[pcp-discuss:] Principia Cybernetica News - May/August 2000

From: Francis Heylighen (fheyligh@vub.ac.be)
Date: Mon Sep 25 2000 - 18:53:47 BST

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    As we have all been very busy during the summer months with
    conferences, travel and other activities, we did not find the time to
    prepare a Newsletter in July. The present Newsletter should therefore
    be seen as an extra long, "double issue", covering both the May-June
    and July-August periods.

    In July, Francis Heylighen and Jan Bernheim have presented their
    research on progress (http://pespmc1.vub.ac.be/PROGRESS.html) and the
    measurement of happiness at the International Society for Quality of
    Life Studies (ISQOLS) Conference in Girona, Spain. The reactions
    were quite positive, and our general feeling was that the QOL
    community has reached a level were simple empirical measurements of
    things like life satisfaction and positive/negative feelings can be
    used to build robust scientific models of the values and forces that
    drive individual action and social development. The only things
    lacking is an evolutionary-cybernetic mechanism to understand these
    developments, and that is where our PCP approach comes in.

    A rather spectacular example of the power of such models is the
    prediction by Michael Hagerty, who was present at the conference,
    that Gore would win the US presidential elections with 52% of the
    votes. This prediction is based on a statistical analysis of the
    correlation between increases in QOL in a region and voting for the
    incumbent party, see
    http://www.gsm.ucdavis.edu/~mrhagert/Pres2000.html We're curious to
    see how close to the mark this prediction will be. Together with our
    Dutch colleague, Ruut Veenhoven, Hagerty has also shown that average
    happiness has increased over the last two decades:

    Francis Heylighen then participated in the Humanity 3000 Symposium of
    the Foundation for the Future
    (http://www.futurefoundation.org/humanity3000/index.html), but was
    somewhat disappointed since the discussions basically reiterated the
    ones at the Humanity 3000 workshop last year, except that the group
    was larger, so that there was less time for participants to express
    their ideas. On the other hand, he used the occasion to get
    acquainted with some leading thinkers working on themes close to PCP,
    such as the memeticist Susan Blackmore, Gregory Stock, author of
    "Metaman", and Christian de Duve, Nobel Prize winner and author of
    "Vital Dust", on the origin and evolution of life.


    For years the mailing list PRNCYB-L@BINGVMB.CC.BINGHAMTON.EDU was the
    discussion list for the Principia Cybernetica Project. Unfortunately,
    the mailing list server operating at Binghamton University (where
    list administrator Cliff Joslyn originally started the list) was shut
    down last year without warning. It took us a while, but in May we
    finally restarted the list, this time at Los Alamos National
    Laboratory, the American office of PCP where Cliff now works.

    To make things more intuitive, and to clarify the relation with the
    PCP-news list through which this newsletter is distributed, we
    renamed the list from PRNCYB-L to PCP-discuss. The address is
    pcp-discuss@lanl.gov, but note that this is a closed list that you
    can only receive by submitting a request to the list adminstrator. We
    encourage anyone interested to explore and join our discussions on
    all aspects of evolutionary cybernetics. Please see
    http://pespmc1.vub.ac.be/MAIL.html for details on how to join.

    The list was restarted in May with the same people that had
    subscribed to the original PRNCYB-L. Since then some ten new members
    have joined. The mailing list has as yet not been as active as PRNCYB
    during its heyday, but that is not surprising given the summer
    period, and a general phenomenon of "email tiredness" that many
    people submerged in mail presently experience. As before, this
    newsletter will include a list of topics discussed in the list during
    the past period.


    Both Francis Heylighen and Cliff Joslyn were recently invited as
    guest lecturers at the Summer Cyberforum series on Virtual Worlds and
    the Global Brain, organized by Michael Heim of the ArtCenter College
    of Design in Pasadena, California. The meeting took place in a 3D
    virtual reality environment, accessible over the net. This was a hard
    experience to describe, requiring a client-side VR browser in which
    we assumed avatar appearances that allowed us to fly and move in the
    virtual space, but what was otherwise basically a chatroom in which
    the different participants present could talk about the subject of
    the Global Brain. You can participate in these virtual meetings
    yourself by installing the free 3D browser, see
    http://www.mheim.com/cyberforum/ The transcript of our sessions can
    be found at http://www.mheim.com/cyberforum/html/archive.html

    A feature article on our work with the "Global Brain" has appeared in
    New Scientist magazine, 24 June 2000, p. 22. It is based on
    extensive interviews with PCP board members Heylighen, Bollen, and
    Joslyn, and our colleagues in the global brain mailing list, Norman
    Johnson and Ben Goertzel. Although this paper has created a lot of
    publicity for our work, the journalist, Michael Brooks, has made it
    rather sensationalist, in addition to including a few factual errors.
    It emphasizes the scary, "Big Brother"-like possibilities, while
    minimizing the in-built protections against such abuse. For a
    somewhat more balanced view, read the accompanying New Scientist

    The article is available at:
    and the editorial at:

    As we anticipated in the previous newsletter, the publication of this
    article seems to have suddenly aroused a flurry of interest in our
    work, resulting in lots of email reactions and in further interviews
    with journalists in Belgium, Holland, Chile and Canada. Having to
    answer the same questions again and again (and then see the same
    misunderstandings crop up once more) has stimulated us to finally
    prepare a "Global Brain FAQ". The as yet unfinished text is available
    at: http://pespmc1.vub.ac.be/GBRAIFAQ.html Comments about questions
    and answers are appreciated.

    Francis Heylighen has written a long paper reviewing the concept of
    the "Global Superorganism", an extension of the Global Brain concept
    to model the evolution of society as a whole, and especially to
    understand its future development. The paper will be submitted to the
    Journal of Social and Evolutionary Systems. Comments are invited to
    the draft text, available at


    On May 8, 2000, Alexander 'Sasha' Chislenko, a long-time contributor
    to the Principia Cybernetica Project, unexpectedly died. A memorial
    page for Sasha has been set-up on the web at
    http://www.piclab.com/sasha , where the people who have known him can
    post personal remembrances.

    Joel de Rosnay, an associate of the Principia Cybernetica Project,
    has authored several wide-ranging and well-written books touching on
    the concepts of systems theory, evolution of complexity and the
    Global Brain. His most recent book, "The Symbiotic Man: A New
    Understanding of the Organization of Life and a Vision of the
    Future", has now been updated and translated into English. We would
    recommend it to anybody interested in understanding complex systems
    and the future evolution of society.
    More info on the Amazon page:

    John E. Stewart, an Australian theorist, has written a book,
    "Evolution's Arrow: The direction of evolution and the future of
    humanity" (Chapman Press, Australia, 2000), in which he develops a
    view of evolution very close to the one of PCP. Its main argument is
    that evolution progresses in the direction of cooperative
    organisations of greater scale and evolvability, up to global
    society. It is available at http://www4.tpg.com.au/users/jes999/

    We are now discussing with John about the differences between his
    approach and our theory of metasystem transitions, in the hope of
    coming to a better understanding of both. The chief novelty of John's
    approach is his suggestion that MST's may take place because of an
    agent taking control over a group for purely selfish purposes, but
    then being turned by selective presssures into an efficient "manager"
    that promotes synergy and cooperation between the members of the
    group. This mechanism can be applied from the level of DNA taking
    control over an autocatalytic cycle, up to human society with its
    kings and emperors. A review by F. Heylighen of John's book together
    with some related books on evolutionary transitions will appear in
    the journal "Complexity". The paper is available at:

    On both sides of the Atlantic Ocean we have had extensive discussions
    with Bryan Thompson, a researcher from Cognitive Technologies Inc.
    Bryan had previously been the driving force behind two research
    proposals (to DARPA and NSF) about collaborative cognition in which
    we participated. His way of thinking is very close to ours, and it is
    likely we will collaborate more intensively in the future. Bryan is
    exploring the creation of an interest group within the WWW
    consortium, to discuss standards for a "cognitive web", and
    suggested to get some kind of legal protection for our "global brain"
    label (although several others have been using this label, for
    various activities and technologies, Bryan suggested that we should
    register a "global brain initiative").


    Johan Bollen has now finished a draft of his PhD thesis on
    "Application of Associative Network Models to Web Linking and
    Retrieval". Because of various other duties, the PhD defense has had
    to be postponed and will normally take place in a few months. The
    thesis includes a detailed analysis of the associative structure of
    Principia Cybernetica Web, derived from the log of user requests to
    our server. This is illustrated by a number of impressive graphs
    showing the semantic connections between the most important nodes of
    our web, and a number of experimental tests evaluating how easy it is
    to retrieve particular nodes given particular requests or starting

    You can try out Johan's "enhanced" search engine for PCP web at
    http://bighorn.lanl.gov:8077/jserv-bin/SpreadAct_PCP_loop It is based
    on "spreading activation": the engine first retrieves the PCP pages
    that have the keywords you entered in its title, and then uses a
    matrix of associations to retrieve additional pages that are
    associatively related to the ones found first. The association matrix
    is still based on our old learning rules applied to the web log, and
    is therefore likely to be less efficient than a planned one based on
    our new algorithms that take into account duration of user visits.

    At present, Johan is measuring the quality of the recommendations
    (precision and recall) by comparing the recommendations of the system
    with expert estimates of the relevance of the recommendations for a
    number of typical queries. (The experts, of course, are us, members
    and associates of the PCP board.) This will allow him to fine-tune
    the parameters of the system.


    Getting a decent link-type semantics and an ontology for PCP has been
    an important goal for a while. Like most everything we proposed over
    ten years ago, the community is moving quickly in our direction. In
    particular, the need for ontology markup and exchange standards,
    coupled with loosely hierarchical representations of semantic
    relations, is understood now more than ever. Cliff Joslyn's
    Distributed Knowledge Systems and Modelling Team
    (http://www.c3.lanl.gov/~joslyn/KS_Team/) in Los Alamos is starting
    to pursue this kind of activity. The goal is to develop a generic
    knowledge environment which will allow communities to self-elicit and
    represent their ontological knowledge structures.

    Some of this has been prompted by some very recent advances in
    computational linguistics. In particular, we're tracking the work
    begun by Steven Pinker, and much more fully developed now within the
    linguistics community, towards the identification of a small,
    canonical, generative set of semantic relations related to each other
    in a loosely hierarchical multiple inheritance type lattice. While
    these are proposed to represent the semantics of natural language
    texts, we've hypothesized that they should also inform a sufficient
    set of link types for ontological networks.

    Among the other things we're examining are Sowa's conceptual graphs
    and Visual Basic extensions to use Visio as a GUI platform. The other
    essential ingredient is a sufficient, presumably XML-based, ontology
    exchange markup language for full read-write compatibility. We're
    tracking the standards community moving in this direction (e.g. The
    WWW Consortium, DOM, XSchema, RDF, etc.).

    Cliff was recently invited to SRI International in Menlo Park, CA, to
    address a loose consortium of Silicon Valley researchers and
    developers trying to develop a Dynamic Knowledge Repository (DKR)
    within an Open Hypertext Standard (OHS). This group is led by Doug
    Engelbart of SRI fame, and whose early work (invention of the mouse
    and other essential elements of the present computer interface) we
    know as being so important for us and everyone, and who is now with
    the Bootstrap Institute http://www.bootstrap.org along with SRI.
    Cliff found Engelbart to be a charming and insightful man, who is
    very appreciative of everything PCP is trying to do.

    Cliff's talk spanned a number of issues, including PCP (technology
    and form and content,), Lab activities, and the ideas described
    above. You can look at the overheads at


    The following nodes in Principia Cybernetica Web have undergone substantive
    editing, or have been newly added during the last four months.
    All documents are available via http://pespmc1.vub.ac.be/RECENT.html

    * Aug 29, 2000: F. Heylighen: Biographical Sketch (updated)
    * Aug 22, 2000: Increasing intelligence: the Flynn effect (new!)
    * Aug 9, 2000: The Global Brain FAQ (new!)
    * Aug 2, 2000: References on the Global Brain / Superorganism (added
    Bloom's "Global Brain")
    * Jun 26, 2000: Links on Complexity, Self-organization and
    ArtificialLife (links added)
    * Jun 26, 2000: References on the Global Brain / Superorganism
    (NewScientist feature added)
    * May 31, 2000: Societal Progress (updated)
    * May 31, 2000: Web Connectivity Analysis (links added)
    * May 17, 2000: References to Principia Cybernetica in different
    servers ("Disinformation" ref added)
    * May 17, 2000: Metasystem Transitions in Biology (references added)
    * May 15, 2000: Cybernetics and Systems Journals (Systems Research
    &Behavioral Science updated)
    * May 15, 2000: Principia Cybernetica Mailing Lists (PCP-discuss
    nowreplaces PRNCYB-L)
    * May 15, 2000: PCP-discuss usage instructions (updated for Majordomolists)
    * May 15, 2000: Basic References on the Global Brain / Superorganism
    (added "Symbiotic Man" & "Evolution's Arrow")


    The following topics were announced or discussed on the PCP-discuss mailing
    list (see http://pespmc1.vub.ac.be/MAIL.html) during the months of
    May to August. There was an especially intense discussion about the
    "intelligent design" view of evolution, which developed into a
    discussion of informational dualism and semiotics. The full text of
    all original messages and replies is available via the new
    PCP-discuss archive:

    * The Missing Elephant - Norman K. McPhail
    * Fwd: Ackoff Center Press Release - Cliff Joslyn
    * Fwd: 100th anniversary of Ludwig von Bertalanffy's Birthday - Cliff Joslyn
    * Fwd: Systems Approach to Scenario Planning Workshop - Francis Heylighen
    * Fwd: The Miski Project: Poster-Centric Message Subscription
    Protocol - Cliff Joslyn
    * [Fwd: Announcement: Web Guide to Complex Systems] - Cliff Joslyn
    * science and limits - henry cohen
    * sequential emergence - John J. Kineman
    * Informational dualism - John J. Kineman
    * Semiotics and biology/evolution - Cliff Joslyn
      * GNU SEARCH NEW MODELS (fwd) - Sascha Ignjatovic
    * "Intelligent Design" - Alexei Sharov
    * "Intelligent Design" lobby Congress against Darwinism - Luis Rocha
    * Parsimony et al. - Cliff Joslyn
    * Fwd: Quiver: another tack on finding "authoritative" websites - Cliff Joslyn
    * Why the Future Doesn't Need Us - Norman K. McPhail
    * Discussion paper - Gerhard Werner
    * Last CFP: Special issue FOS on "Context in Context" - Bruce Edmonds
    * Papers from "Starting from Society" symp. on-line & new CFP - Bruce Edmonds


    User comments to PCP web continue to pour in at a high rate, though
    not all of them are that interesting ... Here is a selection of
    topics for the last four months.

    All annotations are available via http://pespmc1.vub.ac.be/USANNOT.html

    * Jul 27, 2000: why, Correction (to GODEXIST) by aleander zee
    * Jul 7, 2000: don't do this to Occam, Comment (to ATHEISM) by E. Wieringa
    * Jul 6, 2000: How can the universe ultimately be deterministic?,
    Comment (to FREEDOM) by Mark Walter
    * Jun 29, 2000: ethics is resolution of private moral conflict, not
    ideology, Refutation (to ETHICS) by Craig Hubley
    * Jun 26, 2000: Pantheism., Comment (to PANTHEISM) by Kow Chai
    * Jun 26, 2000: No God?, Comment (to ATHEISM) by Kow Chai
    * Jun 25, 2000: Norbert Viener - autor of cybernetics as a
    philosophical aproach, Comment (to ^PCPBIBLIO) by uri eitan
    * Jun 22, 2000: The Creator & General Systems Theory, Comment by
    Michael Greenstein
    * Jun 19, 2000: a fascist ideology is implicit in the "brain"
    metaphor, Refutation (to TOTALFRE) by Craig Hubley
    * Jun 18, 2000: Non-volition: a test, Refutation (to FREEDOM) by Cameron Reilly
    * Jun 17, 2000: Autopoiesis, and human-machine intelligence: a
    comparative book review., Comment (to EVOLUT) by Ashley Holmes
    * Jun 16, 2000: Do I need to do something I am not?, Comment by
    Timothy J Monicken
    * Jun 11, 2000: Evolution still speed-up, Comment (to DEFAULT) by
    Mike Soukharev
    * Jun 8, 2000: Variation and Natural Selection Must Have the Same
    Cause, Comment (to WFISSUE) by Robert Hamilton
    * Jun 5, 2000: look to tensegrity as pivotal concept...all about AMI,
    Comment by Timothy Monicken
    * May 30, 2000: Viable System Model, Comment (to cybsysth) by Patrick
    * May 30, 2000: Definition of integration, Comment (to INTDIF) by Jurek Kolasa
    * May 26, 2000: Then what is our name for what we are growing
    toward?, Comment (to GODEXIST) by Ernst Renaud
    * May 24, 2000: Wikiforum a system in MetaSystemTransition ...
    update, Comment (to TURCHIN) by Fridemar Pache
    * May 22, 2000: Meme's and the survival of the imagined self.,
    Comment (to MEMIN) by John Cafe
    * May 21, 2000: Few errors in the book (Russian edition), Correction
    (to POSBOOK) by Alex Kouznetsov
    * May 21, 2000: The problem of free will, Refutation (to MANIFESTO)
    by Neil Fitzgerald
    * May 12, 2000: Nice theory we have..., Comment (to ETERQUES) by Derekon


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      Francis Heylighen <fheyligh@vub.ac.be> -- Center "Leo Apostel"
      Free University of Brussels, Krijgskundestr. 33, 1160 Brussels, Belgium
      tel +32-2-6442677; fax +32-2-6440744; http://pespmc1.vub.ac.be/HEYL.html
    Posting to pcp-discuss@lanl.gov from Francis Heylighen <fheyligh@vub.ac.be>

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