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George Mobus
Associate Professor, Computer Science & Systems, Institute of Technology, University of Washington Tacoma, author: Principles of Systems Science, Springer, ISBN: 978-1-4939-1919-2
Interests: Systems Science: systems science is the science of understanding how the world works. it is at the core of every other science. Given our energy and material consumption, and governance of our systems will we be able to sustain all life for the long-run. The Human Condition: the human brain has evolved , our capacity to share abstract/conceptual information, and our ability to cooperate in complex ways have advanced us to dominate the Ecos. but, should we confiscate nature to our selfish purposes? Do we have the wisdom to find a balance between our own desires, and the good for the whole earth?
Recent Activity
@Craig, What I was addressing is the fact that these desires have their roots in biological mandates. It isn't a matter of nature OR nurture, but rather recognizing that our natural (genetically endowed) propensity to acquire excesses, for example, is part of what motivates our behavior (profit taking and maximizing). You are quite correct to see that the culture provides a specific shaping influence on how these fundamental desires end up as behaviors. You have correctly, I think, named one of the great shaping powers of modern life, advertising. However, I don't think advertising would work the way it does unless humans are already programmed to respond to its messages. The brain is not a tabla rasa after all. Culture can affect how we think but we are pre-sensitized to respond in biologically meaningful ways. As far as the fact that there is a small percentage of the population that does not get overwhelmed by these shaping forces, that is a reflection of my theory of sapience. The distribution of sapience in the population means that there is a skinny tail of people who are wiser than the ordinary person. George
Part 1. How Can the Human Social System Survive? Toward a Human Social System in the Ecos This is the first of a five-part series to essentially wrap up a theme I have written about often. These posts will summarize... Continue reading
Posted 6 days ago at Question Everything
This is just a note to alert readers that this Equinox posting will be the first of a five-part series that will (I hope) signal the end of the set of questions I have struggled with regarding the human condition.... Continue reading
Posted Sep 19, 2016 at Question Everything
This summer solstice sees the political season in high drama. We are finally seeing the failures of modern American politics in its naked glory. Republicans are about to implode and Democrats are forced to hold their noses and feel OK... Continue reading
Posted Jun 20, 2016 at Question Everything
@Jerry Mc. I'm not sure if you are only referring to the way we (Ugo or me) use phrases in these blogs or not. In my textbook and my papers I assure you I try to be very rigorous in the use of terminology. George
Toggle Commented May 15, 2016 on Systems Science Ascending at Question Everything
@Jerry Mc. Thank you for your thoughtful post. For clarification the model I am talking about is one in which initially positive feedback loops dominate pushing growth (e.g. population growth due to interactions between birth rates and population - exponential growth). But as those positive feedbacks drive the variable(s) upward, the mechanisms underlying them "feed" the rise and ultimate dominance of negative loops, e.g. deaths due to overpopulation. So there is no real misapplication of the terms here. I've been writing about this for so long I assume readers will recognize my shorthand references. The general model of positive (growth) followed by the rise of negative (peaking and possible degrowth) is generally understood. I cover it in my Principles of Systems Science book. It is also the basis of Ugo's work. George
Toggle Commented May 15, 2016 on Systems Science Ascending at Question Everything
@dk, Yes, the issue of incompleteness or consistency is, in my opinion, irrelevant since no model ever comes close to representing the real thing. I assume this is what you mean by an "accurate abstraction," one that reflects reasonably the system behavior within the limits of accuracy and precision with which we can measure it in the first place. I have no idea about black holes - not my area of expertise. ------------------------------------ @Dave G. My UW e-mail is Drop me a line and we can take this off-line. George
Toggle Commented May 11, 2016 on Systems Science Ascending at Question Everything
Thanks to Cliff, Lucas, & Doug for supportive comments. Doug, I have your e-mail so will respond via that channel when time permits. @Contributor, Since I was corrected once on the spelling (I do not know Latin) it is Homo calidus, not callidus. And I really don't know what you are getting at. Which brings me to two points re: these comments and those on /. 1) I will not respond to single sentence supposed zingers as these demonstrate considerable lack of critical thinking. You need to explain your criticism not just blast a one-liner thinking that is sufficient. 2) The vast majority of the comments on /. and those at the start of this thread indicate that readers (or should I say perusers) failed to grasp that this language is about modelling not about a deep description of everything. I used the term 'universal' only to emphasize that the language should be able to model any identifiable system (a thing that embodies the principles of systemness). Models are always necessarily reduced and compact descriptions of that which they model. As such they are not expected to explain absolutely everything in some reductionist view (such as a presumed GUT). Rather they are practical ways to anticipate the future through a partial explanation of how a system works. However, the more detail they can provide, the more we can say we 'understand' that which is modeled. My claim is (or will be soon) that SL provides a much more 'complete' way to describe systems. It is NOT a way to describe the universe down to the Planck scale. @Koen, Granted you may be right. I've somehow missed those conversations. Perhaps I should have been clearer in specifying that portion of the /. community responding to my blog (or rather to the article in /.) They are clearly of the IT persuasion and many have enough knowledge of CS to make specific barbs. My question is: What major new ways of addressing the interesting interdisciplinary problems have emerged from said conversations? If any, perhaps I should join!
Toggle Commented May 9, 2016 on Systems Science Ascending at Question Everything
I should have anticipated something like this. Call it QE Ascending (in hits). Someone posted this to slashdot (/.) a computer "science", hacking website. The community is huge so as a consequence as of this morning 10:00 PDT I've gotten over 2000 hits! Kevin and Pedro's comments above are mild (and polite) versions of the comments to be found there. If non-computer readers are interested in, shall we say, criticisms, go to: As one who has taught computer science students for nearly 25 years I am not at all surprised at some of the blunt if not vitriolic comments found there. The most frequent complaint I hear from students is how they could not understand what they read in the textbook or the exam questions. I have conducted several reading workshops over the years to try and find out why these students (and it is the vast majority of them) were having trouble. It turns out to be simple and somewhat scary. They never learned how to read. For meaning that is. It is actually even worse than that. A simple question: Why do so many software development projects still end up failing in some ways to meet 'user' requirements? Answer: IT people have difficulty understanding anything that isn't computation, and most of life isn't (in the strict sense - see below). It isn't just reading that is a problem, it is also just not comprehending non-technical language well enough. The slashdot community is a great example of the kind of siloed disciplinary approach that has been a source of the failures of science and engineering to recognize the systemic nature of the world and the problems that causes. I suspect a large majority of them think that computer science (and related mathematics) is THE only legitimate domain of interest and that all questions eventually come down to computation. Ergo, most of the comments (such as above) are challenges framed in computer science and mathematics concepts. My brief description of SL was taken (quickly) out of context, namely that I am talking about the language of building models of systems, not explaining, for example, quantum phenomenon (unless, for example, loop quantum gravity (LQG) turns out to be "right" because there is a lot of systemness about that theory!) Therefore, Pedro and Kevin, your questions are misguided in this context. For example, Gödel's incompleteness theorems still (always) apply in the case of pure mathematics, but so what? Most mathematicians and especially the applied version (of which this is an example) carry on somehow. No computer stopped working after Gödel proved his results. Similarly asking about differences in SL versus a UTM misses the point. Kevin, look at: Why Interaction is More Powerful than Algorithms by Peter Wegner for an expansion of the notion of computation beyond Turing. There are things systems do that are not technically Turing computable. Also, Wolfram's "A New Kind of Science" looks an awful lot like an attempt to explain the universe with cellular automata. But he doesn't seem to have made much progress beyond that original idea. The idea of finding a language which is capable of describing and modeling complex dynamic systems in a way that is comprehensible to both ordinary human beings and computers should actually be acceptable to computer scientists (most of my colleagues don't have any problem with it at all). That I am proposing to develop a language that is fundamental to our minds and translatable into a formal structure should come as great news. Unfortunately the slashdot community (the most vocal ones anyway) read into the blog what they wanted and reacted with derision. Fortunately it won't matter insofar as my work is concerned. George
Toggle Commented May 8, 2016 on Systems Science Ascending at Question Everything
After years of development in increasingly fracturing sub-disciplines it seems that systems science as an integrated whole domain of knowledge is rising again. For those familiar with the history of systems science you will recall that in the early 1950's... Continue reading
Posted May 6, 2016 at Question Everything
@Don and Richard, I don't know how much my "news" will blow anyone out of the water. As Don points out, no one should hold their breaths waiting for any magic bullets or superpersons to change everything. Perhaps the events I will be discussing come too late to make a major difference for the majority of people in this world. I strongly suspect as much. Nevertheless I feel compelled to push on with SS with the thought that some people will benefit from having a more holistic perspective of how the world works. I'm awaiting some discussion with colleagues from my Linz trip to verify some possibilities but the bulk of my report is well along. George
I have been silent about this political season until now. But with Trump's win in Indiana, and Cruz's subsequent drop out of the race I just have to say this: What does this say about a significant proportion of the... Continue reading
Posted May 4, 2016 at Question Everything
@St. Roy, Thanks. No lesser thinkers, just lesser opportunities to experience. I've been uncommonly lucky in life to get exposed to SS early and be able to interpret experiences in light of it throughout life. With 70+ years of experience, it makes for a few thoughts here and there! George
Last Wednesday I was interviewed on the FSN podcast with Cris Sheridan. You can hear the interview here: The concerns about energy and the economy are still at play. In this interview Cris was interested in my work on... Continue reading
Posted Apr 16, 2016 at Question Everything
@Desmond, Thanks for the observation. However I think you have missed something extremely important. In fact the peak of conventional oil DID occur as predicted and only because of the high prices that resulted did oil and gas companies resort to fracking and the tar sands operations in Alberta become profitable. These unconventional sources are far more expensive in money and energy costs than conventional extraction so they can only sustain as long as oil prices remain high. But here is the not-well-known fact about fracking that is the real cause of the oil glut and subsequent drop in prices. Fracked oil and gas wells, if they are lucky to hit a "sweet spot" immediately start producing at maximum rates - far more than conventional wells. The rush to drill and produce oil did produce a temporary glut that drove prices down. But it is also the case that these production rates do not last long. The oil flow peters out much sooner than for conventional wells. Furthermore, the total volume of oil produced is far less per well than for conventional wells. Thus the glut that was produced will soon turn to a deficit. But now these companies are abandoning operations because they cannot afford to continue drilling to keep up the production rates needed. Ergo we will be seeing the glut of oil start to diminish even with Iran, for example, increasing its output. Total oil production will peak as predicted and will likely cause the price to rise again. We may see several cycles of increased production followed by another glut, a fall of in production and a subsequent deficit. It will likely look like a roller coaster ride but always trending in the downward direction. The peak of oil is still a reality, even when masked by these last-ditch efforts. If you look really closely you will see that civilization is collapsing and if you look really carefully, for example, at the ground conditions in much of the MENA region you will see that declining energy per capita is a major actual cause of the unrest in the region. We have a tendency to try to explain what is happening in Syria by political causes, but this ignores the deeper reasons that people are rebelling. In the US the declining net energy (and hence wealth) per capita is having a major impact on education. Did you see the memo from the Chancellor at Berkeley? Public universities all over the country are in panic mode because of drying up funding from states. Those, in turn, are having harder times making budgets balance, hence ignoring the funding of higher ed as somehow optional. Not sure what risk has to do with the prediction of phenomena making it scientific. As I pointed out above the peak of oil is still very much alive and well and having an adverse effect on global economies. As for dysfunctions in institutions, you are right to point out that there has always been some dysfunctional things going on for almost ever. However, the current nature of the dysfunctions (bad decision making) and the level of impact they are having is substantially greater than what we have seen historically. In my mind that and the fact that they are global in scope makes this worthy of comment! George
Toggle Commented Apr 13, 2016 on Happy Spring Equinox 2016 at Question Everything
@Tony, Thanks for the link. Without the labels in the figures, though (in English!) I'm not sure I grasped the "story." ------------------------------------- @Philip, Thanks for the link. I will check it out. In my book I do explore the nature of the hierarchical cybernetic governance system and how evolution always seems to favor systems that adopt it to manage complexity. George
Toggle Commented Apr 5, 2016 on Happy Spring Equinox 2016 at Question Everything
@GaryA, Thanks. I haven't been gone, just very busy with book writing. Besides I just don't know what needs questioning any more!!! ;^) After the news of the morning about Brussels I could use a few days in the wilderness myself! Flying through Frankfurt in a couple of weeks. Hope the terrorists don't think it is worth the trouble! But honestly there are no safe havens anymore. If it isn't human caused terrorism it is human caused destruction of everything else. -------------------------------- @D, Growth! More! What a concept. More and more I think we are directly observing the reason for the Fermi Paradox. George
Toggle Commented Mar 22, 2016 on Happy Spring Equinox 2016 at Question Everything
Spring in the Northern Hemisphere, Fall in the Southern That this day is one of the happiest I experience during the year is somewhat mollified this year. This is what a world coming apart at the seams looks like. In... Continue reading
Posted Mar 20, 2016 at Question Everything
Happy solstice to all. This is usually a happy day for me because I know that every day after will get longer compared to night time. The proportion of light to dark gets more favorable with each passing day. While... Continue reading
Posted Dec 21, 2015 at Question Everything
@All, My friends the time for analysis is rapidly coming to an end. The time for action is at hand. And that action is not convincing the world of the eminent danger. It is preparing ourselves for the future. I am enjoying the seasons and the small joys I get from interacting with the world I have known. But that world is changing so much faster than I would have ever thought. If you are young enough to consider reproduction then you must find a place where you and a group of like-minded people can carve out a life, ready to adapt to the rapidly approaching future. I am old and in the twilight of my time. I can continue to publish and proselytize about the future. But I cannot, in good conscience, advise those much younger to do likewise. Forget the others, the ignorant, the willfully stupid. They are not sapient and do not deserve to contribute to the future of the genus. If you understand what I am saying then you are the future. Grasp it. Make it happen. I will continue to post missives on my perspectives of reality in hopes that those who make the future will have some ideas about how to proceed. George
All My apologies for the slowness of responses to wonderful comments. The more I retire the busier I seem to get. Many conferences are now focusing on the "Anthropocene" so I have been very busy working on workshops and presentations. That said I will try to address some of your comments. ---------------------------------------- @Paul C. You continue to have a clear perspective I value. May I humbly suggest that you do have some potential for identifying "more" stable areas and also that you represent a "more" sapient mind so please consider a "more" active attention to where and with whom to settle. My sense is you will contribute to the future generation! ------------------------------------------- @Fred M. Basically the same comment. Find a community and be one of the contributors to the next generation! ------------------------------------- @Etyere Petyere, Be a contributor to that next generation. Hunker down. ----------------------------------- @Ed Pell, I believe nature will take care of the overpopulation problem. Get ye to a safe harbor and contribute to the future of humanity. ------------------------------------ @Jura, Same comment. ---------------------------------- @JR, So learn from your experience and find refuge and like-minded people. Those who actually recognize the situation are needed to guide the survivors through the bottleneck. The rest will take care of itself. ----------------------------------- @thomas, Don't rant. Act. -------------------------------------- @Martin G., Forces are in motion. The time for analysis is largely over (except to understand for ourselves what is happening and why). The time to take action is at hand. George
Non-Neoclassical (that is real world) Economics I'm at the third joint conference between the American Society for Ecological Economics and the Biophysical Economics group (not an official organization) and the first that also includes the Canadian counterpart organization for Ecological... Continue reading
Posted Oct 3, 2015 at Question Everything
In 2011 I Said... My Autumnal Equinox missive (!) in 2011 contained a “promise” that things would be getting worse rather than better. For the last two years the US economy has been showing what economists believe to be signs... Continue reading
Posted Sep 23, 2015 at Question Everything
@Ann, The human species is still pretty adaptive and has the native affordance mentality that gave rise to tool-making/use in the first place. And you are right. The most adaptive "survivors" will need to do a lot of reinventing some day. That might really be the best thing for planet Earth, though. My hypothesis is that only the most sapient people are going to survive and adapt (by definition they are the most adaptive) so they will also hopefully be wise enough not to repeat our mistakes in over-reliance on technology. ----------------------------------- @Don S. Good points all. ------------------------------------ @Robin D., Thanks for the link. ------------------------------------- @BC, You might find my early research on the brain of a "moronic snail" interesting. It is available on my academic website: in the Adaptive Agents Lab link. ------------------------------------- @Sari, Believe it or not I had a tendency to eschew math classes (enough for a minor an no more) because I wanted to use math to help me understand things, not for its own sake. I followed a different path in which I would build models (using equations) and then compute the results, draw the graph, and usually discover that my intuitions about what the math was doing were wrong. But I usually ended up seeing where I went wrong and started the process over again. When I finally got my hands on a computer and learned to program, my progress in this "test it and see" approach took off exponentially. What usually happened is that I discovered a need to understand some phenomenon that required math I did not have (like stochastic processes). So I went after the math until I could see how to use it to help me understand the problems. Rather than fill a tool chest with all kinds of tools, I waited until I found a need for a tool and then acquired it. The upside of this approach is that I was always motivated. The downside is that it wasn't until I was deeper in computer science that I started seeing the "big picture" of the relations between various maths and began to appreciate the need for a larger tool box! I suppose it really depends on individual interests. George
Toggle Commented Sep 13, 2015 on Could We Evolve into Ants? at Question Everything
I am reading an increasing number of criticisms along the lines I have been writing about of the education system in a variety of venues that have, until now, mostly advocated the corporatization approach to education reform. Many more people are awakening to the fact that the emperor has no clothes, but I doubt if this comes in time to do anything meaningful about the current system. Better to simply start from scratch I think. George
Toggle Commented Sep 13, 2015 on What is Learning? at Question Everything