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A Sourcebook for the Worldwide Discovery of a Creative Organic Universe
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II. A Planetary Prodigy: HumanKinder's Geonome Knowledge

C. Mindkind Sapiensphere: A WorldWise Collective Intelligence

Helbing, Dirk. Introduction: The FuturICT Knowledge Accelerator Towards a More Resilient and Sustainable Future. European Physical Journal Special Topics. 214/1, 2012. The ETH Zurich, Swiss Federal Institute of Technology prime mover (search) of this mostly European project opens a special issue on “Participatory Science and Computing for Our Complex World.” It includes Helbing’s manifesto “Accelerating Scientific Discovery by Formulating Grand Scientific Challenges,” along with technical papers by a leading cadre such “Smart Cities of the Future” by systems architects such as Michael Batty and Yuri Portugali, “Challenges in Network Science: Applications to Infrastructures, Climate, Social Systems and Economics,” Shlomo Havlin, et al, “Challenges in Complex Systems Science” Maxi San Miguel, et al, and “A Planetary Nervous System for Social Mining and Collective Awareness” by Fosca Giannotti, et al. These articles are separately reviewed, please search. Yes, a well meaning “visionary” approach to change the world from its mechanical burdens by clever employ of the latest complex systems insights. But its proponents are still mostly men, with much technology, and sans a guiding sense of natural principles and purposes, especially of planetary scope.

The FuturICT project is a response to the European Flagship Call in the Area of Future and Emerging Technologies, which is planning to spend 1 billion EUR on each of two flagship projects over a period of 10 years. FuturICT seeks to create an open, global but decentralized, democratically controlled information platform that will use online data and real-time measurements together with novel theoretical models and experimental methods to achieve a paradigm shift in our understanding of today’s strongly interdependent and complex world and make our techno-socio-economic systems more flexible, adaptive, resilient, sustainable, and livable through a participatory approach. (Abstract)

Multi-component systems can be dynamically complex and hardly controllable. This requires a paradigm shift in our thinking, moving our attention from the properties of the system components to the collective behavior and emergent systemic properties resulting from the interactions of these components. As the paradigm shift from a geocentric to a heliocentric world view has facilitated modern physics, so will this paradigm shift towards an interaction-based, systemic perspective and a co-evolution of ICT with society open up entirely new solutions to address old and new problems, for example, financial crises, social and political instabilities, global environmental change, organized crime, the quick spreading of new diseases, and the requirement to build smart cities and energy systems. (6)

All of this calls for a significant shift in the research and educational focus of academic institutions. Specifically, one needs to develop a better, holistic understanding of the global, strongly coupled and interdependent, dynamically complex systems that humans have created. It is required to push complexity science towards practical applicability, to invent a novel data science, to create a new generation of socially interactive, adaptive ICT systems, and to develop entirely new approaches for systemic risk assessment and integrated risk management. (6)

Heylighen, Francis. Collective Intelligence and its Implementation on the Web. Computational and Mathematical Theory of Organizations. 5/3, 1999. The Belgian systems scientist defines collective cognition as the enchanced ability of a group to solve problems than its individual members can do alone. The Internet is well suited for this purpose and methods such as a collaborative mental map are proposed. Heylighen is a founder of the extensive Principia Cybernetica website. His own page http://pcp.vub.ac.be/HEYL.html is posted there and contains many papers on emergent complexity and a global brain.

Heylighen, Francis. Transcending the Rational Symbol System: How ICT Integrates Science, Art, Philosophy and Spirituality into a Global Brain. pcp.vub.ac.be/Papers/TranscendingRSS.pdf. A chapter for a 2018 Oxford Press edition of theHandbook of Human Symbolic Evolution which is posted on this ECCO site, click Working Papers. The director of the Evolution, Complexity & Cognition group at the Free University of Brussels achieves a latest sketch (search FH) of an imminent advent of a worldwise intelligence as it may commence to learn and engage on its sapient own. In retrospect, a prior phase of discrete symbolic abstractions but sans content ought to be surpassed by a meaningful synthesis of the four title realms. By this view, a worldwide major evolutionary transition and metasystem transition seems much underway. These Belgian interdisciplinary scholars (see also Global Brain Institute) may be well along to qualify and explain an enveloping planetary faculty and knowledge we so desperately need.

Symbols support the uniquely human capabilities of language, culture and thinking. Therefore, cognitive science has tried to explain intelligence as founded on rational symbol systems (RSS): collections of symbols together with logical and grammatical rules. The main shortcoming of this RSS mechanism is that it reduces the continuous experience of reality to a combination of static, discrete, and to some degree arbitrary, elements. Historically, different approaches have tried to overcome the shortcomings of rational symbol systems: science, by formalizing and operationalizing symbols; philosophy, by seeking for the reality behind symbols while analyzing the shortcomings of symbolic representations; art, by evoking intuitive insights and experiences; and spirituality, by expanding consciousness beyond rational symbol systems. It is proposed that this will produce an evolutionary transition to a suprahuman level of knowledge, intelligence and consciousness, envisioned as a Global Brain for humanity. (Abstract)

The “Global Brain” is the idea that a grand synthesis between all these different ICT applications is evolving, so as to produce the equivalent of an integrated nervous system for humankind. (19) We need more than technological innovation to achieve such a grand synthesis of RSS-transcending approaches. We also need a deep theoretical or philosophical reflection that would lay the foundations for a new understanding of reality —one that is not biased by the RSS with its predisposition to reduce complex phenomena to static objects and properties that obey predetermined rules.(19)

While I have tried to survey some of the social, technological and economic implications of this transition elsewhere, our focus here is on communication, cognition, and ultimately consciousness. But the complexity and change we are experiencing in this early 21st century is so overwhelming that no scientific model, artistic depiction, philosophical analysis, or individual awareness is as yet able to capture their full impact. We can only hope that the processes I have sketched will indeed self-organize into an integrated system of distributed intelligence, a Global Brain, that will give humankind a vastly broader and deeper insight into reality than it hitherto managed to achieve and thus help it to cope with the immense challenges that our planet has to deal with. (20)

Heylighen, Francis and John Bollen. The World Wide Web as a Super-Brain. Robert Trappl, ed. Cybernetics and Systems ’96.. Singapore: World Scientific, 1996. If society is viewed as a superorganism, then communication networks play the role of its brain. The World Wide Web functions as a “giant associative network” that can learn and think by the strengthening of frequently used links.

Heylighen, Francis and Marta Lenartowicz. The Global Brain as a Model of the Future Information Society. Technological Forecasting and Social Change. 114/1, 2017. The Free University of Brussels, Global Brain Institute director and a social scientist member introduce a special section to scope out, and prepare for, this imminent emergence. Search Heylighen herein, and the GBI site, for many papers. Entries include New Consciousness: A societal and energetic vision for rebalancing humankind within the limits of planet Earth by Christian Breyer, et al, and Living Cognitive Society by Viktoras Veitas and David Weinbaum, along with Global Commons in the Global Brain by Cadell Last, and Creatures of the Semiosphere by Lenartowicz, both reviewed below.

The Global Brain can be defined as the distributed intelligence emerging from all human and technological agents as interacting via the Internet. It plays the role of a nervous system for the social superorganism. A brief history of this idea is sketched, with a focus on the developments leading to the creation of the Global Brain Group, and the Global Brain Institute (GBI) that emerged out of it. As directors of the GBI, the authors of this paper took the initiative of editing a special issue on the topic of “the Global Brain as a model of the future information society”. We briefly sketch the contributions from the different papers in this issue. We conclude by reviewing some common dystopian misconceptions associated with the Global Brain paradigm, and by offering an optimistic outlook on how the “offer network” protocol inspired by this paradigm may lay the foundation for a much more synergetic and sustainable society.

Heylighen, Francis and Shima Beigi. Mind outside Brain: A Radically Non-Dualist Foundation for Distributed Cognition. Carter, J. Adam, et al, eds. Socially Extended Epistemology. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2018. In this collection mostly about group attributes, Global Brain Institute, Brussels polyscholars (search each) extend further onto a necessary revolution from Newtonian mechanics to a deeply conducive, mindful cosmos. This reality beyond particles is seen to be suffused by an animate autopoiesis of self-organizing complex adaptive systems. This panpsychic milieu then becomes a viable source for cognitive qualities as they may evolve, fluoresce and gain personal and collective intelligence. Accordingly, symbiotic societies and ecosystems can gain their own relative cognizance and knowledge. With the divide of mind and body resolved, all of these temporal and spatial aspects can again be unified as an immense process of flow, a Becoming or Tao. Wow, here is a glimpse of where all these current themes might come together, edify and envision, if me + We = US might just allow and ask.


We approach the problem of the extended mind from a radically non-dualist perspective. The separation between mind and matter is an artifact of the outdated mechanistic worldview, which leaves no room for mental phenomena such as agency, intentionality, or feeling. We propose to replace it by an action ontology, which conceives mind and matter as aspects of the same network of processes. By adopting the intentional stance, we interpret the catalysts of elementary reactions as agents exhibiting desires, intentions, and sensations. Autopoietic networks of reactions constitute more complex super-agents, which moreover exhibit memory, deliberation and sense-making. In the specific case of social networks, individual agents coordinate their actions via the propagation of challenges. The distributed cognition that emerges from this interaction cannot be situated in any individual brain. This non-dualist, holistic view extends and operationalizes process metaphysics and Eastern philosophies. It is supported by both mindfulness experiences and mathematical models of action, self-organization, and cognition. (Abstract)

The aim of the present paper is to propose a radical resolution to this controversy: we assume that mindis a ubiquitous property of all minimally active matter. It is in no way restricted to the human brain — although that is the place where we know it in its most concentrated form. Therefore, the extended mind hypothesis is in fact misguided, because it assumes that the mind originates in the brain, and merely “extends” itself a little bit outside in order to increase its reach, the way one’s arm extends itself by grasping a stick.
While ancient mystical traditions and idealist philosophies have formulated similar panpsychist ideas, the approach we propose is rooted in contemporary science — in particular cybernetics, cognitive science, and complex systems theory. (2)

Cells and organelles in the body too are in a constant flux, being broken down by processes such as apoptosis and autophagy. The same processes can again be found at the level
of ecosystems, where relations of predation, symbiosis and reproduction between organisms and species join with meteorological and geological forces to produce a constantly changing landscape. However, these processes are not random, but evolutionary: they have a preferred direction towards survival and growth (fitness), engendering increasingly complex and intelligent forms of organization. (4)

Thus, they lead to the emergence of ever more sophisticated, meaningful and adaptive forms. This evolutionary worldview is very different from the lifeless, static picture of the clockwork universe. In such an evolving, interconnected world, mind no longer appears like an alien entity that cannot be explained by scientific principles, but rather as a natural emanation of the way networks of processes self-organize into goal-directed, adaptive systems. This is of course not a novel idea. It has been formulated by philosophers such as Whitehead, Bergson and Teilhard de Chardin under the label of process metaphysics. (5)

Hilbert, Martin and Priscila Lopez. The World’s Technological Capacity to Store, Communicate and Compute Information. Science. 332/60, 2011. We note because information specialists from the Universities of Southern California, and of Catalonia, Spain, conclude that this intensifying density of bytes, as the sum of humanity’s knowledge, is approaching, relatively, the number of nerve impulses of a human brain and of our DNA informational content.

Hillis, Ken, et al. Google and the Culture of Search. Abingdon, UK: Routledge, 2012. Amongst many books on this burst of instant, total worldwide access, this work by Hillis, University of North Carolina communication studies, with Michael Petit, University of Toronto media programs, and Kylie Jarrett, National University of Ireland media studies, surveys the long heritage and dream of a universal cyclopedia for and organized guide to all knowledge. After chapters about a regnant “Googleplex,” “Universal Libraries and Thinking Machines” courses from ancient Alexandria to Mountain View servers. Historic personages in this quest such as the Majorcan logician Ramon Llull (ca. 1232-1315) and polymath Gottfried Leibniz (1646-1716) receive special notice.

Chapter 4 “Imagining World Brain” views how 20th century seers H. G. Wells, Pierre Teilhard, Vannevar Bush, Manfred Kochen, and others sought to innovate a cerebral electronic repository. “The Field of Informational Metaphysics,” “The Library of Google,” “I Search, Therefore I Am,” and a copious bibliography complete the text as we struggle, with real concerns, to entertain this resource and revelation. Jorge Borges is often turned to for his prescience, an Apple iPad seems at last to achieve his esoteric Aleph of spatial and temporal learning in one shining place. It makes one wonder about a rudimentary global cerebrum which we neuron-like individuals are querying and conversing, as if our collaborative earthkind might be “searching” a greater textual genesis uniVerse.

The desire for a universal index or library capable of assisting the search for knowledge spans millennia. Google’s vision bears traces of the influence of Plato’s Ancient concept of the demiurge from which the Egyptian Roman philosopher Plotinus (ca. 205-270) subsequently developed his Neoplatonic concept of World Soul. (9-10) Plontinus’ concept of World Soul, understood to flow from the Nous or Divine Mind, synthesizes these strands of thought. In the 1930s, paralleling the rise of cybernetics, the idea of networked information machines was couched in informational and metaphysically inflected concepts. Permanent World Encyclopedia, World Brain, Global Brain, and World Mind are legacies of this period. More recently, concepts such as the planetary noosphere, Collective Intelligence, Distributed Intelligence, HiveMind, and the Singularity variously adapt and realign the nous, World Soul and Divine Mind in order to posit the “ecstatic” possibilities for humans supposedly on offer through the emanations of humanly created and decidedly earth-bound electronic and digital networks. (10)

Hornischer, Hannes, et al. Intelligence of Agents Produces a Structural Phase Transition in Collective Behavior. arXiv:1706.01458. MPI Dynamics and Self-Organization researchers discern a consistent propensity for animal agents to move toward and transform into a beneficial group coherence. As such common, insistent forces become apparent, they can be realized as a far-from-equilibrium emergence into newly viable arrangements.

Living organisms process information to interact and adapt to their changing environment with the goal of finding food, mates or averting hazards. Adaptive, collective behaviour underpinned by specialized optimization strategies is ubiquitously found in the natural world. Here we prove that a universal physical mechanism of a nonequilibrium transition underlies the collective organization of information-processing organisms. As cognitive agents build and update an internal, cognitive representation of the causal structure of their environment, complex patterns emerge in the system, where the onset of pattern formation relates to the spatial overlap of cognitive maps. Taken together, the characteristics of this phase transition consolidate different results in cognitive and biological sciences in a universal manner. (Abstract excerpts)

Huang, Chu-Ren and Winfried Lenders, eds. Computational Linguistics and Beyond. Taipei: Academia Sinica, 2004. The common structural and communicative properties of language from traditional Chinese to intelligent agents, vocabularies, and ontologies of the worldwide Semantic web.

Humphrys, Mark and Ciaran O’Leary. Constructing Complex Minds Through Multiple Authors. Bridget Hallam, et al, eds. From Animals to Animats 7.. Cambridge: MIT Press, 2002. In the proceedings of the Seventh International Conference on Simulation of Adaptive Behavior, a paper which postulates how a “World-Wide-Mind” could arise from multiple interlinked persons and servers.

We have a new vision of a mind: no single author could write a high-level artificial mind, but perhaps the entire scientific community could. (11)

Ijspeert, Auke Jan, et al, eds. Biologically Inspired Approaches to Advanced Information Technology. Berlin: Springer, 2004. An intense effort is underway to revise and recreate the worldwide computer web into a more accessible, organic and cognitively self-assembling and self-healing manner. Researchers are thus increasingly drawn to dynamic models from organisms and their evolution, as this volume illustrates. A typical paper is Dynamic Self-Assembly and Computation: From Biological to Information Systems by Ann Bouchard and Gordon Osbourn, who base their work on stochastic protein networks.

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