An Autonomous Agent

exploring the noosphere

Category: complexity theory (Page 1 of 8)

Order Out of Chaos – Ilya Prigogine and Isabelle Stengers

A little bit of quantum physics, chemistry, biology and philosophy all rolled up into one important book. Order Out of Chaos (La Nouvelle Alliance as originally published in French) by Ilya Prigogine and Isabelle Stengers is a paradigm changing book. The first parts of the book are an excellent overview on the historical development of science – the evolution of dynamics and the discovery of thermodynamics and their relationship is particularly fascinating.

Once the reader gets to the later parts, it becomes somewhat abstract and the reader may not be able to get through it without a background in chemistry and physics. Chapter Nine, when the phrase “Order Out of Chaos” is developed, is difficult. Despite this, it is much more accessible than a scientific paper on the subject. It may take two or three reads to fully absorb the ideas presented. Overall it is one of my favorite reads.

Some important conclusions from the book:

  • The arrow of time objectively exists and it arises from non-equilibrium and irreversibility at the microscopic level.
  • The 2nd Law of Thermodynamics can be understood as a selection principal. It operates as a negative on allowable initial conditions, in other words it restricts systems with certain initial conditions from existing.
  • Time travel to the past is not allowed by thermodynamics because time reversal requires infinite information concerning the initial conditions of the system, an impossibility to an observer in the universe. This implies that information is closely connected to irreversibility and time.
  • Thermodynamics can be expressed from dynamics through the idea of correlations and internal-time operators. Thus, dynamics has been extended once again (general relativity, quantum mechanics, and chaos theory).
  • The universe as a whole is in a non-equilibrium state and it is an irreversible process with pockets of reversible dynamics.
  • In general, one of the goals of the authors is to make dynamics and thermodynamics consistent with each other.

Hidden Forces – Interview Series

Hidden Forces, hosted by Demetri Kofinas is an nice set of interviews with various people on topics including: finance, complexity, mathematics, and cryptocurrencies. I struggled listening to some of the interviewees because I did not agree with their ideas or conclusions; but I guess it is good to have conflicting opinions in order to encourage debate in the comments and to help review one’s own opinions and understandings. Regardless, Kofinas provides a highly accessible medium through which advanced ideas can be grasped.

I first ran across Hidden Forces while listening to the interview with Ray Monk about philosophical mathematics. Monk’s narration on the work of Frege, Russell, Whitehead, Wittgenstein, and Gödel is excellent – by far one of the clearest and easiest to grasp. It was learning about these paradigms and paradoxes of mathematics via Hofstadter’s famous book which led me to start this website.

New Theories on the Origin of Life with Dr. Eric Smith

Dr. Eric Smith’s lecture on the origin of life really challenged everything I thought I understood regarding how life functions and possibly originated on Earth. Make sure to watch the question and answer at the end for some good points regarding panspermia and Miller’s experiments.

Ecology of Mind – Nora Bateson Documentary

Nora Bateson, daughter of Gregory Bateson, created an insightful documentary about her father’s ideas. You can purchase the DVD here. I also found it on YouTube:

On the Distribution of Kingdom/Dynasty/Government Lengths

Do there exist studies on the distribution of the lengths of kingdoms and dynasties —  distinct political entities — since the 3rd millennium B.C.E.? It seems likely that someone has already studied this topic, but I can not find any papers online. To explain, I have included a file, here, containing the beginning and end dates of about 700 distinct social groups since the dawn of recorded history. It was complied from various Wikipedia pages. I do not doubt that the data is not very reliable, however, graphing the histogram of these lengths, see Figure 1, would provide at least a rough idea of their distribution.

Figure 1

It does seem that a nice distribution curve exists which models the data. The distribution seems to take the shape of a power law at first glance. Doing some work in R, I found that a power law with one set of parameters fits the tail nicely but fails to fit the first half; and vice versa, a power law with a different set of parameters fits the majority but not the tail. My hypothesis is that a power law with alpha equal to 3 may be the best fit. This is a prediction based on the lectures of Geoffrey West, in which he explains that most biological systems exhibit power law distributions with alpha in the 2.5-3.0 range. However, as seen in Figure 2, this does not seem to be the correct range for alpha if a power law is the best fit for this preliminary data.

Figure 2
The tail of the distribution does not fit well with the parameters shown in Figure 2. 
I would venture to guess that the data may not be reliable in the displayed tail region. This would suggest that the data may need improvement in the portion where kingdoms and dynasties exist for longer than 200 years. The data I compiled, may of course be missing many kingdoms and dynasties. I believe that my sample is biased, due to these missing kingdoms and dynasties. 
To improve this rough sketch of the distribution of kingdoms and dynasties, a highly systematic method must be devised to correctly measure the length of time of existence for any dynasty and kingdom. Also, this method must consistently be able to distinguish when a kingdom or dynasty begins and ends. The general idea is to measure the length of existence of a distinct political entity in a geographical region.
A sample must be obtained which is not biased. A dataset containing the population of all existing kingdoms and dynasties existing since the 3rd millinium B.C.E. would work best. Even so, this would be biased because it would ignore all the dynasties and kingdoms existing before that time. 

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