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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
Humanity Needs a New Social Arrangement and New Understanding of Reality What follows is an exercise in fantasy or at least futility. Note that while all of the below are conceivable in principle, give some thought to what it would... Continue reading
Posted 4 days ago at Question Everything
@Iodan, You seem to be using the word "sapience" more broadly than I am. In my writing I try to distinguish sapience as a brain function that can give rise to wisdom (knowledge). There may very well be a societal equivalent mechanism, e.g. what government should be (but isn't). I think it important to make scale distinctions and stick to them for clarity. ------------------------------------- @Don S. Symbiosis and commensulism are two examples of the nature of fuzzy boundary conditions in systems, one of the chief reasons that identifying exactly what the system of interest is is so difficult. Suggest you look at the works of Antonio Damasio re: influences of affect on decisions making (one kind of intuitional influence). ------------------------------------- @Jordan, Re: Pinker's observation. While it is true that the carrying capacity has been artificially extended, the reality is that the population has actually expanded at a much greater rate relatively speaking. This has become especially clear since the 1970s when the peak in net free energy per capita happened. The US history since those days has been mostly about trying to take over the major sources of oil in the Middle East! What we have failed to take into account is the cost of military power to make that happen exceeds the profit from the effort! Additionally, and coincidentally, the 1970s marked the peak of growth of multiple factor productivity, especially the contribution from technologies. In spite of the small blip in productivity increases due to computing and communications in the early 1990s, the general trend has been negative. The slow down in productivity growth (and hence economic growth in general) started back in the 1960s, peaked in the mid to late 1970s and has been in decline (mostly) ever since (see: Gordon, Robert J., The Rise and Fall of American Growth: The U.S. Standard of Living since the Civil War). Pinker's general conclusion is that the increase in passivity is likely due to the increasing role of government(s) in daily life. But there has to be some mental factor that makes it possible. ------------------------------------- @Davy, In the final installment I start off by suggesting that the recommendations I will make are an exercise in fantasy if not futility. The point of everything I have written is to make clear how unlikely any form of current society is to survive into the future! I have made it clear over the years that I see no chance of us getting through this in one piece. An evolutionary bottleneck is, in my opinion, a given. The question is are there representatives of higher sapience in the current population that might be able to survive and give rise to a new kind of human being at some time long into the future past the bottleneck? I have met a few individuals over the years that I suspect would be good candidates. But they are rare indeed. Especially given that they need to be young enough to have reproductive potential in front of them. Given that wisdom doesn't start showing itself in any meaningful, observable way until one is approaching elderhood, it will be a matter of chance and selection - evolution - to decide. ------------------------------------- George
Toggle Commented Oct 16, 2016 on A New Human Society - Part 4 at Question Everything
Higher Levels of Consciousness Defining Consciousness Let's start with a relatively simple definition of consciousness. Let us say that consciousness is the property of a system that allows it to be aware of its environment. Moreover, consciousness allows a system... Continue reading
Posted Oct 13, 2016 at Question Everything
@Liodan, Let me direct readers to your blog site so they can get some background: My current blog has to be understood in the context of much of what I have written over the years. If you look at some of that work you will find that I have been paying attention to anthro-sociology over the last several decades. Not sure what you read (into) what I wrote, but I assure you I have researched the cultural evolution of humanity. ----------------------------------- @Craig M., Thanks. That quote from Mencken nails it perfectly. ------------------------------------ @Don S., I like Kahneman quite a lot. However, he partitions thinking into just the two time domain processes. In my view there is yet another time domain process - sapience - which is the basis for wisdom, not just rational thought. Kahneman's fame, along with Tversky's came from demonstrating to economists that their concept and models of rational agents in economic decisions were bunk. Many other psychologists, however, maintain that wisdom constitutes another dimension of thinking that is not included in the two system model. " By ideology, I mean that we have internalized certain rules, so that in our Fast Thinking we default to the rules rather than to immediate sensory experience." I think this is a reasonable characterization as far as it goes, but it doesn't address the so-called think-tank intellectuals who might be using slow thinking but a faulty set of premises if not faulty logic. The premises come from the ideology. The logic is usually a process of rationalizing to desired conclusions based on the emotional commitments to the ideological propositions. Something is missing from a simple two time domain model of thinking processes and I think it might be characterized as a very slow, background and largely unconscious thinking that is the basis of wisdom. ------------------------------------ George
Why We Do What is Wrong — Holding Ideologies Part 1 — asking the question: “How Can the Human Social System Survive?” Part 2 — looking at some of the things that we are doing that are wrong in this... Continue reading
Posted Oct 6, 2016 at Question Everything
@Don, You are not hinting that I am showing signs of dementia are you? ;^) I do not fear Alzheimer's or any other form of mental impairment for a simple reason. I decided some time ago that I would use my brain to aggregate information, synthesize concepts, and write as much as I could on my conclusions as long as I could. Exercise of the brain is the key. Alzheimer's or some other form of dementia may overtake me someday. But I will do what I do until it does! Regards George
@Don, I've actually been doing that for a long time. First, the behaviors we are seeing today from the majority of people are based on the population density stresses that are affecting them. These are anomalous compared with what are thought to be normal in-group cooperative behaviors. We are social animals but not under the current social conditions. What I have written about in the past has been the hope that sapient people will find one another and form communities (e.g. around permaculture) that will survive the bottleneck and produce offspring that will be more fit for the environments they will face. George
@Don, Almost anything that is said about behaviors today must be qualified by recognition that all of our overcrowded societies show signs of non-fit (in the biological sense) anomalies. This has been observed in a number of colony and herd-based species when the population densities and extent of territories get too high. All kinds of weird behaviors start to emerge. As far as this two-clock theme you bring up, i.e. approach-vs-avoid behavior, this is exactly what my robot experiments in the 1990s were about (see: for a sample of my work in artificial brains - MAVRIC). As for your final set of questions, you are, in effect, asking me to write a book! But, also asking me to repeat a great deal of what I have written over the years in these blogs. Put simply, human beings are extremely adaptable and are capable of any of multiple strategies, both biologically ingrained and mentally learned. I have no idea how the story plays out for groups or the whole population. What I do know is that humans are constrained by the architecture of their brains to have limits on the scales in time and space of what they can perceive and hence understand. My thesis has been that there are human beings who are less constrained than most and that I expect them to be able to best adapt to the coming bottleneck situation. ----------------------------------- George
@Davy, It sounds like you are a follower or fan of Lee Smolin. Tying the cycles of dynamics on the Earth to the cycles of the cosmos is something he has been interested in. -------------------------------------- @Bev, I know David from years ago when he was putting together a software system for problem solving. I can probably find the essay. However the concept that the universe will always find a way to diminish a gradient is just the 2nd Law of Thermo writ large. The very same phenomenon is at the base of why stars burn their fuels through nucleosynthesis. They eventually burn it all up and die. Within the dynamics of a star the outward pressure of energy flow competes with the inward pull of gravity to find accommodating balance at various stages of star life. Until the end. That balance helps keep the star from burning out too quickly (except for really massive stars of course). But in you second to last paragraph you hit the nail on the head. Why do we have to burn fossil fuels so quickly? Whereas in a star the balance is maintained by negative feedback, for us there has not been any such feedback. Fossil fuels have simply been dirt cheap and technologies like the internal combustion engine have simply enabled the quickness of burning. What has been missing is the negative feedback from nature OR, and this is the important point, human intelligence and wisdom being able to self regulate so as to not burn things up so quickly. The normal state of affairs for a planet like Earth is to NOT have an oxygen-rich atmosphere and sequestered carbon. That is why I said inevitable (meaning over the long haul). It's a long story about how life has been working at sequestering carbon and why human's burning it is restoring a kind of balance (just not at this rate perhaps). So I won't even attempt it here. A good reference is "Into the Cool" by Schneider and Sagan. ----------------------------------- @Cassandra, Thanks. My thoughts re: the human condition are mostly about how where we are, what we are, and how we are behaving is still a matter of evolution. I do not have animosity toward humanity for being what they are (I think I did once when I was still confused about why we lack wisdom). Rather I see what we are as part of the natural progression of evolution toward higher levels of consciousness (as I talk about in an upcoming post). I think natural selection (e.g. climate change, etc.) is about to select for humans who are closer to that higher level of sapience than the average person is today. Thus evolution will continue to push toward improved intelligence and wisdom. ----------------------------------- @Don, Thanks for the cross-post. Did Ugo answer your query. I guess what I don't understand in your characterization is the emphasis on, may I call them, dueling clocks. The idea that various dynamics are at odds yet interact is very old and at the heart of cybernetic governance theory (the answer to your last point). So I would argue that many people have looked at the notions of coordination of inherently diverse dynamical systems. How is what you are considering new and different from that work? ------------------------------------ George
What We are Doing Wrong Part 1 — asking the question: “How Can the Human Social System Survive?” Here is a set of short descriptions of some of the major factors that are involved in driving humanity to the brink... Continue reading
Posted Sep 29, 2016 at Question Everything
@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 Sep 22, 2016 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