a sensitivity to input and adjustment to input. It is important that humans understand the dangers of unstable, positive feedback interactions. Lorenz, in ‘King Solomon’s Ring’ , describes the difference in behaviour between supposedly violent creatures, such as wolves, and apparently docile creatures, like hares and doves. Clearly if a species is so violent that it tends to kill its own kind indiscriminately, that species would be inclined to die out. Apparently violent creatures tend to develop instinctive rituals in order to cope with this problem. Thus wolves fight until one or the other submits, the ‘loser’ indicates submission by baring its neck to the stronger. Clearly, the stronger could now easily dispatch its opponent to the hunting grounds in the sky. However upon receiving submission, the ‘winner’ desists and the group settles to an awareness of the current hierarchy. Surprisingly the apparently gentle hare or dove of peace, having no such inhibitions, can fight to the death when getting into disputes.
Humans are considerably modified from the natural state by education; this can distance them from their instincts, often in deleterious ways. The human dominates life on this planet, to a considerable degree, despite soft nails and small teeth. It is the tiger that sits in the cage and skirts extinction due to human activity. The human is an animal of considerable violence. Goodall reports war and murder among our nearest relations, the chimpanzee apes; we inherit a considerable propensity to violence, aggravated by a confusion of instincts. If we are to survive despite our violence, we must understand the mechanisms of violence. We must learn to control our potential to destroy ourselves, within the environment of our constantly growing ability to manufacture ever more effective spears.
With paranoia and psychopathic reactions (discussed in the logic of ethics) existing at some level in most humans, it is very easy to get involved in malfunctioning interactions and relationships. By teaching an understanding of the nature of the feedback that generates these difficulties, it is possible to replace instinctive safeguards with conscious strategies.
Without either instinct or strategy, the common human can easily lose control of interactions. A small imagined slight can quickly escalate out of control, even to the extent of murder, without any conscious intention or awareness and leave lives blighted or ended. The best that society has tended to manage is to condition its members to various inhibitions such as “thou shalt not kill”, while introducing draconian ‘punishments’ for any who fail to meet the directive (see ‘mad bad or sad’ in the logic of ethics).
Humans have become highly disjointed from their instincts, as an inherent cost of their greatly enhanced and extended learning process. In this world, the only useful route to controlling human aggression is to understand ourselves better and to make ‘anger’ management a necessary, even essential, part of human education. To do this effectively, the dangerous nature of positive feedback must be drilled into the consciousness of individuals. It is useful to understand the great advantages of calm and reflective behaviour, in place of impulsive response to stimulus. A calm demeanour enables the body to rebalance itself, thus enlisting natural, safer homeostatic (negative feedback) mechanisms as an ally to more rational and peaceful interactions (see also relationship training section of recommended reading and a citizenship curriculum).
The herd and the individual
The manner in which you think effects your behaviour (see cause, chance, choice section of the logic of ethics). If you think in ways that are not in accord with reality, you will probably act foolishly. If you think in ways that are more (>) approximate, your actions will be more approximate. It is always possible to be more precise. The cost to greater precision is more effort. Decisions regarding the level of precision you apply to given circumstances effect the results that you will obtain. These trade-offs are inherent in the human condition. To make effective decisions, it is necessary that the availability of these trade-offs becomes conscious. Such assessments are sometimes called ‘cost-benefit analyses’, usually abbreviated to ‘coba’. I shall use this abbreviation from hereon.
Great swathes of human and other animal behaviour has been built into the genes in the form of ‘instincts’. Much of human behaviour is learnt from the culture and during ‘childhood’, it is then applied without thought or ‘consciousness’. The accumulated wisdom available in a culture has been developed in past times and conditions and adopted because it seemed a good idea at the time. On modern re-examination, such routines, which were once vaunted, are found to be counter-productive.
If such counter-productive behaviours are carried on in the current much changed conditions, they are quite likely to backfire. Institutional religions, that were once at the core of solidarity amongst warring tribes, become very dangerous when those tribes are armed with nuclear bombs. Practices that were once dangerous, or resources that were once poisonous, may become subject to edict or taboo, blinding present society to the new realities. Uncontrolled wandering cattle can cause destruction, or be disregarded as a useful resource. Edicts to increase and multiply can become poverty, deprivation and ecological pressures.
Your environment effects your behaviour. You may control your behaviour by controlling your environment. A village that produces surplus food has no need for hoarding, or pillaging from neighbours, or fierce squabbling over scraps. Tolstoy opines that people (as a group) do not make war, war just happens to them. This accords with my own perceptions. People do not set out to behave foolishly, people just do not reflect very much. People get taken up in the movements and panics of the herds.
No ant plans and sets out to build an ant-hill, each ant acts according to its instincts and rather simple sets of rules. (see also matfa’s boids). On a more complex level, humans move together and build tribes and cities and nations.
A nation or a city or a tribe does not think, only individuals think.
Lorenz describes the removal of the forebrain of a shoaling fish in a chapter on flocking behaviour . The removal engenders a most surprising effect: the fish behaves as before, with the exception that it no longer exhibits shoaling behaviour. It just swims off in any direction it ‘chooses’. The rest of the shoal then treats it as a leader and follows it wherever it goes! Without a forebrain, the fish stops following the herding rules and becomes the leader of the pack.
Among humans, some individuals either learn to break the instinctive attachment to the herd, or maybe they have different genetic propensities. They start to ‘think’ for themselves. Our educational process is widely geared to herd affiliation; the systems tend specifically to teach individuals not to think independently. This is in process of transition as, through developing culture, humans slowly become more aware.
Individuals go to war. The herd merely follows the bright lights. A hitler decides to go to war. Politicians study human behaviour and learn to manipulate it, while the great mass of the herd take little in the manner of decision or responsibility. The only way to stop this destructive process is widely to teach people individual independence.
It is well to note that political ‘leaders’ are also children of their own culture. If such children are inculcated with songs of glory and nation from a young age, decisions to pillage and conquer may well be thought pre-conditioned, rather than be independent original notions.
If you pour a constant fine stream of sand from above, gradually a conical heap will form. If the process is continued, eventually there will occur a ‘sudden’ slippage or ‘landslide’. Such a ‘change’ of behaviour is sometimes referred to as an ‘emergent phenomenon’, this terminology coming from the ideas of ‘chaos’ mathematics. Physicists may calculate the behaviour of each particle of sand, but the slippage and the point of slippage are not easily predicted from the behaviour of the individual particles. Defining such ‘changes’ of state is a human convenience; the ‘changes’ are what ever humans regards as useful categories.
Each human, like each grain of sand, acts according to some form of, often unconscious, internal calculation. A reasonable model of flocking behaviour may be simulated on a computer with a very small set of very simple rules. A useful, if limited, demonstration of this and basic information and links may be found on the matfa’s boids site listed in useful links at this site. For an impressive three-dimensional java applet by Craig Reynolds, and much else, see:
I find it a useful exercise to gaze at these simulations and also to watch the real thing of an evening, when starlings are gathering to roost.
Cities do not ‘think’ any more than an anthill ‘thinks’, yet both function by the fairly ‘independent’ (compare with categories section in why Aristotelian logic does not work) decisions and actions of the many individuals that ‘generate’ an ‘emergent behaviour’.
People tend to think that what they think others think. Other people’s illusions are your reality. As individual humans become conscious enough and clever enough, they are able to detach themselves from the unconscious beliefs and rules of their societies, and start to make calculations based upon the observed behaviour of the herd and its individual members. Individuals are then able to start acting to gain effects that they may wish, whether those desired effects be sane or not. The individual has ceased to be just another flocking bird or grain of sand executing primitive ‘rules’, but has become a whole new kind of object; one that thinks and acts in a detached manner, according to rules it has discerned or chosen from its own experiences and observations, and in pursuit of its own objectives.
Thus may politicians develop plans that may result in the gain or the destruction of their societies. No human is capable of planning a society; the variables are just too many. The growth of effective society takes into account the independent actions of the millions. Able politicians soon realise the considerable and necessary limits of interference in the lives of others. The attempt to over-control the beehive tends to lead to destruction of property and happiness. as the various manifestations of ‘socialism’ have demonstrated all too clearly during the 20th century. We have many ‘tragedy of the commons’ issues to confront, but simple top down control is an inadequate solution.
Only by widely educating society to responsibility and negotiation, can society develop further toward individual freedom and away from oppressive top down government. A free society is not available within the ambit of a socially ignorant citizenry (see graph in franchise by examination. education and intelligence).
John B.Calhoun  did some very interesting, but neglected, work on crowding among rats, over a long period in the middle of the last century. Essentially, Calhoun put a few rats in various environments and then supplied them with all the food they chose to eat. The environments were ultimately limited by the size of the enclosures used, just as with the current limits imposed upon humans by planet earth.
The groups of rats tended to breed to a point where the lack of space generated a slew of unpleasant or ‘uncommon’ behaviour patterns. Random violence; rape including indiscriminate sexual attempts on juveniles and same sex individuals; cannibalism; marauding gangs; and highly disturbed infant-care patterns. Remember, these rats lived in rat heaven with the one exception of limited space, everything was provided on tap for free.
The only rats that were not effected by dysfunctional behaviour were a dominant few who, by virtue of the arrangement of the space, were able to control an area. For the rest, the growing crowd meant ever-greater opportunity for interaction with their neighbours, but with no place to call their own.
Rats are not reflective; they act upon instinct and do not learn greatly from experience. Rats have no seriously useful, recorded culture. Rats have not discovered means of birth control nor have they developed useful understanding of the consequences of unlimited breeding and the consequent crowding; so nature takes over, the environment hits back. The limitations of space eventually impose forms of feedback upon the ratty behaviour, which has the effect of limiting population to the constraints of the space available.
Humans are more adaptable than rats; humans modify their environments to control their own behaviour . While the vast complexity of human culture allows humans very great potential for adaptation, it does not follow that living in ever increasingly crowded environments will be particularly comfortable for a reasonably civilised person. It may be that the excitement of the city entices the young or the dull, at least until crowding gets even beyond their tolerance, but it is unlikely that the eternal cacophony and choking air will appeal to those less excitable and less bored.
The young and the bored seek the bright lights and the crowds; meanwhile the cities have much to offer in the manner of specialist resources, for even specialist suppliers can find markets among great numbers of potential customers. Unlike the situation with the rats, in the city crowds there is usually some corner that people make their own, if only to the extent of a shop doorway or a park bench. The rats were unable to manage such innovation. There is evidence that high-density city crowding does tend to limit human fecundity , but as yet there is not much evidence of the catastrophic social breakdown seen among Calhoun’s rats. There is much evidence of stress, and stress related problems, among conditions perceived to be crowded . I have not seen strong reference to the factor of controlling ‘a space’ in this context, a factor that appears critical to me from my reading and study .
People are the most useful objects for other humans on this planet. Humans are capable of all sorts of useful skills and productivity. On a planet of 20 or 30 persons, just think: no hamburger stand and no car or ‘plane manufacturers, well at least until robotic manufacture is a little more advanced, and far less choice of conversation or frolicking partners. Although we just might fix that in time!
While sardine cities may even appeal to some, such a future holds few attractions for myself or for most of the more interesting people that I meet. As a political aim, I would prefer not to be squeezed out of my environmental niche by the ever-onrushing invasion of concrete and cars. Of course, for the moment, the continuing inclination to huddle does leave some space outside the cities, but even there the inclination to concrete over another patch for a weekend cottage or two seems to intrude.
Having driven out the rarer newts and cut down any jungle, having removed any remaining niches for chimpanzees or orchids, then maybe next is the removal of any space for those who are not wedded to a high-speed, noisy and mindless ‘life’-style. However far such an existence spreads and however much is covered in concrete, in the pursuit of ever more increasing and multiplication of numbers of bodies without concern for quality of life, eventually we will meet the fate of Calhoun’s rats; all that is in question is just where those limits lie. My own choice would be to seek to control the situation before it controls us.
‘Evolutionarily stable strategies’ (ESSs) are behaviours that may be expected to be viable in the long run, in particular circumstances (see also correlation in franchise by examination. education and intelligence). An example might be the relationship between a carnivore and its prey. If a carnivore eats everything in sight and breeds rapidly, it will soon tend run out of food. The carnivores will then starve and perish until they have reached a low enough population level that the prey numbers can again expand, whence there will again be a sufficient supply of victims for the carnivores to once more thrive.
If the carnivore wipes out the food source to the extent that it cannot any longer itself survive, that is not an ESS. The prey animal has a similar relationship with its own means of survival, such as grass. In parts of the world, over-grazing by domestic animals has caused such degradation that the land has become depleted and no longer viable for farming.
The categories chosen for examination can change the definition of an ESS, in the sense that an ESS can be thought of as: a population into which another behaviour pattern cannot gain a foothold. For example, consider the situation where all the prey animals (in that area) have been eaten and where there remain a thousand starving predators. If a hundred fat goats wander in, soon they will be no more. Thus the ecology remains stable in the sense that the population in the area ‘stabilises’ again into: a large number of carnivores in process of dying out. The inability of the goats to penetrate the reserve has at times been considered an ESS because the situation cannot be changed easily. A strange view or terminology; but there you are!
If prey animals and disease do not exert pressure upon a species; eventually crowding and environmental degradation will. All systems are subject to feedback or interaction with the whole of reality. No person is a genuine island. Be aware that Calhoun’s rats stabilised in due course, even though it was to a state that Calhoun called a behavioural sink.
the emergent behaviour of a group of individuals, following fairly definable, individually independent rules, ‘strategies’, behaviours or memes.
In order to stop wars, crowding or any other group effect that we may, as individuals, regard as unpleasant or undesirable, it is necessary to study the rules and beliefs which guide individual actions. We need to imagine or model the potential societies which will emerge from large numbers of individuals applying and following those rules or strategies. Without conscious study and negotiation of these rules, we will remain as helpless to control our environments, and thence ourselves, as are the rats of Calhoun. We will remain, as groups, the unconscious playthings of the greater realities, and be mere unthinking feedback mechanisms.
It is common for those writing upon ‘evolutionarily stable strategies’ to fail to make a very clear distinction between an ‘evolutionarily stable strategy’ and the system within which that ‘strategy’ ‘functions’. ‘Systems’ or ‘strategies’ are entirely artificial separations of ‘parts’ of reality for study under limited, simplified, or I would contend, simplistic ‘rules’. It is vital, if one is to remain both rational and creative, that one never loses sight of the artificial ‘categories’ and the artificial ‘rules’. So-called ‘stable’ strategies can very rapidly become a non-sense under the impact of a meteor or a motorway. (Compare with words section in Why Aristotelian logic does not work.)
Crude arithmetic abounds in the study of evolutionary ‘conflict’, under the heading of ‘game theory’. I regard most of it as simplistic and unconvincing, but never the less usefully provocative in the objective of understanding environmental interaction/s. Remember that every description is no more than a description, a description is not an explanation nor is it, in some magical sense, ‘the way things are’. Things are as they are; descriptions do not change that. Descriptions may however change our responses to the way things are, which in turn will change the way things are!
Applying game theory to the pattern of life that we find around us introduces the ASSUMPTION that ‘things’ are as they are, ‘because’ of ‘competition’. This may or may not be a useful model in a given circumstance. As a model it may help us to understand and to act, and to increase and expand our power, but our acts can also be judged as motivated by our objectives and guided by pragmatic results. Unless we regard our acts as predestined or as some blind chance, we are bound to consider our involvement and responsibility in the personal choices of our acts (see cause, chance and choice in the logic of ethics). My perception is that I choose whether to act or desist from acts. I may choose not to ‘compete’ or even to move to organise my social environment in a less intrusive and more cooperative pattern. I may choose not to radically disturb the eco-system or choose to leave room for variety and sustainability.
Individuals, and groups of individuals labelled as species, when introduced into a new environmental niche may expand rapidly under unlimited resources in the manner of Calhoun’s rats. Only over time, will some new constraint limit that expansion. Rats, with their limited behaviour repertoire, turn in mindless confusion upon one another when the ‘space’ for their instinctive reactions becomes constrained. Humans have a new choice, adapt the environment, or their own behaviour, or some combination of these. Humans have the option not to expand and multiply. It is only when a ‘niche’ is ‘full’ that ‘competition’ is a convincing element, a rich society has less pressure to ‘conflict’.
All matter, including ‘animals’, interact with a much wider universe than ‘only’ their ‘own’ ‘species’. To take the models or analogies of game theory too far can easily breed fatalism or ‘just so’ stories. These can look very like rationalisations of the situations that currently present themselves to our growing awareness. The number of humans or buffalos or cane toads in ‘an’ environment does not impress a need to assert that the current ‘conditions’ ‘are’ ‘due’ to ‘competition’. The inclination to describe current ‘evolutionary’ situations in terms of ‘adaptation’ is, in my view, very close to pressing our perceptions upon the reality we discover.
Professionals investigating evolution have distinguished between an adaptational model and neutralist model. The underlying assumption/s of the adaptational model are inherent in the currently popular application of game theory to evolution. The assumptions that come with this model are many and varied, they include ‘competition’ and ‘limited’ ‘resources’, and they are best treated with extreme caution. The neutralist stance is much more cautious and detached, naturally I am more at ease with the neutralist approach.
There is a very useful training series of interlinked documents on game theory at the site of Ken Prestwich. The following reference will gain you entry.
The html is rather convoluted for my tastes, entering at any other point may cause system problems, but the site tuition seems very competent to me.
Interaction or feedback are in the nature of the world we find ourselves occupying, but the manner in which we choose to section and analyse that reality must always be regarded as tentative and exploratory.
Consider the first-past-the-post ‘democratic’ voting system widely in use. For a while the better-off have ‘their’ party in ‘power’. They stay in power by ‘promising’ the ‘better-off’ that they will not rob them and then give ‘their’ ‘money’ to the ‘poor’. In time, as the poor become relatively poorer and more numerous, they tend to get entirely pissed off with the increasing accumulation and cornering of wealth by the ‘rich’. In time, they vote in the robbing hood party. These then steadily rob the ‘rich’ and give the proceeds to the ‘poor’, as a reward for voting them into ‘power’ and in the sincere hope that long may they ‘rule’. Eventually, enough of the ‘robbed’ ‘rich’ become fed up with being fleeced; they are also joined by the not so rich, who are also getting robbed to serve the interests of the clients of the robbing hood party. This combination, in turn, votes back in the party of the workers.
It is well to remember that, most of the time, the politicians of both the workers’ party and the politicians of the robbing hood party (who invariably call themselves ‘the workers’ party’), are neither concerned with ‘the rich’ or with ‘the workers’. They are concerned merely with nosing their own way to the trough under the guise of public-spirited altruism.
It can be seen that feedback mechanisms, and the burgeoning arithmetic associated with ‘game theory’, may be widely applied to human social interactions and this has been falteringly attempted by ‘transactional psychologists’. However, my prime concerns are not with applying game theory but are:
1) to describe the structure of a useful area of logic and introduce
some caution in the brains of those who may wish to consider the world
in this manner, and
Consider a painting on a ‘flat’ surface. Consider the making of ‘a’ mark with some material (e.g. paint) upon that surface. The mark consists of ‘individual’ molecules of paint; the paint is a ‘thing’ or ‘object’ ‘in’ the real world. The mark is placed upon another real ‘object’; that is, the ‘item’ comprising ‘the’ flat surface. The mark, however, may be placed ‘anywhere’; there are no railway stations marked in ‘space’, space is continuous. Space cannot be counted in the manner of the ‘items’ of paint or surface. Space is said to be ‘continuous’. Much of the confusions in people’s minds concerning the real world and ‘mathematics’ reside in this ‘fundamental’ ‘difference’.
Attempts to measure space (and time) are done by comparisons with real objects, such as rulers, or objects that incline to what we regard as ‘regular’ vibrational modes. Space and time cannot be picked up and examined in the way that a measure or a ‘clock’ may be studied. Space and time most clearly ‘exist’ for us, as surely as do ‘objects’, but they are much more difficult for us to describe or understand; we just do our best by making comparisons with other ‘standard’ objects. As examined elsewhere, our numbers are real world objects, we use them to describe space and time. But, as stated, space and time are rather more ephemeral and ‘continuous’ than the ‘objects’ which we choose to lift or eat or to speak. To mix up in our thinking everyday objects to which we attend, with objects which we use in measuring, leads to confusions of communication and understanding. The numbers we apply to counting objects are not fluently analogous to the numbers that we apply to measuring space and time; it is wise not to muddle them.
Computers are made of reality, as are brains. Computers and brains are limited by the constraints of ‘the’ objects of reality, such as neurons and transistors . Humans and other animals, however, even with ‘their’ physical limitations, still deal rather effectively with problems of time and space. That they can do this is of interest.
To learn effectively, it is necessary to become conscious of the reality feedbacks in which we are involved and to think reflectively upon the changing maelstrom or flux of which we are ‘part’. If we respond blindly to our instincts or to culturally conditioned ‘rules’, we remain the slaves of those memes. Our social outcomes will be the result of the mass actions of many individuals responding blindly. Humans advance in direct proportion to the degree that they become conscious decision-makers. Up until that point, humans are the slaves to blind forces. (Refer to cause, chance and choice in the logic of ethics.)
Fear and arrogance are the great mind-killers. Fortunately, humans have a natural curiosity and an inclination to act optimally in what they perceive as their own best interests. It is the place of wisdom to harness these natural propensities to improving the lot of humans in this strange land. Crushing exploration, or forcing sullen conformity to more blind rules, will not advance our situation.
As we learn, we must understand that ‘the’ rules are changing all the time.</strong>
Without changing rules we remain tied to repeating patterns, while our population ever grows to the point of eventual breakdown.
What’s the point of learning if I know already? Why explore if my teachers instruct in an authoritarian manner? What’s the point of learning if I cannot see what use the ‘rules’ serve? What’s the point of attempting to learn if I am convinced that I cannot understand because the lessons are too difficult? Each person has to build upon experience and to learn to think in an ever-changing environment, if they are to become any more than mindless cogs in an unthinking beehive, all the while heading unconsciously to some uncomfortable and unpredictable emergent social chaos.
|1||Tom Lehrer, Pollution
on ‘That Was the Year That Was’; 1966, re-issued
as CD in 1990; Wea/Warner Brothers; ASIN: B000002KO7
$10.99 [amazon.com]/ £9.98 [amazon.co.uk]
The widely known illustrative story of ‘Buridan’s ass,’ is from Buridan’s commentary on Aristotle’s De caelo (On the Heavens) in which Buridan chose a dog for the story, not an ass. Aristotle had originally referred to a man when discussing why the earth stayed in position (‘at the centre’). Buridan concludes that the dog must choose at random; this outcome leads to the investigation of theories of probability.
Jean Buridan, in Latin Joannes Buridanus, (b. 1300, probably at Béthune, France, d. 1358) was an Aristotelian philosopher, logician and scientific theorist in optics and mechanics, an interesting fellow.
|3||1706 – 90, Poor Richard’s Almanac (1758) preface.|
|4||Imagining that what works in one situation or with one person will work in a different circumstance, or with a different person.|
|5||The term ‘alienated’ carries no pejorative meaning, it is merely descriptive.|
|6||See the mechanics of inflation.|
|7||Set of rules to perform an action, e.g. “Light blue touch paper and retire.”|
|8||Jesus of Nazareth as reported by Matthew, ch. 6 v. 28|
|9||Jesus of Nazareth as reported by Matthew, ch. 18 v. 3|
|10||Lorenz, Konrad: King Solomon's Ring, ch.1|
|11||I use ‘herd’, ‘flock’, ‘swarm’, ‘shoal’ etc, more or less indiscriminately as logical synonyms.|
|12||Lorenz, Konrad: On Aggression, pp.124 – 5|
Calhoun did a whole series of investigations into the behaviour of the
Norwegian rat in the 1950s and '60s. These are crudely summarised in:
A larger monograph, which is difficult to access, is the following:
There is also a sketchy summary in :
There is a considerable amount of work on this subject, mostly scattered
in obscure journals and complex anthologies such as:
|14||Skinner, B. F. —specific citation not available at this point.|
|15||For instance, see Paydarfar, A. ‘Effects of multifamily housing on marital fertility in Iran: Population-policy implications’ in Social Biology, 42(3/4), 214-225.|
For instance, McCain, G., Cox, V. C., and Paulus, P. B. (1976). ‘The relationship between illness, complaints and degree of crowding in a prison environment’ in Environment and Behavior, 8, 283-290.
|18||Dawkins, Richard, the Selfish Gene, pp. 184-188|
|19||Dawkins, Richard, Climbing Mount Improbable, in chapter 2|
See Rolf Landauer, Computation and Physics: Wheeler's Meaning Circuit?’
in Foundations of Physics, Vol. 16, no.6, pp.551 – 564,
1986, Plenum Press, New York
These are just examples in a long, on-going series of papers by Landauer on this subject.
|Axelrod, Robert||The Evolution of Co-operation|
|Ardrey, Robert||The Territorial Imperative
||(pbk, 1997, Kodansha International, 1568361440)
$14.40 [amazon.com] / £9.50 [amazon.co.uk]
|Berne||Games people play|
|Lorenz, Konrad||King Solomon's Ring|
|Konrad Lorenz,||On Aggression [Marjorie K. Wilson (Translator]|
|Dawkins, Richard||the Selfish Gene|
|Dawkins, Richard||Climbing Mount Improbable|
|Goodall, Jane||In the Shadow of Man||Â£6.39 [amazon.co.uk] 1999; Phoenix Press; 0753809478; pbk|
|Hock, Roger, J.||40 Studies that Changed Psychology||1999, Prentice Hall; 0139227253
$24.40 [amazon.com] /Â£16.67 [amazon.co.uk] (1-2 wks)
Magenta highlights points of special note
email abelard at abelard.org
© abelard, 2000 (11
the address for this document is http://www.abelard.org/feedback.htm