Tim Boykett on Sun, 10 May 1998 23:55:43 +0200 (MET DST)

[Date Prev] [Date Next] [Thread Prev] [Thread Next] [Date Index] [Thread Index]

<nettime> CTL98 - Theory, Framework, Pseudoscientists

             CTL98 Theory and Practice

Many of you will have received the call for proposals posted
on this and other lists late in 1997 undet the rubric "Closing
the Loop 98". In this notice we called for pseudo- and popular-
scientists, artists, engineers and other interested parties
to take part in a series of experiments in the Time's Up
Laboratories in the Linz Harbour through 1998.

As a result of the response, and based upon our own developing
work on various aspects of the CTL methodology and approach,
we would like to start a discussion on a more theoretical level
with pseudoscientists and other interested entities.

Are you a pseudoscientist?

"We hereby reclaim the notion of pseudoscience from the dangerous
misanthropes, misguided fools and assorted miscreants that have been
labeled with it. We claim pseudoscience as a source of life and flavour, a
way of approaching work in the world that loses the life-threatening
deadness of creation science or elixir-toting quacks, even that
professional cynicism of that bugbear of rationality writ large, the
institutional scientist. We are pseudoscientists, and we are here to make
waves. None of this accretion of results in a Baconian evolution with
outbreaks of paradigm shifting as per the Kuhn model. No, pseudoscience is
for those who never lost the glint in the eye from those kiddie scientist
stories, who really believed they could change the world from the back
garage, and who aren't yet sure that they can't."

(excert from "The Theory of Hypercompetition", in preparation)

As a part of the CTL 98 series, we would like to invite various
interested parties to a meeting of minds in the Labs of Time's
Up, late in June 1998. Prior to this, we would like to frame
the discussion with some to-and-fro, some scene-setting chats.
This could appear within <nettime>, or it might be more
appropriate to set up shop independently.


Following this note I have posted two texts outlining some of the
ideas that have been seen loitering around CTL98.

-------- ----------------------
 \    /  TIME=B4S UP
  \  /   Industriezeile 33 B    --------------------------------------------
   \/    A-4020 Linz                            Tim Boykett
   /\    ph:+43/732-787804             tim@bruckner.stoch.uni-linz.ac.at
  /xx\   fax: +43/732-795742    --------------------------------------------
 /xxxx\  http://www.timesup.org
-------- ----------------------

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Experimental Framework


The following text outlines a possible experimental structure for the
Closing the Loop series. Drawing upon the ideas of Maturana and Varela's
autopoietic units, elementary systems theory and the ideas of autocatalysis
in general, the framework presented here may contain the right ideas to
frame various series of experiments. In connecting these ideas, we come to
a framework that guides exploration, leading us to some of the more
interesting questions and hopefully allowing us to determine which parts of
the answers are in fact interesting.

The following text surfs over various ideas from systems theory, whether of
the biological, electromechanical or social, and collects the ideas of a
calculus of variations. We start with the biomechanical unit, which we take
to be our elementary unit of interest. Looking at the way in which this
unit relates and refers to other units, biomechanical and other, we develop
an idea of a calculus of variations on the flows into and out of this unit.
=46rom here we begin to frame some questions relating to the analysis of
these flows and their interrelations.

In the unadulterated state, the biomechanical unit is an object
experiencing perceptual influences that act upon certain interfaces,
causing variations in the system. This system reacts at many levels, as
many as there are levels to the biomechanical system. In particular we are
interested in the autosomatic aspect, the automatisms, the responses of the
biomechanical unit outside of some kind of conscious "control". Closing the
loop of autosomatic physiological data to perceptual permutations using
various models will allow the analysis of various biomechanical constraints
and capabilities.

The Biomechanical Unit

Biomechanical systems must have a border, a limit, a skin that defines
their boundaries with the outside world. Our biomechanical unit is a system
with an internal effect occurring influenced (though not necessarily
caused) by the exterior world, permutations effected by the world; this
will be called the input. Certain properties of the unit will be visible,
measurable, observable, these will be regarded as the system's outputs.
Note that we do not necessarily make some kind of quantum assumption about
observations necessarily effecting the system. We situate ourselves
somewhat semiclassically, a pretense of objectivity. This will be of course
seen to be a false assumption, but rather than fall into raptures of doubt
and uncertainty, we propose to take a seperate approach that validates the
subjective perception of the experimental subject as an objective value.
But we shall return to this in more detail, for now let us assume a
classical objective stance.

Previously we have dealt with a school of biomechanical thought that relies
upon a conscious effort, the higher brain functions, attempting to re-unify
the so-called "higher" and "lower" brain functions, traditionally divided
along the frontal lobe / cerebellum axis, or even trying to reunify the
forebrain and the physical completely. This is not the way to progress for
now, we need to balance our approaches. Whole body intelligence, the
autosomic systems, immunity, waste disposal, healing, growth, unconcious
reactions, these are the touchstones. In particular, the areas of the body
that are traditionally outside the control of the concious mind, at least
in the Western tradition (wherein we find ourselves).

Biomechanical units abound. Perhaps the canonical example of a
biomechanical unit is the human individual in its public or private sphere.
But this is only one particular example. Moving sideways we can naturally
look at other mammals and animals, plants and other meso-scale living
entities. Falling down the ladder of scales, we can regard various
subentities as biomechanical units; the microbes that surround us, either
in their single states or as a mass, the digestive tract in which they
collaborate, the immune system which may attempt to fight them off. Taking
as a cue the idea of an assembly of microbes being a biomechanical unit, we
can also look at groups of animals, humans included, with this lens,
treating various collections of bodies as a single biomechanical unit.
Between these scales we can begin to enclose certain pieces of hardware
into biomechanical units, students with collections of books in an exam,
people with artificial limbs or pacemakers, the bicyclist or hang-glider.
In all these cases we have some defined body that makes up the unit. Though
in all cases there is some flow across this boundary, there is also some
idea of a skin, a surface at which this flow takes place, that defines the
edge of the biomechanical unit as it is defined with this particular point
of view. We also see that we will often subsume one unit inside another,
the immune system inside the person inside the computer user inside the
hacker network.
A calculus of variations.

"Information is a difference that makes a difference". We investigate a
calculus of differences, of variations, a systematisation of the process of
altering perceptual constraints, correlations of input variations to output
oscillations. Genes are not specific pieces of DNA, they are genotypic
changes in DNA structure that cause changes in the phenotype, the other DNA
being environmental as is the cellular environment or even the effect of
DNA from other bodies, one might even say ("The Extended Phenotype") that
the limits of the phenotype expression of genetic material is not
necessarily limited by the unit body that it is carried within. The partial
derivatives in the physicist's arsenal presume that the other variable are
held constant and we can look at infinitessimal changes in one variable
causing infinitessimal differences in the function. Game theoretic analysis
is often based around the idea of locating strategies that are optimal
given that the other participants hold their strategies fixed. We are
surrounded by systems and sciences where objects are analysed by varying
one small part of them in isolation and monitoring the changes in the
overall structure, then attempting to recombine these changes in a way that
allows us to predict global behaviour under many simultaneous changes.

In linear systems, we can add the effects of different variations of input,
the responses add in the same way the inputs add. In experimental systems
we can restart the machine, push the reset button, restart the simulation.
We are dealing with biomechanical systems where this will often be
difficult or downright impossible.

Linearity is probably our first, and definitely a main analytical problem.
The response of a system to a sum of changes is not the same as the sum of
the individual responses to these changes. This is the ever-present failure
of reductionist approaches, reiterating it is almost banal. But the
expression science has its etymological roots in the same place as schism
and sword, that is, to cut, to seperate. The way that science manages to be
so successful is to reduce systems to elementary pieces and to analyse them
in isolation, cut off from richer interactions with a complex environment.
It is emphatically not the case that this approach is futile, it is
apparent that this approach has many rewards. Although many people cry for
the end of reductionist approaches to understanding the world, the methods
will continue to be used for the simple reason that they work. The reason
that they work has a lot to do with where one defines the border of the
system in question. If a system is divided in such a way that there is
little interrelation between the parts, and that interrelation can be
simply defined and analysed, then an analysis of the system as the sum of
the two subsystems will be successful. If, however, there is no such
division, then the system in question must be regarded as a whole, it is
"irreducible" in a strict scientific sense.  Subsystems that interact
linearly can be seen as examples of decomposable systems, the behaviour of
the system as a whole is simply the sum of the behaviours of the parts.
Systems that have other such summing machanisms are useful, but perhaps the
greatest problem is to locate the natural lines of separation.

This determination of natural lines of seperation may be helped by the
ideas of a theory of biomechanical units. If one can divide a system into a
collection of biomechanical units in some kind of systematic way, units
with well defined interrelations, perhaps even very simple interrelations,
than one can begin to analyse these units individually, and perhaps even
find ways to sum the behaviours of these systems in such a way as to obtain
the behaviour of the whole system as a sum of its parts.

The second major problem indicated above is that of the "start state". We
cannot reset most biomechanical systems, once they have been started, they
are off and running and there is no red button to reset, reinitialise and
restart them to observe their behaviour once again in the same of a
different context. There is no simple solution to this, no clever rewording
of the problem where we attempt a workaround by redefining our terms, or
even by developing new terms. It would seem that one of the ubiquitous
features of biomechanical systems is the existence of long term
correlations, memory effects, stored information, a history of sorts that
comes with every nontrivial system. It may be the case that such problems
can be overcome with careful work, but somehow we doubt it; perhaps even
the attempt to find ways of returning to zero is morally suspect when
dealing with human or other living subjects. The definition of black boxes
of various kinds, whether they be models of memory or computationally
intractable systems, oracles and such, may be a road out of this mess.
Attempts to take the unanalysable aspects of a system and to reframe them
as a generic but unknown dynamic system may pan out. A general systems
theory begins to deal with this by attempting to define the complexity of a
system independently of the internal structure of the system; ideas of
dimensionality, free variables, universality, degrees of freedom occur
repeatedly in economic, sociological, mathematical, physical, psychological
and computation models of complexity.


Regarding a biomechanical system as a unit is of great help in analysing
its structure. The definition of borders of the unit can be at times
difficult, but in view of this difficulty there is also the benefit of
probable correctness. Many different definitions of the border of a unit,
or rather, there are many different overlapping biomechanical units in our
world, many contained within one another. In this knowledge, it is often
good, and will be of value to our researches, to define biomechanical units
that include several other biomechanical sections, or even some
non-biomechanical parts.

In particular, taking a biomechanical observer and the observed object, we
can regard this collection as a biomechanical unit. We can then modify the
connection between the observed and the observer, using various mappings or
permutations. The inputs to this biomechanical system are not light levels
or fluctuations of pressure, but rather the parameters of modifications to
these quantities. This new, larger system is once again a biomechanical
system in the same way that the previous system was.

Now we can apply a science of variations, we are acting in a system with an
intrinsic structure, we do not take as our parameters the entire
information flow, but rather the permutations to this flow. We do not
attempt to refer to an external observed object as a seperate and thus
objectively defined object, we are more interested in the perception of
this object by the subsumed biomechanical entity. The input to this unit
then becomes the modifications to the perceptual flow between the object
and the observer, this can be more carefully defined and investigated than
attempting to deal with modifications to an arbitrary input.

Closing the Loop

It is to be expected that the observables of the system, the output, relate
something of the internal structure of the system. Even mathematically in
systems theory it is provable that certain properties of the internal
sytructure of a dynamical system can be determined using only the time
series of the output, for instance the dimension of the internal state.
These observables can also be used to measure certain meta-phenomena. The
action of forming a loop, of using the variations in this output to vary
the input parameters in a causal and preprogrammed way, is the overarching
framework of the program. The resonances and oscillations of this loop, of
the parameters and variations thereof that can be discerned upon it, are
the area of focus.

The multitude of methodologies and metaphors that one can employ here are a
bonus, the testing of falsifiable pseudoscientific theories is one of many
aims. It is important that we scavenge as many possible theories of control
or feedback as we possibly can from the various fields in which these
theories are developed. Given various theories of control, feedback in
linear and nonlinear systems, interactions of agent complexes as models of
the mind, market forces and psychological modelling in the stock market,
toy universes plundered from technical institutes, we begin to develop ways
of interacting with biomechanical units, to develop experiments that test
theories in all possible situations, or only in one, hopefully interesting


The above discussion of loop closing and scientific modelling leads us to a
conclusion where we expect that experiments formulated in such a context,
feeding output data via appropriate modification methods back to vary the
input, may lead to some interesting phenomena in the biomechanical
pseudosciences. Abstraction and modelling play an important function here,
moving into new realms of free association, but we also note that the
experiment must remain in the forefront if we are not to fall into traps of
impotence that are often associated with ivory tower or corporate career
scientism or garage crackpot paranoia.

Version 2 tb april 98

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -


What is this "pseudoscience" business? It's got something to
do with the undeterred feeling that science, writ large, small
or in italics, is something that is good and interesting,
or at least value-free and interesting. That there are
too many redefinitions of science that don't quite meet my specs
for what it is that makes my ears prick up when I
hear the word. That abstraction in all its glory is a
good thing, that there are connections, that things can
be valuably seen in solitary situations, also in connection,
that there are ways of talking about all these things that
are not completely meaningless. Perhaps it's the romance, perhaps I
want justification for having bad hair.

These notes are an attempt for me to piece together what it
is that makes me wear the badge "pseudo scientist" without
shame, why it is that a scientist is a good person, why
this thing is interesting.

Some distinctions. Some definitions belong to the beginning
of every good pseudo-scientific text. We need to know what is
being said, not falling into the obfuscation or intellectual
brow-beating-techniques of art critics, politicios and popular
scientists. For us, popular science denotes
all those science-type things that are based on some kind
of popularity, whether it's occult National Enquirer
stuff or peer-reviewed journals. Science itself is about
separation and cutting, using the etymology of the word, it's
about abstraction and understanding, as compared
to development, which is about product, technology, use. Of
course development of tools is necessary for science,
one needs scalpels to cut, but science is not about knives.
Scientists are by their nature mad, they are unusual,
they are other, whether solitary crazies in the wilderness
or groups in ivory towers. A scientists is someone, or even
something, that does science.

I speak from the position of a confessed pseudo scientist,
I am not in a twelve-point program.

The expression "pseudo" science is meant, above all, to push buttons
and ensure that we do not get lumped with all them other
sorts of scientists. Since most things are useless by their
nature, so will our science be "useless", angels on pins, but
infinitely important to us, in the same way that any obsession
becomes all-consuming. Our researches are not meant to be
barren, although there are not, a priori, tangible results
in the sense of new machines or protocols or systems. We produce
understanding which by its nature must be transmitted to
be regarded as real. We are not Gnostics, looking for intimate
knowledge of the universe for our own sake, we are explorers
bringing back maps to new treasures. We seek to explain, in
much the same way that many seek to represent. Thus there
must be texts, diagrams, discussions. This is a parallel
universe to that of the working day of the pseudo scientist,
it is not the creation of these texts that are important, it
is the development of understanding and abstraction behind them.

The job of the pseudoscientist might be said to be the
opposite of the (classical) artist. The artist creates a specific
version of a general idea, a work that is an embodiment of
some thoughts, feelings, intuitions that have apparently happened.
The pseudo scientist does the opposite, the development of
abstractions, reasoning and intuiting about those abstractions,
developing methods to convey those abstractions in ways
that do not become concrete, that survive bad photocopying,
that can be explained in the dust with a stick as well as with
an interactive high-tech computer thing.

In these developments of abstractions, the pseudoscientist
will run across similarities that span widths unexpectedly,
there will be connections where truths in one area can
be transported across to truths in another area via
the bridge of abstraction. Understanding in one area
can be spread, shared, developed through appropriate
imagery, similarity, difference.

The depth of applicability is always in question. Thus
the pseudoscientist returns to perhaps the most romantic
of all things scientific, the laboratory, where experiments
must be carried out. Technology must be developed, devices
sonstructed, situations composed that let the scientists see what
is going on, methods to look inside systems, to analyse, record,
translate and transpose. These experiments must be reproducible,
but the eqipment does not need to be reliable beyond some
measure of accuracy. This is not technological development
of idiot-proof consumer electronics, it's about searching
for understanding. Though it probably looks pretty cool as
it produces its results.
#  distributed via nettime-l : no commercial use without permission
#  <nettime> is a closed moderated mailinglist for net criticism,
#  collaborative text filtering and cultural politics of the nets
#  more info: majordomo@desk.nl and "info nettime-l" in the msg body
#  URL: http://www.desk.nl/~nettime/  contact: nettime-owner@desk.nl