Friday, May 22, 2015

RPM makes obvious what some earlier writers have overlooked.

This post is stimulated by my reading of "The new entropy law and the economic process", by Alan Raine, John Foster, and Jason Potts, Ecological Complexity 3 (2006) 354-360. I refer to this as Raine's paper.

Raine's paper overlaps in significant ways with the Resource-Patterns Model of Life (RPM) which is the subject of this blog. But RPM adds important ideas which I do not see in the scope of Raine's paper. Here I copy from Raine's paper (page 355):
A basic puzzle remains: why do biological and socioeconomic systems expand their structure (and populations) with the result that they use increasing amounts of free energy (and associated materials)? Generally, they expand to whatever energetic limits exist and, as Malthus failed to perceive, economic self-organization can keep on extending these limits. The notions that biological populations will expand if they can, and that economic ‘progress’ will continue are taken for granted, but on reflection, it is not entirely obvious why. [emphasis added]

My response: RPM makes it entirely obvious.

Biological and socioeconomic systems can expand to use increasing amounts of resources where those resources exist in large patterns in the environment. These patterns are:
  • larger than can be exploited by individual organisms (or organizations) at an earlier-and-smaller level of development, but 
  • not too large to be exploited by groups of organisms (or organizations) when those groups discover and employ rules of behavior which produce beneficial cooperation among the individual organisms (or organizations).
The above statements refer to resources distributed in large three-dimensional patterns. But the same can be said about resources which are difficult to exploit because specialization is needed. Much of our human flourishing has been made possible because specialization has enabled exploitation of resources which, although nearby in three-dimensional space (fossil fuels, silicon), can be exploited only by individuals who can focus their attention on technical details.

Please do not consider this to be criticism of Raine's paper. That paper has contributed to my knowledge. I write to call attention to the additional contribution of RPM. I thank Jason Potts for calling my attention to Raine's (and Jason's) paper.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Platform for Development of Language

The Resource-Patterns Model of Life (RPM) provides a delimiting framework within which many questions of social science may be pursued. This morning I came across a paragraph telling about tension in the field of linguistics. This tension would be eased, it seems to me, among linguists who had embraced RPM, because RPM shows perhaps the principal problem which evolving lifeforms need to overcome through language.

Now here is that paragraph, by John Searle (1972).
The most spectacular conclusion about the nature of the human mind that Chomsky derives from his work in linguistics is that his results vindicate the claims of the seventeenth-century rationalist philosophers, Descartes, Leibniz, and others, that there are innate ideas in the mind. The rationalists claim that human beings have knowledge that is not derived from experience but is prior to all experience and determines the form of the knowledge that can be gained from experience. The empiricist tradition by contrast, from Locke down to contemporary behaviorist learning theorists, has tended to treat the mind as tabula rasa, containing no knowledge prior to experience and placing no constraints on the forms of possible knowledge, except that they must be derived from experience by such mechanisms as the association of ideas or the habitual connection of stimulus and response. For empiricists all knowledge comes from experience, for rationalists some knowledge is implanted innately and prior to experience. In his bluntest moods, Chomsky claims to have refuted the empiricists and vindicated the rationalists.*
Recall the initial condition on the tabletop after a large resource pattern has become available to critters. Heretofore the critters have been barely surviving as hunter-gatherers by searching everywhere incessantly.
The population of critters can multiply if the critters find rules of cooperation.

Now these critters can live comfortably and reproduce a lot more, if and when they can learn some simple rules and conform their behavior, during working hours at least, to those rules. These critters need a crude language. What will it be?

In one of my first exercises with computerized agent-based learning, I modeled two agents who needed language. It went like this. The first agent learned of some condition in the world (a condition set randomly from a small positive number of conditions), but had no power of physical action. The first agent could only display a symbol visible to the second agent (a symbol selected from among a small positive number of symbols). The second agent could not sense the condition experienced by the first agent, and had no way of knowing (at first) what the first agent's symbol might mean. The second agent could act effectively in the agents' world, and each act available to the second agent would produce a result which was either positive or negative for both agents — depending upon whether the act of the second agent correlated correctly with the condition observed by the first agent. Both agents had memory of prior conditions, that is memory of what they had sensed and done and whether their acts had succeeded or failed. In each cycle of the model the agents got a new chance to try again.

Obviously, my agents eventually stumbled upon a correlation between a symbol and a desirable action. They learned a language. Thereafter they did naught but thrive. I thought I had shown something important. Although I allow it is obvious that the agents' linguistic success had to happen; I had designed it to happen.

So I have this experience with modeling primitive language formation, and I see the situation of the critters who need a language which is much more advanced than the first language just described, but which is still much simpler than our human natural language. I hope to proceed with attempting to model that groping for language among the critters, some day. In my eager thinking, this modeling relates to the tension in linguistics described above by John Searle.

If we imagine some Darwinian evolution acting in our model, the critters may be descended from ancestors who had lived in environments which rewarded signaling between cooperating agents. The signaling pertains to finding and harvesting from patterns of resources in the environment. Does not that begin to frame an answer to the question of what capacities of language may be inborn in a critter?

*"Chomsky's Revolution in Linguistics" by John Searle,  © 1972 The New York Review of Books, found in On Noam Chomsky: Critical Essays, edited by Gilbert Harman, 1982, U. Mass. Press, ISBN 0870233556, page 19.