Terms of debate for Complex Systems Issues

From: Richard Loosemore (rpwl@lightlink.com)
Date: Tue Aug 23 2005 - 10:18:01 MDT


(But particularly in response to Michael Wilson, who has been engaging
me in off-list debate)

I am getting a lot of the following rather comical pattern of argument,
so I thought I would share it with you all:


SOMEONE ELSE) You haven't produced any arguments that mean anything.

ME) Okay, I'll try again. There is a very general argument, from
Complex Systems theory, that says that if something of the complexity of
an AGI has a goal system, and a thinking system that is capable of
building and making use of sophisticated representations of (among other
things) the structure and behavior of its own goal system, then it would
be extraordinarily unlikely if that AGI's behavior was straightforwardly
determined by the goal system itself, because the feedback loop between
goal system and thinking system would be so sensitive to other
influences that it would bring pretty much the entire rest of the
universe into the equation. The overall behavior, in other words, would
be a Complex (capital C) conjunction of goal system and representational
system, and it would be meaningless to assert that it would still be
equivalent to a modified or augmented form of the original goal system.
  For that reason we need to be very careful when we try to draw
conclusions about how the AGI would behave.

SOMEONE ELSE) You still haven't given any arguments to support your

ME) What?! To anyone who understood what I meant by "Complex System" the
above contention is transparent. It is one of the most basic claims of
the CS folks, observed over and over, in many types of system.

SOMEONE ELSE) We have already looked at Complex Systems Theory and it is
a waste of time.

ME) So you know a lot about Complex Systems Theory? Good: can you tell
me what is wrong with the above argument, then? How can the CS folks
have been so wrong about one of their most basic observations?

SOMEONE ELSE) [Various arguments against *Chaos Theory*, but presented
as if this were Complex Systems]

ME) Huh? That's Chaos Theory!! What has that got to do with anything?
Is that what people think I mean by "Complex Systems"? No wonder they
keep saying its not relevant.

SOMEONE ELSE) [Various discussion about *Kolmogorov complexity*,
presented as if this were the same as "Complex Systems"]

ME) Huh? Why are you changing the subject and talking about Kolmogorov
complexity now?! *Please get back to the point* and say what is wrong
with Complex Systems Theory. Have you actually studied that field? Do
you know enough to distinguish it from Chaos Theory and Kormogorov

SOMEONE ELSE) Do, I haven't studied Complex Systems Theory: I don't
need to, its a waste of time.

ME) So you (a) don't understand it, but (b) know it is a waste of time?
  What kind of sophistry is this?

SOMEONE ELSE) I know enough to know its a waste of time. Besides, what
have the Complex Systems people achieved?

ME) If you don't understand it, don't engage me in debate about it!

SOMEONE ELSE) There is nothing here to debate: you don't produce
arguments, you just make vague appeals to higher authority. And you
don't understand what anyone else is trying to explain to you. "There
is inevitably some pride swallowing (proportional to one's self-assessed
level of expertise) in accepting that people have been where you are,
thought about everything you're likely to say about it and moved on, but
again this is something all of our competent researchers went through
when they joined [SL4]." (direct quote from Michael Wilson).

ME) Pride swallowing? Indeed. So you need humility on this list? So
maybe you sometimes need to be aware of your own limitations, and go do
a bit of reading to catch up? Couldn't agree more.


To anyone else who might be tempted to think that blanket ignorance of a
domain of inquiry makes them plenty qualified to shoot down arguments
coming from within that domain, I should make it clear that I have no
interest in debate on those terms.

For those of you with a genuine interest in the issues that I was trying
to raise, you would probably enjoy reading M. Mitchell Waldrop's
"Complexity". It would help to combine this with a good long look at
Godel Escher Bach (Hofstadter) as well, although you should bear in mind
that the term "Complex Systems" didn't really come into widespread use
until after Hofstadter wrote GEB. I believe Hofstadter later said that
GEB was filled to the brim with the spirit of CS, even though he didn't
refer to it that way (I can't remember where exactly he said this though
- does anyone have that reference?).

I am writing a more detailed analysis of some of these issues, as I
promised earlier, but this is almost a book-length project, so it goes

Richard Loosemore.

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