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« Some Thoughts on the Winter Solstice 2016 | Main | University of Washington Scientist: Fake News is Real News, Somewhere »

March 20, 2017


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Don Stewart

If your professional role permits it, I would appreciate your reaction to Nora Bateson's proposal to separate engineering complex systems from biological complex systems.

Thanks....Don Stewart

George Mobus

Hi Don.

I am sorry for delays in response. I retired only to take on a number of publication duties and now am a slave to publication deadlines worse than when I was in academia!

I will take a look at Nora's work. I met her and her mother at ISSS 2016 but I missed her talk. Get back to you as soon as I can!


Fred Magyar

Hello Don Stewart,
You might be interested in listening to Suzanne Simard's TED talk:
"How trees talk to each other"

Though while reading Nora's piece I kept thinking that the complex engineered systems she was talking about were, at the end of the day, products of our living wet ware...


Don Stewart

Fred Magyar
Take as an example epigenetics. We all have genes which can facilitate our behavior either in a dominant or a subservient role. When a subservient mother is pregnant, she passes on to her foetus methylation marks which cause them to be born behaving as subservient. However, methylation marks can be changed by drugs or strong environmental changes.

I believe it was more than 5 years ago that Dr. Dean Ornish demonstrated with before and after heat maps that he could change the diet of a patient and significantly change their gene expression. Now 'methylation reversal' drugs have been used to remove the addictive reaction to recreational drugs.

Of course, if the person reverts to the same environment that created the methylation pattern to begin with, then they may very likely revert back to the old methylation pattern. Using a drug to cure the addiction to junk food, therefore, may not work unless junk food is significantly restricted from the environment.

Living systems seem to be full of these kinds of effects which are built into the biology, but which we don't commonly see built into mechanical systems. Nora Bateson's claim (as I understand it) is that the biological and the mechanical are so different that it just creates more confusion than clarity to try to describe them both with the same sorts of models.

But George wrote ONE textbook, not two textbooks. And so I am curious what he thinks on the subject.

Don Stewart

Godofredo Aravena

To start over
As a designer of real world systems, what my experience shows is that there are no fixable systems in terms of functionality. There are only two types, well designed and badly designed. Because what defines a system is it´s functionality. You can patch either, to keep them running, but patching is only a way to keep them doing essentially the same, the basic principles will not change. The flaws will not disappear. To correct the flaws, we have to designed a totally new system, from scratch.
Our society since the origins is a badly designed system. We have been patching it over and over, but always keeping its essence, the original functionality, what defines it. In the basis, modern society is the same system as 3000 years ago. Humans as the center. That is the flaw. All other minor flaws we see today, and along the times come from that basic principle, that defines the functionality of the system. So, the collapse or total failure is what we can expect, as will always happen with all badly designed systems, it is a matter of time. It surprises me how it has lasted for so long.
Given the position we have today in history regarding the collapse, the collapse on itself should not be the point. It is (almost) a fact. Nothing to do about it. So, we should focus our current efforts on what has to come after. What kind of society we should have. Not what we would like it to be, instead what has to be, tuned with our human nature and the supporting system (the environment). We have to learn from what is wrong with our current experiment. And come up with a new system.
But not to “hopefully” work well.
“Hopefully” is a word that does not exists in the world of designing systems to perform a function in the real world. Hope will always collide with reality. We design systems to perform functions, overcoming the challenges that reality offers. No hope in the process. Just applied knowledge.
All intelligent systems are designed to learn from past experiences. Is the way they can evolve, as individuals and groups.
Humans as intelligent systems have to learn from their mistakes. We have intelligence, so we have all is needed to begin to design the new society to work 99% within expected. As designers in the modern real world always do. All systems society uses currently perform within 99% (or above) of what was expected.
Why a new society from scratch will not be possible, if we put the right efforts?.
But for that, science has to stop being a reason on itself, knowledge without a real practical need. First should be the real practical, functional need, and then comes the investigation to fill the gap.

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