August 6, 2013

Thought (Memetic) Soup, August edition

Here is the latest set of loosely-related features from my micro-blog, Tumbld Thoughts. Another installment of the Thought (Memetic) Soup concept I debuted last month. This post features topics such as Discovering Scaling Laws in Human Innovation (I), Argument to Social Moderation (II), and Towards a Subjective Information Theory (III). A set of creative and edgy (at least from an academic perspective) posts at the intersection of human culture, technology, and complexity theory.

I. Discovering Scaling Laws in Human Innovation

Here is a feature from IEEE Spectrum [1] on Santa Fe Institute's Performance Curve Database (PCDB). The picture above is from the IEEE Spectrum article, and features four technologies (dynamic RAMDNA sequencingphotovoltaics, and wind power) that conform to Moore's Law (e.g. get cheaper, smaller, better over time) [2].

The Moore's Law-like linear scaling in these four technologies is not without variation, and this variation [3] is related to platform changes, material availability, and other factors. The picture below is from the PCDB website, and features raw data behind the trend in pricing decreases for wind power over time [4]. 

II. Argument to (Social) Moderation

Here are a few images, thoughts, and readings related to the concepts of the political "center" and the organizational power of "majority rules", discussed in a recent Washington Post article [5]. Are there inherent cognitive tendencies that define left, right, and center, or do ideas get sorted by cultural and historical context (e.g. maintenance of binary oppositions)

Perhaps a better question is whether or not the "center" is the best possible political philosophy, given that it is often the product of consensus and compromise. This is of course the idea behind radical centrism, but also consistent with arguing to moderation (a well-known logical fallacy). 

However, moving too far in one direction or another away from the center also poses a number of problems. The psychology of extremism suggests that while leftist and rightist tendencies may be rooted in psychological tendencies [6], extremism itself may be the product of general cognitive biases [7].

There is also a more interesting set of relationships between the right-left dichotomy and a dichotomy between strict majoritarianism-radical pluralism philosophies. While majoritarianism is the standard in most democracies, it often fails in culturally diverse societies [8]. The alternative would be pluralism, but pluralism may or may not be consistent with the principles of pragmatism (e.g. centrism).

III. Towards a Subjective Information Theory

This is a rose, this is not a pipe, and there is no spoon. What does this mean for me [9]? Aside from the possibility matrix shown above, Rodney Needham [10] introduces us to cultural subjectivity by describing Wittgenstein's triangle. This [11] can be defined as objects that do not have a genuinely proper description. Consider a rose as an example:

1) this is a rose (object recognition).

2) this rose has five pedals (classification).

3) this rose is red (color perception).

4) this rose smells sweet (olfactory perception).

5) this rose is beautiful (subjective judgement).

These statements can be grouped (1, 2, 3-4, and 5) with respect to increasing amounts of subjectivity. Such increasing subjectivity leads to both intra- and inter-cultural diversity. This suggests that something called subjective information theory (SIT) might be possible [12].

In SIT (which is a hypothetical theory), subjectivity would increase as the configurational entropy (e.g. a greater number of possibilities) of the imagination increases. SIT would also require some form of data fusion [13], which would combine the possible answers for each statement above.


[1] Elert, E.   Tech Trajectories: four more Moore's Laws. IEEE Spectrum, July 26 (2013).

[2] Moore's law was originally applied to semiconductor size, power and pricing with respect to time. This linear scaling is dependent upon a certain device physics and material composition (and nothing else).

[3] these include changes in the linear function (e.g. plateaus) or the rate of change (e.g. doubling time).

[4] there is a wealth of performance curve data for many different technologies at the website.

[5] Klein, E.   There's no such thing as "the center". Washington Post, July 25 (2013). Cartoon (middle image) is a KAL cartoon (courtesy of The Economist).

[6] Mitroff, I.I.   The Psychology of Extremism. HuffPo blog, August 30 (2011).

[7] Fernbach, P.M., Rogers, T., Fox, C.R., and Sloman, S.A.   Political Extremism Is Supported by an Illusion of Understanding. Psychological Science, 24(6), 39-946 (2013).

[8] Editorial   Majoritarianism: Zombie democracy. Economist, June 22 (2013).

[9] the rose reference is featured in note [10]. "This is not a pipe" is in reference to Magritte's "Treachery of Images". "There is no Spoon" is a reference from "The Matrix" (the first movie).

[10] Needham, R.   Against the tranquility of axioms. University of California Press, Berkeley (1983).

[12] One version of subjective information is discussed in Chapter 5: Jumarie, G.   Relative Information. Springer Series in Synergetics, 47 (1990). In this reference, standard Shannon entropy is modified to account for symbols and meanings (semantics).

Another version can be found here: Tononi, G.   Phi: a voyage from the brain to the soul. Random House (2012). Here, information theory is used to account for neuronal diversity and the variety of mental states in conscious experience.

[13] For more information, please see: Bouchon-Meunier, B.  Aggregation and Fusion of Imperfect Information. Springer-Verlag, Berlin (1998).

1 comment:

  1. Regarding the last 3rd part, have you ever tried to build algorithms for an autonomous agent where recognition, classification and various perceptions would be totally and completely separated? This is to imply that the particular presentation of the 5 propositions in the text as a set of 5 fundamental priors may be intrinsically flawed.